Thursday, September 28, 2006

SO, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO BE WHEN WE GROW UP?

"So what are we going to be when we grow up? Not what are we going to do, what profession are we going to follow or keep on following, what niche are we going to choose for ourselves, but what are we going to be inside ourselves and among ourselves?"

"That’s the question I think that God answers with Torah at Sinai. That’s the question that the old saint answers or tries to answer in his letter from Rome. Holy! That’s what we’re going to be if God gets his way with us.


It’s wildly unreasonable. It’s going to make a shambles of all our reasonable ambitions to be this or to be that. It’s not really a human possibility at all because holiness is Godness, and only God makes holiness possible."

"But being holy is what growing up in the full sense means, Peter suggests. No matter how old we are, how much we’ve achieved, or dream of achieving, we’re not truly grown up until this extraordinary thing happens. Holiness is what is to happen."


-- Frederick Buechner, 1985
from "30 Good Minutes" TV/radio program; access excellent insights from throughtful voices at www.30goodminutes.org

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

BICYCLE INDIA 2007 - UPDATE


I appreciate the inquiries--and some gifts (thank you!)--that some readers are making for “Bicycle India 2007.” I want to give you a brief update, point you to our new website, and invite your support in several ways. Here are some bullet-points on the project:

  • THREE + TWO + ONE. Plans and logistics are proceeding well for our 2,000-mile ride from the southern tip of India up to the capitol, New Delhi, beginning December 30, 2006. North American riders Bob Yardy, Bishop Joe James, and I, will be joined by two Indian riders and a driver of a support vehicle for the six-week trek.



  • TRAINING RIDES. We’ve been training together and individually throughout the summer, hoping the heat of the American summer will help us simulate the heat of the Indian winter. Daily rides will continue throughout the fall…up to December 25!


  • CHICAGO TO MUMBAI ON BOXING DAY. Our direct flight on Air India to Mumbai (Bombay) leaves Chicago, O’Hare the day after Christmas. We’ll check our carefully-boxed bikes as luggage.


  • FINANCIAL SUPPORT STILL NEEDED. We’re still looking for financial support to cover basic project costs. $7,000 of the anticipated $25,000 ride budget is still needed. This amount includes our support for two Indian riders and a driver for a support vehicle. We appreciate the funds that have been contributed, as well as supplies and in-kind support that has been donated.

  • CAPITAL FUND GRANTS IN PROCESS. We are encouraged by the submission of grant requests to foundations for capital funds to rebuild Umri Christian Hospital. Responses are pending. We will continue to aggressively pursue funding sources for the capital project. Know of a medical fellowship or funding source you think we should pursue? Please let me know!

  • 630 BIKES FOR INDIA…SO FAR. We are elated that VBS children, youth groups, congregations, and individuals have contributed funds for 630 bicycles for pastors and outreach workers! We’re just 120 bikes short of our goal of raising funds for 750 bikes @ $50 each at this point.

  • HOW YOU CAN HELP: FINANCIAL SUPPORT. Your financial support is welcome. If you desire to support in this way, please follow the instructions on the website (http://www.bikeindia.org/). You will receive a tax-deductible receipt within a week of your contribution. Thanks for what you’re willing and able to do.

  • HOW YOU CAN HELP: PRAY. Before and beyond our plans and financial arrangements, I am very much aware that prayer is critical to this effort. Please join me in prayer for Umri Christian Hospital and this project. The event itself is a form of a prayer. I ask God to use us and use it to rebuild a hospital, save and change lives, and fuel a generation of hope in central India. I pray that God also continues to transform me through this project. It is one way I am responding to God’s call and being available to be worked through.

  • HOW YOU CAN HELP: MAY I PRESENT BICYCLE INDIA 2007 TO YOUR GROUP? I am available on a limited basis to speak to church, civic, and organization groups about Bicycle India 2007. I have a concise and poignant presentation (PPT included) that I can share in 10, 15, or 20-minute segments. I believe our effort can inspire your associates in their vision about making a difference near and far.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

WHAT KIND OF A GOD SPEAKS FROM WITHIN A BURNING BUSH?

Moses’ encounter at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-4:17) is one of the critical encounters in faith history. Typically, we think of what it calls forth from Moses. But I'm thinking about what it reveals of the One who speaks from within the fire that does not consume the bush. What do we learn about this God? Here's what I observe:

1. GOD IS COMPASSIONATE. Beyond the reality that God is holy and that the thought-to-be God-forsaken ground on which Moses stands is holy ground, and beyond the reality that God is an initiating, self-revealing being, the first thing we learn about the One who speaks from within the burning bush is that God is concerned about the suffering of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt. Their cries and pleas are heard and God is concerned enough to intervene. Implicit in this compassion is a yet-to-be-articulated sense of justice, morality and ethics that will form the backbone of human civilization as it moves foward. In this God's sense of right and wrong, abuses against other human beings call for compassion and intervention. They are grievous and, ultimately, intolerable to this God.

2. GOD ENGAGES HISTORY TO CHANGE ITS COURSE. God is not only moved by the suffering of the Israelites in Egypt, the God who speaks from within the burning bush is ready to do something about it. God declares that Israel shall be liberated from slavery and Egypt. This decision will amount to what may be the most striking economic, political, military, and spiritual upheaval in history. This God is not uninvolved or involved only indirectly. This God is not just about laws and words and feelings and promises. This God engages human history. This God chooses to act to change the course of history, to work in time and material and humanity to express a divine intent and will.

3. GOD CHOOSES TO WORK THROUGH HUMANS TO AFFECT CHANGE. How does the God who speaks from within the burning bush propose to accomplish deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt? It will be through human cooperation. It will even be through the likes of a scandalized and volatile person like Moses. This God does not bypass human cooperation. This God does not make humans do his bidding like robots or as merely overtaken pawns (and this includes the misconception of verbal inspiration of Scripture). This God does not use people. This God works through people who are invited to cooperate with the holy One--to co-labor--to willingly bring about a community in which justice and peace lead.

Monday, September 25, 2006

WHAT WE'VE BEEN SAYING: "IRAQ WAR INCREASES TERROR RISK"

EXACERBATING THE PROBLEM. "Iraq War Increases Terror Risk." These are the headlines of today's newspapers around the nation and world. An independent report with deep and wide input from 16 different American intelligence agencies corroborates what many of us have been saying for the past three years: America's war on Iraq exacerbates and heightens the risk of extremist Islamic terrorism. It has seeded and mobilized another generation of young people ready and willing to commit atrocities in the name of religion at the behest of extremist Islamic firebrands who are using religion to advance their myopic delusions. Read one of the many stories on this report by clicking here.

BAD INTELLIGENCE OR POOR INTELLIGENCE? The President's decision to attack Iraq was based on fallacious intelligence on Iraq having or trying to develop weapons of mass destruction and Iraq as a haven for terrorist training. The President's decision to attack Iraq was also based on short-sighted thinking about his own Administration's conception of a global war on terrorism. The attack on Iraq was justified to Congress and the American public, in part, on suspicion of it being a terrorist state. This has long since been completely disproven. Instead, the attack on Iraq dissipated the intensity and skewed the focus of the purported effort to wipe out Al Qaida and dry up root causes of terrorism around the world. The war on Iraq, undertaken against the wisdom of the United Nations, was quickly "won" on the ground but never won in fact. Instead, by one misstep, abuse, and ill-advised move after another, America's subsequent actions have fueled distrust, resentment, and hatred in Iraq and across the Middle East.

MORE OF THE SAME. The question now: how does this Administration and/or Congress act to undo the damage that has been done with the least possible further loss of life or fueling of terrorist sentiment? My hunch:
(1) This Administration will find a way to spin this report in its interest and favor, or try to counter it with its own information, or discredit it by attacking its sources.
(2) There will be no change in this Administration's policies regarding Iraq, leading to further loss of American and Iraqi lives, further fueling of terrorist sympathies, and further quagmire in this state for which "regime change" was to bring welcome liberation and peace.
(3) There will be no change in this Administration's policies or priorities regarding its war on terror. This means that diplomacy, goodwill, and efforts to relieve hunger, end poverty, and engender education will be given short shrift while the heavy hand of military might has carte blanche.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

SUBTLE PROMPTINGS OF THE DIVINE

"Religion is not our concern; it is God's concern. The sooner we stop thinking we are the energetic operators of religion and discover that God is at work, as the Aggressor, the Invader, the Initiator, so much the sooner we discover that our task is to call people to be still and know, listen, harken in quiet invitation to the subtle promptings of the Divine. Our task is to encourage others first to let go, to cease striving...to please an external deity. God is the Seeker, and not we alone; God is anxious to swell out our time-nows into an Eternal Now by filling them with a sense of Presence." -- Thomas R. Kelly in A Testament of Devotion

Thursday, September 21, 2006

CIRCLES OF CONCERN & SPHERES OF INFLUENCE

SEVEN HABITS...BUT. For whatever reason, I really took in Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People when it came out 17 years ago (has it really been that long?). This book was concise, memorable, and practical for the challenges and opportunities I then faced. I used Covey's principles and procedures to craft a personal mission statement in 1994 that guides me to this day. I still take my paperback volume down and refer to it every now and then. But one part of Covey's book bothered me then...and it bothers me now.

RIGHT...UP TO A POINT. Covey wrote that we should only work on matters that are within our "sphere of influence," not on matters that may be in a much wider "circle of concern." In other words, while I might have concern for world peace (part of my "circle of concern"), I may have no functional or meaningful outlet for making any impact on world peace because it is beyond my "sphere of influence." Therefore, says Covey, I should let go of--or set aside--my concern for world peace (and, it follows, concern for events, decisions, policies, etc. that effect world peace) and focus primarily on the matters in which I have been given some relatively small measure of influence--personal peace, family peace, peace at work, in some limited community areas, etc. It's easy to see how this can help a person pursuing personal income or corporate position or community admiration focus and intensify their efforts on what will bring more immediate results. This makes sense...up to a point.

ALL THE WORLD IS MY CONCERN. But this is not the way of contemplative prayer, nor the way Jesus taught disciples to pray or live. Jesus taught his disciples to pray: "Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." All the world is within a Christian's circle of concern. Through intercessory prayer (at least) all the world's heartache and yet-to-be-fulfilled possibilities are also within our sphere of influence. Jesus draws us into His sphere of influence and we bear Jesus' concern for all the world through Him. Were I to set aside my concern for the world, I would be setting aside people and situations for which Jesus died and lives.

WHERE DO VISION AND ASPIRATION COME IN? And what if the world view, frame of reference, or perspective that I start with is small, self-centered, and/or deluded to begin with? If I have no dream or outward vision to which I aspire, then what I exercise within my sphere of influence becomes merely self-reinforcement of my limitations and ingrown perspective. For instance, I am convinced that most Americans have a very diminished and skewed view of neighborhood and community. Most either take these for granted and overlook them in their pursuits of more apparently self-fulfilling objectives. But such overlooking of fundamental realities sabotages the very objectives that are pursued. It is the vision of community and call to neighboring that form the very context out of which individual aspiration can flourish. But community and neighboring--that's "circle of concern" stuff. This is why Covey's approach breaks down at this particular point. A great visionary himself, here he sounds more like an instructor molding obedient managers.

INFLUENCING THE WORLD THRU PRAYER. Granted, my apparent influence may seem negligible and frivolous. In prayer, however, I believe influence connects effectively (to borrow Covey's word). In prayer, I confess my concern and anxiety over events or directions beyond my control or influence or understanding. I let them go, not with a carelessness or narrowing of vision, but with a simultaneous relinquishing and petitioning that God intervene and, if possible or desirable, direct me to be part of a short, mid-range, or long-term resolution. I wait in anticipation for God to work--in confidence that I will see the fulfillment of God's will in some way in my lifetime or beyond.

CLARIFYING WISDOM. I find that when I honestly lament what I see or experience that is morally wrong, and bring this into the heart of my prayer with earnest confession and yielded anticipation, either I am relieved of the burden and come to peace, or I sense my call to participate in bringing resolution or response. Often, it is clear to many people that "something ought to be done" about an injustice or community dilemma; but the response that comes through contemplative Christian prayer is "how best" and "in what way" would God be glorified?

BEING A PART OF GOD'S DIFFERENCE. It is a misnomer to think that because I have no direct influence over world peace, I therefore do not or cannot influence it. What if we thought and acted this way with all matters that concern us or impact us directly or indirectly? This seems to me to lead to a rather acquiescing, resigned, limited kind of life. Instead, I choose to pray through my circle of concern until my circle of concern becomes part of the sphere of influence to which God has invited us all to be part of God's difference in the world.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

HOLY GROUND

“What is ‘holy ground’? And why is it important to ‘stand’ there? Simply stated, it is the turf that has come under the touch of God, and it cannot be produced by human actions. Only God can make anything holy…God is inviting Moses to commit to the basic fact of every human life: to stand up with God, I must come to Him on the terms of His holiness, not my own.”

-- Jack Hayford in Destiny & Deliverance

Monday, September 18, 2006

GENEVA CONVENTION GENERAL PROVISIONS, ARCTICLE 3

Read the entire Geneva Convention; click here.

Article 3

In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

(b) Taking of hostages;

(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;

(d) The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

2. The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.

An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.

The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.

The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.
TORTURE IS NOT AN AMERICAN VALUE

Torture is not an American value. It is inhumane and morally reprehensible. Always has been; always will be. So, how is it that the American President--elected predominantly by people sympathetic to so-called conservative Christian values--is arguing that the most basic Geneva Convention article (Common Article III) be relaxed and rewritten to justify the extreme manner in which American interrogators have been treating those they suspect of being enemy combatants or detainees?

WHAT WE HAVE COME TO. How is it that this American Presidential administration, in the name of preserving free and civilized society, is putting on a full-court press to Congress, the media, and American citizens to gain support for extreme interrogation methods and a program of secret detentions to gain information from anyone suspected of terrorism? Is this what we have come to?

COULD YOU SEE IT COMING? But this was to be expected. Couldn't we see it coming? Since 9/11, this Administration has not regarded terrorists as human beings. They have labeled them as less than human, unworthy of humane treatment or basic human rights. It is clear that this perception, fomented from the White House, has made significant impact on the U.S. military and has given rise to abuses at Abu Graihb and murder at Haditha, to name but two American atrocities.

LIKE OUR ENEMY. In secret prisons holding 14,000 detainees without legal recourse, this American President has consistently condoned and is now asking Congress to justify and legalize uncivil treatment and extreme interrogation practices as necessary to end terrorism. But does not extreme interrogation that terrorizes suspects not make Americans terrorists, also? Are we not becoming like the enemy that is considered monstrous? From the interrogators who bear down upon suspects to the average citizen who simply turns away in willful ignorance of these practices, we are becoming like the enemy. Silence is complicity.

WHAT RESTRAINS? What restrains an American interrogator? What is “out of bounds” in the effort wrangle a confession or information from a suspect? Apparently little. Suspected terrorists who have been held in American-led detention centers are coming out describing their experience as “hell.” The only thing that currently restrains American military and intelligence agency interrogators is fear of legal reprisals for their no-holds-barred tactics. And that is what the American President is now pressing to grant them--immunity for what they have done and permission to notch up their dark practices.

IN THE NAME OF FREEDOM. In the name of “freedom,” unremitting viciousness is being unleashed in secret places. This is not the America to which I have pledged allegiance. I call upon Congress and the Supreme Court to deny this American President the permission or license to continue such actions. Information needed to end terrorism and ensure security can be obtained humanely, legally, and in a manner that does not compromise what little moral high ground, ethical integrity, and international goodwill America has left.

Friday, September 15, 2006

MOSES: A SALVAGED LIFE
BEFORE HOLLYWOOD & DISNEY. I recently initiated an exploration of the life and impact of Moses, one of the key figures in faith history and theology. I'm a bit embarrassed to confess that I've worked very little with Old Testament characters in preaching or teaching. I have worked with several of the prophets and their messages in context. My attempt is to discover all I can of Moses, not as an idyllic hero (a la Midrash, Disney and Hollywood) but as a volatile human being shaped by, among other things, his care for his kin and the call of God. Thus far, I am impressed that the Scriptures paint a very complex and vulnerable person. Among numerous volumes available regarding Moses, I am particularly appreciating the insight of Martin Buber, Abraham Heschel, and Walter Brueggemann regarding Moses.

A LIFE UNDER SEIGE. The life of Moses begins under siege. He is under seige at birth at two levels. First, he is born into family of people who are dominated and forced into slavery in powerful foreign culture. Second, he is born during an edict from the nation’s leader that all Hebrew boys should be killed at birth. Moses is born into a world in which human oppression, slavery, and the slaughter of innocents serves powerful interests (see Exodus 1:8-22). Sound familiar? For all the differences between Moses’ world, Jesus’ world and ours, some things remain the same: fear-born oppression and readiness to kill the innocent for the sake of protecting or advancing the interests of the powerful persists.

A LIFE SURROUNDED BY LOVE. Though under siege, Moses is yet surrounded by love--love that risks death and that dares to adopt a Hebrew child into the royal family. According to Exodus 2:1-10, it is women who act in faith and love to thwart to destructive will of the Egyptian Pharaoh. Midwives practice civil disobedience. Moses' mother hides him for three months before placing him in an ark in the Nile. His sister watches at a distance. Pharoah's daughter is filled with life-saving compassion. As a result, this salvaged child is adopted into the ruler’s own family. Such love, described in Psalm 139, surrounds us.

REDEEMED FOR A PURPOSE. From the beginning of the Moses story, I take away an elementary but enduring application: regardless of uncertain and inhospitable beginnings, our faithful God wills that every child be redeemed, set in God's family, and empowered to relieve suffering and release oppression. God not only acted in Moses’ life and in Jesus’ life, God acts in our lives. God's purposes work in and through each of us. That is why we have been so loved and redeemed--not to squander our faith inheritance on ourselves, but to serve to relieve and release others to God's glory.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

AFTER 9/11

MANY & MIXED EMOTIONS. For me, the remembrances surrounding the 5th anniversary of the terrorist attack that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 brought many and mixed emotions to the surface.

3,000 and HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS. My heart breaks not only for the lives that were taken that day, but the several hundred thousand people that have been killed since that day, as American and other national military forces have attempted to counter terrorism and prevent further such atrocities.

SAFER? OR MORE VIOLENT? We take some comfort in official assurances that Americans at home are safer now. Still, our world seems more divided and violent today than it was on 9/11.

MY INVITATION TO PRAYER. I invite you to pray with me that people of faith around the world will pray for and act with utmost wisdom for all peoples, nations, and leaders in the years ahead. Pray that we will not play into Satan’s hands (desiring to repay evil with evil). Pray that we will find and demonstrate yet unexplored ways of loving our enemies, helping oppressed people, and providing genuine alternatives where despair and anger breeds violence and oppression, and, at the same time, hold perpetrators of criminal acts accountable.

Monday, September 11, 2006

IN A TIME SUCH AS THIS

"In a time such as this, when we have been seriously and most cruelly hurt by those who hate us, and when we must consider ourselves to be gravely threatened by those same people, it is hard to speak of the ways of peace and to remember that Christ enjoined us to love our enemies, but this is no less necessary for being difficult." -- Wendell Berry, 2001

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A HOLE IN THE CITY'S HEART


















Read an insightful article on the site of the World Trade Center after 9/11 by Deborah Sontag in today's New York Times. The story features the photography of Vincent Laforet.
UNDER THE CLOAK OF WAR

"He who joyfully marches to music rank and file, has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action. It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder."
-- Albert Einstein

Saturday, September 9, 2006

AGAINST AMNESIA AND MISLEADING

The headline story for today's New York Times: "CIA Said to Find No Hussein Link to Terror Chief." It will be a similar headline and story in many news outlets. The Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee issued this latest report, confirming the CIA's earlier report. Writes the NYT:
"The disclosure undercuts continuing assertions by the Bush administration that such ties existed, and that they provided evidence of links between Iraq and Al Qaida. The Republican-controlled committee, in a second report, also sharply criticized the administration for its reliance on the Iraqi National Congress during the prelude to the war in Iraq. The findings are part of a continuing inquiry by the committee into prewar intelligence about Iraq. The conclusions went beyond its earlier findings, issued in the summer of 2004, by including criticism not just of American intelligence agencies but also of the administration."
This is another case in point of the facts flying in the face of of our nation's President's publicly-made claims.

FEIGNED OR REAL AMNESIA? The primary reason I make this post and provide the NYT link is because of the either incessant or feigned amnesia of (a) Bush Administration officials , (b) evangelicals who think Bush is on God's side and would do/can do no wrong or ever mislead people, and (c) voters.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT. Just yesterday, an evangelical chided me for not believing there were no WMD's in pre-war Iraq. Perhaps this person has top-secret sources or it is a revelation from God or Rush Limbaugh, but everything I have read and listened to over the past four years regarding Iraq's pre-war connections to Al Qaida or WMDs--from military and CIA investigations to independent reports--has clearly indicated that not only were no WMDs or evidence of current WMD capacity found after over a year of painstaking searches, but that the intelligence used to justify links between Saddam Hussein's demented regime and WMDS or Al Qaida or the terrorist attacks on 9/11 were bad and in some case discredited before they were presented to the American public as credible evidence by Bush Administration officials.

IF THAT'S WHAT YOU LIKE. If you appreciate being misled and abide fabricated justifications by our nation's top officials, then you will not find the Senate Intelligence Committee's report comforting. You may likely say that this is just a minor issue in a bigger battle. But wasn't the bigger battle based on mistaken and misleading propositions? Doesn't the collapse of the house of cards on which a battle was justified and pursued completely undermine the battle in the first place? Does that mean we have to continue to try to "win" only to save face?

PINNING HOPES ON GULLIBILITY. I suppose you will say it does. And so, because this Administration believes most Americans are just that gullible, they will continue to try to justify their war on Iraq by stretching the truth, making innuendoes about patriotism and sacrifice, and pin their hopes on maintaining political control with making convincing-sounding--if non-existent--links between 9/11 terrorism and Iraq. And so it goes.

Friday, September 8, 2006

GOD IS NOT A REPUBLICAN...OR A DEMOCRAT

A few months ago, a friend sent me a copy of an article by Randall Balmer titled "Jesus Is Not A Republican." It is from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Link to it here. Interesting read.

This theme has been lifted up consistently by Jim Wallis and Sojourners. Holding ourselves and our leaders to a Biblical, kingdom standard over against partisan political pandering and overt manipulation of the church of Jesus Christ is a major discussion in Wallis' book God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It.
SO MUCH FOR ALL THAT

I am finding, based on e-mailed responses and comments to my postings on bikehiker, that readers can't seem to understand how an evangelical minister could dare not wholeheartedly support the Bush Administration or its war on Iraq. Sorry to either surprise or disappoint anyone.

LET ME BE CLEAR. Let me be clear: based on what I understand of Biblical theology and the basic tenets of evangelical faith, I cannot support the war on Iraq or the agree with most of the policies of the Bush Adminstration. This is nothing new with me. I have conveyed this throughout my postings. I gave Bush the benefit of the doubt in the early days of his Presidency, but it became clear within a year that his personal experience of faith and his policies and decisions on domestic and international affairs intersect only at the point of political opportunity. That Bush and many of his cohorts claim to be evangelical Christians means little to me; it is their words, attitudes, policies, actions, directions, and outcomes--most of which I observe to be decidedly not Christian--that matter to me.

SO MUCH FOR THAT. Further, it's clear that most readers who respond to my sporadic comments on the Bush Administration and America's war on Iraq have no intentions of challenging their own notions or to be bothered with broader facts. They don't even ask questions. They just want to vent their disagreement with me. That's fine. Sad, but fine. So much for the possibility of healthy dialogue. So much for the possibility of exploring what might have been or what might yet be in a future of a nation that chooses not to act in violence in the face of enemies. So much for the possibility of exploring an understanding the followers of Jesus Christ as standing apart from passing national regimes, decidedly unchristian policies, and mere national allegiances. So much for envisioning an alternative to the way we've always done it, the way that serves to protect and perpetuate empty material avarice, the way that foments xenophobia and fear and violence. So much for all that.

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR? I will continue to draw upon and feature the best resources and credible representatives I can find to explore progressive and Christian alternatives to community, national, and international quandaries. That's one positive contribution I feel like I can make here. I have no interest in protecting any partisan political policy or leader. I have no interest in carping criticism; in most cases, I offer some progressive alternative to what I see as troubling in the world. I have interest in being as authentically Christian in this complex world as I can be. So, if you're up for that, then bikehiker might be a blog you occasionally browse. If you're looking for mere reinforcement of your own closed convictions, you'll likely be frustrated by what you read here. Either way, may God's grace go before us all in lead us into all truth.
VIOLENCE, GOOD & EVIL

"I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent."

-- M. K. Gandhi

Thursday, September 7, 2006

THOUGHTS IN THE PRESENCE OF POLITICAL ARROGANCE

HERE WE GO AGAIN. Our President is once again using the tragedy of 9/11 to polarize the partisan political debate regarding the use of Supreme Court-banned military tribunals to try suspected terrorists long held at illegal secret prisons and now grandiosely transferred to Guantanamo Bay detention center 60 days before mid-term elections. The range of pundits I have thus far heard agree: Bush is trying deflect attention away from the mounting disaster his Administration has created in Iraq by using the fifth anniversary of 9/11 to call for swift justice in kangaroo courts for the terrorists who planned 9/11. Here we go again.

A CLEARER VOICE. I seems fair, at this point, to recall some of Wendell Berry's "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear." Berry wrote this piece shortly after 9/11 five years ago; I consider it prophetic and spot on to this day. Here is a brief excerpt:

THE MISTAKE OF NATIONAL SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS. "National self-righteousness, like personal self-righteousness, is a mistake. It is misleading. It is a sign of weakness. Any war that we may make now against terrorism will come as a new installment in a history of war in which we have fully participated. We are not innocent of making war against civilian populations. The modern doctrine of such warfare was set forth and enacted by General William Tecumseh Sherman, who held that a civilian population could be declared guilty and rightly subjected to military punishment. We have never repudiated that doctrine."

DOUBLE STANDARD. "It is a mistake also - as events since September 11 have shown - to suppose that a government can promote and participate in a global economy and at the same time act exclusively in its own interest by abrogating its international treaties and standing apart from international cooperation on moral issues."

CRISES DO NOT JUSTIFY POLITICAL OPPRESSION. "And surely, in our country, under our Constitution, it is a fundamental error to suppose that any crisis or emergency can justify any form of political oppression. Since September 11, far too many public voices have presumed to "speak for us" in saying that Americans will gladly accept a reduction of freedom in exchange for greater "security". Some would, maybe. But some others would accept a reduction in security (and in global trade) far more willingly than they would accept any abridgment of our Constitutional rights."

REMEMBERING TO LOVE OUR ENEMIES. "In a time such as this, when we have been seriously and most cruelly hurt by those who hate us, and when we must consider ourselves to be gravely threatened by those same people, it is hard to speak of the ways of peace and to remember that Christ enjoined us to love our enemies, but this is no less necessary for being difficult."

WAR AND MORE WAR. "Even now we dare not forget that since the attack of Pearl Harbor - to which the present attack has been often and not usefully compared - we humans have suffered an almost uninterrupted sequence of wars, none of which has brought peace or made us more peaceable."

REPEATING THE CYCLE. "The aim and result of war necessarily is not peace but victory, and any victory won by violence necessarily justifies the violence that won it and leads to further violence. If we are serious about innovation, must we not conclude that we need something new to replace our perpetual 'war to end war?'"

PEACEABLENESS. "What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of being. We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness. We have, for example, several national military academies, but not one peace academy. We have ignored the teachings and the examples of Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other peaceable leaders. And here we have an inescapable duty to notice also that war is profitable, whereas the means of peaceableness, being cheap or free, make no money."

PRACTICE WHAT WE PREACH. "The key to peaceableness is continuous practice. It is wrong to suppose that we can exploit and impoverish the poorer countries, while arming them and instructing them in the newest means of war, and then reasonably expect them to be peaceable."

KNOW YOUR ENEMY WELL. "We must not again allow public emotion or the public media to caricature our enemies. If our enemies are now to be some nations of Islam, then we should undertake to know those enemies. Our schools should begin to teach the histories, cultures, arts, and language of the Islamic nations. And our leaders should have the humility and the wisdom to ask the reasons some of those people have for hating us."

Read the full text of "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear."

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

FRACTURING AN IMPORTANT SOLIDARITY

Robert Bellah, Ph.D., author of Habits of the Heart and The Good Society writes:

“Much of what has been happening in our society has been undermining our sense of community in every group. We are facing trends, particularly downsizing and downgrading the work force, that threaten our basic sense of solidarity with others, solidarity with those near to us (loyalty to neighborhood, colleagues at work, fellow residents of our town or city), but also solidarity with those who live far from us, those who are economically in situations very different from our own, those of other nations. Yet this solidarity, this sense of connection, shared fate, mutual responsibility, community, is more critical now more than ever. It is solidarity, trust, mutual responsibility that allow human communities to deal with threats and take advantage of opportunities.”
AN ACQUIESCING PRESS

This is a bit of a post-Labor Day lament.

WHO BUTTERS THEIR BREAD? The mainstream and local news media is an interesting animal. Let's just say they think they know who butters their bread. They would rather measurably pander ideological pabulum and give place for local organizational heads to self-justify their non-leadership than responsibly address the core of community problems.

TRAGIC UNDERSTATEMENTS. Case in point: reading the Labor Day edition of the Indianapolis Star, significant facts to the contrary, one would have come away with the impression that everything's peachy and on the verge of getting better for workers and the Central Indiana workplace. All the Star editors could bring themselves to write is that Indiana's economic recovery is "not lifting all boats." How tragically understated.

WHO'S CONTROLLING THE LOCAL MEDIA AGENDA? Don't Indianapolis area citizens deserve more than this? But they won't get it. Not as long as the region's profiteers do all they can--including demanding much adieu about their strategically-selected self-serving philanthropic giving--to bring influence against livable wage proposals, minimum-wage raise legislation, health care benefits for all workers, fair treatment of immigrant workers, and to shift the focus away from corporate executive excesses in the face of alarmingly-growing statewide poverty.

ACQUIESCING TO BUSINESS INTERESTS. The free press, which could play a significant role in exposing such thinly-disguised bullish influence peddling and assist in documenting the steps toward a more equitable community, instead acquiesces to ideological power. Instead of telling the truth, they join in reporting finely-turned half-truths designed to selectively highlight exceptional cases to confirm their own and others' self-protecting, self-promoting prejudices.

CONNECTING THE DOTS. But denial will eventually be broken. The Star and the mainstream media will eventually report the impacts of the region's business and industry leaders ignoring what is going on in the daily lives of struggling laborers. They will eventually have enough overwhelming evidence about local poverty, employment, crime, and education, and housing statistics and stories to connect the dots that lead back to long-denied livable wages, decent benefits, and worker opportunities. Hind sight will be 20/20. But now is the time and opportunity to name the core issues and begin to address them. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Monday, September 4, 2006

LABOR DAY, HOMELESSNESS & COMMUNITY

INSUFFICIENT WAGES FOR HOUSING. I can't help but connect Labor Day and labor issues to the challenge of homelessness. For many, homelessness begins in the workplace. Simply put: many workers can’t afford to live on the wages they receive. Does the community consider it an injustice when a minimum-wage laborer must work 82 hours a week to afford the average apartment in Indianapolis? Is the community concerned that many full-time workers cannot access affordable housing? Is it an acceptable ethical practice to build a business plan that counts on hiring most of one’s workforce only part-time to avoid paying benefits and fulfilling obligations required by law for full-time laborers, forcing workers into second and third jobs to try to get a roof over their heads?

ARE THESE OUR "HOOSIER VALUES?" These not-talked-about practices are “Hoosier values” that daily impact many homeless and near-homeless neighbors in Central Indiana. They fly in the face of a national survey that indicates 97% of Americans agree that every worker deserves a livable wage. Not high pay, not even union-leveraged incomes, just enough to afford housing and enjoy stability. But to listen to some local influence groups (like the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce), you’d think the idea of a livable wage was a sinister communist plot.

WHAT WE CAN DO. All of us cannot work directly on the issue of homelessness. But all of us can advocate for and make available livable wage incomes for laborers wherever possible. Aside from unionization, there are various tools and approaches that can bring worker wages--particularly in the unskilled and service industries--into a range in which a person can afford to live on the income for which they labor. One tool is free or low-cost trades and technology education available to every worker or unemployed person desiring it. Another is a living wage covenant supported by communities for all companies doing business within their jurisdictions. Another is to upgrade the earned income or housing tax credit for folks whose incomes amount to less than 200% of poverty. These are just a few possibilities.

LOSING SOLIDARITY. Labor practices and livable wages--or a careless disregard for them--impacts the entire community and society. It has to do with our very sense of community. Robert Bellah, author of Habits of the Heart and The Good Society recently writes: "We are facing trends, particularly downsizing and downgrading the work force, that threaten our basic sense of solidarity with others, solidarity with those near to us (loyalty to neighborhood, colleagues at work, fellow residents of our town or city), but also solidarity with those who live far from us, those who are economically in situations very different from our own, those of other nations."

Sunday, September 3, 2006

WHY DON'T WE CALL IT THE "COURAGE PRAYER?"

Why don't we call this the "Courage Prayer?" Or the "Wisdom Prayer?" We call it the "Serenity Prayer," I suppose, because that's the first request in it. But serenity, by itself, is not what is requested. Maybe it's what follows the leading sentence that justifies it being referred to for its call for serenity. I have prayed this prayer occasionally--sometimes out of empathy for others and sometimes in my own periods of frustration about things apparently beyond my control or reach to influence positively. At least a few times I have deplored this prayer, calling it the "Prayer of Acquiescence," after hearing people misuse it to justify their own inaction or refusal to address a clearly rectifiable injustice. Today, however, I prayed it truly in a search for wisdom "to know the difference" and for the trust that God will, with or without my willful action, make all things right.

God grant me serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.

--Reinhold Niebuhr

Saturday, September 2, 2006

INTEGRITY

Integrity is always an issue at various levels. Integrity begins and ends and leads with love. That supersedes my desire to prove my case and win my battles. If I prove my case and win my battles and have not won the hearts of my detractors or those whom I contest, I have lost integrity. I would have proven only that being right is not all it's cracked up to be; I would have proven that crusading and case-winning gets me what's it's always gotten crusaders and litigious wranglers: momentary satisfaction eclipsed by multiplied separation, division, alienation, hatred, destruction, and further exclusion. Somehow, integrity invites us--beckons us, calls us--to find another way.

Friday, September 1, 2006

A Prayer for the House We Receive



After living on Aberdeen Drive for 12 years, we closed on a house near Eagle Creek Park this afternoon and will move into it in a week or so. I have not yet contemplated the full weight of this transition, particularly leaving our well-known digs and neighbors. But knowing that one of the people who has lived in the house we just purchased is a hospital chaplain and knowing my own desire to frame this transition in terms of grace, I wrote the following prayer an hour before closing today.

O God, we reverently receive this house
not as a purchase by our power and will, but
as a stewardship by which You may be glorified.

As full as our joy is in anticipation,
let our privilege be seasoned with the
salt of responsibility and care.

Empty as this place now is, we would fill it
not with the possessions of our pride
but with life and love and blessing.

As those who pass it on have cared for it
and grown together well within its walls,
let our hearts expand under this same roof.

As this dwelling has become a home to others,
let it become, once again, home to us—for however long
You desire that we should live here.

Let this place not define or possess us,
but become a reflection of our desire to live
in Your Word and hospitality and compassion.

Let the doors of this house swing open often
not just to our own loved ones and kin, but
alike to friends and neighbors and strangers.

Let us be neighbors to all who dwell nearby,
to honor and welcome and serve them as a
symbol of Your love for all You have created.

Go before those who leave this place behind;
bless their forward-looking journey
with remembrance and guidance and light.

Move before us, also, O God, into this place,
and find us full of gratitude for the grace that
makes such steps of faith and hope possible.

Amen
THE COURAGE TO MAKE SOMETHING NEW

The following prayer is in a book titled Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers For The Battle by Ted Loder. The book was a gift from Kathy Wallace, a Near Eastside neighbor, several years ago. The book is full of prayers I keep returning to because they reflect my desire to live in and through--and to reflect--such grace. I pray this for myself and offer it to all:

Thank you for all I forget are gifts, not rights.
Forgive me for all the grievances I remember
too well.
Save me from the self pity, the self seeking,
the fat heartedness
which is true poverty.
Guide me, if I am willing, drive me if I am not,
into the hard ways of sacrifice which are
just and loving.
Make me wide eyed for beauty,
and for my neighbor's need and goodness;
Wide eyed for peace making,
and for the confronting power with
the call to compassion;
Wide hearted for love and for the unloved,
who are the hardest to touch and need it the most.
Dull the envy in me which criticizes and complains
life into a thousand ugly bits.
Keep me honest and tender enough to heal,
tough enough to be healed of my hypocrisies.
Match my appetite for privilege
with the stomach for commitment.
Teach me the great cost of paying attention, that,
naked to the dazzle of Your back as You pass,
I may know I am always on holy ground.
Breathe into me the restlessness and courage
to make something new,
something saving,
and something true,
That I may understand what it is to rejoice.
Amen
AN EXPRESSIVE ACT

"An expressive act is one that I take
not to achieve a goal outside myself
but to express a conviction, a leading,
a truth that is within me.
An expressive act is one taken
because if I did not take it I would be
denying my own insight, nature, gift.
By taking an expressive act,
an act not obsessed with outcomes,
I come closer to making the contribution
that is mine to make in the scheme of things”
– Parker Palmer in The Active Life