Saturday, March 31, 2007

TO KNOW THE CROSS

In No Man Is An Island, Thomas Merton writes the following about the relationship of suffering and the cross. Headings and emphases are mine:

OUR SUFFERINGS AND CHRIST'S. "To know the cross is not merely to know our own sufferings. For the cross is the sign of salvation, and no one is saved by his own sufferings. To know the cross is to know that we are saved by the sufferings of Christ; more, it is to know the love of Christ who underwent suffering and death in order to save us. It is, then, to know Christ. For to know his love is not merely to know the story of his love, but to experience in our spirit that we are loved by him, and that in his love the Father manifests his own love for us, through his Spirit poured forth into our hearts..."

IT DEPENDS ON WHAT WE LOVE. "The effect of suffering upon us depends on what we love. If we love only ourselves, suffering is merely hateful. It has to be avoided at all costs. It brings out all the evil that is in us, so that the one who loves only himself will commit any sin and inflict any evil on others merely in order to avoid suffering himself. Worse, if a person loves himself and learns that suffering is unavoidable, he may even come to take a perverse pleasure in suffering itself, showing that he loves and hates himself at the same time. In any case, if we love ourselves, suffering inexorably brings out selfishness, and then, after making known what we are, drives us to make ourselves even worse than we are."

NOBLE BUT FUTILE SUFFERING. "If we love others and suffer for them, even without a supernatural love for other people in God, suffering can give us a certain nobility and goodness. It brings out something fine in our natures, and gives glory to God who made us greater than suffering. But in the end a natural unselfishness cannot prevent suffering from destroying us along with all we love."

CONSUMING THE 'ACCIDENTAL TRASH OF LIFE' "If we love God and love others in him, we will be glad to let suffering destroy anything in us that God is pleased to let it destroy, because we know that all it destroys is unimportant. We will prefer to let the accidental trash of life be consumed by suffering in order that his glory may come out clean in everything we do."

CHRIST IN US GREATER THAN OUR SUFFERING. "If we love God, suffering does not matter. Christ in us, his love, his Passion in us: that is what we care about. Pain does not cease to be pain, but we can be glad of it because it enables Christ to suffer in us and give glory to his Father by being greater, in our hearts, than suffering would ever be."

Friday, March 30, 2007

THE CHURCH IN THE CITY...ACCORDING TO WILLIAM STRINGFELLOW

William Stringfellow's reflections on the church in the city in 1963 are both piercing and potentially redemptive. I hadn't read them until today...read them at this Theology Today link. I am still reeling from his stinging criticism and working through his spot-on analysis and offering of challenge for prophetic ministry. If you're not used to Stringfellow, brace yourself. Even if you are familiar with the Harlem street lawyer and lay theologian, hang on to your heart. Here are a few excerpts of his piece titled "The Church in the City":

SOLD OUT AND SATELLITES. "Little can be said about the present estate of the churches in the city which does not sound as if the churches are ridiculous. Some churches, for example, have physically quit the city- closed down, sold out, and moved to the suburbs, only to find out that the problem of the mission of the church to the city still plagues them. For suburbs are satellites of the city and commuters spend much, if not most, of their time in the city. Perhaps the churches which have remained physically in the city have eluded the church's mission to the city more effectively-by virtually full-time preoccupation in ecclesiastical housekeeping, in massive indifference to the excitement and conflict of the city, or by plain malingering."

HIDING OUT? "Some churches have fled the city, but the churches that have remained, for the most part, have been hiding out."

ANEMIC IDENTIFICATION. "Consequently, of course, the city pays little attention to the churches, save for some patently absurd or innocuous event in which the churches manage to call attention to themselves. Recently, a clergyman convened a press conference in New York to announce the discontinuance of pew rentals. If that is all that the churches have to report to the city, it is probably shrewder to suppress the news. But that is just the sort of thing by which the churches are normally, albeit not yet exclusively, identified in the city."

IMMERSION AND DISPERSION. "The notorious fact about the churches and the city at the present time is that the churches do not know the city. And yet the rudiment of the mission to the city is the immersion of the churches in the common life of the city and the dispersion of Christians within the turmoil and travail of the city's existence. The rudiment of mission is knowledge of the city because the truth and grace of the Incarnation encompass in God's care all that is the city. Mission for the church, and hence for the churches and for Christians, in the city means a radical intimacy with every corner and every echelon of the city's actual life in order to represent and honor God's concern for each fragment of the city."

Thursday, March 29, 2007

PALM SUNDAY PARADOX

The following is attributed to Frederick C. Grant:

NOT, AND YET. "Palm Sunday is the festival of a paradox, the paradox that lies that the very heart of the Christian faith. Jesus is the Messiah, and yet not the Messiah. Nevertheless in a higher and final sense he is the Messiah, the one who was to come, and who came, and who is still to come. He was the Messiah of Jewish expectation, yet he was not, for he never fulfilled the nationalistic expectations of his people. And yet he was, and is, the Messiah in the sense that he more than fulfilled those expectations."

THE KING WHO DID NOT REIGN. "He is the one whose coming the prophets had foretold, but the fulfillment so greatly exceeded the hope that we can only say He is the one whom the prophets dimly foresaw, interpreted, and misinterpreted. 'Jesus is the King who did not reign.' Even so, Christians have described him as the 'uncrowned King.' He was uncrowned, but it was with a crown of thorns, and his scepter was a reed. He did not reign, yet he does reign, he has reigned, he will reign for ever and ever."

REIGNING FROM THE TREE. "For Jesus has reigned ever since his crucifixion. As medieval artists and poets described him, the Lord is 'reigning from the tree' (Psalm 96 10). That is how John understood the words 'If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me' (John 12 32). That is how Paul understood the words, 'He became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and given him a name that is a above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knew shall bow.'"

FAITH UNDERSTANDS. "Yet it is a paradox, which can be understood only by faith. And not only understood, for faith finds it the life-giving reality which expresses and explains all Gods dealings with men, the clue to this all encompassing mystery of our brief life here on earth, our alienation from God, our reconciliation to God, indeed our whole and our only salvation."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

LITTLE BLACK: FROM INDIA TO BROWN COUNTY STATE PARK


I started calling my 15-year old touring Cannondale "Little Black" while riding thru India in January. The name comes from a children's "Golden Book" by that title; it was one of my childhood favorites.

The story was about a black pony that was once the favorite of a boy...until he got a powerful horse called "Big Red." Rejected, Little Black was forlorn. In time, however, the sad Little Black was able to save Big Red's life. The boy's love for Little Black was restored; so was the pony's spirit.

I rarely ride my black touring Cannondale; I prefer my larger, relatively newer, costlier road frame Cannondale. But "Little Black" was the one I took to India...and it served me well while there. So, the name sticks.

Photo: I rode Little Black thru Brown County State Park on Monday and Tuesday while at meetings in Nashville, Indiana. As always, the vistas are inspiring and the park is pristine. Soon it will be mushroom hunting season. Shhh...don't tell where you find them.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

WON'T ARGUE EASTER

Easter is not something I care to argue.
Come Sonrise Service, you won't find me
trying to prove Resurrection to anyone.
I will proclaim it, o yes, and lift up
this many-faceted gem to the light.
But the cynically unconvincible
spoiling for a Resurrection row
may be disappointed with me.

Resurrection may as well be disproven as proven,
depending on which way you're inclined to lean.
The convinced cannot be unconvinced and
the unconvincible will keep citing exceptions
behind every source the convinced can cite.
At the end of the day we’re all
the worse for wear.

Easter is not something I care to argue.
I will, instead, endeavor to practice resurrection--
Not as illusion or blind faith
flying in the face of facts,
but as a reasonable faith
rooted in a reliable revelation,
reflected in contemporary testimonies,
resounding in my own heart,
and energized by transforming love.

In the church of my upbringing we used
to sing a gospel song that crescendos:
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart!”
It's not about trumping arguments or triumphalism,
But vibrant testimony from resurrected hearts.
It's not to discount disbelievers,
But to speak of my own experience
and live out its principles and patterns
in the dailiness of life.

Easter is not something I care to argue,
unless I may convince you by the logic of love.
A MASTER OF GRACE & CREATIVITY

MICHAEL KELLY BLANCHARD. I've been privileged to be around a master of grace and creativity over the past few days. I listened to Michael Kelly Blanchard sing finely woven stories old and new in a Sunday evening concert in Indianapolis. Pastors and spouses of the Wabash Conference (Free Methodist Church) then participated in Michael's storytelling workshop at our annual retreat in Nashville, Indiana on Monday and Tuesday. Michael's perspective and insight deepens with age, resounding crisply in his music and lyrics. Not sure I've ever heard anyone express grace amid heartaches and hopes so honestly and compellingly. He is a treasure for grace seekers.

BE YE GLAD. Here are the lyrics of an older Blanchard song. It's much older than 9/11, but I found comfort and courage in it after that tragic, culture-rattling event.

In these days of confused situations.
In these nights of a restless remorse,
When the heart and the soul of the nation,
lay wounded and cold as a corpse.
From the grave of the innocent Adam,
comes a song bringing joy to the sad.
Oh your cry has been heard and the ransom,
has been paid up in full, Be Ye Glad.

Refrain:

Oh, Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad,
Every debt that you ever had
Has been paid up in full by the grace of the Lord,
Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad.

From the dungeon a rumor is stirring.
You have heard it again and again.
But this time the cell keys are turning,
and outside there are faces of friends.
And though your body lay weary from wasting,
and your eyes show the sorrow they've had.
Oh the love that your heart is now tasting
has opened the gate, Be Ye Glad.

Refrain

So be like lights on the rim of the water,
giving hope in a storm sea of night.
Be a refuge amidst the slaughter,
for these fugitives in their flight.
For you are timeless and part of a puzzle.
You are winsome and young as a lad.
And there is no disease or no struggle,
that can pull you from God, Be Ye Glad.

Refrain

Learn about Michael Kelly Blanchard and access his songs and stories at www.michaelkellyblanchard.com

Monday, March 26, 2007

CITY OF LIGHTS, CITY OF BIKES

Did you see this dramatic bit of bicycling news?

Thu Mar 8, 2:08 AM ET

PARIS (AFP) - Thousands of bicycles will be on hire across Paris from mid-July as part of efforts to ease congestion, Paris city hall said on Wednesday. By the end of the year, the city hopes to have 20,600 bikes available at a "cheap" rental to Parisians and tourists, from 1,000 pick-up points across the capital, to be set up on sidewalks as well as former parking spaces.

French street advertising group JCDecaux will build the rental points and provide the fleet of bicycles in exchange for access to more than 1,600 hoardings and other publicity sites. The contract was handed to JCDecaux late last month after a court rejected an appeal by the company's US rival Clear Channel, which claimed "irregularities" in the tender process.

Customers will be able to rent cycles for journeys around the capital, day and night, seven days a week, depositing them at any station to be picked up by new users. Cycle-for-hire networks have been developed with success in European capitals including Oslo, Stockholm and Brussels, and several French cities.

Since 2005 JCDecaux has run a similar scheme in the southeastern French city of Lyon, where city authorities have hailed it as a major success in the campaign to reduce motor transport. The bikes in Lyon are free for the first 30 minutes.

Mayor Bertrand Delanoe has significantly extended Paris's network of bicycle lanes since being elected in 2001, though campaign groups continue to press for better facilities.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

THE POLITICS OF THE CROSS IN DAILY PRACTICE

The following observations and practices will take some explanation and contextualizing, but I don't have the time right now. Perhaps I can develop them if I have time this week. Like most of my reflections on bikehiker, these are written on the fly, in the margins. Sometimes I have the time and spirit to draw them out; sometimes, they're just there for some future gleaning.

1. Don’t reduce the Gospel to partisan power plays and divisiveness.

2. Don’t disengage because you disagree or apparently can’t “win.”

3. Examine every idea, proposal, or answer through the filter of the cross.

4. Ask: Am I acting on my fears, or choosing from trust in Jesus and God’s future?

5. With your choices, words, and actions, be the difference Jesus is making in you and the world.


Photo: this photo of a chalk drawing is one of numerous expressions of the cross at www.thecross-photo.com

Saturday, March 24, 2007

ADMIRING MY BIKE

To me, it's a 15-year old Cannondale touring bike that I hoped would hold together for the 2,000-mile trek thru India. To the folks who gathered 'round at each stop we made along National Highway 7, it was something of a marvel.

Gears. Gear shifters. Cables. Strange pedals. Odd seat. An aero bar. Mounted water bottles. Cycle computer. GPS. Very different from a standard Atlas or Hero bike.

In America, my bike's considered a clunker. In India, it was a very cool.

Friday, March 23, 2007

AS THE CRICKET WORLD TURNS

NOT WHAT WAS EXPECTED. News of the strangulation of Pakistan's national cricket team coach at the ICC World Cup in the West Indies is drawing attention to the world of cricket. Not the kind of attention the sport wants or needs, but attention. You can follow the ICC World Cup online. Even if you know very little about cricket (except that it's like baseball with only two bases and no foul lines), the fact that it draws multiple millions more fans than any American-based sport should pique some interest.

NEW FROM WEST INDIES. So far, three news items have dominated the 2007 ICC World Cup: (1) top-seed Pakistan losing two of its three first-round games--and bowing out of the tournament; (2) the murder of Pakistan's coach, who was reported to be in the process of writing a book about the sport's game-fixing underside; and (3) the defeat of cricket powerhouse India.

IMPACT OF INDIA'S DEFEAT. The biggest news from today is India's defeat at the hands of its tiny neighbor to the south, Sri Lanka. Having been upset last weekend by its eastern neighbor Bangladesh, Team India is out of the ICC World Cup at the end of the first round. Tournament organizers and media magnets are scrambling to assess the monetary damage India's ouster causes. India has nearly 300,000,000 avid cricket fans who have a religious fixation on their boys in blue. But, alas, they will no longer be tuned in to TV and radio; revenue from media and ads is now expected to be dismal.

THE POWER OF CRICKET. While I rode my bicycle through the heart of India in January and February, one of the constants from south to north was the nation's obsession with cricket. Little children played it in sandlots. Youth picked up a game in the school yard. Bats were on bicycle racks. It dominated TV sports and news. Intrigue within Team India made front-page headlines. Combine American youth and adult interest in driveway basketball, backyard baseball, football, and soccer and all of that at professional and international league play and you begin to approach the power of cricket. It's the Indian national pastime--on steroids.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

POLITICS OF THE CROSS

Here are a few quotes from one chapter in John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus:

NOT MERELY MYSTICAL. “As long as [we] could stay unaware of the political/social dimension of Jesus’ ministry (which most of Christendom seems to have done quite successfully), then it was also possible to perceive the ‘in Christ’ language of the Epistles as mystical or the ‘dying with Christ’ as psychologically morbid. But if we may posit…that the apostles had and taught at least a core memory of their Lord’s earthly ministry in its blunt historicity, then centering the apostolic ethic upon the disciple’s cross evidences a substantial, binding, costly social stance.”

CONSCIOUS OF THE COST. “The cross of Christ was not an inexplicable or chance event, which happened to strike him, like illness or accident. To accept the cross as his destiny, to move toward it and even to provoke it, when he could well have done otherwise, was Jesus’ constantly reiterated free choice; and he warns his disciples lest their embarking on the same path be less conscious of its costs.”

NO LESSER CAUSE OR CLASH. “The cross of Calvary was not a difficult family situation, not a frustration of visions of personal fulfillment, a crushing debt or nagging in-law; it was the political, legally to be expected result of a moral clash with the powers ruling his society.”

IMITATION OF CHRIST. “There is but one realm in which the concept of imitation [of Christ] holds—but there it holds in every strand of the New Testament literature and all the more strikingly by virtue of the absence of parallels in other realms: this is at the point of the concrete social meaning of the cross in relation to enmity and power. Servanthood replaces dominion, forgiveness absorbs hostility. Thus—and only thus—are we bound by New Testament thought to ‘be like Jesus.’”
LET BICYCLE INDIA 2007 INSPIRE

I've prepared a fast-moving, interactive multi-media presentation on my recent 2,000-mile bicycle ride through the heart of India. Through it, I share my passion for bicycling, India, and making a difference. It can be bring motivation for work teams, education for school students, and inspiration for civic groups and faith-based gatherings. It's perfect for luncheon meetings like Rotary or Kiwanis. My presentation is adaptable to each group setting. And there's no cost.
CONTACT ME if you are interested in exploring or scheduling a Bicycle India 2007 presentation. My true test: it captivated a class of sophomore students in an English class at Ben Davis High School!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

LENT STILL BECKONS

FORTY DAYS. Most of us start Lent. I wonder how many of us keep it to its conclusion? My guess is that most folks, myself included, rarely keep focused on anything for forty days. It might have been different in days in which the pace was slower and information processing was not so complex and the things that push and pull us were fewer. Who can even remember forty days ago?

LOST AMID MANYNESS & MUCHNESS. Lent gets lost in the backwash as we speed through the weeks. Lent is a victim of manyness and muchness. Lent is not blaring at us, is not selling us, not phoning us, not e-mailing or instant-messaging or sending us reminders by post. Did it even have a chance?

FIRST DAY OF SPRING. Nonetheless, here we are, turning onto the downstretch of Lent. Maybe we've lost focus, given up on what it was we gave up for Lent. Here, on this first day spring, we have opportunity to refocus ourselves and rejoin the journey.

DAYS OF KAIROS. Palm Sunday is 11 days away; Easter is fully 18 days off. So it's not 40 days of preparation, still one could commit to a pretty intenstive and intentional spiritul discipline for the next 18 days. Two and a half weeks: it's enough time for a life's trajectory to be reset. Two and half weeks in kairos time is an eternity.

NOT TOO LATE. It's not too late to keep Lent. So what if others have been more faithful; it's not a contest. And it's not about them; it's about grace. Just don't waste the day. Now's a good time. Why not take this opportunity?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

81-YEAR OLD CYCLIST TO THE RESCUE

This caught my eye as I scrolled through the news this morning:

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - "An 81-year-old Dutchman who saw a shoplifter flee a supermarket in The Hague chased after the thief on his bike and crashed into the man to stop him, police on Tuesday. Officers said the 81-year-old had observed the shoplifter 29, run from the supermarket with two employees in pursuit."

"'The man did not hesitate a moment, followed the fleeing suspect on his bike, rode into his legs, whereupon both fell,' police said in a statement. The cyclist injured his hand and shin in the fall and had to undergo treatment. The shoplifter was arrested and found to be carrying 122 euros ($162) worth of cosmetics, police said."

"Cycling is very popular in the Netherlands. The famously flat country has more bikes than people with each resident riding an average of more than 900 km (560 miles) a year."
Ride on, great-grandpa! I can only hope to be able to do that 34 years from now!
According to Bicycling magaine, The Netherlands have more bicycling commuters per capita than China or India.
CREATION CARE AND THE MISSION OF GOD

Attention Evangelicals who have either been taken in or completely offended by the recent pseudo-spiritual rhetoric of right-wing Republican power broker James Dobson (yeah, the Focus on the Family guy) regarding a Christian perspective on environmental challenges facing the world: think again. Neither knee-jerk, lock-step conformity to the Evangelical status quo nor complete dismissal of Evangelical guardedness is necessary.

I recommend that you set aside the current debate and take an hour to read and reflect on creation care with Howard Snyder. Read Snyder's excellent paper, "Creation Care and the Mission of God." (this is a PDF file; Adobe Acrobat Reader required)

Snyder, an Asbury Theological Seminary teacher and fellow Free Methodist, approaches creation care from a sound Biblical and theologically responsible perspective. It dwarfs the politicization and polarization that Dobson and his cohorts have made of the environment. Snyder answers important questions and hesitations Evangelicals have about the relationship between the environment, the Bible, the church, and the Christian mission. You will appreciate his careful considerations. I think you may also find a way to engage in creation care that encompasses a most Evangelical sense of Christian mission.

Howard Snyder has graced us with books such as The Radical Wesley, The Problem with Wineskins, The Community of the King, and, most recently, Populist Saints. Explore Snyder's Wineskins website with articles, sermons, hymns, and resources.
HOPPER

At age 16, she benches 120 pounds. Squats 200. Cleans 135. Covers 40 yards in 5.21 seconds. She's a fearsome defender on the high school varsity soccer team and was a state finalist in the 4 x 800 relay as a freshman. She's also a musician. A member of her school's top show choir, she recently garnered a leading role in the drama department's upcoming presentation of "High School Musical." She's a top academic achiever in her class. And she's my daughter. I nicknamed her "Hopper" when she was a toddler because she seemed hop or half-run instead of walk. Oh, did I mention she's a cancer survivor?

Monday, March 19, 2007

CUSTOMER CONCERN

This is in the “Monday Morning Rant” or “Let It Out” genre…

CUSTOMER TURN-OFF. As a customer or patron, one of the most annoying things to me is to walk into a store or restaurant and hear staff talking about their personal lives or intra-staff issues. I just want to turn around and walk out; sometimes I do. At the least, this is an annoying turn-off. More seriously, it is a pathetic disregard of a basic code of business conduct.

ROUTINELY PRACTICED. In my experience, personal and staff gossip shared openly in the presence of customers has become an unfortunate routine. I faced this when I walked into Bob Evans at Rockville Road and High School Road this morning. I hear it when I walk into a Builders’ Square or Lowes. I can’t avoid it when I am at many big-box stores as well as so-called “finer” venues with unreasonably higher prices. Is this the new low to which basic customer relations has fallen?

REFLECTING ON THE ORGANIZATION. What’s the deal? Who is training for guest relations? Who is managing for quality staff protocol? Do outlet managers care? Do their managers care? Do invested stockholders care? Does staff not realize customers do not want to hear about what happened to them over the weekend, or what they have against another employee, or how many hours their manager scheduled them for this week? This behavior--overlooked, permitted, or engaged in out of the ear of supervisors--reflects badly on the organization at all levels.

SHOPPING ELSEWHERE. This customer, for one, is beginning to avoid business outlets in which the noise of either innocuous or outright offensive staff gossip is being bantered around while I shop, dine, and check out. This customer is beginning to seek out commercial outlets that do not let the personal issues of staff or aired intra-staff laundry poison the business environment.

I wonder if I’m looking for a needle in a haystack…

Saturday, March 17, 2007

I ARISE TODAY

This poem is attributed to St. Patrick of Ireland, circa A. D. 377

I arise today
Through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

Friday, March 16, 2007

ALTERNATIVE IN THE CITY

BREWING CRISIS. “On Palm Sunday, Jesus can see the suffering and the tension in the air. He can see the general drift—empire, the sell-out of collaboration, revolt simmering in the countryside—but the judgment of destruction is not fixed and final."

A KAIROS MOMENT. "Between the corruption and looming insurrection lies hidden an alternative, a choice it is time to make: the city can see, know, choose, and change. It is a kairos moment of spiritual and historical opportunity."

EMBODYING THE CHOICE. "Jesus has come to name the moment, define the choice, and provoke it with utter clarity. He is the very incarnation of that choice.”

-- Bill Wyile Kellerman in Seasons of Faith and Conscience

Graphic: Carlos Almaraz' Growing City

Thursday, March 15, 2007

DISCERNING THE SOUL OF OUR CITY

ATHENS IN FOCUS. Just as Jesus wept over Jerusalem, I’m convinced Paul felt something similar for Athens, Greece. Acts 17:16-34 tells of his time in that great ancient city — the birthplace of democracy, harbinger of great ideas and philosophies, and home to some of the world’s greatest architecture. But as he engages and discerns the soul of Athens, what leaves the biggest impression on Paul is the city’s idolatry. Overcoming idolatry, he declares, would be critical to Athens’ and its citizens’ souls and future.

A BLUEPRINT FOR ASSESSING URBAN ISSUES. What Paul does and says in Athens can be a blueprint for engaging the contemporary metropolis. We may not reach the same conclusion as Paul, but the process and pattern is valid and transferable. Here are the three stages of Paul’s discernment and ministry in Athens. I’ve encouraged our congregation to consider these steps carefully as we assess and speak to the soul of our city today.

1. DISCERN THE SOUL OF THE CITY. Get to know the soul of the community. Who lives here and what do they believe? For what do they--we--live? Spend some time contemplating the range of people and patterns, habits and customs, priorities and commitments, values and traditions within our metropolitan area. In what directions are we moving? What are we avoiding? What are we embracing? What is most important to us? What do we think will help us become a great city? Who’s included, excluded, lauded, blamed? How are problems addressed? What brings people together?

2. HOW DOES THE GOOD NEWS CONNECT? Let the soul of the city challenge our grasp of the Gospel. How does Jesus desire to convey his truth and love in this place, in this urban setting? The Good News doesn’t change. But it will connect uniquely with different kinds of people and challenges in different situations. Paul’s Acts 17 address before the Areopagus in Athens reflects his thoughtful effort connect place and Gospel, city and salvation, urban issues and transcendent possibilities. In light of the vibrant, multi-dimensional way the Good News addresses individuals, relationships, and community, let your imagination soar in this connection. How do you think it connects here and now? What shape does Good News take here? What form does a prophetic witness take?

3. SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE. Speak the truth in love to the heart of the city. Paul did not speak from the periphery or to peripheral issues. He spoke from the heart of the city to the soul of the city. This should shape our ministry, our service, our witness, our priorities, our engagement with the city at every level. How will Jesus’ saving, reconciling grace be expressed through us to the core of the urban arena in which we live? What are we to be? What are we to do in this city that is central to its soul? Whatever answer we give for the hope we have is to be offered with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

DON’T SHRINK BACK. Doing justice and living compassionately amid entrenched patterns of fallen organizations and ungodly social norms is the arena of spiritual warfare. Urban Christians understand the difficulty of this struggle. Still, we must not shrink back or write off the world or withdraw to illusory subcultures. In the face of spiritual strongholds and structural injustice, Jesus taught his disciples to pray -- and live as the answer with their lives – “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

SEND YOUR WORD OUT WITH A SONG. This prayer, from Seek God for the City 2007, reflects my desire: “O God, May the good news be told with such winsome clarity that all the peoples of our city, our nation and the earth will hear of Your salvation. You have brought people from many nations to the cities of our land, but they are still far from You without the Gospel. Send Your people to convey the message with persuasive beauty and disarming kindness. Send Your Word out with a song, so that the ravishing sweetness of Your love seeps into the souls of those who hear. May Your love be told as an unfolding epic story so that people are amazed at the beauty of what You’ve done for them. Don’t let a day pass without telling it all again, until every people group on earth has heard. Amen.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

SPRING SOCCER TIME

League play doesn't begin for a few weeks, but Sam has been busy with winter training and outdoor soccer practices. His Westside United team played an indoor tournament at The Dome in Fort Wayne a few weeks ago. This weekend, his U-14 team will travel to Lexington, Kentucky for the annual Kick in the Bluegrass tournament--a showcase of some of the Midwest's best teams.

Oh yeah, that's Sam--number 23--going up for a header against a goalie. Mr. Kamikaze. One parent nicknamed him "The Badger." Best wishes for a great season, Sam.

Monday, March 12, 2007

DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME…IN MARCH!

NEVER BEFORE IN INDIANA. Through the instant magic of daylight savings time, it was still light enough to ride my bike at 8:00 pm this evening. Never before in the history of Indiana have Hoosiers had the opportunity to experience daylight between 7 and 8 pm as early as March 11. We just experienced daylight savings time for the first time last April! We’re not sure what to do with this opportunity, but it won’t take us long to find ways to enjoy the extra sun. I rode my bike while Sam practiced soccer out in Avon and still had time after we returned home to survey winter’s impact on our yard.

THEORETICAL SAVINGS. You noticed, of course, that daylight savings time started about a month earlier this year. And it will end a month later. Energy-saving legislation enacted by Congress initiates the "spring forward" time change in March and ends it in November--"fall back." Outdoor evening activity will be extended. Indoor lighting and appliances will be used less for an hour or two. Multiply that by multiple millions of households and you’ve theoretically conserved considerable energy.

THOSE WHO SAY "BAH! HUMBUG!" But there are those amongst us Hoosiers who deplore daylight savings time. "What happened to morning light?" they decry. It’s still dark as midnight at 7:00 am. And the day is still dawning at 8:00 am. It’s just not natural. Those who jog in the morning will do so in the dark. Children will stand in the dark at bus stops. And, besides, Indiana’s claim to fame—“nothing (er…time) never changes in Indiana”—has vanished. Now we’re just like everyone else. Bah! Humbug!

CONVERSATION ENABLERS. These are things we talk about: Time changes. The weather. Indiana’s university basketball teams that do or do not make the NCAA tournament. Who we think will make the Final Four (most of us become armchair experts about college basketball for a few weeks). Today’s and yesterday’s headlines. What’s happening on the roadways. I talked with folks about these very things today. They are conversation enablers. They aren’t intended to be the primary substance of a conversation; they don’t reflect what we really care about. But what we really care about usually won’t get articulated without a good measure of talk about time or the weather or the headlines.

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT. I used to think such talk was trivial and evasive. To me, it seemed pointless. I tried to avoid it or halt it abruptly or direct it elsewhere as soon as possible. But it became clear to me that I was breaking some basic rule of engagement. Sometimes, I could get folks to talk about substantial stuff sooner, but they were clearly not at ease and only talking at another level for my benefit. I’m learning—ever so slowly—to be part of conversations instead of a conversation agitator. When people are ready to talk about something of substance, it will come, if it ever does, only after we’ve established common ground in daily, local, regional, national, and global happenings. I can’t explain it, I just have to go with it.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

ORDER RESTORED TO THE BASKETBALL UNIVERSE

RELIEVED AND ELATED. Four Indiana teams were picked by the NCAA to participate in the “Big Dance” that starts on Thursday. Congrats and best wishes are in order for Butler, Notre Dame, Purdue and Indiana. None of their draws are easy; in fact, I think we'll be lucky to see one Indiana team advance beyond the first round. But it seems folks are (a) relieved that Indiana University seems to be back on track to become, once again, a nationally respected program and (b) elated that Butler University earned the respect it is due.

FALL FROM GRACE AND REDEMPTION. Two years ago, no men's team from Indiana made it. Imagine that: no team from the heart of the basketball world in the NCAA men's tournament. Yes, many of Indiana's own sons were playing for other universities that made the tourney--a cause for significant heartburn amongst the state's citizenry--but no team representation from Hoosierland. This year brings redemption. Indiana's university teams seem to back on track and ready to compete with the coasts and mid-majors. Order seems to be restored to the basketball universe.

REMEMBER HOOSIER HYSTERIA? It’s too bad, however, that folks around the state follow and know a whole lot more about the National-level NCAA tournament than about the Indiana High School Basketball Championship Tournament. Sports writer Bill Benner keeps telling us that class-level basketball has ruined “Hoosier hysteria.” I think he’s right. Name one high school team still in the state tourney for Class A, 2A, or 3A.

NO MORE DAVID AND GOLIATH. Remember "Hoosiers?" The very kind of open class basketball tournament that fostered the intense fervor we now see associated only with the NCAA was honed and perfected in Indiana. A David had the opportunity to slay a Goliath. Giants could fall. Small-town kids could become statewide heroes in a night. Hope sprung eternal. Until...until poobahs in the IHSAA broke up the party about ten years ago with a class-level tournament. If Hoosier hysteria hasn't been deflated, then tell me why the news media no longer gives much attention to it? Why don't we talk about it? Why don't we care?

Photo: Jared and Sam play basketball in the driveway on Sunday afternoon while, in downtown Indianapolis, an NCAA committee picked the teams for this year's tournament.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

NONVIOLENCE - CROSSING THE LINE

"History teaches over and over again that a conflict between a violent and a nonviolent force is a moral argument. The lesson is that if the nonviolent side can be led to violence, they have lost the argument and are destroyed."


--Mark Kurlansky in Nonviolence
(Random House, 2006)

Friday, March 9, 2007

EMRBACE YOUR CITY IN LOVE

CITY AS A PROCESS. “Urban culture is spreading out and colonizing suburbs, small towns and rural areas. The city is less of a place and more of a process, taking its franchised outlets to small towns, and its standard newspapers and TV broadcasts to the remotest rural village.”

SPRAWL IS NOT ESCAPE. “There is no escape from urbanization as a process. The exodus of families and work forces results in suburban sprawl and the growth of small towns and villages; this represents an extension of the cities and not the escape from them that many frightened and ‘flightful’ people have assumed.

PRAY TO LOVE YOUR CITY. "We can look at our cities as sacred because God is present and at work in them. If we are to minister in our cities we must love them--architecture, sewer systems, politics, history, traditions, and neighborhoods. If you feel overpowered by your city, ask God to enable you to love it. That will revolutionize you."

— Ray Bakke in The Urban Christian

Thursday, March 8, 2007

QUESTIONS FOR URBAN MINISTRY

CITIES AND CHURCHES. Clifford J. Green's book Churches, Cities, and Human Community (Eerdmans, 1996) has been helpful to me as I have continued to seek the shalom of the city. Green, also one of the leading scholars on the work of Deitrich Bonhoeffer, raises some important questions for churches at the end of a chapter titled "Seeking Community in the Metropolis."

PUBLIC REDEMPTION & PERSONAL SALVATION. "Ministry to cities needs, on the one hand, research that yields intentional, systematic, and analytical conceptualization of what modern American cities are... Ministry to cities needs, on the other hand, a renewal of faith vigorous enough to meet the challenge of the urban context. Will biblical faith be revived that is as hopeful of public redemption as of personal salvation, of social justice as of peace of mind?"

MATCHING CHALLENGE WITH CAPACITY. "Will churches order their priorities to meet the challenges of contemporary urban life? Will a new and enduring practice of lay vocation in public life arise? Will theological education meet the challenge that the crises of urban, national, and international disparities reveal? Will a new ecumenism be born to serve teh new millenium?"

GOD HELP US. "The formidable challenge of renewing American cities exposes the equally formidable task of renewing the American church. Veni Creator Spiritus!"

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

AM I BEING CONVERTED?

UNLEAVENED BREAD CAFE BOOK. Our Wednesday morning roundtable at Unleavened Bread Cafe is working our way through Shane Claiborne's book Irresistible Revolution. Claiborne and friends facilitate an intentional community in Philadelphia called The Simple Way and the book is a story of their journey so far. Here's a quote I highlighted to the group this morning:

NO LONGER CONFORMING. "Conversion means to change, to alter, after which something looks different than it did before--like conversion vans or converted currency. We need converts in the best sense of the word, people who are marked by the renewing of their minds and imaginations, who no longer conform to the pattern that is destroying our world. Otherwise, we have only believers, and believers are a dime-a-dozen nowadays. What the world needs is people who believe so much in another world that they cannot help but begin enacting it now."

SHOW US TRUE CONVERSION. "Then we will start to see some true conversion vans--vehicles that run on veggie oil instead of diesel. Then we will see some converted homes--fueled by renewable energy--and laundry machines powered by stationary bicycles and toilets flushed with dirty sink water. Then we will see tears converted to laughter as people beat their swords into plowshares and weld their machine guns into saxophones, and as police officers use their billy clubs to play baseball."

PRACTICE RESURRECTION. "For even if the whole world believed in resurrection, little would change until we began to practice it. We can believe in CPR, but people will remain dead until someone breathes new life into them. And we can tell the world that there is life after death, but the world really seems to be wondering if there is life before death."

SCHOOLS OF CONVERSION. "There is the kind of conversion that happens to people not because of how we talk but because of how we live. And our little experiments in truth become the schools for conversion, where folks can learn what it means for the old life to be gone and the new life to be upon us, no longer taking the broad path that leads to destruction. Conversion is not an event but a process, a process of slowly tearing ourselves from the clutches of the culture."

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

MAJOR TAYLOR: AN INDIANAPOLIS HERO

CYCLING CHAMP FROM INDY. Have you heard of Major Taylor? Most folks from Indianapolis, or those who know anything about either cycling history or African-American history, have. Maybe you've heard of the Major Taylor Velodrome in Indy, but who's the man behind the name? Here's a brief profile of the cycling great, one of Indy's own:

RECORD SETTER. "It is widely accepted that Marshall Taylor was the first black athlete to be a well known athlete. He was the first African American who was not a boxer to be recognized internationally. Born in 1878 and nicknamed Major because he performed bicycle tricks as a child in a military uniform, he won the first cycling race he ever entered at the age of 13. Two years later he set a track record in the mile at a track in Indianapolis, his hometown. He became a professional in 1896."
WORLD CHAMPION. "He became a star in 1899 when he went to the World Championships in Montreal. He earned the world championship by winning the 1/2 mile, the 1 mile, and the 2 mile races. There were 18,000 people watching that performance. In 1900, he won the National Cycling Association's sprint title to become a national champion."

INTERNATIONAL CELEBRITY. "Taylor then left to compete in Europe. He dominated while racing the best cyclists in Europe. In 1901, he won 42 races in 5 different countries. In 1902, he won another 40 races and came back to the U.S. Although only 5'7" tall and 155 pounds, he completely dominated the best champions from Europe and Australia. At the turn of the century Taylor was the highest paid athlete in the world earning the equivalent of $30,000 a week in today's society. By 1902 he held seven world records. Taylor was the first African American world champion, a feat not accomplished again until 1998. In 1908 he returned to Europe and set two more world records that would last 20 years. He retired from racing in 1910 and was inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in Somerville, N.J. in 1989."
TREATED TERRIBLY. "Despite being a celebrity in Europe and Australia, Taylor was an outcast because of his color. He was constantly treated poorly. Stories include that Taylor was once choked by an opponent, given second place in races he easily won, being banned from many tracks and races, and not allowed to enter hotels and restaurants because of his color. He was forced to skip almost every race in the southern U.S. because of the harsh discrimination. He died in 1932."

PIONEER AFRICAN AMERICAN ATHLETE. "Today, Taylor is remembered as a courageous pioneer who helped pave the way for many other great African American athletes. He has a racing velodrome (track) named after him in his hometown of Indianapolis. He also has a prestigous award named after him given to a black athlete or coach judged to have made significant local or national contributions. Past winners have included Jackie Joyner Kersee and Florence Griffith Joyner. Taylor also helped make many improvements to the bicycle including handle bar extensions."

ONU WEB TELLS MY INDIA STORY

Olivet Nazarene University, my college alma mater (BS, 1981), has posted a story about my recent 2,000-mile bicycle ride through India on its website. Click here to read the story titled "Healing Cycle." Becky also graduated from ONU (BSN, 1983) and we have two children--Abby and Jared--who are currently students at the Bourbonnais, Illinois college. We are no longer members of the Church of the Nazarene, but Abby and Jared chose to attend there (no pressure from us...seriously!).
A WITNESS FOR PEACE

Dr. Timothy L. Smith (Ph.D., 1957, Johns Hopkins University) is most noted for his groundbreaking book (and doctoral dissertation) Revivalism and Social Reform. Few know of Smith's reflections addressed to his brethren during a 1970's dialogue on holiness and war. I've excerpted (ever so briefly) some of his comments from a compilation of addresses shared at that conference. The book is titled Perfect Love and War. If you can find it, let me know; I'd treasure a personal copy. Smith's reflections are, to me, important enduring touchstones.

DECLARING SHALOM. “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.”

- Learn more about Timothy L. Smith
- Read a paper by Smith titled "A Wesleyan Theology of Salvation and Social Liberation"
- Thanks to Stan Ingersol and whoever else within Nazarenedom posted the info on Smith
- Explore links between holiness and peacemaking -- past, present & future -- with my ongoing online project - peaceandholiness

Monday, March 5, 2007

WHAT ARE WE TO MAKE OF THIS CITY?

JEREMIAH'S LETTER TO EXILES IN BABYLON. Jeremiah sends a letter to his friends who have been taken as captives from Jerusalem to Babylon (in modern-day Iraq). Speaking with the Word of God, he implores the displaced exiles to consider their plight and opportunity carefully. I frame his message to the exiles--and the enduring challenge to God's people dwelling in urban areas today--this way:


1. Be careful where you get your understanding of the city, interpretation of its conditions, and recommendations for a lived response. Jeremiah 29:8-9.

Beware of so-called prophets who offer you "dreams you encourage them to have." I have not found local news media, real estate brokers, partisan politicians, or entertainment media to be valid or helpful interpreters of the life and challenges of the city. Unfortunately, these are some of the prime sources from which many people form their perceptions and respond with their attitudes and actions.

Consider four sub-christian views and responses to the city:
  • A necessary evil – endure it

  • A marketplace – consume it, exploit it, use it, take advantage of it

  • A dangerous place – flee it, fight it

  • A broken place – work around it

There are more sub-christian views and responses, of course. An inadequate or misleading perception of the city and metropolitan area can lead to choices, behaviors and values that become a self-fulfilling prophecy of fear, division, segregation, disinvestment, and violence. On the other hand, a healthy understanding of the city can lead to barriers being bridged and vibrancy abounding.


2. Strain to see your’s and the city’s life and future as bound up together in a greater work of God’s redemption. Jeremiah 29:7, 14

Okay, maybe we are not in or around the city as people exiled because of spiritual issues. But we are here to listen, learn, contribute, and grow, are we not? Place, I am convinced, is a key component of spirituality. That's one reason I support the efforts of Indy's annual "Spirit and Place Festival." So, let's make a connection between our personal spirituality and the vitality of the place in which are living.

Contemplate two questions: (1) In what ways do I need to be formed to become more spiritually mature? (2) How does this city’s past, present and future challenges complement this spiritual formation?


3. Cooperate with God’s dream for you and for the city by investing your life redemptively in its shalom. Jeremiah 29:4-7, 10-14

Grace should be forming--and informing--our approach to life and development in the city--inside and out. It is not our city, it is a place and a people dear to God. Regardless of its self-deceptions and hurtful ways, it is highly valued and renewable. Individual and community redemption is critical to the higher purposes of God for both. Those who would grow spiritually via the city will see their vitality tied inextricably to the city's. We are invited to be grace-bearers.

Four ways to bear God’s grace in the city:

  • Come alongside and invest in the city’s most vulnerable neighbors and neighborhoods. The whole cannot be healthy if one part is wounded. I suppose that might mean that an economically poor neighbor can offer the grace of friendship to an up-and-outer. Or, organizations and communities with financial resources can help to rehab houses in central city neighborhoods.

  • Speak the truth in love in every setting, at every level, in every way, in every part of the city. Truth breaks through facades of fear, pretension, hidden agendas, ulterior motives, pride, toughness, addiction, shame, guilt, etc. What truth exposes, love bathes, embraces, warms and wins.


  • Look for grace between the lines; help others see how God is revealing hope and offering grace in the warp and woof of urban life. There's a whole lot of grace happening that doesn't come sanctioned by the church or with a "WWJD" or Bible verse tagged to it. If you see grace at work, go with it and help others get a grip on it.


  • Spend yourself in a lifetime of seeking the shalom of this city. You're likely to hanging around a city for a lifetime anyway. Why not love it to death? Seriously. Is there anything better to do?

Sunday, March 4, 2007

THE CONVENTIONAL MIDDLE

When I wrote the following lines, I was thinking that I don’t want to come to the end of my life having protected myself, insulated myself, isolated myself from the real hopeful and painful world. The most dangerous spiritual and cultural place in America is the conventional middle. Hang appearances. Shake loose illusions and creature comforts. The invitation—the challenge—is to move to the edge of faith and discipleship today.

The conventional middle
resists change.
It is a safe place
for now.
It counts on eventualities
and references everything
by how it may
impact me.
It fears more than
it believes.
It surrounds itself with
symbols of assurance.
It mistakes dutifulness
for obedience
and pleasantness
for joy.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

WHY ARE HOMELESS NEIGHBORS BEING ATTACKED?

MEAN STREETS? The Indianapolis Star's headline today is a story about local homeless neighbors (my term, it's much better than "the homeless" or other derogatory labels. Think about it.) being attacked by groups of young men, apparently for kicks. Why is this occurring?

WHAT MESSAGE ARE WE CONVEYING? Bigger question: What is being routinely conveyed in our public discourse and news and entertainment media about these citizens that would lead anyone to think beating up homeless citizens would be acceptable, understandable or excusable? Don't get me started...

Photo: IndyStar photo by Robert Scheer

Friday, March 2, 2007

THE UPSIDE OF URBAN LIVING

These quotes are by Ray Bakke from an online article. Bakke, author of The Urban Christian and director of Urban Associates, resides in Chicago.

LEARN TO GET ALONG. "Our cities are famous for violence and strife. But I see them as R&D units, where different kinds of people are learning to get along. Whites, Blacks, Muslims, Jews, Arabs, Christians -- people with different languages and cultures are crafting new ways to live and communicate, to work and raise their children. It is possible to construct a life of denial and avoidance. But once you've hidden your kids away in a gated community, how will you educate them to have perspective? Cities expose us to perspectives that are important for the times in which we live."

CHALLENGE: CULTURAL DISTANCE. "The real challenge facing the world is not geographic distance but cultural distance. I think of Jackson, Mississippi as a father to Chicago, because a million and a half black people from Mississippi came here. Poland is our mother, because 840,000 Poles came to Chicago -- 100,000 more Poles than San Francisco has people. We have all kinds of cultures in our cities. How are we going to live together and work together?"

LOOK FOR SOLUTIONS. "Stop looking at the city as if it were just a problem -- with poor, locked-out people. That's seeing only the victim. See the city as an R&D unit. I've done consultations in more than 200 cities. When people in those cities ask for help, I say, 'Most of what you need to know is already in your city.' I bring together the best models of urban ministry, and we all teach each other what we're learning."

NETWORKS MAKE CHANGE. "I used to go to conferences where we'd hear famous experts tell us how to do things. That model brought people together, but the audience was passive. What we do is to get people together, connect needs with resources, and build the bridges that make change happen. We link people to each other and turn them into associates. We walk alongside them, encourage and mentor them, and, if possible, secure grants for them."

THE POWER OF OPTIMISM. "Cities today are famous for their violence. But what amazes me is that the city wakes up in the morning, goes to bed at night, and is as quiet as it is. I'm amazed that the subways still run, that so many people still say 'Hi' on the street -- and that, at least in Chicago, living in the city can shape our children for the better. We get to introduce them to the cultures of the world. Living in the city is a great experience that offers tremendous advantages. We need to reflect on these advantages more often than we do."

Read the full article on Bakke.
A MASTER OF GRACE AND CREATIVITY

It's been a privilege to be around Michael Kelly Blanchard over the past two days. After listening to him weave his life stories into songs--old and new--in a Sunday evening concert in Indianapolis, pastors and spouses of the Wabash Conference (Free Methodist) were engaged by the singer-songwriter in a storytelling workshop in Nashville, Indiana on Monday and Tuesday. I feel like I've been in the presence of a master of grace and creativity.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

SAM IS 14 TODAY

Our youngest child is 14 years old today. Sam's birth seemed like it was going to be another clockwork delivery. But the little guy squirmed around in the womb and went breech early in labor. The position in which he chose to present himself to this world required a Cesarean section (the only one of Becky's four deliveries that required medication). So, Dr. Cheryl Cowles, a friend, presided over the C-section as I watched, holding Becky's hand. Before long, Cheryl lifted up this squirming little bundle in the palms of her hands. Our fourth was a boy. And another cause for joy. Happy birthday, Sam!
Photo: Sam and I take a dip in the water at Lake Monroe on a hot summer day. Sam must be about six years old in this photo.