Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I wonder if we sin when we reject
what we cannot understand
simply because we cannot
understand it?
Does it take more time than
we are willing now to commit?
Does it not fit our fixed grid of
how we sift and size the world?

I wonder if we sin by dismissing
what is complex
simply because it is
Have we become so addicted
to sound-byte living
that we can hardly endure
an explanation of more than
a moment’s earful?

What is beyond us--
beyond our frame of reference,
beyond our sphere of awareness--
is not necessarily, therefore,
of the world or
of the devil,
or of little consequence.

Is it not enough to say,
without belying our ignorance
or defending our pride,
it is just beyond us?

I wonder if we sin when we reject
the stranger outright
or make no room for him
in our lock-tight schedules
and locked-up living?
But is she not the Biblical
bearer of truths and graces
without which we cannot
know direction or blessing?

Perhaps strangeness,
presented as a person or
confronted as a dilemma or
experienced as the inexplicable,
when entertained hospitably,
when considered thoughtfully,
when listened to thoroughly,
bears gifts which give wing to
nothing less than

Forgive, O God, my rejection of so much strangeness, so much complexity, so much of which I do not understand. Give me grace to listen well, to seek to understand, to offer the hospitality which these days invite. Let me not miss the grace for the strangeness. And lead me formatively and confidently in the new paths of grace which each threshold opens. Amen.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Dist: 18.5 mi. Avg spd: 16.7 mph. Cadence: 88 rpm. Conditions: Sunny, breezy, 55 degrees. Route: circuits around Eagle Creek Park. iPod listening: Pat Metheny.

Notes: The trees were vibrant in the sun. I could have ridden until dark, but responsibilities called. A rode past at least 12 deer; one just stood in the roadway and watched me ride past. I caught up with my ex-brother-in-law, Greg Retter, toward the end of my ride. A 52-year-old triathlete, Greg trains in Eagle Creek Park. He completed the Wisconsin Ironman triathlon a few months ago. Always great to ride with him and catch up on things.
Photos from October 29, 2007 in Indianapolis' Eagle Creek Park

Monday, October 29, 2007


METASTASIS OF THE CANCER OF VIOLENCE. Gil Bailie’s book Violence Unveiled would be a timely read right now if you have not read it. Particularly if one thinks that America can continue to use violence for the good without being negatively affected by it, Bailie is helpful. "The gospel's insistence on forgiveness is both profound and pragmatic, but we cannot fully appreciate either until we realize how routinely moral indignation leads to the replication of the behavior that aroused the indignation. Righteous indignation is often the first symptom of the metastasis of the cancer of violence."

HISTORY'S MOST FUNDAMENTAL DILEMMA. "Violence is immensely compelling. Those who witness spectacles of violence can be seduced by its logic even when -- perhaps especially when -- they are morally scandalized by it. Violence is labyrinthine. It turns back on itself in serpentine ways. The paths that seem to exist from its madness so often lead deeper into its maze. Violence is literally a-mazing. The traditional way of resisting evil causes the contagion of evil to spread, perpetrated by those who are most determined to eradicate it. How to resist evil in ways that prevent its spread is now history's most fundamental dilemma."

THE CRUX OF HUMAN DESTINY. "Both Christianity's scriptural sources and its creedal formulae pivot around a public execution, an act of official violence regarded as legally righteous by the political authorities and as a sacred duty by the religionists. The Christian Scriptures and creeds make the outlandish assertion that because of this public execution the grip of sin has been broken, the human race has been offered a new lease on life and, at the same time, placed in grave peril if it refuses the offer."

ONLY ONE THING CAN FREE US. "By moral effort alone one cannot free oneself from the grip of violence. The logos of conventional culture consists of so pervasive a web of conditioned reflexes that we remain largely oblivious of its influence. If we are to be freed from it, something from outside the cultural mix must break in on us. Structurally and anthropologically speaking, there is only one thing truly outside this matrix: the victim whose expulsion brought the system into being in the first place, the stone rejected by the builders of all culture, the Lamb slain since the foundation of the world."

ALREADY AND NOT YET ACCOMPLISHED. "The spiritual and anthropological revolution set in motion by the crucifixion is a glacial process the driving force of which is the 'Spirit of Truth,' -- the Paraclete (John 16:7-8). It was to be the task of this Spirit of Truth to gradually 'accomplish' historically what was 'accomplished' in the hearts of Jesus' disciples at the crucifixion and in the days that followed it."

THE QUESTION IS... And so here we are, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, with self-righteous violence continuing to be justified and used--now in the name of so-called Christian nations. At the same time, the Spirit of Truth continues to deal with and convince hearts of what was clear on day One. The question is, as ones who have been freed from the cycle of violence by the slain yet ever-living Lamb, why would we ever again engage in or approve of violence as a means to a desirable end?

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Dist: 20.4 mi. Avg spd: 17.7. Cadence: 90. Cond: Sunny, 55 degrees. Route: S on Dandy Trail to 21st St; W on 21st about two miles past Hwy 267, then back E to Dan Jones Rd. iPod listening: Speaking of Faith podcast.

Notes: Perfect evening for riding. The sun was in my eyes on the trek west, but riding to the east was a treat--crisp, radiant colors. Trees are now at peak. I rode to our small group that gathers at 6 pm each Sunday evening in the home of one of our group participants. I loaded my Cannondale in the back of the Trail Blazer, which Becky drove to group, for the drive home after dark.

I'm feeling less pain in my back with each passing day. What occasional pain I experience is isolated in one particular spot--between my shoulder blades, to the right of center. So, it's not a spine issue. I figure it's one of the last ribs or connections to the processes to heal. But, what do I know? I have a CT scan on my back coming up in a couple of weeks; hopefully, that will be the end of the follow-up on my June 20 mountain bike accident that resulted in 17 fractures. I thought about the accident a bit while I rode today. I'm thankful to be back on a bike and with few lingering physical effects of the fall.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


IN VAST COMPANY. I used to think I was the only one who did a lot of comparing. But I now know that I am in the company of a humanity that seems to be incessantly measuring, sizing up, looking over, checking back, establishing pecking orders and then challenging them. Comparing can, no doubt, inflate one’s sense of self importance, as long as one appears to be doing well in the tallies that one thinks matter in life. Likewise, comparing can make one feel quite small and out of step with others.

NOT GOOD ENOUGH. If we live by comparing, somebody else will always seem to do things better, bigger, faster, more finely, more beautifully, and more easily. We will find ourselves in the shadow of another for whom our struggled labor seems effortless by comparison. We will make small strides while another seems to leap forward. Our good may not be good enough. We will develop in a discipline at our own pace and discover that we seem quite amateur. Such is the life of a comparer.

THE TOXIN OF COMPARING. Envy is the emotional and spiritual toxin that builds up when comparisons prevail in our lives. Recalling the movie Amadeus, I note how potent and deadly comparison and envy was portrayed in the life of composer Antonio Salieri as he seethed resentfully in the shadow of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salieri was gifted, just not nearly as gifted as Mozart, whose rude, childish behavior further incensed the more sanguine and spiritually devout Salieri. Ultimately envy overwhelmed Salieri and he orchestrated the early death of Mozart. A life of comparing is out of focus and destructive at multiple levels.

A WORTHY COMPARISON. The Apostle Paul, in defense of integrity that was being challenged by usurpers, advised against comparing. “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” (2 Corinthians 10:12). He concludes his reflection with this statement, quoting from the prophet Jeremiah: “but 'he who boasts, let him boast in the Lord.' For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one the Lord commends.” (10:17-18).

THE END OF COMPARING. In short, comparison is a trap. In one direction we foolishly exalt ourselves. In the other direction we unnecessarily put ourselves down. Ultimately, comparison is useful only when we compare ourselves by God’s call and God’s mercy. Hurtful comparison ends when we recognize the grace of God that is mercifully and abundantly poured out to us all, each in a measure that will take us a lifetime to explore. Each of us has more than we can handle on our own. And the grace we receive commends and complements the measure given another.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Dist: 16.2. Avg spd: 17.4. Cadence: 89. Conditions: Sunny turning cloudy, 55 degrees, windy. Route: Eagle Creek Park and then E on 71st St, S on Georgetown Rd, W on 56th St, S & N on Lafayette Rd. iPod listening: Bruce Springsteen.

Notes: My intent to take a long ride and enjoy the rich color was cut short by cloud cover turning to rain. I just wasn't equipped to ride in rain today. Toward the end of my ride, phoned my sis and met she and her husband for lunch. I almost got hit by a car at the Layfayette/56th St intersection; my fault: Traffic coming south on Lafayette was clear, I but wasn't watching northbound traffic because I thought they had a red light. They didn't. I barely missed getting plastered by a car as I turned south onto Lafayette Rd from westbound 56th St! I've got to be more careful at such busy intersections. BTW: I wear a clip-on rearview mirror on my shades to help me be aware of traffic behind me.

A poem of Robert Frost, written in 1947 as the world's leaders assessed the atrocities and devastation of World War II and began to plan, devise and reconstruct out of the rubble.

I hear the world reciting
The mistakes of ancient men,
The brutality and fighting
They will never have again.

Heartbroken and disabled
In body and in mind,
They renew talk of the fabled
Federation of Mankind.

But they're blessed with the acumen
To suspect the human trait
Was not the basest human
That made them militate.

They will tell you more as soon as
You tell them what to do
With their ever breaking newness
And their courage to be new.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


FROM THE NEWSBOYS. Abby and Jared used to listen to a CD by the Newsboys titled "Going Public." The contemporary Christian group had an alternative rock feel. Their words were not alternative, however. My pastor’s heart was touched at the core a number of years ago with the following words to a cut called "When You Called My Name" by Steve Taylor and Peter Furler. Momentarily frustrated by a few petty problems (Am I supposed to be a mind reader? Am I supposed to become the church handyman? Does that person really think that small?), I recently recalled the song and looked up the words again. Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy.

I want to preach the Word
they want messages
I check chapter and verse
they check their watches
I spy another yawn
I might as well be gone
let’s stand and say "Amen"

Some days I must admit
I still don’t get this
Could be it’s time to quit
when days get like this
I slip into the night
then stumble towards the light
wake up and try again

When You called my name
I didn’t know how far the
calling went
When You called my name
I didn’t know what that word
really meant
When I recall Your call
I feel
so small

Could be I’m losing touch
could be they don’t care
Lord knows I don’t know much
Lord knows I’ve been there
I trip toward my retreat
I fall down at Your feet
get up and try again

When You called my name
I didn’t know how far the
calling went
When You called my name
I didn’t know what that word
really meant
When I recall Your call
I feel
so small

Lord, what did you see
when You called out for me?

I start losing heart
and then
it comes again
lifted from despair
by the prayers of someone
lifted from despair
by the prayers of someone

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

10 ways to love neighbors enough to break the cycle of poverty

BECAUSE GOD DOES. Recently, I was asked to endorse a book that admirably calls Christians to love neighbors in poverty. Not because it will make us feel good. Not because it’s desperately needed. Not because the cost of rotten outcomes will spiral if we don’t. But because it is what God does (and requires!). I know the book's author and his life rings true to what he writes.

RELIEF IS NOT ENOUGH FOR CHRISTIANS. I noticed, however, that the recommended 10 steps for action in the book's Appendix were focused almost entirely on relief. Relief alone as a response to poverty and a poor person is subchristian. Moving Christians beyond charity is one of the most important challenges of our day. As I pointed this out to the editors, they were gracious enough to ask me to include 10 actions that go beyond relief to address some of the sources of poverty with an intention to end it--at least for some neighbors. Here are 10 ways to love neighbors enough to break the cycle of poverty:

1. Break the cycle of generational poverty – Assist poor neighbors to acquire assets. In Assets and the Poor, Dr. Michael Sherraden demonstrates that assets like home ownership, a post-high school educational diploma or trade certification, or business ownership can break the cycle of poverty in one generation. For instance, Habitat for Humanity and urban neighborhood community development groups help neighbors who otherwise could not qualify in the housing market to build and own their own homes – an asset that can gain value and benefit their children.

2. Counsel for debt-free living – Commit to long-term financial planning, counsel and accountability with an individual or family that struggles with debt and poverty. Poverty is compounded by patterns of undisciplined spending, predatory lending, and unwise financial choices. Debt is a heavy burden, fomenting desperate acts and despair.

3. Break the yoke of human trafficking – Explore the work of International Justice Mission (, an organization that is committed to expose and end the practice of 21st-century slavery and human trafficking. Slavery is not a thing of the past. Debt slavery and the "sex trade," in particular, are crushing millions of lives today.

4. Tutor for skill development – Volunteer to serve in a local, community-based organization that helps neighbors end their poverty by offering educational tutoring, marketable skills training, and employment assistance. In West Indianapolis, Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center ( offers certified basic and advanced computer skills training; MRNC has helped hundreds of neighbors out of poverty through this initiative.

5. Advocate for livable wages and affordable housing – demonstrate your support for local, state, and national practices, policies and initiatives that make it possible for any person who works full time to be able to spend less than 50% of their income on basic housing costs.

6. Address addictions – Commit the time and care necessary to help one neighbor who struggles with a chronic addiction to find sobriety and then be an accountability partner with them as they maintain it. Addictions are one of the causes and perpetrators of poverty.

7. Start a community garden – This can become an important source of supplemental food for neighbors who experience poverty. Beyond building skills and growing needed food, community gardening builds community and mutual care among otherwise isolated neighbors (another kind of poverty that is rampant even among the so-called "rich").

8. Help an ex-felon find employment – Work options for persons who have been incarcerated are few, but solid employment is one of the most important factors in preventing recidivism and establishing a vice-free pattern/lifestyle and hopeful future. Perhaps you are in position to create employment for an ex-felon or to influence your employer's policies regarding this. See what you can do; try!

9. Participate in food recovery – Recovered food not only reduces waste, it helps supplement the market-rate food supplies for millions of people who grapple with poverty. Find out about food banks and organizations that recover prepared but unused food and distribute it to hungry neighbors. Locally, Second Helpings ( not only recovers prepared food and serves thousands daily, its culinary arts training school prepares at-risk neighbors for employment.

10. Recognize responsible corporate neighbors – While many locally-owned and nationally-known businesses make no such attempts, some for-profit organizations try to be responsible neighbors and participate in local and global efforts to relieve, reduce and end poverty. Find out who they are and lift up their example for all others to see. Beyond being a basic spiritual principle (Isaiah 58), this just makes good community and economic sense.

Dist: 12.6 mi. Avg spd: 16.2 Cadence: 87. Route: Eagle Creek Park and north on Lafayette Road to 86th St. Conditions: 55 degrees, very windy, nippy, partly cloudy. iPod listening: Tracy Chapman.

Notes: Didn't leave myself enough time for the ride I'd hoped for. Saw six deer up close. Sweet gum is radiant by now. Without a real cold snap yet, leaves are clinging to the trees longer than I'd expected. We've still got quite a bit of green, too. Could be a long, glorious season.

WHY LEADERS CAN’T LEAD. I enjoy reading Warren Bennis on leadership. Bennis critiques American business leadership with a sharp eye and solid wisdom. In his book Why Leaders Can’t Lead, Bennis cites a primary problem with ineffective leadership—leaders mistake managing for leading. I call it “the curse of the turf-protecting MBAs.” It isn’t even good management. The following quote comes toward the back of the book, in a section titled “Parts of the Solution.”

THE TOOLS OF OUR TOOLS. “As technology advances on every front, as our tools become more accomplished…we are more capable than ever of realizing our visions, even our more extravagant visions. Yet the more we are able to, the less we seem to do. We are in danger of becoming, in Thoreau’s words, ‘the tools of our tools,’ mere operators rather than explorers, mechanics rather than inventors.”

LIVING UP TO OUR VISIONS. “The world doesn’t need any more operators or mechanics, but it desperately needs explorers and inventors—people willing to take on the world and its problems by living up to their own visions of excellence and using their talents to the full…”

MORE SQUNDERERS NEEDED. “Anyone who isn’t seeking fulfillment because of fear of failing or looking foolish isn’t happy, any more than the cormorant [an excellent sea fishing bird that is captured and tamed by fishermen, who place a ring around its neck so it cannot swallow the big fish; for its reward of using its excellence to serve small ends, the cormorant receives just enough food to keep it coming back hungry] is happy, however successful that person may be. As John Mason Brown once said, ‘the only true happiness comes from squandering yourselves for a purpose.’ America in general, and American business in particular, need more squanderers and fewer cormorants.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Reinhold Niebuhr's pastoral reflections yield timeless insights

SEASONING A STRIDENT SCHOLAR. I pulled my copy of Reinhold Niebuhr's book Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic from the shelf this evening. I thumbed through it while trying to debug our family PC (before Molly literally destroys it in sheer frustration!). I should be giving this book to pastors-in-training as freely as I pass on copies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. Niebuhr's impeccable scholarship and once-strident perspective was gracefully seasoned through his experience as pastor of a local Detroit parish. Here are two paragraphs, written in 1927, that I found insightful:

TWO EXTREMES. "Talked today at the open forum which meets every Sunday afternoon in the high school. The 'lunatic fringe' of the city congregates there, in addition to many sensible people... Today one old gentleman wanted to know when I thought the Lord would come again, while a young fellow spoke volubly on communism and ended by challenging me to admit that all religion is a fantasy. Between those two you have the story of the tragic state of religion in modern life. One half of the world seems to believe that every poetic symbol with which religion must deal is an exact definition of a concrete historical fact; the other half, having learned that this is not the case, can come to no other conclusion but that all religion is based upon fantasy."

TRUTH IN POETIC TERMS. "Fundamentalists have at least one characteristic in common with most scientists. Neither can understand that poetic and religious imagination has a way of arriving at truth by giving a clue to the total meaning of things without being in any sense an analytical description of detailed facts. The fundamentalists insist that religion is science, and thus they prompt those who know that this is not true to declare that all religious truth is contrary to scientific fact."

A PLEA FOR POETIC IMAGINATION. Neibuhr concludes with a question: "How can an age which is so devoid of poetic imagination as ours be truly religious?"

Monday, October 22, 2007

Delineate mercy and justice, but connect both to essential covenant faith

READ: Isaiah 58

JUSTICE IS ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS. Biblically, Isaiah 58 goes a long way to contextually define "doing justice." Here, as in most other Old Testament references, justice is about fairness for the oppressed, right relationships in the marketplace, remuneration for inequitable treatment, and opportunity to stand on common ground. While the later Greek terms of justice are more legally defined, earlier Hebrew understandings of justice are more about relationships between people. Most often, the poor and powerless were treated unjustly by those who held power and controlled the marketplace; Isaiah makes clear this is an afront to God's character and covenant terms.

TWISTING JUSTICE INTO LEGALEZE. I am convinced that one challenge in "doing justice" today are the overwhelmingly Greco-Roman interpretations of justice that dominate the Western worldview. But the words and imagery in Isaiah 58 are neither legal nor punitive. These images are unmistakable: slaves’ chains are to be loosed and slaves emancipated; people treated like oxen under a tightly-tied yoke are to be released and every instrument of control, manipulation, and abuse broken.

DO AWAY WITH THE YOKE OF OPPRESSION. Message: “do away with the yoke of oppression.” Application: slavery, human trafficking, permanent economic subjection, and advantage-taking of laborers is unjust and must cease. Isaiah’s concern is that the people of God, if they are to be a people who reflect who God is and if they are to be blessed by God, will do business in radical distinction from what other people try to get by with.

MERCY RELIEVES; JUSTICE RECTIFIES. Isaiah 58 also helps us delineate justice from mercy. Verse 6 calls for actions that permanently change social norms and reform economic practices. Verse 7 calls more for mercy and hospitality: “share your food with the hungry,” “provide the poor wanderer with shelter,” and clothe the naked. Acts of mercy are needed to relieve immediate crises and human indignities. Acts of justice are needed to prevent or rectify the crises and indignities that tend to be repeatedly visited upon vulnerable individuals and groups.

SOLIDARITY & TRANSFORMATION. Mercy and hospitality bring us into a relieving relationship with neighbors in distress, while seeking justice brings us into solidarity with oppressed neighbors and into a transformation of policies, practices, and structures that once directly harmed them and simultaneously forfeited the spiritual integrity of people called to reflect God’s character.

INSEPARABLE FROM SALVATION. There is a tendency to lump justice and mercy together and separate both from the message of salvation and call to kingdom living. Isaiah 58 is one of several Old and New Testament passages that will neither allow us to merge justice and mercy nor disconnect justice and mercy from salvation and faithfulness as a covenant people. Faith in God is connected to faithfulness to neighbors in our daily personal and marketplace practices. Personal salvation is linked to corporate, community, and international policies, with the bottom-line question being: “what does it do to the poor?”

THE "FREE" IN "FREE METHODISM". The Bible’s collective witness to "doing justice" and the call to give attention to it were certainly on the minds, in the hearts, and evidenced in the actions of those who founded the Free Methodist Church. In 1860, biblical references to justice were not something for academic debate and genteel discussion and then left for optional or occasional action. When read with an immediate awareness of the poor, oppressed, distressed, denied, marginalized, and disregarded, the Bible’s many passages calling for justice in response to the poor, laborers, aliens, slaves, women, and prisoners became a prophetic testimony against the dominant culture and careless practices of the church.

LITERAL AND URGENT. The biblical witness to "do justice" was read, proclaimed, and applied with a literalness and urgency that animated John Wesley in the 1700's and B. T. Roberts and others in the late 1800's. In the face of glaring injustices, early Methodist and early Free Methodist leaders saw God’s Word being just as scandalized as were the poor. To ignore issues of social justice where they were clearly declared and previously judged in the Word of God was tantamount to rebellion against God.

SO, WHY DON'T WE "JUST DO JUSTICE?" If we read Isaiah 58 with such literalness and urgency today, what applications are we making? What actions are we taking? Or, what excuses are we making? What exceptions are we taking? "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," MLK used to say. Where do you see it being played out? What can you do within your own sphere of influence to challenge and change a practice, an assumption, a policy, a procedure so that justice breaks forth?

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Dist: 10.2 mi. Avg spd: 15.7. Cadence: 88. Route: A short jaunt around Eagle Creek Park and across the reservoir causeway. iPod listening: "The Celtic Circle," vol. 2. First listen. Conditions: mid 70's, sunny, though the sun was setting, breezy.

Notes: Bright tree colors in the remaining sunlight amid the shadows in the woods at sunset. I spent some time on the west side of the lake, enjoying the sun's effect on the eastern-shore trees. I finished with a slow ride thru our neighborhood, praying for each household.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Dist: 18.5 mi. Avg spd: 15.1 mph. Cadence: 88 rpms. Route: West on 56th Street to Brownsburg, south on State Hwy 267, southeast on Crawfordsville Road, north on Dandy Trail.
Conditions: Sunny, no clouds, windy, about 60 degrees. iPod listening: "Tapestry" by Carole King; "1" by Beatles. Classic retro.

Notes: I happened on to a regatta on Eagle Creek Reservoir. I've always admired rowers and want to try it sometime. My ride to Brownsburg was to meet up with 5th and 6th graders and chaperones from our church who are participating in SuperStart, a special event for pre-teens. I got involved in outdoor games and had lunch with the kids before heading back toward Indy. I don't recommend riding on 56th Street. Too busy and there is not enough shoulder to ride on if needed. All the colors are in full display today. Awesome!

Friday, October 19, 2007


Dist: 13.4 mi. Avg spd: 17 mph. Route: Eagle Creek Park. Conditions: Cloudy, windy and about 50 degrees; a little drizzle, not enough to wet the pavement. iPod listening: Podcast of "This American Life" episode about adults trying to talk to kids. Funny. Sad. Hopeful.

Great color mix. Trees are still not quite "peak" for radiance. More leaves remain on trees than on the ground. Leaves falling and wafting all around. Saw six doe. First time this season it's been cool enough to require long sleeves, long pants, and a light jacket. I had this thought: these leaves, so beautiful, are actually dying. It's part of a tree's life cycle. Perhaps our most radiant moments might be in our last throes? Beyond our prime and half-dead, will we shine brightest?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Becky, Molly, Sam and I headed up to Bourbonnais, Illinois this afternoon to watch Abby play her last home soccer game at Olivet Nazarene University.

Abby's a two-year captain and a senior for the Tigers. She was honored, along with three other senior players and other team support staff, in a halftime midfield ceremony.

The Tigers went on to defeat Trinity International University 2-1 in only the second win against TIU in the four years Abby's played against the Chicago-area team.

Jared was able to join us after his team's practice and an intramural flag football game. We celebrated around a Monical's pizza table later in the evening. I'm grateful for these moments and this privilege.

Who would have thought getting invited by her friend Betsy to play soccer in a tournament as a guest in fifth grade would have led to such a solid and enduring high school and collegiate soccer career? Abby has been a top-notch student athlete all the way through. You can't imagine how proud we are!

The 11-6-1 Tigers will play the first match of their CCAC conference tournament on Saturday at Judson College in Elgin, Illinois. Best wishes for a strong finish!

Monday, October 15, 2007


PEARLS BEFORE SWINE? Recently, I participated in a neighborhood strategic planning event. I listened, tried to tune in, and offered some suggestions in both large and small group settings. A few days later, I received a mean e-mail from another participant who misconstrued my input in the most negative terms. I knew his rant was way off, but it irritated me just the same. My initial response: “Who needs this?! I just won’t participate! This is what happens when you throw pearls before swine!”

THE TERRAIN WE FACE. After I calmed down, however, I knew I would continue to engage in community planning processes just as constructively and hopefully as ever. I reminded myself that there are out-of-focus people in the community as well as in the church. You can get criticized and be misunderstood in faith-based as well as community-based settings. There are contradictions inside and outside the church. Getting your feelings hurt, having your words misconstrued, receiving hurtful reactions to well-intended efforts, living amid numerous contradictions--that’s the terrain you’ll face when you care enough to try to make a difference and move toward community.

CONTRADICTIONS ABOUND. When faced with adversity, the apparently easiest thing to do is withdraw. It is the path of least resistance, or so it seems. Sometimes it is necessary, I suppose. But challenges and contradictions abound in many different arenas. They’ll crop up again, no matter where you turn. It’s an illusion to think of the church as a refuge from them. So, instead of retreating when the going gets tough, accept the contradiction and engage the situation in prayer. Don’t run away; whenever possible, stand in the tension. This is one of the ways Parker Palmer (in photo) has helped me in his writings. I cherish his following quote:

INSTEAD OF RUNNING AWAY. "The cross which many Christians are called to bear involves the contradictions of contemporary life. And these contradictions are especially pronounced in the public realm. Christian faith, the way of the cross, empowers us to live these contradictions creatively instead of retreating from them as we so often do. The way of the cross both leads us into public life and gives us the grace to live there."

THE WAY OF THE CROSS. "The way of the cross challenges us not to remove tension from our lives by avoiding the places where tension is found, or by abandoning the convictions that cause us to feel tension. Instead, the cross points another way, a way of 'living the contradictions,' a way of taking tension into our lives and transforming it from a force of destruction into an energy of creation.” Parker Palmer is author of The Company of Strangers, The Active Live, Let Your Life Speak, and The Courage to Teach

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Field: A Blessing


I read this poem today in Celtic Daily Prayer. It speaks to various dimensions of faith at both personal and community-of-faith levels. A good word for today.

Every curse becomes a blessing
to the people of God's choosing.
He who spoke it shall perform it.
He shall bring on us the blessing,
though the enemy may fight,
My Jesus has done all things right.

In the dry and desert places
Jesus is our soul's oasis.
He will give us of His plenty,
fill the vessels once so empty,
pour His waters on the ground,
living waters gushing round.

See the land so black and barren;
God will make a watered garden:
fruitfulness where once was parchedness,
light to break into the darkness,
upper springs and nether springs
in the field that Father's given.

Satan tries, but cannot block it,
powers of Hell could never stop it.
Darkness flees as light is given.
God establishes His heaven
in our hearts, and in this place
shows the radiance of His face.

Reflections on Judges 1:14-15, Numbers 24:1-10; Psalm 126:3-4

Friday, October 12, 2007


And who, ultimately, writes the paychecks for Blackwater's highly-paid private army?

It's us, American taxpayers.

And did we authorize this?


And what is the current deficit and accumulative debt of our government up to?

Beyond imagination.

A simple naming of the private contractors doing business with the Department of Defense and making incredible profits on the backs of American taxpayers--and our children--would be alarming, at the least.

And for what?

Isn't this madness?

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Here's a poem by Wendell Berry titled "October 10." I just found it today, so it's a day late. Better late than never.

Now constantly there is the sound,
quieter than rain,
of the leaves falling.

Under their loosening bright
gold, the sycamore limbs
bleach whiter.

Now the only flowers
are beeweed and aster, spray
of their white and lavender
over the brown leaves.

The calling of a crow sounds
loud--a landmark--now
that the life of summer falls
silent, and the nights grow.

From The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

Here are a few glimpses around Hay House. I snapped these photos this evening.


LET'S BE CONSISTENT. If we're going to reach back nearly 100 years to hold a nation or people accountable for committing genocide, as the U. S. Congress doing in regard to what the Ottoman Turks did to the Armenians during World War I, then let's at least be consistent and call a spade a spade all the way down the line.

AFRICAN AND NATIVE AMERICAN GENOCIDE. Let's go back 200 years and correctly name what European slave traders and American settlers did to Africans brought to America what it was: genocide. Let's go back 300 years and correctly name what European explorers and American settlers did to Native Americans what is was: genocide. Let's name it what it was and is for the sake of looking at our historic and current tendencies, then question every current policy we make in regard to minorities and persecuted people groups around the world.

THE SOONER, THE BETTER. It is important to name mass ethnic killings what they are. There is no politically correct timing for insisting that genocide be the term used if it applies to the situation. The sooner the better, it seems to me, because truth tends to get lost and twisted the longer offenders and their progeny get by with whitewashing or denying their atrocities.

INCONVENIENT TRUTH. If our President can call North Korea, Iraq and Iran the "axis of evil," he should have no qualms about referring to the massacre of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks as "genocide." This is, for his current political posturing, an inconvenient truth, but truth just the same. For too long truth has been disregarded, suspended, withheld, suppressed or manipulated by this Administration for the sake of political expediency. But if Democrats call for truth-telling on this issue, let them and all political power brokers be prepared for truth-telling nearer to home on down the road.

Learn more about the genocide of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks at

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Okay, so I hardly ever pass on e-mail jokes or links to "must-see" You Tube vignettes or laughable videos. Here's a rare exception, sent to me by Rick Posson, a friend, outstanding media communications specialist and Optimist Club member extraordinaire. If "Britain's Got Talent" contestant Paul Potts, a soft-spoken cell phone salesman from Wales, doesn't inspire...

Go to: Phone Salesman Amazes Crowd. Part 2 is just as inspiring.

I was thinking of the impact of receiving a gift when I wrote the following. Unexpected and undeserved, gifts sometimes fall into our laps and they weigh into our souls. For some, receiving a gift is like water off an ungrateful duck’s back. For others, receiving a gift is a burden to be duly considered. It calls for some response. That’s what I’m grappling with in this piece.

What we receive weighs something.
It may weigh us down
but need not do so.
But there is gravity in a gift;
it bears substance.

Pray for such a burden,
such a blessing.

If you wanted to
throw your weight around
you could give a gift,
bear a grace,
offer blessing--
without expectation,
without strings.

Receive what's given,
feel its impact on your soul.
May your soul be supple enough
to absorb its blow,
lest it be deflected,
as if bouncing off a brick wall.

I teach my child to receive a soccer ball
by absorbing its weight with her foot or leg or body;
yielding to it, it drops in your lap
instead of bouncing out of control.
Feel its weight and you possess it.
And then you can work with it--
drive it to the goal
or pass it along.

Receive a gift;
yield to its impact,
be changed by its weight;
possess it;
then use it,
or pass it on.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


“What we set about when we began following Jesus was to become radically Christian persons linked in Christian compassion to a world of great evil… We really can’t find anything better to declare than ‘the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.’ His shalom can fill those who trust in him with the spiritual resources which will enable them to wage war on war, and provide them with weapons which by their peaceableness partakes of the nature of the kingdom for whose coming they both pray and work.” – Timothy L. Smith

A poem of Wendell Berry in A Timbered Choir (Counterpoint, Washington, D.C., 1998)

Estranged by distance, he relearns
The way to quiet not his own,
The light at rest on tree and stone,
The high leaves falling in their turns,

Spiraling through the air made gold
By their slow fall. Bright on the ground,
They wait their darkening, commend
To coming light the light they hold.

His own long comedown from the air
Complete, safe home again, absence
Withdrawing from him tense by tense
In presence of the resting year,

Blessing and blessed in this result
Of times not blessed, now he has risen.
He walks in quiet beyond division
In surcease of his own tumult.

Monday, October 8, 2007


THE SEDUCTION IS NEARLY COMPLETE. I wrote this poem in November 2001, in the wake of our President's vow to use violence to avenge the loss of lives on 9/11 and to attempt to achieve justice and security with an all-out a war on terrorism. I thought of it again as news surfaced late last week about more Department of Justice memos directing American intelligence officers to exact information from detainees by specific acts of torture. It is apparent that those who have embraced violence as a way to try to end violence are becoming the very thing they hate. The seduction is nearly complete. The President's public justifications now mimic the Gestapo's rationalizations offered at Nuremberg. And to think America was supposed to show a better way.

If we must use violence
In our pursuit of justice
Let us not celebrate it.

Let us not revel in our ability
To destroy the earth
And its creatures.

If we must kill to preserve freedom
Let us know that our debt to the fallen,
Even to our enemies’ blood
And to their children’s children,
Binds us anew.

If we must use violence
In the name of God
Let us cry out for heaven’s mercy
Even as we presume God’s blessing
And act for reconciliation
Even as we engage conflict.

Lest violence seduce us completely,
Its shadows claim our souls
And might become the
Hollow foundation of right,
Let us renounce it now
And spend our lives for peace.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


THE PROMISE OF COMMUNITY. Whether my daily work has been primarily from within the church or with an initiative directly serving urban neighbors, the movement is the same: moving toward community. Community is the way and the purpose. It is not a place so much as it is a way of relating, of caring, of belonging, of seeing, of linking arms in common concern and neighborly purpose. Community is both the promise of the authentic church and the telos of the best in urban neighborhood development. Without moving toward community, neither the church nor community infrastructures will be healthy or healing.

CHURCH & COMMUNITY MATRIX. My journey at the matrix of church and community over the past twenty years has yielded more than a few insights and learnings. Some gleanings are so obvious I couldn't help but "get it." Some lessons come via the school of hard knocks. Others have been subtly discerned.

BEGINNING A CONVERSATION. The following list certainly isn't exhaustive, but there's enough behind each pithy statement for an extended conversation among all who seek to be faithful to church and community. I list them in brief, however, to begin that very conversation.

Take the community into your heart. Make room for it.

Parish and ministry is far beyond the congregation and those who attend or who can be numbered.

Keep in mind that community is a dynamic, sometimes messy process often fueled by crises.

Community tends to thrive when information is abundant, available, accessible and visible.

Work at connecting people to one another and to readily available resources.

Clarify and often revisit your urban hopes and dreams with the congregation, neighbors, and larger community.

Identify the unique roles of a particular ministry or congregation in the community mix.

Expect community resources to be fragile and sometimes unhealthy.

Expect to be asked to lead where you have not led before.

Address community structures and systems so that families, congregations and schools can become whole.

Look for opportunities for synergy and synthesis.

Let grace do its work in the disruptions, the uncontrollable and the unexpected.

Friday, October 5, 2007


SUDDENLY, TOUGH REALITIES. At a restaurant table of weekly fellowship, we talked this morning with a friend who embarked on an overseas medical mission with his family a few months ago but had to return suddenly because his wife developed an ovarian cyst. This week they learned that it is malignant. Instead of serving others for a year overseas, this family now grapples with very tough realities. The question was raised in our table conversation: "Why would God allow such a thing to occur when you have obeyed what you felt was God's leading?" One response from a table member: "The work you were called to do must have been very important, for Satan sure must not have wanted you there."

LIVING THE QUESTIONS. Not sure that is or is not a reason. At this point all who care for this family are pretty much grasping at straws. All this is ultimately beyond us. Sometimes, trying to make quick sense of tough stuff in efforts to comfort one another, we can come out with some pretty shaky pronouncements. Grappling with these issues from a perspective of Christian faith in such occasions is very important. Not arriving at quick summations is also very important. Truth and grace are usually known more in living the questions.

THE GATES OF HELL SHALL NOT OVERCOME. I contributed this to the table conversation: When Jesus called Simon and gave him the name Peter, "rock," it is clear this was not about apostolic authority or papal succession. It was about Jesus using the likes of the rocky Simons of the world through which to build his church--reveal and grow his kingdom--and the gates of hell would not overcome it. Whatever the causes or sources of this interruption [detour, illness, redirection, struggle, battle], our confidence is that through the likes of us trying to be faithful through stuff such as this, Jesus is continuing to build his church...and the gates of hades or hell will not overcome it--or us.

And then I thought of two verses of Martin Luther's born-out-of-tribulation anthem, a "Mighty Fortress Is Our God":

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing,
Were not the right man on our side,
The man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He--
Lord Sabaoth His name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And tho this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph thru us.
The prince of darkness grim,
We tremble not for him--
His rage we can endure,
For, lo, his doom is sure:
One little word shall fell him.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


THE CONSISTENT THREAD. I have been kicking around this city for more than twenty years now. The various arenas of labor and investment I've engaged reflect a single calling: to love this city and the people who live here. This is the consistent thread of my spiritual journey as an adult to this point. Only recently did I happen onto the advice Mother Teresa frequently offered sincere people who desired to serve with her in India: “Find your own Calcutta.” My Calcutta is Indianapolis, particularly the urban neighborhoods of this city.

THIS CITY IS MY CLASSROOM, MY TEACHER. This city is not only the arena of my passion and focus of my service, it is my teacher. Though I have contributed much of the energy of my adult life to challenging its poverty, sustaining and re-forming its helping infrastructure, and making a difference in the lives of neighbors who live here, I must confess that I have received more than I have given. I have received insight and wisdom, gained understanding and perspective, grown through mistakes and difficulties, expanded my heart and horizons, developed friendships and relationships of respect. So it seems to have pleased God to use such a classroom and laboratory to cause me to grow—hopefully in Christlikeness. I am grateful for these blessings. And it feels like I am still a beginner; I have so much more to learn.

A CITY-SHAPED SPIRITUALITY. So, mine is a city-shaped spirituality. The detached and placeless Wesleyan-holiness formation of my childhood and youth found attachment and rootedness in this particular place. God has formed in me a love for this place. I feel called here, welcomed here, even at home here. I have not felt the same about other cities which I have visited, admired and desired. I have not yet been able to imagine myself living or serving in other great urban centers. But this city is somehow accessible to me, understandable, movable--winnable.

NOT A THING, BUT A LIFE. Indianapolis is not a place from which I shrink back. I find I cannot coldly criticize it. My response to its irresponsibilities, insensitivities and self-defeating behaviors is not to dismiss or abandon or berate it, but to restore and reconcile and heal it. Nor is the metropolitan area a commodity which I feel free to use or exploit for economic or positional advantage. It is not a thing, but a living, dynamic organism. It is, inside and out and all around, like the body to which the Apostle Paul to compares the church. "One part cannot say to the other, 'I don't need you.'" When one part hurts, the whole cannot really be healthy. I feel that about Indianapolis. And, to some extent, while I celebrate its assets and victories, I also bear the pain of its prejudices and social and political dichotomies. So, this city is a part of me and I am a part of it.

MY FAITH IS TIED TO THIS CITY. At this point, my relationship to God is somehow tied in with my relationship to this city. Here faithfulness, compassion, stewardship, suffering, and service are called for. Here joy, inspiration, hope, and insight are known. Here relationship, connection, understanding, breakthrough, and community are encountered and engaged. At this point, Indianapolis and my sense of faithfulness in Christ are linked. It doesn’t just happen to be the place I live; it just happens to be the place which I am called in grace to love.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Soldiers' mental illnesses deemed "pre-existing" by Pentagon

Read this report and weep.

This is one of the "casualties" of war bureaucracy. It's more like 22,500 casualties. It's also one of the meanest policies and "catch 22's" those who love to plan and play war have ever propagated. The audacity to blame pre-existing conditions for American soldiers' mental health breakdowns, PTSD, etc. while and after they have been serving in Iraq. Is this how the Pentagon interprets our desire to "support our troops?"

After reading this article, please call and write your Congressional leader and tell them America is above this, that our emotionally wounded soldiers deserve better...much better.

A few excerpts from Philip Dine's St. Louis Post-Dispatch article from Sunday, September 30, 2007:

Thousands of U.S. soldiers in Iraq — as many as 10 a day — are being discharged by the military for mental health reasons. But the Pentagon isn't blaming the war. It says the soldiers had "pre-existing" conditions that disqualify them for treatment by the government.

Many soldiers and Marines being discharged on this basis actually suffer from combat-related problems, experts say. But by classifying them as having a condition unrelated to the war, the Defense Department is able to quickly get rid of troops having trouble doing their work while also saving the expense of caring for them.

The result appears to be that many actually suffering from combat-related problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries don't get the help they need.


Senator Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo, said he learned of the practice from returning Iraq veterans. He called it an "abuse" of the system and "inexcusable." "They've kicked out about 22,000 troops who they say have pre-existing personality disorders. I don't believe that," Bond said in an interview Friday. "And when you kick them out, they don't get the assistance they need, they aren't entitled to DOD or Veterans Administration care for those problems."


Defense Department records show that 22,500 cases of personality-disorder discharges have been processed over the last six years.


Soltz, an Iraq war combat veteran who founded the group, said
untreated psychological problems were contributing to the highest military suicide rate in a quarter-century and to growing homelessness among veterans, he said. If such widespread mental problems really existed before people joined the military and saw combat, they would have been uncovered when the recruits were enlisting, Soltz said.


One Republican congressional staff member who works on military issues said the rationale behind the Pentagon's practice was: "We didn't break you, you were already broken. You're not our responsibility."

"One soldier I know received a diagnosis for a personality disorder after a 45-minute talk," said the staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He'd been in the military 10 years, had made it his career, and then he was told he was being shuffled out in a couple of weeks. We keep getting these stories."

The Post-Dispatch story also points out that legislation inserted into the recent emergency war bill by Kit Bond and Barak Obama tries to change and begin to address the Pentagon's current policies on this. But that is not a done deal. Your appeals can make a difference.

ARRIVING AT OCTOBER. We have arrived at October, the month that becomes golden. Here in Indianapolis, everything is still mostly green. Some leaves are beginning to turn and a few are falling. The leaves in this photo have fallen from the great white oak that graces our front yard. I will be raking and bagging leaves from this 100-year old ent well into November. Gladly will I do so.

A PRAYER OF TED LODER. Here’s a piece out of Ted Loder’s Guerrillas of Grace (Innisfree Press, 1984), a striking collection of poems and prayers from the heart of a Methodist pastor from Pennsylvania. Thanks once again, Kathy Wallace, for the gift of this book; it’s one I open often.

O extravagant God,
in this ripening, red-tinged autumn,
waken in me a sense of joy
in just being alive,
joy for nothing in general
except everything in particular;
joy in sun and rain
mating with earth to birth a harvest;
joy in soft light
through shyly disrobing trees;
joy in the acolyte moon
setting halos around processing clouds;
joy in the beating of a thousand wings
mysteriously knowing which way is warm;
joy in wagging tails and kids’ smiles
and in this spunky old city;
joy in the taste of bread and wine,
the smell of dawn,
a touch,
a song,
a presence;
joy in having what I cannot live without --
other people to hold and cry and laugh with;
joy in love,
in you;
and that all at first and last
is grace.

Monday, October 1, 2007


Addressing a group of Wesleyan & holiness theologians and practitioners who gathered in 1974 to explore the relationship between holiness and peace, and reflecting on John 20:19-23, Timothy L. Smith said: “'Peace' – 'shalom' – cannot, for us, even us who believe afresh in an imminent Second Coming, denote merely otherwordly hope in Christ’s apocalyptic settlement of the world’s strife. We recognize, rather, a responsibility to advance the alternatives to war which human beings can realistically hope for now.”

MAKING HEART PEACE POSSIBLE. “The shalom which Jesus pronounced was a promise that His grace could make them disciplined disciples, able to obey His call to personal holiness in a world of sin. His ‘peace be unto you’ was a confirmation of what He had declared on the eve of Calvary. Their hearts need not be troubled; they believed in God, they could also rely on Him. You can rest at ease, he said on that dark night of confusion and betrayal; your souls can be secure; you shall indeed live for Me and walk in the way I have charted for you.”

EMPOWERED TO BRING PEACE. “Eternal life began in a special sense for them that Easter night, in the grace of shalom, in the gift of the Holy Spirit, who would abide with them forever. Temporal holiness and everlasting salvation thereafter were two sides of the same priceless coin… The cross, and the resurrection which triumphed over it, had brought them a shalom which the world could neither give nor take away. It would heal their wearied and sin-bound spirits, and set them to bringing peace on earth and good will among men.”

WAGING WAR ON WAR. “What we set about when we began following Jesus was to become radically Christian persons linked in Christian compassion to a world of great evil… We really can’t find anything better to declare than ‘the peace of God that passeth all understanding.’ His shalom can fill those who trust in Him with the spiritual resources which will enable them to wage war on war, and provide them with weapons which by their peaceableness partakes of the nature of the kingdom for whose coming they both pray and work.”

MOVING THE WORLD. “Jesus’ words become for us who live in a war-cursed world a moral gauge of political action and conviction… We are trying by our professions of love to share with all mankind those hopes which our personal experience with Christ makes valid… The model of faithfulness, of peaceableness, of shalom, which exists within the Christian community is the ideal toward which we must try mightily to move the world.”

INFORMED BY THE ETHICS OF PEACE. “Though the disciples might not expect to see a completely peaceable society in their time – nor we in ours, so intractable are the political structures and social conventions by which men order their lives – yet, so as we are friends of Jesus, living in and caring for the world, the ethics of peace must inform our every political act and conviction.”

WAR AS EVIL. “My own existence as a person of peace, and the witness which I must bear to all mankind about spiritual as well as political shalom, depend on my rejection of war as basically evil. Being evil, it impoverishes all of a nation’s moral resources, weakens all of a people’s tendencies to gentleness, truthfulness and thoughtfulness, and frustrates the hopes which all political ideologies nurture.”

AGAINST STRIFE. “Jesus is trying to say to us that strife, considered both as the fruit of an egotistical will to power and as a customary way of securing it, is fundamentally destructive of the best which is in human beings.”

PERFECT LOVE AND WAR. This excerpt is from a rare book, Perfect Love and War, which is a compilation of articles presented at a symposium on the topic at Winona Lake, Indiana. It is a 1974 publication of Evangel Press. My thanks to Stan Ingersol for telling me about the book. Dr. Tim Smith, a church historian, taught at Johns Hopkins University and was the official historian of the Church of the Nazarene prior to his death a few years ago. I have included this excerpt, along with many others, on my website and dialogue project: Peace and Holiness –

I found this in Time's "Pictures of the Week." It was taken on Saturday, September 22, 2007. Script with the photo: "Cyclists hold up their bicycles during a 'Critical Mass' demonstration on the European Car Free Day in Budapest, Hungary." Wish I could've been there! Or, better yet, let's have an American Car Free Day!