Wednesday, November 29, 2006
A DIFFERENT DELIVERANCE THAN EXPECTED. Listen to Bruderhof elder Eberhard Arnold in Watch for the Light: “You have perhaps waited for years to be freed from some need. For a long, long time you have looked out from the darkness in search of the light, and have had a difficult problem in life that you have not been able to solve in spite of great efforts. And then, when the time was fulfilled and God’s hour had come, did not a solution, light, and deliverance come quite unexpectedly, perhaps quite differently than you thought?”
AT HIS OWN TIME. “Hasn’t this happened to you, just as the child comes at his own time, and no impatience or hurrying can compel it – but then it comes with its blessing and full of the wonder of God? Hasn’t God’s help come to us sometimes in this way?”
AMID OUR YEARNING. “And so it shall be with our yearning for the redemption of humanity and for a new shining forth of the world of God. When we are discouraged by the apparently slow progress of all our honest efforts, by the failure of this or the other person, and by the ever new reappearance of enemy powers and their apparent victories, then we should know: the time shall be fulfilled.”
LISTEN AND WATCH. “Because of the noise and activity of the struggle and the work, we often do not hear the hidden gentle sound and movement of the life that is coming into being. But here and there, at hours that are blessed, God lets us feel how he is everywhere at work and how his cause is growing and moving forward. The time is being fulfilled and the light shall shine, perhaps just when it seems to us that the darkness is impenetrable.”
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
SEEKING A REMEDY FOR RACISM. I heard on the news that Michael Richards is seeking professional counseling to help him understand what happened to him--in him, through him--that night at the comedy club when he hurled racial epithets at two black hecklers. Good move. Maybe what he discovers will not only help him, but many more. In terms of Christian spirituality, we attribute such explosions to sin. Healing begins in seeking and finding forgiveness, a changed heart and renewed mind through faith in Jesus Christ. We believe this analysis and faith response is critical to healing personal bigotry and social disharmony.
ADVENT SOUL WORK. Richards’ and Gibson’s outbursts, along with reemerging neo-Nazi and anti-immigrant sentiment, should trigger a season of thoughtful reflection and responsible action for race reconciliation and community justice. Perhaps this should be our primary soul work in this penitential season of Advent. Take the time during the next several weeks to ask "why?" Kindle a fire of holy concern through personal awareness raising, relationship building, and whatever steps these call forth in your spirit. Resistance to diversity, awareness, self-examination, and institutional questioning is a critical spiritual issue. Challenge resistance early and often; let it become, instead, a threshold we walk through, however painfully, into new awarenesses, new relationships, new perspectives.
DEAFENING SILENCE OF THE CHURCH. The silence of the church in regard to racism is as deafening now as it was when Martin Luther King, Jr. was trying to peacefully organize communities for racial justice in the 1960s. With notable few exceptions, his appeals to the churches largely fell on deaf ears. The continuing silence of the evangelical and holiness churches, in particular, is an indictment on its leadership. Every Christian Bible school, home school, elementary and high school, college, university, seminary, and graduate school that does not equip its students to understand and articulate the Christian call to community justice and to stand with suffering neighbors abrogates whatever claims to moral leadership it banally asserts. The lingering question is: Why does the evangelical church NOT speak and act boldly--even lead the nation--in relationship to race reconciliation and community justice?
UNHEALED WOUNDS, UNEXPLORED ISSUES. A generation after the civil rights movement won landmark court decisions and Congress passed civil rights legislation, the "dream" of reconciled races, equal opportunity and justice, and community harmony amid diversity is unrealized. For the most part, most whites recognized the fairness of the court decisions and complied with these laws and directives. But, in many cases, race-related tension, regrets, accusations, hard feelings, unhealed wounds, and unexplored issues still lie just beneath the surface of a veneer of superficial civility. That verneer will not last another generation; we already see its raw exposure in the increase of hate crimes among young people.
SIGNS OF HOPE. On the other hand, signs of hope and actions of positive engagement continue to be the salt, light, and leaven that penetrate fear, apathy, and ignorance. One local sign of hope is the Indianapolis Faith Leadership Series initiated by the Central Indiana Community Foundation. The leadership development series brings together a diverse group of emerging leaders of faith-based organizations in order to strengthen leadership skills, build inter-faith and inter-racial relationships, and explore community solutions. Thanks to CICF former director Ken Gladdish for initiating this series. It is but one of his excellent legacies to the region.
Monday, November 27, 2006
What is this beast that lurks beneath the surface
so long bridled, seemingly dormant, even dead
that breaks the façade of apparent inclusivity
spewing venomous vitriol in fits of pathetic
What feeds this thing during years of guarded restraint
keeping it subdued, at bay, and yet ever alive
until mild provocation shatters political correctness
and the charade ends in a revelation of sheer
Is it birthed by early familial murmurings
implanted in impressionable minds by
loved ones who fail to confront their own
hatred of what they fear and so carelessly
Is it nurtured by nursing perceived sleights
encountered in the schoolroom and playground
each conflict and every word reinforcing
an irrational calculation justified by
each new hurt?
Is it fed by the observation of unaddressed injustices
ignored by leaders, minimized by influence groups,
cynically renamed and recast as inconsequential
to a public too satiated by technology and toys to
Is it fueled by unspoken allegiances, winks and nods--
the stuff of fraternal bonding and back-watching
that is etched unquestioningly into the social psyche
as necessary and acceptable norms for getting along
in one’s herd?
Is it given wings by ideologies that define civility
by drawing narrow circles and daring those on the margins
to get up to speed, measure up, perform to the standard
that the self-protecting privileged could never fulfill
on their own?
It is driven deep into some supra-social DNA
by resentments, pride, unsettled scores, and revenge
that build layer upon layer, generation upon generation
until one’s identity as race or class or caste or ethnicity are
Wherever it comes from, whatever its sources
let each and all of us attend to this residual parasite
that leeches our very hope for finding common ground
and knowing ourselves—and the other—as capable of being
Sunday, November 26, 2006
I had a great bicycle ride on Saturday. I pedaled 57 miles in a circle around the city, crossing Kessler Boulevard from west to east, then south on Emerson Avenue to Pleasant Run Parkway. I toured the downtown area before heading up Riverside Drive and back to Kessler/56th Street, Eagle Creek Park, and home. I snapped this photo where 56th Street crosses the canal along Westfield Drive in Broadripple.
Warm weather here at the end of November invites such training rides in preparation for riding 62+ miles a day in India beginning December 30. Learn about Bicycle India 2007.
Shaping the pattern of our lives around the Christian calendar
Gathered together with family and friends.
Sat down to turkey with all the trimmings.
Offered thanks for blessings seen and unperceived.
Pushed ourselves back after several helpings.
Sauntered outside to pass a football.
Played until we could not see the ball.
Headed back inside for a round of desserts.
Talked and told stories late into the evening.
Piled into the van and headed back home.
Collapsed into an exhausted, satisfied sleep.
Gathered together as family and neighbors.
Stood up to worship with all the senses.
Offered thanks for blessings seen and unperceived.
Pondered the preached Word's fresh helping.
Sang of the grace that is greater than our sin.
Prepared to share in the blessed Sacrament.
Headed down the aisle to kneel around the altar.
Took in the consecrated bread and wine.
Piled into the van and headed back home.
Contemplated anew the wonder of these blessings.
Scattering apart as neighbors and laborers.
Standing up to serve with all our capacities.
Offering thanks for blessings seen and unperceived.
Pondering the interface of word and deed.
Singing of faithfulness even as our strength fails.
Playfully considering the sacredness of life.
Heading interactions in the direction of community.
Talking and telling stories as work is accomplished.
Plowing through traffic as we head back home.
Celebrating the fullness of life as a gift from God.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
This is the old Cannondale touring bike I plan to take to India for our 2,000-mile ride that begins on December 30, 2006. If all goes to plan, we will begin in Nagercoil at the southern tip of India and arrive in New Delhi in February 8, 2007. Get up to speed on Bicycle India 2007 and then track us each day as we ride.
Friday, November 24, 2006
But the sky isn't gray... The setting sun shines on these leaves at the edge of the reservoir in Eagle Creek Park. Most of the leaves have fallen now and rains have taken the "crunch" out of most of them. They blanket the woods. It's quite easy to see the many deer through the trees in this sanctuary.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
“Anyone who loves must always be prepared to have his or her plans interrupted. We must be ready to be surprised by tasks which God sets for us today. God is always compelling us to improvise. For God’s tasks always have about them something surprising and unexpected…"
"God is always a God of surprises, not only in the way God helps us, but also in the manner in which He confronts me with tasks to perform and sends people across my path. Be flexible, adaptable, maneuverable, and
ready to improvise!"
– Helumt Thielicke in The Waiting Father
A prayer of Ted Loder in his incredible collection of poems titled Guerrillas of Grace:
Praise be to you, O Lord, for life
and for my intense desire to live;
praise be to you for the mystery of love
and for my intense desire to be a lover;
praise be to you for this day
and another chance to live and love.
Thank you, Lord
for friends who stake their claim in my heart,
for enemies who disturb my soul and bump my ego,
for tuba players,
and story tellers,
and trapeze troupes.
Thank you, Lord,
for singers of songs,
for teachers of songs,
who help me sing along the way,
and for listeners.
Thank you, Lord,
for those who attempt beauty
rather than curse ugliness,
for those who take stands
rather than take polls,
for those who risk being right
rather than pandering to be liked,
for those who do something
rather than talking about everything.
Lord, grant me grace, then,
and a portion of your Spirit
that I may so live
as to give others cause to be thankful for me,
thankful because I have not forgotten
how to hope,
how to laugh,
how to say "I am sorry,"
how to forgive,
how to bind up wounds,
how to dream,
how to cry,
how to pray,
how to love when it is hard,
and how to dare when it is dangerous.
Undamn me, Lord,
that praise may flow more easily from me
thanks more readily
Praise be to you, Lord, for life;
praise be to you for another chance to live.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
This posting is one of a week-long series I am calling "A Thanksgiving Primer." The postings include prayers, poems, quotes, and my personal reflections. Look for this photo/icon as you scroll thru bikehiker for more resources on gratitude.
By Howard Thurman
Howard Thurman--African American, Quaker, pastor, writer, mentor to a generation of developing civil rights leaders--is an inspiration to me in many ways. I read his “Litany of Thanksgiving” each year and marvel at Thurman’s insight and humility. If you have not read him, find his books and take a soulful journey.
Today, I make my Sacrament of Thanksgiving.
I begin with the simple things of my days:
Fresh air to breath,
Cool water to drink,
The taste of food,
The protection of houses and clothes,
The comforts of home.
For these, I make an act of Thanksgiving this day!
I bring to mind all the warmth of humankind that I have known:
My mother’s arms,
The strength of my father,
The playmates of my childhood,
The wonderful stories brought to me from the
lives of many who talked of days gone by
when fairies and giants and all kinds of
magic held sway;
The tears I have shed, the tears I have seen;
The excitement of laughter and the twinkle in the eye
with its reminder that life is good.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
I finger one of the messages of hope that awaited me at the crossroads:
The smile of approval from those who held in their hands
the reins of my security;
The tightening of the grip in a single handshake
when I feared the step before me in the darkness;
The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest
and the claims of appetite were not to be denied;
The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open page
when my decision hung in the balance.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
I pass before me the mainsprings of my heritage:
The fruits of the labors of countless generations
who lived before me, without whom my own life
would have no meaning;
The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;
The prophets who sense a truth greater than the mind
could grasp and whose words could only find fulfillment
in the years which they would never see;
The workers whose sweat has watered the trees,
the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;
The pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons,
whose courage made paths into new worlds and far-off places;
The Savior whose blood was shed with a recklessness
that only a dream could inspire and God could command.
For all this I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
I linger over the meanings of my own life and the commitment
to which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind:
The little purposes in which I have shared with my loves, my desires, my gifts;
The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its
stark insistence that I have never done my best,
I have never reached for the highest;
The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind
will study war no more, that love and tenderness and
all the inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the
life of the children of God as the waters cover the sea.
All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,
I make as my Sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,
Our Father, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.
From For the Inward Journey, selected writings by Howard Thurman, 1984, Richmond, Indiana: Friends United Press
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
This posting is one of a week-long series I am calling "A Thanksgiving Primer." Look for this photo/icon as you scroll thru bikehiker for more resources on gratitude.
BOILED DOWN HOLIDAY? Boiling down the essence of a particular holiday is dangerous. By the time one distills it down to one thing, it has lost is savor, it's flat, one-dimensional. One will have a point, but missed it in the making. It's true, "Jesus is the reason for the season" of Christmas, but no one but a few Grinches are going to reduce that robust holiday down to its singular flash point.
NFL FOR THANKSGIVING DINNER? Thanksgiving, like other holidays, is multi-faceted, a layered tradition with rich tributaries. But, like other holidays, commercialism tends to twist or bury primary meanings and overwhelm traditions. For example, who would ever have imagined eating Thanksgiving dinner in front of the TV, watching an NFL game? Two American traditions collide and the primary one yields.
I will likely watch some of the NFL action on Thursday. I also hope we play some football. But I was thinking of the tendency to lose primary meanings and spiritual growth opportunities of Thanksgiving when I penned the following poem.
This holiday is for all that we
Take for granted,
Assume as a given,
Claim as our God-given right.
This holiday if for all those we
Agitate with our demands,
Regularly impose upon.
This holiday is for all that we
By-pass in our drivenness,
Go out of our way to avoid,
Thoughtlessly leave out.
This holiday is for all things we
Receive as gracious gifts,
Share as common ground,
Express as transcendent grace,
Return in praise to God.
Monday, November 20, 2006
John Gibson is a primary local advocate for The Earth Charter and he e-mails a weekly paragrah on Mondays. Today's is poignant:
"'The spirit of human solidarity and kinship with all life is strengthened when we live with reverence for the mystery of being, gratitude for the gift of life, and humility regarding the human place in nature' (Earth Charter Preamble). It’s easy and appropriate to be grateful when you have plenty to eat, a place to sleep and health insurance to buffer the vulnerabilities of body and mind. This Thanksgiving, however, please join me in pondering how to live both gratefully and responsibly in a world where 852 million people are hungry, another plant or animal species goes extinct every 20 minutes, 46 million people in the U.S. have no health insurance, and 3500 persons are homeless in Indianapolis alone. Guilt trip? No! But thanksgiving 'lite' won’t work either."
Thanks for the prod, John.
I usually find good fodder for my mind and uneasy nourishment for my soul whenever I read Wendell Berry. It happened as I read in A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997. Two verses of a poem titled "Amish Economy" spoke to me of Thanksgiving:
Sunday, November 19, 2006
This posting is one of a week-long series I am calling "A Thanksgiving Primer." Look for this photo/icon as you scroll thru bikehiker for more resources on gratitude.
FROM A HOSPITAL BED. A member of the Sheffield family brought by a prayer which my Aunt Willie Mae Sheffield typed out on portable word processor while in the hospital during the last year of her life. Aunt Mae died immediately following Christmas in 1997, at age 63, of complications due to an extended bout with diabetes. This prayer followed an important eye surgery.
Just wanted to thank you for letting me be happy. I really need some happy time right now. I do not exactly know why everything has happened the way it has, and I am not sure what kind of message You are sending me, but for some strange reason, I feel a lot smarter today than I did yesterday. And everyday I am getting stronger. Thank You for making me who I am. Thank You for helping me realize I am thankful for who I am. All I want is to be happy in my life, and to be a warm-hearted person. I really do not have a selfish agenda. I am so happy to have my family and my health. I feel so lucky to have ten fingers and ten toes, and a good mind. I am so thankful that when I put my head down on my pillow at night, I am at peace. I love You. And I love knowing that You have surrounded me with people loving me. I do not say or show You my thanks enough, but I really think it a lot. Thank You for allowing us to have beautiful things, and thank You for unclouding my eyes so that I see them. Amen
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Thank Thee, O Giver of Life, O God!
For the force that flames in the winter sod;
For the breath of my nostrils, fiercely good,
The sweet of water, the taste of food,
The sun that silvers the pantry floor,
The step of a neighbor at my door;
For dusk that fondles the window pane,
For the beautiful sound of falling rain.
Thank Thee for love and light and air,
For children’s faces, keenly fair,
For the wonderful joy of perfect rest
When the sun’s wick lowers within the West;
For huddling hills in gowns of snow
Warming themselves in the afterglow;
For Thy mighty wings that are never furled,
Bearing onward the rushing world.
Thank Thee, O Giver of Life, O God!
For Thy glory leaping the lightning rod;
For Thy terrible spaces of love and fire
Where sparks from the forge of Thy desire
Storm through the void in floods of suns,
Far as the heat of Thy Presence runs
And where hurricanes of chanting spheres
Swing to the pulse of the flying years.
Thank Thee for human toil that thrills
With the plan of Thine which man fulfills;
For bridges and tunnels, for ships that soar,
For iron and steel and the furnace roar;
For this anguished vortex of blood and pain
Where sweat and struggle are never vain;
For progress, pushing the teeming earth
On and up to a higher birth.
Thank Thee for life, for life, for life,
O Giver of Life, O God!
I found this poem in The Treasury of Religious Verse compiled by Donald T. Kauffman, 1970
Friday, November 17, 2006
NO PLACE LIKE NYC FOR BIKES. Perhaps no magazine has featured bikes in city life as the New Yorker. This graphic (left) is one example of the editors' choice of covers that reflect life in a city in which bicycles are part of the common landscape. Our family's first-ever visit to Manhattan last November confirmed the prominent place of bicycles in that hyper-urban environment. The Big Apple makes room for bicycles in ways that Midwestern communities like Indianapolis do not. Indy is beginning to recognize the value of urban biking and making room...ever so slowly.
BICYCLING NATIONS. Bicycling magazine's December 2006 issue graphs the relatively light use of bicycles as a basic mode of mobility in the USA in comparison to Europe and Asia. There are, for instance, 8.8 bicyles for every 10 people in China. The Netherlands boasts more bicycle commuters than any other nation--7.7 in 10 use a bike for getting back and forth to work, store, school, etc. India and China are not far behind. Less than one in ten in the USA use a bike to commute. The excuse of weather doesn't work: remember, it's The Netherlands! Overcoming our excuses, along with legitimate reasons, would be a good discussion, don't you think?
Thursday, November 16, 2006
This posting is one of a week-long series I am calling "A Thanksgiving Primer." Look for this photo/icon as you scroll thru bikehiker.
FROM THE HEART. Over the past few days I've been reading lots of Thanksgiving poems. I haven't yet found one that speaks my heart. So I wrote one that does.
Thanksgiving doesn’t live in a vacuum;
We do not pluck it from thin air.
We cannot be grateful on command,
Genuflecting at the drop of hat.
Talk is cheap when it comes to thanking,
Yet beyond courteous etiquette
Lies a deeper reality that beckons,
Inviting us to reckon with grace.
Native American graciousness
And Pilgrim hospitality,
Turkey and all the trimmings point
Beyond finely folded, praying hands.
Through and beyond these images
We glimpse a sacred connection,
As generations across time
Hail some gracious provision.
It’s not so much a debt we owe
Or tribute for posterity
As it is a virtue we receive
And reflect into eternity.
We deep-down know we are held
By sustaining, life-giving hands.
Not our own or on our own,
We belong and are lovingly known.
We cannot utter such mystery
Tradition and rite fall short
But these, and we, can point and say
“Thanks” for life and grace today.
'TIS THE WEEK BEFORE THANKSGIVING. We don't count down the days to Thanksgiving like we do to Christmas. But we all know Thanksgiving marks the unofficial beginning of the extended holiday season. So, only seven days left! Got turkey?
SEASONAL GEAR SHIFT. Get ready to shift gears. You've already seen and sensed it at the superstores. I'm acutely aware of a quickening pace thru planning for Advent and Christmastide with the church. I'm way down the road and having to bring myself back to Thanksgiving. I remind myself: Don’t rush past Thanksgiving; don’t take it for granted. Be present to the day, the moment; tune into its unique grace.
SET THE PACE THIS WEEK. Maybe Thanksgiving could actually set a careful, measured pace for all that follows. Instead of running through Thanksgiving and slamming into Christmas, could we possibly make this week count as a pacesetter? Take a few moments to make some decisions about how you will spend time over the next month or so. Approach the season through Thanksgiving.
HARVEST OF THE HEART. I found the following insight in Howard Thurman’s For the Inward Journey: “Great and significant as is the harvest in nature, the most pertinent kind of ingathering of the human spirit is what I call ‘the harvest of the heart.’ Living is a shared process. Inasmuch as I do not live or die unto myself, it is of the essence of wisdom for me conscientiously to live and die in the profound awareness of other people. The statement, ‘Know thyself,’ has been taken mystically from the statement, ‘Thou hast seen thy brother, thou has seen thy God.’”
CONFESSING OUR THANKS. For whom, for what, might we give thanks this week? Stop to consider, or contemplate on your way down the road. Not a conjured sentimentality, but a gratitude that might arise from depths of contemplation or a moment’s realization of our sacred interconnectedness. And dare we confess our modest appreciation to these beloved ones? Be careful, gratitude might be contagious.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
A response to Governor Daniels' announcement of a massive "Commerce Connector" tollway he wants to build around Central Indiana
It’s unfortunate that Governor Daniels has used “provincialism” to label those who respectfully disagree with his plans to spread sprawl in the region. An apology to former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut, at least, is in order. The people who are voicing resistance to the Governor’s intentions are not myopic thinkers. They have valid concerns that should be duly considered. Thoughtful urban planners and regional strategists believe the Governor’s idea has significant downsides, perhaps tragic flaws. The vitality of Indianapolis and Central Indiana’s economy is distinct in significant ways from other U.S. metropolitan areas that have invested in “big donut” strategies like the Governor has proposed.
Instead of being in “sell mode” and representing primarily a business interest bloc, Mr. Daniels might do well to take a few steps back for the sake of wider consideration. A robust public dialogue might prove quite fruitful. A better outcome might emerge if foregone conclusions that serve a relatively small range of citizen interests were taken off the table.
Unfortunately, Central Indiana is not prepared to fend for itself or be proactive as a cohesive unit in the face of such state-led initiatives, or more narrowly-focused decisions of singular cities or towns. A regional planning council would be an appropriate forum for such strategic development considerations. Regional planning and development commissions serve some U.S. urban regions quite effectively, offering better outcomes than any single-interest group could hope to provide. Equal input and buy-in from each county and community within the region would spare many hard feelings and territorial missteps, not to mention misspent tax dollars.
I do not know if officials in cities, towns, and counties in Central Indiana have the political will to come together for such regional planning and decision-making. Past efforts at real region-wide consideration through MAGIC and CIRCL were vibrant but short-lived. But in the face of a unilateral decision by the Governor to define the future of Indianapolis and each county into the foreseeable future, for good or for ill, the urgency of a regional planning entity is apparent.
I submitted this to the Indianapolis Star editor last evening
Note: this letter was published in the Indianapolis Star's "Focus" section on Sunday, November 19, 2006
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
This excerpt by Wendell Berry is from an essay titled "A Citizen's Response to 'The National Security Strategy of the United States of America'" in Citizenship Papers. Berry's full essay is an important read. In it, he responds to the Bush policy of "preemptive war" that led to attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. This particular segment, however, is less about that and more about things from which a national security strategy can't save us.
"It is understandable that we should have reacted to the attacks of September 11, 2001, by curtailment of civil rights, by defiance of laws, and by resort to overwhelming force, for those actions are the ready products of fear and hasty thought. But they cannot protect us against the destruction of our own land by ourselves. They cannot protect us against the selfishness, wastefulness, and greed that we have legitimatized here as economic virtues, and have taught to the world. They cannot protect us against our government's consequent dependence, which for the present at least is inescapable, on foreign supplies such as oil from the Middle East."
"And they cannot protect us from what proved to be the greatest danger of all: the estrangement of our people from one another and from our land. Increasingly, Americans--including, notoriously, their politicians--are not from anywhere. And so they have in this 'homeland,' which their government now seeks to make secure on their behalf, no home place that they are strongly moved to know or love or use well or protect."
Monday, November 13, 2006
by Rabindranath Tagore in Gitanjali
I thought that my voyage had come to its end
at the last limit of my power,
that the path before me was closed,
that provisions were exhausted
and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity.
But I find that thy will knows no end in me.
And when old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where the old tracks are lost,
new country is revealed with its wonders.
Tagore was an early 20th-century poet and philosopher from Calcutta, India. W. B. Yeats revealed his genius to the world, publishing Gitanjali and introducing Tagore to the leading thinkers of the day. Tagore won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1919. Learn more about Tagore, considered one of India's great sons.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Honor with reverence those men and women who died in battle. Weep and mourn for civilians cruelly caught in the strife. Give due respect for lives laid down in the name of freedom. But never glory in war. Never embrace its horrors. Never savor its torments. Never dream of its violence. Never drink to its return. Never gaze upon its power, lest its illusion seduce you. Lest war lust obsess you. Lest its siren sound lure you into its labyrinthine bowels and you swear allegiance to it, live for it, and your soul die even as you breathe.
I wrote this poem shortly after the outset of America's "preemptive" attack on Iraq. I've since posted it a few times on Bikehiker. It seems as applicable now as it did several years ago. Perhaps the only difference is that most are no longer willing to keep silent, that is, if America's choices at the voting booth are to be interpreted as voices long ignored or withheld.
We are told
To anticipate victory
As if it was meant to be
With every death
Resolve is supposed to deepen
Till debt is paid
For every grave
We are chided not to weaken
It seems inane
To follow this logic through
We buy the lie
For a tough man’s stunted view
To prior and distant choices
Ignoring wiser voices
Still we choose
To pursue paths of violence
On it goes
Till who knows
So long as most keep silence
Saturday, November 11, 2006
ARMISTICE DAY - 87 YEARS LATER. Today is the 87th anniversary of Armistice Day, the day Germany surrendered, ending "The Great War." We now observe November 11 as Veterans Day. At least 8,538,315 soldiers died in World War I; there were 37,508,686 total casualties, or 57.6% of all troops deployed by allied and axis forces.
FOR REMEMBRANCE. I found numerous poems in tribute to those fallen in World War I, but chose the following, called "For Remembrance" by Basil Ebers, to post:
What is it, O dear Country of our pride,
We pledge anew that we will not forget?
To keep on Freedom's altar burning yet
The fires for which a myriad heroes died
Known and unknown, beyond the far sea's tide
That their great gift be no futility.
Faith with the Dead kept through our living faith;
In this alone the true remembrance lies,
The unfading garland for the sacrifice,
To prove their dream of Brotherhood no wraith,
No moment's hope--its birth-pang one with death--
but the fixed goal of our humanity.
HONOR THE WAR DEAD, NOT WAR. A fine line it is, but oh so critical that it be observed and guarded. The line--almost imperceptible when enflamed with hatred toward enemies or drunk with hard-fought victory--will glorify or condemn us. It is the line between honoring the war dead and war itself.
NEVER DREAM OF ITS VIOLENCE. Honor with reverence those men and women who died in battle. Weep and mourn for civilians cruelly caught in the strife. Give due respect for lives laid down in the name of freedom. But never glory in war. Never embrace its horrors. Never savor its torments. Never dream of its violence. Never drink to its return. Never gaze upon its power, lest its illusion seduce you. Lest war lust obsess you. Lest its siren sound lure you into its labyrinthine bowels and you swear allegiance to it, live for it, and your soul die even as you breathe.
NOT ALL WARS ARE EQUAL. Not all wars are equal. The vast majority have not really been necessary. This is not so much a reflection on the troops who fought in them as it is on those who chose and directed them. The current war in Iraq is a good example of an unnecessary war.
VETERAN DREAMS. I know some Veterans and they are people of integrity. Some fought in World War II, some served during the Vietnam conflict, others in the Persian Gulf War and Iraq. They tell different stories. All are glad to be alive, grieve their lost comrades, and relieved that their service is ended. None I know wish for their sons or daughters the opportunity to fight another war.
A NEW CROP OF HOMELESS VETERANS. I've worked with homeless vets for years. Just when we were getting most of the Vietnam-era Vets connected with counseling, housing, and the costly, life-long resources that are necessary for ones whose minds, emotions, bodies, and souls have been ravaged by war, America starts breeding a new crop soon-to-be homeless Vets. It doesn't take years for Vets returning from doing our government's dirty work to show up in soup lines and missions; think in terms of months. It takes many years, however, to overcome what a few months in front-line action can do.
WAR FINDS A WAY. War always finds some twisted way to justify its own necessity and perpetuation. Once engaged, it plants its gruesome seed then argues for its rebirth in every generation. War is self-perpetuating; few generations can resist it.
ART'S PROMISE AND POWER. Recently, it occurred to me (or at least resurfaced within me) that a way to reveal the hollow way of mammon and violence, and to simultaneously bring light to grace and peace, is through arts and literature. Political partisanship is getting us nowhere. The evangelical church is losing its witness amid partisanship. But art--the written word, the dramatized situation, the lifted song, and the vision graphically cast--has more power to delegitimate war and cumber, and to bring the possibility of grace into our lives than the currently prevailing methods of choice.
Friday, November 10, 2006
"Every time we choose poverty over wealth, powerlessness over power, humble service over popularity, quiet fruitfulness over loud acclaim, we prepare for our rebirth in the Holy Spirit. This might sound gloomy, unnatural, and even impossible. But once we have embarked on the journey of faith, our eyes will be opened to the way of the poor without any coercion or force. We will discover, first of all, our own poverty, fears, doubts, vulnerabilities, and weaknesses. In faith, we will no longer ignore or avoid these things, but embrace them as the place where Jesus walks with us and sends us his Spirit. Then also we will see clearly the poor around us, and we will realize that they reveal to us God's presence in ways nobody else could. We will feel drawn to them, not because of their poverty, but because of the Holy Spirit shining through their poverty." - Henri Nouwen in Reborn from Above
Thursday, November 9, 2006
CITIZENSHIP PAPERS. I came across a good essay by Wendell Berry in a book I checked out of the public library last week. Citizenship Papers is a collection of essays by Berry, published in 2003 by Shoemaker & Hoard (Washington, D.C.). It includes his "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear," which I regard as the most poignant response to 9/11. These essays include references to 9/11 throughout, however, and that makes the collection quite valuable for current contemplation. Here are a few portions from the essay "Two Minds."
CULTURAL LANDSCAPE. "We live in two landscapes, one superimposed upon the other . First there is the cultural landscape made up of our own knowledge of where we are, of landmarks and memories, of patterns of use and travel, of remindings and meanings. The cultural landscape, among other things, is a pattern of exchanges of work, goods, and comforts among neighbors. It is the country we have in mind."
ACTUAL LANDSCAPE. "And then there is the actual landscape, which we can never fully know, which is always going to be to some degree a myserty, from time to time surprising us. These two landscapes are necessarily and irremediably different from each other. But there is danger in their difference; they can become too different. If the cultural landscape becomes too different from the actual landscape, then we will make practical errors that will be destructive of the actual landscape or of ourselves or of both."
DESTROYING OUR SENSE OF 'HOME.' Berry gives various examples of the destruction or reuse of actual landscapes--the arctic, deserts, strip-mining, landmarks, battlefields, historic farmlands, sacred places, etc. He asserts: "We have enormous and increasing numbers of people who have no home landscape, though in every one of their economic acts they are affecting the actual landscapes of the world, mostly for the worse. This is a situation that is unprecedentedly disorderly and dangerous."
SUPERFICIAL CULTURE. "To be disconnected from any actual landscape is to be, in the practical or economic sense, without a home. To have not country carefully and practically in mind is to be without a culture. In such a situation, culture becomes purposeless and arbitrary, dividing into 'popular culture,' determined by commerce, advertizing, and fashion, and 'high culture,' which is either social affectation, displaced cultural memory, or the merely aesthetic pursuits of artists and art lovers."
CREATING OUR OWN LOSTNESS. "We are thus involved in a kind of lostness in which most people are participating more or less unconsciously in the destruction of the natural world, which is to say, the sources of their own lives. They are doing this unconsciously because they see or do very little of the actual destruction themselves, and they don't know, because they have no way to learn, how they are involved. At the same time many of the same people fear and mourn the destruction, which they say they can't stop because they have no practical understanding of its causes."
What to do? More later...
Wednesday, November 8, 2006
In light of the tide change that swept Democrats into power in Congress, I've been making a few mental notes that I now articulate:
1. Don't gloat. We're tired of that kind of behavior from public servants. That's one reason you got the votes of so many of us.
2. Don't act arrogantly. We're as weary of that attitude and posturing as anything else.
3. Don't seek reprisals. Duly investigate what ought to be investigated. Seek to set things straight. But don't try to exact revenge. It will come back to haunt you.
4. Hold yourselves as accountable as you believe the Bush Administration and those who controlled the decisions before you should be held accountable. Set a new high standard in public ethics.
5. Look every gift horse, i.e., concession or conciliatory gesture, given in the name of "bipartisanship" in the mouth. Don't be gullible. Discern carefully.
6. Don't get caught up in a war of words with partisan pundits, PACs, or the press. Don't make stupid decisions based on reaction to unsettling words issued from the TV, radio, and Internet waves. Just lead with integrity.
7. Deal decisively to conclude the mess in Iraq by cultivating a win/win dialogue on broader Middle East neighborhood challenges. Deal with primary sources of terrorism and terrorism will lose its support.
8. Reestablish a credible, enviable foreign/international relations approach. Remember when America was respected and relied upon as the world's peacemaker?
9. Bring the public dialogue focus back to domestic challenges. Remember us?
10. Address poverty at home and abroad. Tie homeland, national, and international security to it. Explore these linkages creatively.
11. Represent all of us, not just those who say they deserve your allegiance because they think they helped get you elected by paying for your slimy TV and radio ads. You are beholden to no one but we, the people. If we think you're being bought, remember, there's another election in less than two years.
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
I voted this morning at 6:15 am. Mine was the 18th paper ballot in Marion County precinct 46 to slide through the electronic voting machine. Who'd ever know if my ballot was or was not registered and counted? I had to trust the machine and the nervously smiling people monitoring the whole scenario.
There were lots of folks in the fire station and 30 or so cars lined up along the road in the early-morning darkness. I wonder what that means?
I love to vote. It's such a profound act. So limited, but so potentially impactful. One person, one vote. But many "one vote"s can end corruption and change leadership...or bless it.
I don't know how all those other people in my precinct voted, but we'll know by day's end (maybe). Will people across the county vote similarly? Will the state's citizens vote alike? Will the nation reflect its collective fears and hopes?
I'll watch the returns on CNN and MSNBC late into the evening -- watch the pundits and pollsters try to make sense of us -- "we, the people."
Monday, November 6, 2006
QUANDARIES AT THE POLLS. Knowing I am an evangelical Christian minister, I was recently asked how I reconcile many Democrats’ stand on abortion and gay unions with confidence that the Bible is true. The inquirer confessed to having the same problem reconciling the Iraq war with Christian faith. Such are the quandaries of national elections.
PARADOXES IN THE PLATFORMS. Earnest Christians are faced with tough choices in the voting booth. Whoever one casts a vote for, it may feel like something less than making a clearly Christian choice. There are paradoxes in the candidates and their platforms. I hope folks struggle hard and long with how they will vote, and then second-guess themselves all the way home from the polls.
BEYOND ELECTION DAY. As I thought about responding to my inquirer, I realized there are seven considerations I make as I vote--and as I live as an engaged citizen and conscientious Christian between elections. This is not a "voter's guide." It's just what I consider when I vote.
1. WHAT DOES IT DO TO THE POOR? Echoing the challenge of Nicholas Wolterstorf, I ask of any candidate’s or administration’s positions and proposals, “What does it do to the poor?” Neither domestic poverty nor the impact of American policies on those who are poor internationally factor much into campaigns. Yet it was to the poor who were being crushed by the empire and belittled by religious sects that Jesus of Nazareth primarily addressed himself. The concerns of the poor continue to be lost in political agendas that are influenced more by the preservation of moneyed advantage than a moral compass.
2. BEWARE LITMUS TESTS. I don’t expect the American President or Congress person to be a professing Christian or my brand of Christian. Candidates love to wear righteousness on their sleeves and court faith votes. Beware: personal piety does not necessarily translate into sound leadership or policies that reflect Biblical integrity. Heed the observations of David Kuo. There’s never been a Christian platform or Christian Presidential Administration. Instead of holding them up to a litmus test, I expect the American President and governmental leaders to uphold the Constitution and lead with utmost wisdom, compassion, and diplomacy--with a particular sensitivity to the most vulnerable among us and in our world.
3. AMERICA AND GOD’S KINGDOM ARE NOT THE SAME. I recognize that the priorities of the Kingdom of God and the agendas of American Presidents and governments are not the same. Combining or confusing the two is, to my way of thinking, a potentially lethal mix. I do not think the American President or government can express the Kingdom of God; that is the challenge of the church. I yield necessary and limited obedience to given authorities and hope--and advocate--for a better America. But I give my heart to and live unqualifiedly for Jesus Christ and His Kingdom; that is where ultimate hope for humanity’s future lies.
4. COMPASSION BEYOND CLICHÉS. I look for a candidate who I think will lead compassionately, not just talk about it. Will the candidate give an ear to those who are vulnerable and dominated? Will he or she be moved by more than money and political pressure? Beyond personal benevolence, will the candidate seek to make America fairer, instituting policies that roll back prejudice, disadvantage, and poverty? Will the he or she hold truth and human rights higher than political or economic expediency?
5. LOOK BEYOND “ALL OR NOTHING.” I recognize that most “all-or-nothing” issues cast during election campaigns are NOT “all-or-nothing.” Neither candidate is as extreme or demonic as the other camp says he/she is; neither is as morally right and righteous as his/her own press indicates. Major ideological battles will not be won or lost because either one party or another is given control of Congress or the Presidency. In the end, right-wingers do not usually get their way and left-wingers do not usually get their way. Through tough, extended deliberation, a consensus response that is palatable to most Americans can emerge on most of the issues currently framed as “all or nothing” (though the consensus response may not be Biblically tenable and though I may continue advocate for core Biblical principles behind the issue). I am more likely to vote for a candidate who can be conciliatory and principled at the same time.
6. CONSIDER THE USE OF VIOLENCE. I ask “How has a candidate responded to violence or used violence? And how does he/she plan to respond to and use it in the future?” Life is precious and killing (in the womb, by slowly suffocating neglect, or on the battlefield) has devastating consequences even when “good” results. We also know “violence begets more violence,” the spiral increasing in intensity and breadth every time is it used even “justifiably.” The measured use of deadly force and the threat of the use of deadly force is, to me, a very high concern in this election. Will the candidate use this awful power responsibly and with an eye to ending violence by the hands of Americans? How will he or she influence regimes to abandon nuclear weapons programs? Will the candidate lead, not so much by violence, but with the winning power of personal influence and persuasion?
7. AMERICA’S ROLE IN THE WORLD. Finally, I consider how candidates envision America’s place and role in the world. I am very concerned, as are many Christian missionaries, about an emerging aura of “empire” or “Pax Americana” that American actions are foretelling. In what appears to me as outright hegemony, we flex our muscles and other people must cow tow to our might or else be cut off (or receive reduced support or be left to fend for themselves against their enemies). Simultaneously, goodwill toward America appears to be dissipating around the world. In more places Americans are deeply resented, hated, and threatened like never before. This is making it more difficult for Christian missionaries, particularly those from the United States, to convey a trans-national gospel. Is it not also making it more difficult to develop congenial commercial markets?
I've kept a copy of the following statement close at hand since reading it in a newsletter from Michael J. Christensen, who founded the Golden Gate Community in San Francisco. Michael now directs the Doctor of Ministry program at Drew University and has become, along with Rebecca Laird Christensen, one of the leading interpreters and guardians of the work of Henri J. M. Nouwen. He recently related to me that Golden Gate Community is celebrating its 25th anniversary of compassionate ministry. Congratulations! And thanks for your lived example of urban servant leadership across the years, Michael.
Go to the people
Live among them
Learn from them
Plan with them
Start with what they know
Build on what they have
Teach by showing
Learn by doing
Not to conform, but to transform
Not for relief, but release
And when the best leaders leave
The people will say,
"We have done it ourselves."
-- Dr. Y. C. James Yen of China
Pushed and pulled
Squeezed and pressured
Looked to and pointed at
Expected and set up with hidden expectations
Asked to lead and criticized in the leading
I am one in the middle
Risking for hope
Believing in community
Trusting for guidance
Putting it on the line
I am one in the middle
Casting off convention
Out on a limb
Digging for truth
I am one in the middle
Past and future
There and here
Those and these
Them and ours
That and this
I am one in the middle
I am graced to be in the middle
Sunday, November 5, 2006
TRAIN THEM UP. We want to train our children in Biblical faith, in an evangelical faith (I need to write sometime about "just what do we mean by 'evangelical?'"). We want to pass on our faith. But in the process, are we building faith or fear into our children? Do we know the difference? When does fear look like faith? And when does honestly confessed fear lead to the possibility for authentic and growing faith?
"FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN." I consider this question in light of Deuteronomy 1, which I reflected on in this morning's sermon. Fear of what might happen to the children was one rationalization put up for the people's decision to not venture into Canaan, as God had directed (Deuteronomy 1:30-31). In reality, the adults were afraid for themselves. They said it was "for the children's sake" when, truth be told, they were acting out their own fears. The tables turned on them, however: their children would, in fact, see and live in the Promised Land, while those who "protected" the children would not.
AVOID GIANTS, DENYING FEARS. Every generation has its issues to confront, in all gut-wrenching honesty. There are, in fact, giants in the land and stiff resistance to be confronted in the places where you want and need to go in your life. It's a wild world. It's not for the weak of heart and its a challenge even to the so-called stout-hearted. But if you're afraid, say so. Don't pretend you're not. And--please--don't wrap your fears up in some denial/guise of spiritual protection, holy prudence, or religious protest. If you're full of fear, don't dare call it anything else. Name your fear, confess it, and offer it--and yourself--to God in utter honesty and vulnerability. Only then will there be some ray of hope to pass faith--not fake faith--on to your children and loved ones.
EACH GENERATION'S BURDEN. I believe it is critical for us to confront--without an assurance of foregone conclusions, clear-cut answers, or rosy initial outcomes--the toughest issues of our generation. If we don't deal with them now, we will pass the unfinished business and burden of our generation on to the next. If we don't, we will have shirked our responsibility--even with the possibility of messing things up for them--and laid a heavier burden on them. We have our wilderness tests to undergo. How will we address the seemingly endless range and rage of appetites and hungers? Will we put God to the test, tempting God to bail us out of our self-inflicted delusions in order for God to save face? Will we sell out to mere idols and settle for petty securities and promises of power when God alone is the Source to be trusted? Just how are we addressing these ancient generational challenges?
What are some of the core social, ethical, and spiritual challenges of my generation?
More later...check back.
Saturday, November 4, 2006
Master? Obedience? Frederick Buechner's stark words, reflecting the terrain of the Scriptures, fall hard on 21st-century ears. But let's hear him out and reflect on the truth we hear echoing across time:
“We have freedom to the degree that the master whom we obey grants it to us in return for our obedience. So we do well to choose a master in terms of how much freedom we get for how much obedience. To obey the law of the land leaves us our constitutional freedom, but not the freedom to follow our own consciences wherever they lead.”
– Frederick Buechner in Beyond Words
Friday, November 3, 2006
IRONIC HUMOR. This photo is being widely circulated via e-mail forwards this week. Even as one who will gladly defend John Kerry's remarks for what they were intended to be--aimed comically at the President and not at troops--and as one who thinks the mainstream news media has hypocritically aided and abetted Kerry-bashers, I just find this humorous. Ironically humorous...at so many levels. But maybe it gave these guys (and gals? I can't tell from the photo) a good laugh and momentary relief amid their "stuckness."
SINCERELY NOW. Humor aside, I only hope and pray that the troops who are holding the sign make it home alive and with their limbs intact. Perhaps the sincere efforts of Vietnam-era veterans like John Kerry will be successful in bringing sense and closure to the unraveling debacle of this President's costly intervention in Iraq. Hang in there, troops, "halp" could be on the way.
Thursday, November 2, 2006
Wednesday, November 1, 2006
This Japanese maple that grows beside our house could hardly be noticed throughout the summer. In early autumn it remained demur among the towering oaks and elms, which dwarfed and shadowed it. But their leaves have changed, dropped, and blown away. Only now does its glory shine. Its leaves, still clinging heartily, have turned deep red. They are in stark contrast to the fading hues all around. Against the backdrop of nearby evergreens, the Japanese maple is a marvel. I wonder if the tree is really from Japan and if it is, does it make such a seasonal impression there, too?