Tuesday, February 27, 2007
IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR? I’ve been focused on getting back to a somewhat normal life over the past two weeks. India has been in the rear view mirror temporarily while I try to reengage the daily responsibilities and challenges of a husband, father, friend, pastor, community advocate, etc. But India is not at all out of my mind. It’s not like you can put it away like you do your suitcase. I‘m trying to spend some time contemplating the whole experience.
THE UNUSUAL BECOMES ROUTINE. On Monday evening, I began to put together an electronic media presentation to be able to concisely share the experience with school students, congregations, fellowship groups, service clubs, neighbors, and other groups (let me know if I can share this with your group! – email@example.com. All I know, so far, is that a Ben Davis High School sophomore English class thought it was cool and asked lots of questions.). In doing so, I was surprised by how diverse and striking the images and encounters came at us--or through which we sliced on our bicycles.
ALL IN A DAY. It goes something like this: Here are people drawing water from a well. They carry water away in metal and plastic containers placed on their heads. Here’s a group of uniformed students headed to technology training. Over there, a group of women labor in a ditch while a man watches over them. A cow saunters in front of me. A lorry carrying new motorcycles blasts past me. We pass through a village without running water and many villagers are talking on cell phones. We admire gleaming modern buildings in a city and see a hand pump for a water well just down the street. A full meal is purchased for less than one dollar. It is eaten with fingers and is served by an 11-year old boy. A goat is eating our leftovers by the side of the road was we leave the dhaba. An Internet café is next to store dealing in fabric for sari’s--the standard dress for women for thousands of years.
UNUSUAL AND ROUTINE. Cultural nuances that typically take considerable time to process had to be absorbed immediately. The unusual quickly became routine. The unusual routine became the context for the next striking encounter. And that became the backdrop for the next and the next--day after day, week after week. After each 200 miles or so, the language and culture would change again. India is tribal in a most orderly way. It has eleven “official” languages (with many more “unofficial” languages and dialects), each dominant in a different state or region of the sub-continent. Behind each language group is a matrix of significant cultural distinctions and tribal identifiers.
PERSPECTIVE MAY TAKE A LIFETIME. It was a struggle to keep from letting the sheer volume of inputs from numbing our responses. Changing Indian hosts and riders with each state we passed through helped us tremendously; it also gave us fuller insight into Indian ways, living with three or four new Indian friends each week. We tried to take in as much as possible and put it into perspective. But we were overwhelmed, like trying to get a drink out of a gushing fire hydrant. I guess it will take some time, maybe a lifetime, to put into perspective and make a grace-full response to all we experienced. As I do so, I will share it via Bikehiker.
Monday, February 26, 2007
When we visited the Gandhi Darshan Museum in Delhi, India, a few weeks ago, Joe James snapped this photo of Gandhi riding a bike. I missed seeing it (I spent too long actually trying to read my way through this massive pictoral collection and was pulled away "because it's getting time for lunch"). But Joe shared his find with me. Too bad it's out of focus and with a glass flash spot. I'd love to have a print of this. Anybody know where I might find it?
Sunday, February 25, 2007
A PERSON OF PASSION. Surely, Jesus wept on more occasions, but only two are recorded in the Scriptures. He weeps over the death of his beloved friend Lazarus (John 11:35). And, on Palm Sunday, he weeps over the city (Luke 19:41). Each of these stories is worthy of singular examination. However, both point to Jesus as a three-dimensional person--one who feels deeply and expresses his feelings transparently. Together, the stories hallmark Jesus as a person of passion, a real human being.
HEARTBROKEN FOR THE CITY. It intrigues me that the Gospels highlight one of Jesus' most passionate moments as looking out over a city. As an urban advocate and pastor, I find this a compelling scene, one that deserves to be unpacked, understood, and engaged. Jesus is not only a passionate person (vs "Jesus meek and mild"), he is passionate about the city. He loves the city. He cares for its people. His heart is breaking over its conditions. He longs for its renewal and vitality. He grieves its impending demise--a result of its near-sighted politics, religious arrogance, and spiritual malaise.
Why is Jesus passionate about the city? Why is he moved to tears at the sight of it? What's behind this erruption of emotion? Let me suggest four reasons:
GOD'S FOCUS IN SALVATION HISTORY. (1) In salvation history, God has made the city a particular focus of concern. From the beginnings of its faith, city was to be the heart of the expression of Israel's covenant living in the shalom of God. Prophets like Isaiah call the people back to covenant to rebuild and restore the city (Isa. 58:9-12) as a place of grace. Jeremiah declared that even in exile, the people should seek the shalom of the city in which they are resident aliens (Jer. 29:4-9). The Bible repeats this focus again and again. God's vision is an urban vision.
SOURCE OF IMPACTS--BAD & GOOD. (2) The priorities and decisions that impact daily living for good or harm are shaped in the city. Even as Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, he laments the misplaced values and bad decisions that are to be made in Jerusalem (Luke 19:42-45, 47-48). On the other hand, good decisions can be made in and by cities, like Ninevah (cf Jonah). The values, decisions, and policies made in a city influence daily life for millions of people. A metropolitan area does things in a large, collective way. If the city is--like Indianapolis--a center of regional and state governance, the impacts for good or harm are magnified, rippling outward into towns, villages, and rural areas.
SACRED SPACE. (3) The city is a sacred space—a place in which God’s presence dwells and through which God’s Word is revealed. Jesus goes to the temple—a sacred place—that has been turned into a mere marketplace—“a den of robbers." But entire cities are sacred places. God's Spirit is at work in myriad ways in a city. God hasn’t left, regardless of how many churches have abandoned the city or retreated its edges. As his core salvific mission intensifies, Jesus moves right into the heart of the city and grapples with fallen principalities and powers that prevent God's shalom from being accessible. The city is no less a holy place because it may be controlled by unholy people and fallen powers; it is to redeem and restore that Messiah comes...and it is to reconcile and renew that Messiah's followers are sent into the city.
LOST IN THE CITY. Jesus is passionate about the city because (4) the people He loves and came to redeem dwell in the city. Jesus weeps for people who are lost--lost in the city. I think this is the paramount reason God is passionate about the city. It’s about people: we who are created in the image of God, who have turned to our own ways, who God yet longs to redeem and restore and through whom God desires to be glorified and accessible for all. I beleive God's care for people is not just a care for their final, eternal destiny. Salvation--as it is described in the pages of the New Testament--is not just about an end game. It is about daily realities; it is about a quality of life--here and now. It is about a way of regarding people, measuring value, making decisions, expressing giftedeness, distributing goods, delivering services, encouraging community, fulfilling purpose, achieving outcomes, and crediting sources.
I clipped a portion of an AFP story this morning, posting it here simply because I want those who read Bikehiker not to overlook it. You can't authentically "do Lent" without this breaking your heart and moving you to action.
The gulf between rich and poor in the United States is yawning wider than ever, and the number of extremely impoverished is at a three-decade high, a report out Saturday found.
Based on the latest available US census data from 2005, the McClatchy Newspapers analysis found that almost 16 million Americans live in "deep or severe poverty" defined as a family of four with two children earning less than 9,903 dollars -- one half the federal poverty line figure. For individuals the "deep poverty" threshold was an income under 5,080 dollars a year.
"The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005," the US newspaper chain reported. "That's 56 percent faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period," it noted. The surge in poverty comes alongside an unusual economic expansion.
"Worker productivity has increased dramatically since the brief recession of 2001, but wages and job growth have lagged behind. At the same time, the share of national income going to corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries," the study found. "That helps explain why the median household income for working-age families, adjusted for inflation, has fallen for five straight years.
"These and other factors have helped push 43 percent of the nation's 37 million poor people into deep poverty -- the highest rate since at least 1975. The share of poor Americans in deep poverty has climbed slowly but steadily over the last three decades," the report said...
Read the full story here.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
“The mission of a city is to put the highest concerns of human beings at the center of all its activities: to unite the scattered fragments of the human personality, turning artificially dismembered people…into complete human beings, repairing the damage that has been done by vocational separation, by social segregation, by the over-cultivation of a favored function, by tribalisms and nationalisms, by the absence of organic partnerships and ideal purposes.”
– Lewis Mumford, The City in History, 1961
Friday, February 23, 2007
Reflections for the 40 Days of Lent
OUR EAGERNESS TO GRASP. "Our grasping arms are being crammed with the produce of an age of abundance, our eagerness to grasp being more than matched by the zeal of the people who shower such produce upon us. Abundance in the West has become a menace threatening to inundate us under mountains of television sets, houses, clothes, flowery toilet paper, cars, snowmobiles, books, furniture. In order that we may avoid being deluged, goods must be "kept moving." Advertising has been carried to lengths never before known. Our mailboxes, telephones, radios and televisions are channels for would-be sellers of merchandise who are hard put to get rid of what the manufacturers produce..."
WORSHIPERS OF ABUNDANCE. "There is nothing wrong, of course, with a proper distribution of goods and services. I am not talking about that but about the promotion of superabundance. We need food, clothing and shelter. Even abundance and comfort are gifts of God. But we are no longer his creatures accepting and distributing the goodness he pours upon us but the feverish and slavish worshipers of abundance itself.
- John White, The Golden Cow, 1979
See more quotes on consumerism and overconsumption
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Reflections for the 40 Days of Lent
NOT QUITE "AT HOME". Even though observing Ash Wednesday and Lent have become normal within our free church community, I still feel not quite at home in them. I feel the same way with most formal liturgy, including the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper and Baptism, along with the Christian calendar. I felt this odd mix of emotions last evening, even as I marked each kneeling congregant with ashes in the sign of the cross.
WHAT MY HEAD TELLS ME. Everything within my formal training tells me that well-patterned liturgy, the Sacraments, and the Christian calendar are valid and useful. These are time-tested ways many branches of the church worship and instruct. They also offer a countering alternative to the world's sense of time, material, value, and meaning. I can--and do--argue for the caring and careful use of good liturgy. Certainly, it is much better than much of what has passed for "the freedom of the Spirit" in our free church tradition. Lectionary-guided Bible preaching, teaching through the Christian seasons, and exploring creative possibilities within these is a growth point for me. Regarding these, I feel like I am just scratching the surface.
WHAT MY UPBRINGING TELLS ME. But there is also a part of me that is uncomfortable, at least, with so much to-do about days and seasons, markings and symbols, readings and recitations. I was brought up in a free church that gave supreme credance to firebrand preaching, extemporaneous prayers, long altar calls, and impromptu "testimonies." These routine expressions of worship linger in my psyche even though I have either excused or come to terms with most of them. I value some impacts of this upbringing. It infused me with a directness and earnestness in personal faith. It opened up an uninhibited emotional connection between Word and worshiper. It fostered a readiness to respond to an unexplored or forgotten aspest or application of the Word of God. It encouraged decisive responses--leading either to courageous action or a more radical discipleship.
HUNG UP ON THE LORD'S SUPPER. The disparagement of all formal liturgy and the reduction of the Sacraments to merely outward signs was also a hallmark of my upbringing. That is a bit more difficult to unpack. So thorough was the preaching about the Lord's Supper as a mere memorial--completely unrelated to the saving, grace-bearing acts of God in Jesus Christ--that conceiving of it as a means of grace is still a stretch for me. I now know all the layers and aspects of meaning of the Sacraments from various church traditions. And I insist that the Lord's Supper be more readily accessible and frequent within our worship (it was offered two or three times a year in my youth). Still, I get the feeling that almost everyone to whom I am serving the Lord's Supper has more comprehension of it and is receiving more apparent benefit from this mystery than me. At moments, I break through this ambivalence, but I have not yet sustained an emotional/spiritual breakthrough regarding this.
WHAT MY HEART TELLS ME. So, I enter Lent with a commitment to the journey, but more as a resident alien than an indigenous participant. I admire the traditions, observe the days, dress the part, celebrate the occasions. I do so with appreciation, respect, and reverence. I hope to gain insight and grow in grace with each disciplined action and experience. But as I do so I also guard my heart, hedging that there is a directness and communion with God, the church, and with those to whom God's love reaches out that surpasses any symbol, sign, day, season, or celebration.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Reflections for the 40 Days of Lent
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
IS "LITTLE" GRACE MERELY "CHEAP" GRACE? Some who read this blog and receive "Grace Between the Lines" via e-mail (let me know if you'd like to receive my weekly e-journal with a request to firstname.lastname@example.org) might have been astonished to see my previous post about grace ("Overhearing Grace") juxtaposed to selected quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. In CoD, Bonhoeffer develops the contrast between cheap grace and costly grace. Was what I was trying to describe as LITTLE grace, in fact, CHEAP grace? Is what I was trying to describe as BIG grace, in fact, COSTLY grace?
I don't think so...and I will try to explain, or at least try to describe LITTLE grace, particularly as it relates to Bonhoeffer's conception of cheap vs costly grace. Remember, I described BIG grace as saving grace. I described LITTLE grace as the myriad windows and unlikely openings to God's active presence, mercy, compassion, love.
In short: the LITTLE grace I describe is indicative--it indicates that God's mercy and love is present and at work; that God is neither absent nor confined.
LITTLE grace is signaling--it signals to all who bear or receive or experience it that there is something bigger, greater, higher, deeper happening that deserves consideration and invites a response.
LITTLE grace is evidencing. It is awakening. It is what John Wesley described as "preventing," or "prevenient" grace. It is preparatory. It leads toward. It softens the heart. It heightens sensitivity. It is the invitation to see, to recognize, to respond. It is the knock of Christ at the door.
LITTLE grace is also residual--indicating that someone or some institution may not currently embrace costly grace or be a Christian or of other particular faith at all, but that someone else or some other institution has borne grace to them, influenced and infused their life with enough grace that they cannot help convey at least some evidence of it, even unwittingly. They cannot help but bear some residual grace even if they personally do not embrace it--it is conveyed through how they were taught, trained, etc.
None of this is the same as CHEAP grace. If anything, LITTLE grace leads toward or issues from COSTLY grace.
Here's a bit of how Bonhoeffer contrasts cheap grace from costly grace in his book The Cost of Discipleship. And, just so you'll know, I buy this.
CHEAP GRACE IN THE CHURCH. "Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian 'conception' of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. The Church which holds this doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God..."
JUSTIFICATION OF SIN. "Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner...."
GRACE WITHOUT... "Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate...."
THE TREASURE. "Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock..."
COST AND GRACE. "Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'ye were bought at a price', and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God...."
THE SANCTUARY. "Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. It is therefore the living word, the Word of God, which he speaks as it pleases him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: 'My yoke is easy and my burden is light.'..."
PERSONAL IMPACT OF CHEAP GRACE. "This cheap grace has been no less disastrous to our own spiritual lives. Instead of opening up the way to Christ it has closed it. Instead of calling us to follow Christ, it has hardened us in our disobedience. Perhaps we had once heard the gracious call to follow him, and had at this command even taken the first few steps along the path of discipleship in the discipline of obedience, only to find ourselves confronted by the word of cheap grace. Was that not merciless and hard? The only effect that such a word could have on us was to bar our way to progress, and seduce us to the mediocre level of the world, quenching the joy of discipleship by telling us that we were following a way of our own choosing, that we were spending our strength and disciplining ourselves in vain—all of which was not merely useless, but extremely dangerous. After all, we were told, our salvation had already been accomplished by the grace of God. The smoking flax was mercilessly extinguished. It was unkind to speak to men like this, for such a cheap offer could only leave them bewildered and tempt them from the way to which they had been called by Christ. Having laid hold on cheap grace, they were barred for ever from the knowledge of costly grace. Deceived and weakened, men felt that they were strong now that they were in possession of this cheap grace—whereas they had in fact lost the power to live the life of discipleship and obedience. The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works...."
HAPPY ARE THEY... "Happy are they who have reached the end of the road we seek to tread, who are astonished to discover the by no means self-evident truth that grace is costly just because it is the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Happy are the simple followers of Jesus Christ who have been overcome by his grace, and are able to sing the praises of the all-sufficient grace of Christ with humbleness of heart. Happy are they who, knowing that grace, can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ, are so assured of their heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in this world. Happy are they who know that discipleship simply means the life which springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship. Happy are they who have become Christians in this sense of the word. For them the word of grace has proved a fount of mercy."
Monday, February 19, 2007
Reflections for the 40 days of Lent
"Only when we have become completely oblivious of self are we ready to bear the cross for Jesus' sake. If in the end we know only Him, if we have ceased to notice the pain of our own cross, we are indeed looking only unto Him. If Jesus had not so graciously prepared us for this word, we should have found it unbearable."
"To endure the cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. When it comes, it is not an accident, but a necessity… the suffering which is an essential part of the specifically Christian life."
"It is not suffering per se but suffering-and-rejection, and not rejection for any cause of conviction of our own, but rejection for the sake of Christ. If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity… We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering."
"Only a man thus totally committed in discipleship can experience the meaning of the cross. The cross is there, right from he beginning, he has only got to pick it up there is no need for him to go out and look for a cross for himself… Every Christian has his own cross waiting for him, a cross destined and appointed by God. Each must endure his allotted share of suffering and rejection."
-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Reflections for the 40 days of Lent
“Self-denial is never just a series of isolated acts of mortification or asceticism. It is not suicide, for there is an element of self-will even in that. To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only Him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us. All that self-denial can say is: ‘He leads the way, keep close to Him.’”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship
Saturday, February 17, 2007
NO MORE “GRACE NOTES.” On a whim, I’m changing the name of my weekly e-journal from “Grace Notes” to “Grace Between the Lines.” The name “grace notes” is used for so many other publications and its online applications are myriad. What I set out to do over a decade ago was to try to observe and comment on grace as it is experienced in indirect ways, from unlikely sources, and in out-of-the-box settings--literally, to overhear grace or read it between the lines.
GRACE FROM UNLIKELY PLACES. I was drawn to this because I experienced grace in these ways when, in 1994, I stepped outside the pulpit to serve in the community. People who did not cross their theological T’s or dot their lifestyle I’s within orthodoxy or under the sanction of the church mediated grace to me, to others, in their communities, through their organizations and in spite of their inconsistencies, flaws, and crudities. I was simultaneously struck by how small a circle of grace I had drawn and how wide the range of grace God was evidently scribing. I set out to make notes to myself and for whosoever might want to look over my shoulder.
I’VE DISAPPOINTED SOME. Across the years, some readers have expected that I would share themed “grace lessons” in Grace Notes. Some have suggested that I should use more Scripture. Some have been disappointed in my insistence that people outside the Evangelical realm and beyond the conservative Republican mindset are sometimes more grace-full and truthful than those who have received James Dobson’s stamp of approval. It’s not that some folks inside Evangelical circles aren’t bearing grace (though often it is “grace plus”...grace plus law, grace plus “just” war, grace plus moralistic litmus tests, grace plus gay-hating, grace plus…), it’s that they usually refuse to—or cannot—recognize the grace that people very unlike them are bearing.
BIG GRACE VS LITTLE GRACE. Evangelicals tend to think they have the corner on BIG grace, which they convey is the only grace that really matters. That is, saving grace. BIG grace is the tough stuff, the meat. LITTLE grace—common grace, apparently non-salvific grace or indirect salvific grace, “kindness to strangers” grace, grace as compassion, grace as advocating justice—really doesn’t seem to matter on the Evangelical radar screen. LITTLE grace is soft and warm and slippery. Bearers of LITTLE grace, they convey, would be so much more effective and useful if they would focus on BIG grace. Mother Teresa was wonderful, but in Evangelical thinking, she was mostly about LITTLE grace. After all, just how many souls did Mother Teresa bring to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? So goes such thinking.
FAUX GRACE? What happens when you think only BIG grace matters is that you simply close your spiritual senses and awareness of grace in its more raw, simple and profound forms. Or, you see incredibly compassionate acts, observe great struggles for justice against ignorance and oppression, witness a life of rare wisdom, truth and light... but because these acts, struggles or persons are neither specifically Christian nor speak directly to the need for personal salvation, you put them in an “unspiritual” category. You box out the possibility that these, too, may be some of the most critical signs of grace in our generation and world. Narrow categorical teaching inoculates so many Evangelicals from seeing and celebrating and living with the grace that is always between the lines and ready to be overheard by any who will dare to listen.
NOT EASY, BUT JOYOUS. I will be the first to tell you that overhearing grace and reading it between the lines in events and lives and relationships is not very easy. It defies sound-byte “success stories.” It can be mistaken. The kind of “life change” one might expect does not occur rapidly. But there is no joy like being able to talk with a person about the grace you see at work in their lives, or to help someone see the divine intervention in their thought-to-be senseless situation, or to fan the flame of grace that can be conveyed through a so-called secular organization’s staff and services. What fun to perceive grace where others do not and then to try to help them see it, too. This is mostly what I’ve been trying to do since 1994.
A WINDOW TO GRACE. Maybe you have to have had the experience of being apprehended by grace to be able to recognize it in others, in situations, relationships, or organizations. Truly, some folks just don’t “get it” when I try to point it out; sadly, just as many Evangelicals don’t “see” indirect grace as unchurched. But for those who “get it,” however that happens, grace is truly “amazing.” With this fresh name for my weekly gathered readings, gleanings, and reflections, I dedicate myself anew to making this journal a window to grace that is read between the lines or overheard. Once recognized, grace can do its ongoing transformative work in the lives it touches.
Read this week's edition of Grace Between the Lines.
Why does the second snowfall over the first and greater amount of snow seem less welcome, less quaint, less alluring? After receiving over eight inches of snow earlier in the week that created a winter wonderland, we awoke today to more falling snow. It continues to snow this afternoon with an accumulation of over 3 inches. It's beautiful. I cross-country skied at Eagle Creek Park this morning in the falling snow. But the new round of snow doesn't grab my heart and imagination like the initial downpour. Still, I'll take this over barren cold, rain, and merely gray cloud cover anytime.
Photo: A view through our front window of the falling snow at 6:30 am
Friday, February 16, 2007
NONVIOLENT AND ANTIMILITARISTIC. "The early Christians are the earliest known group that renounced warfare in all its forms and rejected all its institutions. This small and original group was devoted to antimilitarism, another concept, like nonviolence, that has no positive word. This antimiliarism was never expressed by Jesus , who, in fact, did not much address the issue of warfare, though he did renounce the violent overthrow of the Romans."
IGNORING THE OBVIOUS. "Warmongering Christian fundamentalists have always clung to the absence of a specific stand on warfare, ignoring the obvious, which is that the wholesale institutionalized slaughter of fellow human beings is clearly a violation of the precise and literal teachings of Jesus . In the days of the great Western debate on slavery, slave owners used a similar argument--that Jesus had not said anything about slavery. But obviously the buying and selling of human beings would not constitute treating others as you would have them treat you."
-- Mark Kurlansky in Nonviolence: Twenty-five Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea (Modern Library, Random House, 2006). This book, a Christmas gift from my niece, was one of several books I read from while traveling through India. I am enjoying it as a good, insightful read.
A few questions:
1. Why do you think so many Christians cling to non-biblical and unchristian justifications for war, war violence, and militarism as if they were Biblical and Christian?
2. Do you think Kurlansky is in the ballpark on his assessment that pro-war Christians have "overlooked the obvious" regarding Jesus' teaching (some would say "commands") on violence, enemies, and war?
3. Have you ever read Augustine's "Just War" justifications? If not, Google them and read them. If so, do you really think his treatment of the Scriptures on this is credible? Did he not--and later Thomas Aquinas--disregard the whole weight and thrust of Jesus' teaching on violence, enemies, war, and the Christian's relationship to the state in favor of a few misappropriated verses?
4. What do you think is a more appropriate Christian response to the violence of war and participation in military and the military-industrial complex?
Thursday, February 15, 2007
TEA TIME. During our six-week bicycle ride through the heart of India, we started each morning with chai. Five rupees (20 cents) put into your hands a piping hot mixture of Indian tea, buffalo milk, and sugar in a cup the size of a shot glass. The taste was heavenly. We drank a bit again at breakfast, after lunch, at afternoon tea time, and with dinner. Almost any excuse for "tea time."
NO AMERICAN DUPLICATE. I haven't found Indian chai duplicated anywhere in North America...yet. Starbucks' "chai" doesn't even come close. I'm convinced that anyone who can proximately duplicate the chai that is so commonly available in India, they might have a heyday in the American marketplace.
PERSONAL RECIPES. We were told every Indian makes chai a bit differently, and we certainly could taste the variations. The combination of intensity of tea, milk, sugar, and varieties of spices make for a potentially infinite range of taste. Sanjay Sumadre sent home with me a box of Indian tea powder, with which he makes the concoction. He told me how to prepare it. I'm trying...but it's not the same. Maybe I'll come up with my own variation. But for now I'm missing chai.
Photo: David Goodnight of Seattle, one of our guest riders from Hyderabad to Umri, sips a cup of Indian chai...somewhere north of Hyderabad.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
This is a poem written by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1835. Watch and listen for how Emerson imbues snow with a sinister persona. I love snow and snow storms, perhaps because they are relatively rare, quaint and welcome in these parts. But I have not lived in a place, time or conditions in which snow is a real threat to vitality and life. Apparently, Emerson expresses the darker side of snow.
Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hill and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farmhouse at the garden's end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.
Come see the north wind's masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hiddden thorn;
Fills up the famer's lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer's sighs; and at the gate
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind's night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.
No one has seen him stumble looking back.
His fear is not behind him but beside him
On either hand to make his course perhaps
A crooked straightness yet no less a straightness.
He runs face forward. He is a pursuer.
He seeks a seeker who in his turn seeks
Another still, lost far into the distance.
Any who seek him seek in him the seeker.
His life is a pursuit of a pursuit forever.
It is the future that creates his present.
All is an interminable chain of longing.
I've been invited to participate in a monthly roundtable regarding Faith and Money. My immediate reaction is to think: "We don't have enough of either!" But I don't get the feeling that's the direction of the study and discussion group. So, what is the relationship? How does one impact the other? To what extent can money sabotage faith? In what kind of situations can the compassionate and careful use of money express and increase faith?
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
UNTOUCHABILITY OUTLAWED...ON PAPER. Today, Human Right Watch released a report chastising India for its continued inaction--and too frequent assault--on its dalits. Untouchability was outlawed five decades ago as part of India's dramatic Gandhi-led nonviolent movement for freedom and democracy. But due to its Hindu-based caste system--an ancient religious- and culturally-entrenched practice that stratifies people in lock-tight classes and entirely locks out "untouchables"--the laws against untouchability are primarily on paper only.
AP STORY. The AP story is worth a brief read and fuller reflection.
INCREDIBLE NUMBERS. Many sociologists and serious observers estimate that India's dalits (downtroddens) make up nearly 300,000,000 people (roughly, the entire population of USA), nearly twice the conservative number stated in the AP story regarding the Human Rights Watch report.
OVERCOMING DIVISIONS. Having just ridden a bicycle 2,000 miles through the heart of India, this situation is both clear and heartbreaking. Dalits themselves seem to be divided against each other--some accept their lot, some organize to challenge for their rights peacefully, some organize for more forceful approaches, some hope that education is their ticket out of their plight of extreme poverty if not out of their non-caste caste. But if dalits can unify their voices and votes, they have hope of changing history. Their struggle, however, may be no less epic, momentous or gut-wrenching and bloody than India's movement to oust Great Britain or the Civil Rights Movement actions in America in the 1960's.
IMPLICATIONS FOR CORPORATIONS. If India, like China, is to vie for credibility and economic prominence on a global scale, basic human rights conditions must be addressed seriously, carefully, and healingly. Transnational and Western-based--yes, American--corporations that are stumbling over themselves to take advantage of India's low wage rates and budding IT and engineering workforce could take the lead in insisting that untouchability be functionally removed and India's dalits redeemed.
IMPLICATIONS FOR AMERICAN CONSUMERS. Unfortunately, the short-term financial bottom line instead of the long-term human bottom line appears to be the interest of the folks who bring us Windows, laptops, mp3 players, video game players and a thousand and one amenities we demand be available to consumers at the lowest possible price. The low prices that drive the stock market demands and dividends of wealthy investors are exacting a high price in the lives of common laborers and dalits in India and other peoples of the world.
WATCH AND PRAY. Let us pay attention to this situation and consider what we may do--or no longer do--to encourage the realization of freedom for India's dalits.
Monday, February 12, 2007
LIFE GOES ON. Well, I'm back in the saddle again. Not a bicycle saddle, but back in America (where rudeness among airport personnel is routine), back in Indianapolis (which apparently became world famous and the temporary center of the sports media universe while I away in India), back at home (which is cloaked in beautiful, wonderful snow, as in this photo Molly snapped and sent me while I was in India), back at WEMO (West Morris Street Free Methodist Church), back to life as it is daily expressed in a local setting with responsibilities, challenges, opportunities, relationships, tasks, appointments, graces, sporting events, school functions--the milieu that is life.
BUT I'M STILL ADJUSTING. I am trying to be here in this way. But, in all honesty, I am experiencing both major jet lag (days are nights, nights are days) and the feeling that I should be on my bike pedaling my heart out on some Indian road, dodging cows, lorries, pedestrians carrying fresh cow manure on their heads (photo), and other bikes bearing heavy loads. I awoke this morning, ready for the day at 2:00 am. It is likely that by 2:00 pm I will feel the urge to doze into a midwinter night's sleep. This physical-geographical adjustment will take a while. So will the mental-emotional-spiritual reorientation. So, I will try to give it time and attempt to journal my way through it. Bear with me.
Friday, February 9, 2007
I made it! Together, we made it all the way from the southern tip of India to the heart of Delhi on bicycle. We celebrated on Thursday afternoon by lifting our bikes at India Gate, the center of India's capital. Thus, the riding portion of our journey concluded. Follow my daily posts and photos at http://bicycleindia2007.blogspot.com.
Sunday, February 4, 2007
1,800 MILES BEHIND US. My four “Bicycle India 2007” companions and I have thus far pedaled over 1,800 miles. We started at Nagercoil and rode south to Kanniyakumari, the southern tip of India on the Indian Ocean on December 30, 2006. We have ridden northward through the heart of the nation, averaging about 65 miles a day. We’re now just a day away from the Taj Mahal and we hope to arrive in New Delhi on February 8.
OF MONUMENTS AND PEOPLE. While we look forward to cycling to the Taj Mahal (one of the “seven wonders of the world”), we feel like we have already glimpsed the ingenuity and felt the soul of this mystical land. Great monuments (and there are plenty here) and historic landmarks cannot compare to the diverse, gifted, spirited people we’ve met in the villages, towns and cities we’ve pedaled through.
A VIBRANT PEOPLE. India’s steady emergence as a world economic power is being triggered by fiber optics and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s free market policies. But its growth is being stoked by hard-working people whose determination to learn, thrive and grow within a framework of democratic freedom is evident everywhere. This is easy to see in “cyber cities” like Bangalore and Hyderabad, but also readily observed in the nation’s fifty thousand villages (we’ve pedaled through over 500).
HOSTELS, HOSPITALS, AND GHANDI’S HOME. Our trek has taken us to a youth hostel for children affected by the 2004 tsunami in Tamil Nadu. It has included being guests at several charity Christian hospitals—like the one in the village of Umri in Maharashtra, for which our tour is raising support. These hospitals offer free medical care to the poorest of the poor. We stayed at the home of Mahatma Gandhi in Sevagram, departing his ashram on Republic Day (January 26, the day India celebrates its birth as a democracy) and passing through one local parade after another as we pedaled along National Highway 7.
HOSPITALITY…A HABIT OF THE HEART. All along the way we’ve been awed by genuine Indian hospitality. Certainly, hospitality is professionally offered in hotels and restaurants. But it is just as fully experienced in homes, at tea (chai) stalls, in the urban markets and on the open roads. People have made room for us in simple and profound ways—not so much to impress us, but as a habit of the heart. This, as much as anything else, may be India’s greatest gift to the world.
INDIA AND AMERICA. We find it difficult to compare and contrast India and America. The world’s two largest democracies are at complete different stages of development. India seems incredibly ancient as a culture but young as a democracy. America seems light years ahead of India in so many ways, but one cannot help but sense that America has left behind some simple but profound values and practices that India heartfully retains. There are, of course, some Indian values and practices that are incompatible with human dignity and community (the same can be said of America...right?).