Wednesday, May 31, 2006

LANCE ARMSTRONG CLEARED OF DOPING

For anyone who cares about professional cycling or who has followed the story of accusations of doping by Lance Armstrong in the 1999 Tour de France (the first of seven consecutive wins for the American), news today that an independent investigator has cleared Armstrong is good. Read the full story online at USA Today.

SENSATIONAL ACCUSATIONS REFUTED. Armstrong was implicated in using performance enhancing EPO by French newspaper L'Equipe shortly after he won his seventh Tour de France championship last July. The newspaper claimed to have matched Armstrong's rider identification number to tests performed retroactively on blood samples he gave during the 1999 TdF and frozen since 1999. Today's 132-page report condemns the lab that did the faulty tests, the anti-coping body WADA that commissioned them, and those who conspired to attempt to discredit Armstrong.

LUSTER RESTORED. The report, commissioned by the UCI, effectively clears Armstrong and restores the luster to his unprecedented feat. After L'Equipe made its sensationalized accusations last summer, the head of the Tour de France, Jean Marie LeBlanc, bought into the newspaper's analysis and publicly cast a shadow of doubt on Armstrong's contributions to the Tour. Whether or not LeBlanc and the French press who tried to discredit Armstrong will recant remains to be seen--don't count on it. I am sure they will insist the report sidestepped issues.

PERSONAL RESPONSE. Me? I am relieved. I hope the cycling community and cancer community will be reassured by this report that Lance is the real deal, not a drug-enhanced cheater. It is good to know, also, that resolution can--and has--come to this issue that has lingered for nearly a year. Not sure the cycling community will see this as a done deal, but it is a step in the direction of closure.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

GRAPPLING WITH THE BLUES ON A BIG WEEKEND

I didn't blog all weekend. Typically, with a weekend as full and rich as this one was, I would have had much to reflect on and share. But whatever in me that is stirred to write (even when I am frustrated) was on "mute" for a few days. Only now, on Tuesday after the Memorial Day Weekend, do I feel ready to write a bit.

ONSET OF A FUNK. Jared graduated with honors in a class of 860 on Friday evening. We packed in like sardines in the Ben Davis gymnasium (why can't they just rent the Convention Center?). We could barely hear what was being said through much of the ceremony. After the ceremony, we had trouble finding Jared; found him after 20 minutes of searching. Then, instead of going out to dinner with his extended family after graduation, Jared chose to be with his friends (though he later called to try to catch up with us...too late). These rather normally insignificant things combined with an unexpected and unspeakable sense of loss to put me into what I can only describe now as a serious funk.

THROUGH THE MOTIONS OF A BIRTHDAY. The next day, Saturday, was my birthday. I had anticipated it being low key anyway, given our hopes that this would be a full weekend of celebrating Jared's graduation (with his graduation open house on Memorial Day). But I woke with such a case of the blues that I could not muster a smile or make myself feel good. Turning 47 seems inconsequential anyway, but given the funk I was in, having any birthday seemed ridiculously trivial. All I could do was to try to go through the motions of the birthday guy; inside I was just flat and numb.

TRYING TO WORK THROUGH IT. I tried to do the things that would typically pull me out of a bad mood, hard feelings, or a low. I biked 20 miles to Sam's soccer tournament. I took a nap. I prayed, reminding myself of God's love and care, and asking for grace. I took Sam to his second game and cheered him on. I did some yard work. I took another nap. Nothing seemed to work. It was as if I were grieving something I could not name or put my finger on. I tried to guard my words very carefully for fear I might say something in my funk that I would later regret. Family wanted to celebrate my birthday; I just wanted to be left alone.

THE BLUES YIELD TO A PEACE. By Saturday night my blues receded. Nothing in particular seemed to end it. I woke from a brief nap and the house was quiet. Everyone was gone for the moment. I was fragile, but at peace. I felt as if a heavy hand had been lifted from me. I was no longer heavy-hearted. Whatever had come over me was no longer pressing down. In prayer I felt accepted and ready to accept what I could not change, and to serve graciously in ways and roles less than my immediate ideal. I sensed that it is not in claiming what we think is rightfully ours that we are most human and God-blessed, but in offering all that we have been given without presumptions or harbored notions of controllable outcomes. I felt momentarily okay with things as they were unfolding. A relieving breakthrough had come as unexpectedly and unspeakably as the funk.

GRATEFUL REBOUND. So, I was grateful to be able to enjoy Sunday. I preached freely from Acts 1 on the experience of being in the middle between promise and fulfillment ("Don't leave Jerusalem"). I laughed with everyone--including my mom, sister, and brother-in-law--around our family dinner table. I tuned into the Indy 500 via the Internet (I was watching from Marco Andretti's on-board rearview camera as Sam Hornish, Jr. overtook him--unbelievably--at the finish line). I took a 14-mile bicycle spin around the airport (Indianapolis International is quite a busy place after the race). I then enjoyed helping make preparations for the graduation open house the rest of the evening.

WARM OPEN HOUSE. Jared had nearly 100 friends, family, and neighbors come to his graduation open house on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year. Our air conditioner could not keep up with the many people and while the temperature outside hovered at 90 degrees, the temp inside the house went up to 81. So, it was a warm occasion on several different levels. The combination of extended family, our church families, our immediate neighbors, life-long friends, and Jared's high school friends was quite a combination. I enjoyed introducing people to each other and watching them make connections and conversation. We were tired and relieved when it was over.
TWENTY-FIVE YEAR MARK

ONE MORE CELEBRATION. Today is the 25th anniversary of our wedding. Becky and I made our marriage vows to each other here in this city on May 30, 1981 (I graduated from college on Monday, turned 22 on Wednesday and got married on Saturday in the same week!). Becky and I have come so far and yet find ourselves close to where we started. Here we are in the city where we met and were married, serving together our children and the city through the church. I am grateful for Becky's partnership and love, aware all the while that such love is a mysterious gift--one to be received, nurtured and revered.

FROM THIS DAY FORWARD. Here are the words to the song that Mildred "Mickey" Cope (a local woman who authored the hymn "Holy Spirit, Be My Guide") wrote for us and that we sang to each other in our wedding:

From this day forward we two shall be as one.
From this day forward with our new lives begun
We'll trust the Father to guide us through each day
To give us wisdom and help us on our way.

Our love shall deepen as we walk hand in hand
Through joy our sorrow, and we shall understand
That in His goodness He will supply our need;
He'll walk before us as He gently leads.

From this day forward our hopes and dreams we'll share.
From this day forward we'll work, we'll plan, we'll care,
And to each other our true love we will give
And keep on loving so long as we shall live.

Friday, May 26, 2006

FORGIVENESS, ALSO

If repentance is a constant in relationship, emotional and spiritual health (see previous post), so is forgiveness. Forgiveness, as I write of it here and now, is the recognition, readiness, and willingness to forgive others and institutions amid carelessness, insensitivities, hurts, sleights, injustices, ignorance, aggression, and/or violence.

Like authentic repentance, forgving is ultimately accomplished through grace.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

ROUTINE AND REPENTANCE

How often should we repent?
As often as it takes to
"come 'round right."

When I repent I am free
of the guilt that badgered me,
the pride that gripped me,
the fear that stifled me,
the error that nagged me,
the conflict that crossed me.

Repentance should be routine,
though never a routine
or repetitious.

I realize I have been wrong
at least several times a day.
It's pretty humbling, but
embarrassment can
break deadly denial.

If I am to be a whole person
then repentance will be
an honest response
to error and pride when
it is duly revealed.

I have been wrong
while being quite correct.
Bearing matters,
approach matters,
attitude matters.

Repentance is turning around.
If it takes going back,
then I must go back.
If it takes changing course,
then I must go another way.

Repentance is critical for
reconciliation and relationship,
even if I am the only one
in a circle of companions
who sees it and does it.

After repentance
I see more clearly
what God thought
possible in and among us
in the first place.

"To turn, turn,
will be our delight,
'til by turning, turning,
we come 'round right."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

KUDOS IN ATHLETICS

Congratulations to Molly for your part in the 4 x 800 sectional championship first place finish, for the sectional record your relay team set, and for another PR (personal record) for your leg of the relay. Good luck to you and all Ben Davis girls at regionals and state!

Congratulations to Jared for your part in the Westside United U-18 boys soccer team effort last weekend in Fort Wayne that put you in the State Cup semi-finals on June 3rd. Great defensive work in the three shut-outs! Not bad for a bunch of seniors who are "distracted" by so many graduation details. Good luck against Carmel...and when you defeat them, with either Dynamo or the Irish on June 4th.

Congratulations to Sam for your part in the Carmel United U-13 boys soccer team effort last weekend in Bloomington that put you in the State Challenge Cup semi-finals on June 3rd in Evansville. Solid work up front, Sam! Best wishes to you and your team as you advance.

Monday, May 22, 2006

LOVE POURED OUT

Another of my recent "finds" regarding Pentecost:

"Too often Pentecost is viewed as the occasion when God distributed spiritual gifts, which are often regarded as but 'trophies' of spirituality, or 'power-toys' for performing Christian ministry, without any integral connection to the living Lord Jesus. The proper place of Pentecost in the divine drama of Love is that it was the chronological and historical 'beginning' (Acts 11:15) of the restored experiential love-life relationship of the Triune God with all mankind, when the Spirit of Christ was poured out to dwell in the spirits (cf. Rom. 8:16) of those receptive to God’s love. 'The Love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us' (Rom. 5:5)." -- James A. Fowler

Sunday, May 21, 2006

CALVARY & PENTECOST

I've been reading and researching for a currently developing teaching series "Anticipating Pentecost." I happened on to this statement by R. C. Moberly in Personality and Atonement:

"Calvary without Pentecost would not be an Atonement to us. But Pentecost could not be without Calvary. Calvary is the possibility of Pentecost, and Pentecost the realization in human spirits of Calvary."

Saturday, May 20, 2006

THE REAL (WHEEL) DEAL

A good article produced by the Indianapolis Star on the growth and development of urban biking in Indy and Central Indiana is at this link. "The Wheel Deal" surveys what bicycle activists are accomplishing and planning in the region, trying to make us more bicycle friendly. With gas prices what they are--and are predicted to become--it makes sense (and cents) to travel by bicycle. The caveats are these: (1) clearly-designated areas for biking need to be more abundant and (2) motorized vehicle drivers must become more conscious of bicycles in their midst and share the road.

CYCLE BLINDNESS. My only hesitation in riding my bike to work more frequently are the routinely-crazed vehicle commuters hell-bent on beating every other vehicle ahead of them on the way to and from work. These people scare me. Still, in nearly twenty years of riding frequently on Indianapolis streets and Central Indiana roads, I have never been run off the road, threatened, wrecked, or treated abusively by drivers. I do not experience ill will for cyclists; I do experience the "cycle--and pedestrian--blindness" of drivers.
GRADUATING CONFIDENCE

ONE WEEK AWAY. I admired Jared singing tonight in his last choral concert at Ben Davis High School. He exuded grace and confidence in the music and dance, just as he did on the soccer field. We are as proud of Jared as parents can be. I keep telling him so, too. I want him to know and feel our support, prayers, and desire for his happiness.

We're one week away from the high school graduation of our oldest son and going through the “last” of everything--last concert, last awards sports banquet... The prom and senior skip day have come and gone. Just about the only things left are the Evening of Excellence and Graduation Ceremony next Friday evening.

CONFIDENT SENIOR. Jared seems to be taking all these events and the closure they represent in stride. He bears the confidence of a senior. I suppose it is the confidence, in part, of being eighteen and having successfully navigated the terrain of a large, metropolitan high school. I suppose it is the confidence, in part, that comes from having played team sports proficiently enough to be a two-year captain of the sectional championship soccer squad and having a college team anticipating your August arrival. I suppose it comes, in part, from having matriculated through the same school system and having familiarity with students and common friendships. But it may well come from other places in his soul. Wherever it comes from, I hope this confidence serves him well through commencement and into his next chapter of education and life.

WORKING AT CONFIDENCE. Confidence is an interesting thing. I don’t know any way to measure its value or depth except to relate it to its sources. My sources of confidence have changed and varied over the years. So have the levels of confidence with which I move about in life. There have been times when my confidence in my own abilities of intellect and savvy have been relatively high. At other times and in certain situations self doubt has almost overwhelmed me. Confidence doesn't seem to be a constant; it depends on what and from where we draw our confidence for various aspects of our lives. It seems to grow with time, effort, repetition of action, focus, mastery, and grace. We can be confident in some things we do or confident in something that we are or are related to. I was a confident wrestler after three years of training, tough matches, lots of losses, and finally some solid wins against opponents who'd previously pinned me. I was not confident in my academic aptitude until graduate school.

RE-SOURCING CONFIDENCE. Confidence, it seems to me, must relocate along the way. Self-confident swagger in one's physical, intellectual or relational abilities reaches its limits. They reveal themselves to be inadequate for the challenges of the world's need and potential. Somewhere during the past twenty-five years, the core of my confidence shifted from my own natural abilities and “self-confidence” more toward confidence in God’s grace and love at work in me, for me, and for the good of others and the world. The point of reference changed from me to something beyond me; I began to locate confidence more in relationship to grace and my participation in recognizing, expressing, and extending it. In this, my confidence is growing, though not without ebb and flow.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

PROOF OF THE RESURRECTION

"We are called to experience the Resurrection in our own lives by entering into this dynamic movement, by following Christ who lives in us. Christ lives in us if we love one another. And our love for one another means involvement in one another's history. Christ lives in us and leads us, through mutual encounter and commitment, into a new future which we build together for one another. Such is the timeless message of the Church not only on Easter Sunday but on every day of the year and every year. The Resurrection is not a doctrine we try to prove or a problem we argue about: it is the life and action of Christ himself in us by his Holy Spirit." – Thomas Merton

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

NOT BY HIS OWN WILL

I smiled this morning as I read this Wendell Berry snippet from his collection Given:

I dream of a quiet man
who explains nothing and defends
nothing, but only knows
where the rarest wildflowers
are blooming, and who goes,
and finds that he is smiling
not by his own will.
THE RESPONSIBLE PERSON

"Only the one for whom the final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all these, when in faith and sole allegiance to God he is called to obedient and responsible action: the responsible person, whose life will be nothing but an answer to God's question and call." -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

JOURNEY IN VOCATION

MYSTERIOUS WAYS. “God works in mysterious ways God’s wonders to perform.” That’s a phrase old timers have used to describe the sometimes roundabout ways good things happen in spite of not so clear directions or direct means. I use it here to describe the vocational journey on which I have thus far been led. I have not done what I started out to do; Instead, I have thus far been engaged in opportunities and avenues beyond my imagination.

COUNSEL NONEXISTENT. Here’s my take on my early career counsel: It did not exist. Whatever career counsel I indirectly received during high school and college was heavily couched in spiritual language about doing God’s will, laying down my life for Christ and finding out God’s perfect plan for my life. Any thoughts about pursuing art, writing, teaching, or political science were quickly eclipsed by the heavy hand of evangelical fervency.

CALLING VS CAREER. “Career” was not a word that was used. “Career” was considered a secular word. I was led to believe it was a word used by faith-less people. It was used, so I was told, only if one left God out of the equation of one’s future and service. “Calling” was the preferred phrase. “Seeking the will of God” was what one did to discern one’s “call” or “vocation.”

PERFECT PLAN? I was also led to believe that there was one mysterious but very certain and “perfect plan” for each person’s life. So the challenge of discovering and doing that became a very heavy thing for an adolescent. Other kids were imagining and exploring careers; I was in inner turmoil about discerning God’s perfect will for my life. I did not want to miss that perfect path, even if it meant choosing to do something entirely out of my range or nature.

WHO’S LISTENING? For all my inquisitiveness and earnestness about discovering and doing the will of God, I cannot recall anyone sitting down with me and offering to help me discern it. Or to listen patiently to my certitudes so that they may question my shallow assumptions. Or to dare to correct or redirect my notions. Or to suggest that God may well be glorified in my life through a non-church affiliated career. I was pretty much on my own with my head full of second-hand notions and preachments about my future.

WHAT DID THEY KNOW, ANYWAY? The flipside of the absence of vocational counsel is that, frankly, I was not very open to it. Reacting to unrealistic legalisms and entrenched closed-mindedness purveyed by my elders as I was at the time, I don’t think whatever they might have said or counseled would have impressed me positively. What did they know, I figured. Who were they to counsel me about my future’s direction? While no one approached me, they would likely have been on thin ice if they had.

MY VOCATIONAL HOME. Given the absence of vocational counsel, the intensity of evangelical influence, and my own need to pry myself away from the plodding mindset of my elders, happening onto urban ministry was a win-win at the time. It still is. Trying to understand urban dynamics and be creative in service in what amounts to a socially dysfunctional arena complete with conflicting paradigms of service, self-sabotaging urban systems, and a schizophrenic Church—this is my vocational home.

LIVING ON THE EDGE. This is the arena in which I feel I am presently called to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling,” confident that God’s mercy and grace are functioning actively and persistently in this context. I am constantly pushed to the limit of my certainties, abilities, and foregone conclusions. I am frequently challenged to cross social boundaries, explore my theological presumptions, deal positively with diversity, and draw the circle of grace wider and wider. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

MOTHERWISE

I watch Becky mother our children
And I wonder where she got this stuff?
When I married her, she had not trained for it;
She had taken no courses in mothering.
She was a good-looking college girl,
Talented and sensitive,
Spiritually astute and fun-loving.
But how could I have known
She was mother-wise?

For the four childless years of our marriage
She never let on she had been covertly equipped
To react and respond-catlike-
To the needs of a child.
She studied no books and read no manuals
But knew what to do and when to do it
When each of our four children were born.

Mothering, I was to learn, was not just about
Bearing an infant, nurturing a toddler, and
Sending a six-year-old off to first grade.
Who knew Becky knew the delicate combination
Of discipline and praise,
Boundaries and freedom,
Careful attention and graceful absence
That encourages children to flourish?

Is there some clandestine school for mothers,
A kind of underground academy,
Undetectable by unwitting men, which
Reveals the secrets and instills the acumen
For rearing and maturing a child?
Observing my partner over time
I am convinced it is so.
It is the school of motherly love
And Becky has mastered it with honors.

More readily than me, she will find
A graceful way to let go of each child
As they mature and clamor to leave the nest.
I may anxiously wring my hands, but
She will know when they are ready to
Launch hopefully forward in life,
Uncannily equipped to invest themselves
To enrich the lives of others.

I tip my hat to the Master of this school,
This unseen college with unwritten curriculum.
And I yield the floor to this masterful student
Who graces the lives of our children with
A wisdom, taught or caught, that brings to them
The joy and hope of life.

Friday, May 12, 2006

BROWN COUNTY PARK TRAILS

I'm able to recommend the mountain bike trails in Brown County State Park as some of the best I've ever ridden. They are not technically too difficult (at least, the ones I've thus far ridden), but the up and down terrain is challenging and the setting is just plain beautiful.

Marketing tip for bicycle shop proprietors: there is no bike shop in or around Nashville, Indiana, and now you have not only the Gnaw Bone trails but an expanding system of trails within in BCSP that will become well known and used. The time is ripe for a shop featuring mountain bike sales and repair. John T. (in photo) broke a chain on the trail and there was no bike repair within 20 miles; fortunately, the local hardware store carried chains and chain repair tools.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

HOW JESUS REGARDED WOMEN

ROOTING OUT DOMINATION. Heading into Mother's Day and with Pentecost on the horizon (June 4), I'm thinking about women in light of Pentecost. On the day of Pentecost that is recorded in Acts 2, Joel's prophecy is fulfilled: "even upon my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit, and they will prophesy." If it is true, as Phoebe Palmer Knapp declared, that "Pentecost laid the axe at the root of social injustice," then one injustice that was cut at the root was the domination of women by men and patriarchal societies.

REDEFINING WOMEN'S SIGNIFICANCE. Pentecost, it seems to me, affirmed what Jesus had been teaching and demonstrating. Jesus dramatically and repeatedly challenged his culture and the religious practices in which men dominated women, relegating them to objects and property to be possessed and used. That Jesus regarded women radically differently is clear again and again throughout the four Gospels.

It is illustrated powerfully when...
(1) Jesus forgives a woman caught in adultery in John 8;
(2) Jesus commends the woman who washed his feet with her hair in Luke 7:36-50;
(3) Jesus talks with and brings salvation and liberation to the Samaritan woman in John 4;
(4) Jesus redefines the role of women from being significant because they bear children (it was considered a curse to not be able to bear children; Jesus liberated women from this ungodly burden) to being holy because they do the will of God in Mark 3:31-35.

COMPANIONS AND FIRST WITNESSES. Women were among Jesus' traveling followers, some considered “patrons and benefactors.” The Gospel writers point out that women were the first to witness the Resurrection. In Acts, Luke makes clear that women were with the male followers of Jesus in the Upper Room as they prayerfully anticipated the promised gift of God that was given on Pentecost.

CONTRARY TO THE SPIRIT OF THE AGE. It is clear from the four Gospels that Jesus in no way condones, verifies, reinforces, or allows for the domination of women by men in either intimate or social relationships, or in his Kingdom. He breaks the very spirit of domination that has been central in the spirit of the world from ancient times and is still prevalent today--sometimes being justified in the very name of Christianity!
ACADEMIC HONORS

It may not be a notable moment for anyone else but me, but if I do not note it and muse with a bit of parental pride, no one else will. This evening Jared was inducted into the National Honor Society at Ben Davis High School and Molly was inducted into the National Honor Society at Wayne Township Ninth Grade Center. Last week, Sam was inducted into the National Junior Honor Society at Chapel Hill 7th & 8th Grade Center. Abby, now 20 and a junior at Olivet Nazarene University, was also a NHS member at BD. I, on the other hand, did not even know such an organization or honor existed when I was going through school. Congratulations, kids!

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

THE SEVEN HESITATIONS OF DEMOCRACY

TO THE EPICENTER. The following reflections do not come from an aspiring politician. They are not the two-bit comments of a journalistic wag. They are the observations of an American-born Methodist missionary who labored in India as a contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi. E. Stanley Jones is, to me, the model of authentic Christianity. The deeper his faith, the more reflective and engaged he was in applying its principles to the pressing issues of his time. His deep piety did not lead him away from difficult issues and hurting people; it drew him ever closer to the epicenter of world challenges. Written from India in 1944, this ever-so-brief excerpt from The Christ of the American Road, has a pointed ring of truth and challenge 62 years later. I have not edited his writing to inclusive language; it is inclusive in spirit and power.

"ALL" - AN EXPLOSIVE WORD. “When the word ‘all’ was written into the Declaration of Independence, little did the authors know how it would live to disturb and awaken the soul of this people. The word ‘all’ was inevitable, for there would not have been democracy if it had been left out; but, once in, it has become the most explosive and revolutionary word in our national history. It will not let us rest until we say the words ‘all men’ with complete abandon and with no reservations. The history of our struggling with that word ‘all’ is the history of the progress of America, and our future depends upon what we do with it.” Jones enumerates the seven hesitations of democracy in a historical sequence.

1. TERRITORIES. “The hesitation as to whether we should take in the territories beyond the original colonies on the basis of equality or make them subordinate.” Jones notes that this breakthrough from intellectual and cultural snobbery to give complete equality to territories “may prove the norm for a world pattern. The world will fight it—as we did—but in the end we shall have to come to it, for it is right. And whatever is right is stable and whatever is wrong is unstable. The world is in a state of instability because of the refusal of this simple principle.”

2. WOMEN. “The second hesitation about applying the word ‘all’ was in regard to one half the population within the union—namely, to women.” Jones comments on the rightness of this breakthrough: “The future belongs to cooperation; the competitive principle has run is course. If the future belongs to cooperation and women represent the cooperative spirit, then women are to be, in literal fact, the psychic center of power in that future.”

3. CHILDREN. “The third great hesitation in the application of ‘all’ is in regard to the most important group in our democracy—namely, the children.” Noting the brunt children have taken in the greed and blunderings of men in labor and in war (“he is called on to fight three years sooner than he is allowed to vote”), Jones asserted that “since children must bear the heavy end of things in a crisis, they must be allowed to help shape things for the ordinary days ahead. Democracy will not last unless the child inwardly accepts it because it is reasonable and right, and more important still, because he is a functioning part of it. He must vitally be a part of it; it must function where he is concerned. This we have not done—not really. We have applied the word ‘all’ to children grudgingly and with hesitation.”

4. LABOR. “The fourth hesitation about the application of the word ‘all’ is in regard to another group in our midst—labor.” Noting the reluctance with which American corporations have conceded to collective bargaining, Jones believed that America is tragically bent in a “property over the person” paradigm. In the struggle between the rights of property and the rights of people, Jones said “we have very grudgingly extended equality to those who labor.”

5. PEOPLE OF COLOR. “The fifth great hesitation has been to extend equality to those of another color.” Jones advocated the “equality of opportunity” for people of color and denounced white America for its hypocrisy and resistance at making the Pledge of Allegiance apply: “with liberty and justice for all.” He noted: “America’s power and influence in the world will be determined by her ability to set her own house in order, and thus to act up to her democracy.”

6. ASIAN PEOPLES. “The sixth great hesitation in applying the word ‘all’ is in regard to those of Asiatic origin in our midst.” Writing during World War II, a time in which in the name of patriotism and loyalty Asians were being derided in America and abroad, Jones wrote boldly: “We have a right to limit immigration, but we have no right to humiliate others once they are in our midst. Such attitudes and practices deny our own democracy and sow the seeds of war. This discrimination was one of the causes that led to the war with Japan.” Jones decried the mistreatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII and spoke often to large groups interned in the camps.

7. DEVELOPING REGIONS AND NATIONS. “The seventh hesitation is in regard to applying the word ‘all’ to all peoples beyond our own borders.” Jones called for a complete renunciation of all trappings and vestiges of “imperialism” in order for peace and democracy to have a chance to emerge in developing regions of the world. “It is not enough to point to the benefits conferred by imperialism on subjected peoples—roads, schools, hospitals, and a kind of peace. All these benefits are canceled out in the minds of subject peoples by the fact of domination. They want freedom—everybody does. It is inherent.”

BE THE SERVANT OF ALL. Jones summarized his observations: “Let America be anchored to her words ‘all men,’ and let her world mission be the implementing of those words in world affairs. Let her become ‘the servant of all.’ Then, according to her Master, by that very service she will become the greatest of all. If you are the servant of some—white people, people of a certain class or race—then you do not become great, except a great snob. The future of the world is in the hands of those who will best serve the world.”

Monday, May 8, 2006

INHABITING THE INTERSECTIONS

BREADTH, LENGTH, HEIGHT, DEPTH. "We cannot see the whole scope of Christian life -- the breadth and length and height and depth of it. We cannot assess fully its outcomes. The standard of excellence against which we measure our lives, the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ, stretches out to infinity in every direction. We will never comprehend it entirely. It is the work of a lifetime even to try to bear a faithful witness."

PARADOXICAL CROSSINGS. "But we can see the shape of resurrecting excellence at the point where breadth and length and height and depth meet. It is the shape of the cross -- 'the intersection,' as Simone Weil once put it, 'between creation and Creator.' There is no practice of Christian life that does not mirror this intersection. As congregants sing together, they live in the reality that last week's songs of joy intersect with this week's laments which they sing for those whose voice is robbed by tragedy..."

NO MERE CROSSING GUARD. "Resurrection excellence in ministry happens in intersections, and the pastoral leader is not simply a crossing guard. The pastor is an artist of the intersection, seeking connections among the often paradoxical dimensions of life--ancient texts and current dilemmas, inner experience and public responsibility, what has been and what yet might be...It is the work of the pastor not only to move between the mystery of human life and the living presence of God but to live and work and pray and study and risk yourself at the places where human lives and God's life intersect."

L. Gregory Jones and Kevin Armstrong in Resurrection Excellence - Shaping Faithful Christian Ministry (Eerdmans, 2006)

Sunday, May 7, 2006

EATING FLESHING, DRINKING BLOOD

I'm not sure if these words written together will trip an Internet filter in someone's PC, Mac or Pod, or pique NSA terror-sniffing monitors, or just plain startle readers. It wouldn't be the first time. Jesus' first followers were pretty startled when he started talking this way. If you wouldn't eat his flesh and drink his blood, he said, you would have no part in him. He who was known to be the son of Joseph and Mary proclaimed that he was, in fact, the bread that was sent down from heaven that one might eat and thereby have eternal life.

STRANGE WORDS FOR NAIVE EARS. John 6 reflects on this discussion Jesus had with followers and interested onlookers before any of them had a clue that Jesus would die on a cross and be resurrected from the dead, long before his flesh would be broken and his blood spilled out. "Eat my flesh; drink my blood." Strange words for naive ears. Somehow, even after 2,000 plus years of rumination and theological filtration, the words "eat my flesh" and "drink my blood" are still stark and striking. We want to tame them, sanitize them, neuter them and control them. Jesus, his words and actions are still too radical for most of us.

GO AHEAD, PARTAKE. But to hungry hearts and thirsty souls, anemic after being force-fed empty cultural pabulum for years and parched to the bone though swimming in seas of Western material wealth, Jesus' offer of food and drink is good news. To those of us who eat and are never satisfied and who drink and are never filled, there is nothing lost in translation; we get it where those who are full of themselves don't, or can't, or won't. Instead of the perpetually ironic mirage on the horizon, Jesus is the real McCoy. Jesus satisfies the soul. Go ahead, partake. It's all for you.

Friday, May 5, 2006

BIKING MORGAN & BROWN COUNTIES

Part of my extended training for riding 2,000 miles through India in six weeks beginning December 28, 2006 leads me to long rides on my days off (if a pastor really has such a thing). Today, I rode from southern Marion County into Johnson, Morgan and Brown Counties in order to get into the hills. Glaciers in the last ice age left what is now northern Indiana mostly flat. But there is a clear end of the glaciers' impacts just about at the northern border of Brown County. The drop off into incredibly hilly terrain is quite distinctive and Brown County's attraction for "northerners" is found in its splendid hill country. This is the area of the annual "Hilly Hundred" bicyle tour that draws about 5,000 of us. I rode up Helmsburg Road hill on the way into Nashville; it was a bit of a challenge. We aren't expecting to ride hilly country in India, but you never know.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

PENTECOST AND SOCIAL JUSTICE

"Pentecost laid the axe at the root of social injustice." - Phoebe Palmer Knapp, 19th-century American holiness preacher, teacher, author, and social justice advocate

TRANSFORMED AND EMPOWERED TO LOVE. Officially, June 4th will be the celebration called Pentecost. An ancient Jewish holiday that follows fifty days after Passover, Acts 2 records the event that forever changed the context of Pentecost. On this day, now celebrated as the "birthday of the Christian church," Christians believe the holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus' disciples in fulfillment of ancient prophesies and the promise Jesus had made (Acts 1:4-8). Pentecost turned cowering converts into bold advocates; it transformed a rag-tag band of despairing disciples into people indwelt and overflowing with the very love of God. Pentecost launched a movement that, for all its 2,000-year ebb and flow, has never quite ceased to transform people and challenge core human injustices in every generation through a burning love that overwhelms fear, paralyzing inertia, despair, violence, domination, pride, and corrupt power.

LIVE THE KINGDOM NOW. I am part of a Christian tradition that places Pentecost at the heart of spirituality, both personally and corporately. Wesleyan holiness folk think that every believer in Jesus Christ as Lord should directly and personally--in one way or another, at some point or another--encounter a Pentecost-like transformation that catapults one from initiatory and fledgling faith into maturing love and self-giving activism. We think the evidence that one is "filled with the Holy Spirit" and growing in Christlikeness is found in a love that is notably self-forgetful, service-focused, and redemptively confrontational to the powers of domination at work in the world. We see in Pentecost not just a personal empowerment, but an empowerment for the church both (1) to embrace and express the new eschaton--the very Kingdom of God--and (2) to bring the influence of this future-focused reality into every possible social relationship, structure, policy, and practice as a signal and sign of what God wills for the world's future.

FREEDOM AND LIBERATION. That is the context of Phoebe Palmer Knapp's statement. To her, "social injustice" at the time primarily meant human trafficking and oppression of women. She expressed her confidence in the radical change Pentecost called for by advocating vociferously for the abolition of slavery and for the sufferage of women in America. She saw in the gospel of Jesus Christ a clarian call for freedom for all human beings and the liberation of women from the age-old system of domination that reduced them to objects and possessions. She set a tone and standard both as a woman and as a Christian leader that fueled many in the evangelical and Christian holiness movements at the time. I would welcome her voice anew on similar issues in the 21st century.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

BROWN COUNTY STATE PARK

Brown County State Park near Nashville, Indiana is algow mid-spring. The leaf cover has not yet spread and the colors have not yet deepened. Redbud blooms are past, but the white dogwood blooms still stand out against the greening canopy. I searched in vain for morrels while there on Monday afternoon, but it looked as if the delicious spring mushroom had already been harvested where I looked--around decaying tree trunks, in shady areas, etc. If you have a few hours in a late afternoon and evening, it's worth the one-hour drive south of Indianapolis for a drive through and brief hike in this graeful place. If you have a mountain bike, take it; the two-year old mountain bike trails are accessible and superb (trails begin just inside the North Gate entrance).

Monday, May 1, 2006

IMMIGRANT NATION

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shores:
Send these--the homeless, tempest-tossed--to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” - posted at the Statue of Liberty

"We are ALL immigrants" - handmade sign at an immigrant rally

LOOKING FOR THE STATUE. The one thing I wanted to see--and wanted my family to see--as we flew into New York City for the first time was the Statue of Liberty. NYC has innumerable points of interest and import, but only one has been a part of my imagination from childhood: that copper-clad icon that lifts the blazing torch, welcoming heart-broken and hoping people of the world to the land of the free. What a view we had of Lady Liberty as our plane approached LaGuardia from the south and descended along the east side of Manhattan. Even before we touched down, my dream had been fulfilled.

HESITANT GIFT RECIPIENTS. Many know Lady Liberty was a generous gift of France for America’s 100th birthday, but few know there was trouble finding and funding a site for it. Neither Presidents nor Congress could see the validity of "wasting" tax dollars on it. So, Liberty Island, the foundation, and installation of the statue were eventually paid for by donations from children, families, service organizations and community groups. Of course, once it was erected and became the dominant symbol of America's spirit, the same short-sighted bureaucrats laid claim to its greatness. This part of the statue’s story is, to me, an ironic parable of America’s immigration story.

IMMIGRATION HAS NEVER BEEN EASY. Immigration has never been easy, neither for those who seek to immigrate to America, nor for the settled Americans who are called upon to make room in the established dynamics of economy, community, politics, religion, education, and social fabric. Some Americans have resisted immigration vehemently and violently, blaming it for everything from crime and moral decay to disease and poverty. Immigrants to America have been taken advantage of, scorned, labeled, denied rights, abused, and killed. But by the end of a generation, in most cases, the fears of established Americans are proven false, strangers become neighbors, and immigrants are assimilated into the great American melting pot.

REPEATED PATTERN. My work as director of an inner-city Indianapolis community center demonstrated this repeated pattern. Early 20th-century German and Irish immigrants were initially resisted and labeled before being embraced as the neighborhood core within twenty years. The next wave of urban community migrants--African-Americans coming from the American south and gateway cities--were stridently resisted but eventually embraced as neighbors and integrated into the community fabric. The third wave of new urban dwellers is predominantly Latino. Again, there has been resistance and inhospitable gestures in the neighborhoods. They will, however, eventually be embraced by most.

WILL WE WELCOME THE BURMESE? I now serve on the Board of Directors of a 90-year old neighborhood center that started as an immigrant settlement house. Our director presented us with a new challenge this month--to begin to work with the State Department to welcome and integrate refugees from Burma into our services and community. The Board response was less than enthusiastic (mostly because our center is already overwhelmed!) and I imagine the response of the neighborhood may be less enthusiastic still. Neighbors will likely groan, complain, stall, and open our hearts only at the insistence of a visionary leader, but we WILL make room for the Burmese in our community.

CAVEAT. Caveat: African-Americans are an exception to this repeated immigration scenario. Brutal capture, shackled shipment, inhumane treatment, ungodly regard, centuries of forced labor, and continuing prejudice are tyrannies that cannot be compared to America’s history and current situation of immigration. But the resistance African-Americans experienced as they migrated from the south and gateway cities into Indy's urban neighborhoods in the mid-20th century is not entirely dissimilar to the resistance our new immigrants are experiencing.

CAN WE BREAK THE PATTERN? Here’s my point: Why do we need to completely resist and alienate immigrants before conceding, much later, that they aren’t such bad people as we were led to believe, or needed to believe? Why do we repeatedly circle the wagons, lock the doors, put up “keep out” signs, and make it as difficult as possible for immigrants to live among us before we let down our guard and see the value of their friendship and community contribution? What kind of game is this, and is it necessary to keep playing it if we don’t have to?

OUR PRESENT OPPORTUNITY. We have the opportunity to quit playing the “no more immigrants” game, to discontinue our embarrassing ritual of fear mongering, suspicion breeding, name-calling, and ridiculous policy-making. We have the opportunity to get it right, or to repeat our pattern of ignorance and humiliation. Can we get it right this time? Let your community, state, and national leaders know of your support for breaking this mean cycle this time around. And even if they won't listen--or are busy playing to the fear-mongerers--fulfill the promise of the Statue of Liberty and live its spirit by making room in your neighborhood and relationships for the immigrant neighbors all around us.