Thursday, May 31, 2007

WHERE TO LIVE: PRIVATE CHOICES, PUBLIC IMPACTS

COMMUNITY IMPACT OF PRIVATE CHOICES. Discussions with neighbors and citizens across nine counties of Central Indiana in recent years brings into focus the community and public impact of some of our individual and private decisions. I have come to realize that we speak an oxymoron when we say "private citizen." To be a citizen means to act in the context of a community or complex of communities. Yet, it appears that the majority of our decisions are considered and made in private with nary a reference to community impact.

VALUES STRAINS WITH EVERY MOVE. One of those private decisions is where to live. According to recent Census data, at least 14% of the entire U.S. population relocates every year. That's 39 million people living at a new address this year, folks! This may be great news for the housing construction and realty industries, among others. It is, on the other hand, precarious news for other values we say we hold dear—belonging, neighbor, neighborhood, a sense of place, community, working together toward the common good, and faith community, among others.

THE FRAYING OF SOCIAL NETWORKS. Without even touching the vast environmental impacts of our private decisions about where and how we choose to reside, just consider the social and community impacts. When we relocate, it takes most folks more than five years to develop a similar level of relationships and social investment as the last place we lived. Repeat this annually and multiply it millions of times and you have a dramatic shift in the urban and social landscape—community life that is far different than that of a generation ago.

REFLECTING OUR SPIRITUALITY. The decision of where to live, made thousands of times daily by citizens across this country in the privacy of their lives, does more to shape the future public and community life of the nation than almost any other decision. It also reflects the substance and shape of one’s spirituality. Why do we choose to live where we do? On what do we base our decisions? What factors do we consider? What do we move away from? What do we think we move toward? Are we choosing more in fear or faith? Into what are we buying? In what values are we investing? Given that a home and real estate are the greatest monetary investments most people make, choosing wisely and seeking to increase value is understandable. But discernment of broader values implications is called for, too.

WHICH SCHOOLS? Another of those private decisions that has a major public impact is where one’s children will go to school. For families with school-age children, this is one of the main factors in choosing where to live. It appears that first race or class and then test scores have largely driven this decision over the past generation or so. Does this account--more than the dream of one's own quarter acre to mow and maintain--for continued sprawl from core urban neighborhoods and inner-ring suburbs to increasingly populated semi-rural settings?

FUTURE URBAN INFLUX? What if, within the next ten years, inner-city schools vastly improve? Would families weary of long commutes, costs of daily travel and segregated living (segregated from workplace, from home, from schools, from retail, from services, from entertainment, from people of color, etc.) choose urban neighborhood living again? What of those millions of retiring, road-weary, empty-nest baby boomers who love urban entertainment, museums, and cultural amenities that are close to downtown and accessible from nearby "old neighborhoods?" Those thousands of daily decisions about where to live and what schools to attend can change.

THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD. In a 1999 book entitled The Old Neighborhood, PBS’ Lehrer News Hour host Ray Suarez explores such questions with candid testimonies. What did Americans leave behind when they left the old neighborhood? Did we better ourselves? Have we found such community and extended its richness as a heritage to another generation in the suburban landscape? If not, is there a way to "go back" to neighborhood living that was exchanged for a split-level house with a two-car garage out on the growing edge of the city? What has been discovered in "edge cities" and sprawl neighborhood living? Suarez takes a wide-ranging look, a look worth taking a good gander at ourselves.

BASIS FOR OUR PREFERENCES. Honestly, I think our decisions about where to live are highly emotional. For all the careful calculating about cost and affordability that wrap the decision in a cloak of reason, it is based more on fuzzy rationalizations and shallow preferences rather than on a full accounting of all the facts and community impacts. And I think the housing development and realty industry play to this.

DECISIONS WITH ONLY SUPERFICIAL FAITH. Moreover, while I know people of faith who claim to pray over their decisions about where to live or move, I don’t think most folks bring rich Biblical faith or their deep-down desire for genuine community into their decision about where to live. I, for one, think this is a topic that needs extensive exploration--both to offer a broader perspective of the implications for faith witness on the urban landscape and to suggest the ways authentic Christian spirituality can be incorporated into such decisions, communities, and old and new neighborhood living. I’d like to write this book.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

AGITATOR

PENTECOST AFTERSHOCKS. I find William Stringfellow's insight into the role and work of God as Holy Spirit most helpful. As Sunday, May 27 marked Pentecost as the birthday of the church, may the realization of God's persistent presence as Holy Spirit in us, among us, and thru us--sometimes as Agitator--bring comfort, courage, wisdom, and world-changing compassion.

SPOOKY ALLUSION? "In my experience as a child in the church, when adults named the Holy Spirit in the presence of children, it was always an utterly obscure, unspecified, literally spooky allusion. The mere invocation of the name, without any definition, connection, or elaboration, would be effective in aborting any issues raised by a child. The Holy Spirit was the great, available, handy estoppel."

NO VERBAL SLEIGHT OF HAND. "It was only later on, after I had begun to read the Bible seriously on my own initiative, that the cloture about the Holy Spirit was disrupted and the ridiculous mystification attending THIS name of the Word of God began to be dispelled. In contrast to my childish impressions, I found the Bible to be definitive and lucid as to the identity, character, style, and habitat of the Holy Spirit. In the Bible, the Holy Spirit is no term summoned simply to fill a void, or to enthrall rather than instruct the laity, or to achieve some verbal sleight of hand because comprehension is lacking."

MILITANT PRESENCE OF THE WORD OF GOD. "Biblically, the Holy Spirit names the faithfulness of God to his own creation. Biblically, the Holy Spirit means the militant presence of the Word of God inhering in the life of the whole of creation. Biblically, the Holy Spirit is the Word of God at work both historically and existentially, acting incessantly and pervasively to renew the integrity of life in this world."

FREED FROM ENSHRINEMENT. "By virtue of the redundant affirmation of the biblical witness, the false notion, nourished by my childhood in the Episcopal Church, that the Holy Spirit is somehow possessed by or enshrined within the sanctuary of the church was at last refuted, and I was freed from it. Coincidentally, the celebration in the sanctuary became, for me, authentic: a Eucharist for the redemption of
the life of the whole world of creation in the Word of God, instead of vain ritual or hocus pocus."

PROMPTING EXPECTANCY. "It was the biblical insight into the truth of the Holy Spirit that signaled my own emancipation from religiosity. It was the biblical news of the Holy Spirit that began, then, to prompt the expectancy of encounter with the Word of God in any and all events in the common life of the world and in my own life as a part of that. "

HOLY SPIRIT AS AGITATOR. "It was, and is, the biblical saga of the Word of God as Agitator, as the Holy Spirit, that assures me that where so ever human conscience is alive and active, THAT is a sign of the saving vitality of the Word of God in history, here and now."

-- William Stringfellow, quoted in A Keeper of the Word, an anthology of Stringfellow edited by Bill Wylie Kellerman (Eerdmans, 1994).

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I COULD GIVE ALL TO TIME

I was reading the poetry of Robert Frost this morning and came across this. It seemed perhaps pertinent to one who just turned another year older. What do you see, how do you understand this poem?


To Time it never seems that he is brave
To set himself against the peaks of snow
To lay them level with the running wave,
Nor is he overjoyed when they lie low,
But only grave, contemplative and grave.

What now is inland shall be ocean isle,
Then eddies playing round a sunken reef
Like the curl at the corner of a smile;
And I could share Time's lack of joy or grief
As such a planetary change of style.

I could give all to Time except--except
What I myself have held. But why declare
The things forbidden that while the Customs slept
I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There,
And what I would not part with I have kept.

Monday, May 28, 2007

3,452

WHO JUSTIFIES THEIR SACRIFICE? 3,452. That's the number of American troops killed in four years of war in Iraq. And today, speaking at Arlington National Cemetery, our President insisted that it is Americans' duty to make sure the war is worth their sacrifice. Follow this logic, and war will be perpetual and all loss of life in war will cry out for ever more bloodshed. You have to win in order to justify the sacrifice? This is indicative of the shallow and fallacious thinking of our Commander in Chief and his advisors.

THEIR SACRIFICE IS HONORED. Having led America into war on false and misleading pretenses and having tragically, repeatedly misstepped the post-invasion strategy across the span of three years, our President now tells us it is up to us to make sure the deaths of 3,452 of our troops are worth it? Mr. President, their sacrifice and the worthiness of their service is neither up to us nor you to decide or determine. Those who have died serving in American armed services will always be honored, no matter the justifications of elected and appointed officials for the cause, no matter the outcome.

IT'S UP TO YOU, MR. PRESIDENT. It is up to you, however, to end the unnecessary loss of American lives. Claim the small victories that you can and stop the bloodshed of young men and women. A dramatically different strategy for stabilizing Iraq is now needed as part of the honor of the fallen for which you call. But that is not up to us. It is largely up to you. You can yet choose wisdom over ego, grace over grit, reason over rationalizations, understanding over ideological polemic. How many more American troops will have to die before your heart changes?
TURNING 48

"TO EVERYTHING, TURN, TURN, TURN..." I turned 48 yesterday and my family made me feel as good as possible at the turning. Over a lighted cake, they sang the birthday song along with our family tradition: the death dirge. My sister and brother-in-law came over for a cook-out (on a new gas grill Becky and the kids gave me) and we all spent the evening together. Presents were opened and cards both tacky and poignant were passed around. I appreciate all this. It made me feel good.

MARK THE DAYS. Maybe birthday celebrations become more important the older we get. Though we may loathe the thought of turning another year older, the light-heartedness and assurance of loved ones and friends somehow transforms an otherwise ominous day. We all want to know our days and years are passed with some notice and a birthday party can keep this hope burning.

QUICKLY PASSING. My father-in-law, now in his early seventies, told me on Saturday that the next 20 years will go by faster than I can imagine. Wow. It's hard to fathom how fast the last twenty years have gone. Only yesterday, I was 28. And tomorrow I will be approaching 70? If so, will I still feel 28, as I do today? And, if I am given this time, how best can I invest it and to what extent might I be permitted to choose?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

INDY GRANTS VICTORY TO A GREAT SCOT

RIGHT STRATEGY. He wasn't the star of his team. He wasn't the fastest on the day. But Dario Franchitti of Team Andretti-Green used the right strategy to be the race leader when it was called due to rain just before 7:00 pm this evening.

WELL DESERVED. It couldn't have happened to a more deserving open-wheel racer. Franchitti, whose heritage is Italian but whose strong brogue clearly mark him as a Scot, has been coming to Indy for a number of years with good cars and good teams. He's won a fare share of races elsewhere and is well respected among Indy car drivers. But Indy had never gone too well for him.

WHEN INDY SMILES ON YOU. But the Indianapolis Motor Speedway smiled on Franchitti this evening, giving him the nod to move into racing legend with an Indianapolis 500 victory. His wife, actress and ultimate University of Kentucky fan Ashley Judd, beamed with pride as Dario crossed the start/finish line with both a yellow and checkered flag waving. Drenched in rain, she took off her shoes and fashionable hat and ran to hug him as he pulled into victory lane.

SCOTS AT INDY. Franchitti is only the second Scotsman to win at Indy. The other was Jim Clark in 1966.
PENTECOST

How shall we celebrate this day,
This day called Pentecost;
With props and pageants
And trinkets and trivia?

How shall we celebrate this day
On which the Holy Spirit was
Poured out upon the Church;
The Comforter has come?

Shall we look back to the past
Longing to have experienced its wonders?
Shall we look forward to tomorrow
Praying to reproduce its manifestations?

Shall we sing ourselves into a frenzy
And call our delirium Spirit baptism?
Shall we preach the doctrine of the
Holy Spirit until we think more orthodoxly.

How shall we celebrate this day
On which the Spirit of truth came?
Let us celebrate with open hearts,
With God-hungry and yielded lives.

Let us celebrate with expectation of
The unexpected and surprising grace
Which challenges our choices
And turns our world upside down.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

WAR IS HELL

PHILOSOPHY OR OBSERVATION? We've all heard the "war is hell" quip attributed to William Tecumseh Sherman. Sherman was the Union commander whose armies turned Atlanta into an inferno and much of the south into a wasteland. I've not yet been able to place his "war is hell" quote in its proper context. I'm not sure the quote can bear the weight of a philosophy about how he intended and conducted war, as some posit. It may be more a comment about the nature of any war. As I’ve explored, I have found some interesting excerpts from Sherman's letters. Here are a few:

ALL GLORY OR ALL HELL? "There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but boys it is all hell."

CANNOT BE REFINED. "You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices today than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and a division of our country. If the United States submits to a division now, it will not stop, but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war."

SICK OF FIGHTING. "I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting--its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers ... it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated ... that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation."

CONSIDERING TODAY. I think about General Sherman’s words on the heels of a Memorial Day that marked the death of 10 more American troops in Iraq, bringing the four-year total to 3,462. I consider these words at the conclusion of a month in which more American youth were killed in Iraq than any month since 2004. I consider these words as the President, who himself successfully avoided being put in harm’s way in an unpopular and unwinnable war, vows to increase troop numbers and “win” in Iraq at all costs.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

GRADUATES, PLEASE FIX AMERICA

A friend sent me a link to Bill Moyer's recent graduation speech at SMU. It is posted on www.tompaine.com. It is outstanding and untypical as graduation speeches go. Here are a few poignant excerpts:

NOT ORDINARY TIMES. "My young friends, you are not leaving here in ordinary times. The ancient Greeks had a word for a moment like this. They called it 'kairos.' Euripedes describes kairos as the moment when 'the one who seizes the helm of fate, forces fortune.' As I was coming here to Dallas today to ask what you are going to do to make the most of your life, I thought: Please God, let me be looking in the face of some young man or woman who is going to transcend the normal arc of life, who is going one day to break through, inspire us, challenge us, and call forth from us the greatness of spirit that in our best moments have fired the world’s imagination."

MEMORABLE MOMENTS. "You know the spirit of which I speak. Memorable ideas sprang from it: 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness'…'created equal'… 'government of, by, and for the people'…'the only thing we have to fear is fear itself'…'I have a dream.' Those were transformational epochs in American politics, brought forth by the founding patriots who won our independence, by Lincoln and his Lieutenants who saved the Union, by Franklin Roosevelt who saved capitalism and democracy, and by Martin Luther King, martyred in the struggle for equal rights."

NEED FOR TRANSACTIONAL POLITICS. "These moments would have been lost if left to transactional politics—the traditional politics of 'You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.' But moral leadership transcended the realities at hand and changed the course of our history. Never have we been more in need of transformational leadership."

A WAR WE CAN't WIN. "America’s a great promise but it’s a broken promise. It’s not right that we are entering the fifth year of a war started on a suspicion. Whatever your party or politics, my young friends, America can’t sustain a war begun under false pretenses because it is simply immoral to ask people to go on dying for the wrong reasons. We cannot win a war when our leaders don’t have the will or courage to ask everyone to sacrifice, and place the burden on a few hundred thousand Americans from the working class led by a relative handful of professional officers. As is often said—America’s not fighting the war; the American military is fighting the war, everyone else is at the mall. Our leaders are not even asking us to pay for it. They’re borrowing the money and passing the IOU’s to you and your kids."

CONSTITUTIONAL PRINCIPLES UNDER ASSAULT. "America needs fixing. Our system of government is badly broken. You are leaving here as our basic constitutional principles are under assault—the rule of law, an independent press, independent courts, the separation of church and state, and the social contract itself. I am sure you learned about the social contract here at SMU. It’s right there in the Constitution—in the Preamble: 'We, the People'—that radical, magnificent, democratic, inspired and exhilarating idea that we are in this together, one for all and all for one."

COLLABORATION OVER COMPETITION. "Through the years... we human beings have advanced more from collaboration than competition. For all the chest-thumping about rugged individuals and self-made men, it was the imperative and ethic of cooperation that forged America. Laissez-faire—'Leave me alone'—didn’t work. We had to move from the philosophy of 'Live and let live' to 'Live and help live.' You see, civilization is not a natural act. Civilization is a veneer of civility stretched across primal human appetites. Like democracy, civilization has to be willed, practiced, and constantly repaired, or society becomes a war of all against all."

GLARING DISPARITIES. "Think it over: On one side of this city of Dallas people pay $69 for a margarita and on the other side of town the homeless scrounge for scraps in garbage cans. What would be the civilized response to such a disparity? Think it over: In 1960 the gap in wealth between the top 20 percent of our country and the bottom 20 percent was 30 fold. Now it is 75 fold. Stock prices and productivity are up, and CEO salaries are soaring, but ordinary workers aren’t sharing in the profits they helped generate. Their incomes aren’t keeping up with costs. More Americans live in poverty—37 million, including 12 million children. Twelve million children! Despite extraordinary wealth at the top, America’s last among the highly developed countries in each of seven measures of inequality."

WHAT'S A CIVILIZED RESPONSE? "Our GDP outperforms every country in the world except Luxembourg. But among industrialized nations we are at the bottom in functional literacy and dead last in combating poverty. Meanwhile, regular Americans are working longer and harder than workers in any other industrial nation, but it’s harder and harder for them to figure out how to make ends meet…how to send the kids to college…and how to hold on securely in their old age. If we’re all in this together, what’s a civilized response to these disparities?"

WHO WILL HELP US? "America’s a broken promise. America needs fixing."
FALSE PRESUPPOSITION OF A "POST-9/11 WORLD"

NO SUCH THING. Here's something that's been on my mind ever since Islamic extremists flew commercial passenger jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001: There is no such thing as a "post-9/11 world." This is a false assumption that has led to and justified some of the most uncivil, irrational, fear-filled, and destructive decisions, policies, and actions around the world ever since. It has also made incredible impacts on the most personal understandings, perspectives, and decisions of ordinary people.

WHAT DID NOT CHANGE. There is nothing about what occurred on 9/11 that changed anthropologically or cosmically concerning the fallenness of humanity, the ferocity of evil, the potential for human striving for understanding and reconciliation, or the optimism of grace. I am the same person I was as the sun dawned on September 11, 2001. An Islamic fundamentalist is the same person he was before that day. Evil is no more evil. Violence is no more violent. Hope is no less hopeful. Fear is no more fearsome. Grace is no less graceful.

PERMISSION GRANTED...OR TAKEN. And yet, under the assertion of “expert” pundits and powerful Poobahs alike that "the world is profoundly different" because of 9/11, permission has been granted tacitly, implicitly and explicitly--and forcibly assumed and taken where not granted--for extreme and wide-ranging measures that gnaw at the very foundations and principles of Western, free societies. What seemed at first to be a knee-jerk reactionary statement, a “post-9/11 world” has become the continuing mantra to which all yield allegiance and whereby they swallow significant elements of essential freedom and responsible world citizenship.

IT JUSTIFIES WHATEVER POWER WILLS. Look at a few things this false presumption has fomented: Torture by Americans becomes acceptable in a "post-9/11 world." Secretive "extreme renditions" become acceptable in a “post-9/11 world." The leaders of a democratic, open, and free society acting under the cover of unquestionable and unaccountable secrecy with widespread covert spying on citizens is acceptable in a “post-9/11 world." Unprovoked preemptive military invasion of any country of our choosing becomes acceptable in a “post-9/11 world." A blank check for the military at the expense of pressing domestic challenges becomes acceptable in a “post-9/11 world." Essentially, this viewpoint has come to justify whatever power wills.

WHEN WE LOOK BACK. The presumption of a “post-9/11 world" is pervasive. There are few political decisions and actions that have transpired since 9/11 that do not have this presupposition as their backdrop. But I think there will come a time in which we will look back at the "post-9/11 world" era decisions as some the most internationally destructive and domestically unwise decisions made in America's history. Whatever wise measures that have been taken since 9/11 to check, reduce and prevent Islamic extremist terrorism and reasonably increase vigilance for greater national and international security have been swallowed up by a leadership culture of radical paranoia masquerading as unbending toughness perpetrated on all peoples and nations under American influence.

AS LONG AS WE BUY THE LIE. It's time to stop presuming a "post-9/11 world" in responsible thinking and decision-making. At the least, stop using 9/11 as an easy justification for tightening control, maintaining power, blessing mammon, and fomenting fear. As long as we buy this lie we will live with the resulting impacts of it, impacts that are already taking us in very destructive directions. We must set aside the jingoism of a "post-9/11 world" for reasonable, responsible decisions and actions that will positively shape the world in light of ongoing Islamic extremist terrorism that successfully pulled off a particularly destructively sinister plot on 9/11.

HOW ABOUT A POST-PENTECOST WORLD? As a Christian, I do not think in terms of living in a “post-9/11 world.” Not for a minute do I imbibe in this poisonous logic. Nor is a “pre-9/11 world” something for which I long or to which I cling. Instead, I am called to think and act in terms of a "post-crucifixion, post-resurrection, post-Pentecost" world. These are the humanity-shaping, future-impacting events that, more than any other historic or current event, have the power and promise of transforming individuals, relationships, societies, and international relations for the good.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

NO WINNERS IN IRAQ

Rarely do I go blatantly political in my posts, but here's an exception.

MORE "SECRET INTELLIGENCE." I am so weary of daily doses of freshly mustered lame justifications for continuing the debacle of an unjustifiable and misguided war in Iraq. The President's revelation of "secret intelligence" today that Osama bin Laden is planning further strikes against America via operations in Iraq smacks of the same ol' truth stretching and spin that American citizens have had to put up with for six years now. And who really should believe the President's, Pentaton's, or CIA's intelligence citings anymore? We've been duped again and again. Whatever the value "intelligence" reports have had in the past, it's value as "proof" has been forever corrupted by its abuse by this Administration's spin doctors.

WHO'S DESPERATE TO WIN? Instead of Osama bin Laden needing desperately to "win" in Iraq, as the President claims, isn't it the President himself who needs desperately to salvage some thread of victory--albeit at atrocious costs and threadbare as it may be--out of his siege, destruction, and unwelcome occupation of Iraq? No one wants to take the taste of victory away from him, but someone, please, act decisively to spare him and America from further international humiliation.

ONE STRING LEFT. It is clear: a claim of victory in Iraq is all this President will be able to hold as a positive legacy. Every President and Congress for the next twenty years will be cleaning up this Administration's foreign and domestic missteps, failed ideological experiments and bungling implementations. We will be digging out of a deficit for a generation. The next Administration will have to take up long-delayed challenges that this President has obfuscated or put on the back burner: health care coverage, Social Security, education, climate change, immigration, energy, poverty, urban development, crime, international relations. This President has only one string on his violin and he is trying to play it up for the sake of his history.

NOT BY MILITARY MEANS. By rebuffing the President's latest "the sky is falling" antics regarding Iraq and terrorism, by pointing him toward wisdom, good advisers could help the President begin to salvage his legacy and transition to a process of moving toward stability in Iraq. It is now clear to almost everyone but this Administration that America cannot by military means clean up the mess this Administration made in Iraq. Our troops are now mostly sitting ducks caught in the middle of sectarian violence and civil war. An internationally-sanctioned partition of the nation seems inevitable. It will happen by proactive decision or by violence in default.

SAVE YOUR FUTURE, MILITARISTS. Those who love and benefit economically from the vast military-industrial complex would do well to challenge the President's win-at-all-costs approach regarding Iraq. Every day that American military remains in Iraq now only further solidifies in the minds of more and more Americans that this use of military power is not legitimate and is, in fact, counterproductive. Those who value the pride and promise of the military, those who have worked hard to rebuild it's reputation after the debacle called Vietnam, those who wish to stay on the Pentagon dole, should think about the plummeting of its "stock" in the hearts and minds of the American public. In Iraq, violence to counter violence is revealing itself for what it is: not only inhumane and ineffective, but contributing to exponential enemy empowerment.

THE ONLY WAY TO "WIN." No one is going to win in Iraq. It is a "no-win" situation. Only those who broker an end to further destruction and set the table for clean up will have any claim to "winning" in Iraq. I'm contacting my Congressional representatives to ask them to do all within their power to influence their fellow legislators to move now toward resolution of the Iraq debacle with or without the President's cooperation. I'm urging them to stop this Administration's madness regarding Iraq. This is the best way I know to demonstrate faith and honor to the men and women whose blood has been spilt in Iraq for the sake of American integrity. It may also be the best way the President's sympathizers can help him exit with some semblance victory.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

GATED RESIDENTIAL "COMMUNITIES" AND CHRISTIANS

LOGIC OF FEAR. I pass by a gated residential community every day. Its presence in Indianapolis both puzzles me and irks me. It disturbs me, really. What arrogance is at work to make such a place sellable in our county? What presuppositions and logic have taken hold of citizens that they feel such a cloister necessary and justifiable? It is the logic of fear and the presupposition of entitlement.

CHRISTIANS BEHIND GATES? The other day, I saw that one of the cars waiting for the gates to open had a Christian bumper sticker. Imagine that: a Christian living in a gated community! Justify that one with the Scriptures or Spirit of Christ! Have these souls exchanged the only gates within which they will ever be secure for mere iron gates?

GATED LIVING. Of course physical gates are not the only kind of "gated living" that commonly occurs in American society. Sheer geographic distance from "social problems" is as effective a gate as anything an ironsmith could craft. Everything that isolates and insulates from the common life of the community is a gate. The church itself can not only be complicit in gated living, but may well exist as one of the very gates that insulate and distance its participants from complex challenges, uncomfortable social situations, and polarizing political deliberation.

HABITS THAT REVEAL THE HEART. Robert N. Bellah, acclaimed sociologist noted for Habits of the Heart and The Good Society, speaks about "circle-the-wagons" behavior of affluent Americans (and American Christians, in particular) in light of the prophetic vision of the Kingdom of God. Bellah, himself a Christian, throws down a challenge for the church--both as a community and as individuals making decisions and enacting behaviors that reflect what spirit and community to which they really belong:

MODERN GNOSTICS. "The attempted secession of our affluent classes into gated and guarded residential communities supposedly safe from the crumbling society around them is one expression of the Gnostic mentality. In such a situation it is not easy to be the church, not easy for Christians of any vocation, and I suspect especially not easy for ministers."

ALTERNATIVE TO GATED COMMUNITIES. "While we certainly cannot claim to have all the answers to enormous social and individual problems that confront us in America and the world, if it is true that the Kingdom of God is already among us, we can, through the renewal of our own religious communities, offer to the world what it desperately needs."

THE RETREATING CHURCH. In other words, gated residential communities are what happens when the church fails to be and convey a healing, welcoming, inclusive community. Has the church become only "safe ground" to which fear-filled--and suspicion- and prejudice-riddled citizens--venture from their cultivated, cloistered circles for a few hours a week? This expression of the church is completely contrary to the Biblical church and Biblical faith.

SANCTIFIERS OF STATUS QUO. In the name of preserving Biblical principles, many "Bible-believing" churches have inadvertently become bastions of fearful retreat and sanctifiers of material status quo. They have focused on their self-defined Fundamentals instead of the Kingdom of God. They have pandered to the fears of faithful seekers instead of challenging them to incarnate the life of Christ in the world. In these churches, nothing ever need be spoken of these fears for them yet to be a prevailing force that draws people together--often in great numbers. In the name of Christian fellowship, fear and prejudice hold sway.

AN INCARNATIONAL RESPONSE. By contrast, the prophetic community calls people to cross borders courageously and exemplify within its fellowship the embrace and transformative power of Christ for all. It believes that transformation of society begins with an embrace of diverse persons whose only common bond may be the grace of Jesus Christ. It seeks to understand the diversity, complexity, and challenges of its participants at personal and communal levels in light of larger social issues. It posits an incarnational response--one that dares to embody the love of Christ over against responses dominated by fear and suspicion.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

JUST ANOTHER RACE?

“You must treat this track with respect or it will bite you.” -- 1968 Indianapolis 500 winner and million-times “almost winner” Mario Andretti’s advice to Formula 1 driving ace Arie Luyendyk when he came to Indianapolis as a rookie in 1985. Luyendyk won the race in 1990 and 1997.

Gripped by the aura of the Indianapolis 500 a few years ago, the following thoughts came together for me. Perhaps the poem makes sense only to those who have lived within the gravitational pull of the Brickyard for a lifetime. This year’s events prove it true, however: Davey Hamilton, whose feet were mangled in a racing accident five years ago, is back in the qualified field of 33 drivers—25 surgeries and a thousand and one “impossibilities” later. John Andretti, Mario’s nephew and Indianapolis native who last raced an Indy car in 1994 (he’s driven for NASCAR ever since), came back home and qualified at over 221 mph on Saturday. By any reasonable measure, these guys should not be here. But here they are—choking back tears as they get one more chance to drive in and win the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”


What is the mystique of this oval,
this ribbon of banked asphalt
that it winds its way into
the hearts and hopes of
many a would-be conqueror?

Is this not merely pavement?
One more course to be run?
One more track to be subdued?
And is not Indy “just a race?”

Why then are the greatest
not considered so until they have
proven their mettle here?
Why do the sport’s most promising
strive a lifetime to be in The 500?

Once run, Indy asserts a
greater grip on its pursuers.
It shadows their other victories.
It haunts their off-track pursuits.
It lures them back to its graceful sweep.

Other races simply mark the calendar
as tests and rehearsals for another
chance at The Brickyard.
Only the fastest elite qualify here
and only a select few win.

Indy in May turns men into boys,
turns boys into men of speed
and women into its grand dames.
It dares anyone to call it “just a race”
but honors all who bring due respect.

Friday, May 18, 2007

REAL PEOPLE

WHAT IS REAL? In a world of unprecedented marketplace craftiness, celebrity worship, grandstanding politicians, religious hucksters, go-along bobble-headedness, and routine petty pretending, I appreciate encountering real people. I recently started a short list of things I observe in real people. These are things that seem to me to reveal what in The Velveteen Rabbit is described as “real.” It's an incomplete list, and rough--a first draft in the process:

NOT ALWAYS RIGHT. Real people are not always right…and can admit it. They admit it to themselves and then to others. Though they may initially assert their rightness in absolute terms and at the top of their lungs, when they discover they are mistaken or not completely correct, they accept the gift of humility.

FORGIVEN AND FORGIVING. Real people live close to forgiveness. That is, they know the value of being forgiven and of being forgiving. They realize that they and others are fallen, frail, faulty. Forgiveness is not an infrequent challenge for them. And it is just that: a genuine challenge that is made possible by grace.

ADDRESSING PRIDE. Real people are in touch with their pride. They know they possess it to a greater or lesser degree. They know that it does not just disappear because they have transcendent spiritual experiences. They learn to recognize and set aside what the old preachers used to name as the pride of race, place, face, and grace.

LOSING AND GAINING. Real people lose…and somehow gain from the experience. They win some. As often, they lose. Although they are as up for challenges as anyone, at some point, winning, getting ahead, one-upsmanship, acquisitional comparisons, etc. ceases to be the end-game.

LIVING THE QUESTIONS. Real people have unanswered questions…and they live them. They do not, or no longer, have their world tied down in neat compartments or the universe summed up in foregone conclusions. They recognize life as dynamic and seek to participate in the ongoing discovery of its mysteries.

NOT SELF-SUFFICIENT. Real people are not self-sufficient. They learn to ask for help and are given the grace to gratefully accept it. And they see value in helping others. They count on friends and need confidants. They recognize the interdependence of life. They move toward neighborliness and healthy dependency.

WALKING WITH A LIMP. Real people know real pain. It conditions them deeply but does not define them. Like pride and anger, they learn to be in touch with their pain. It softens their assessment of themselves, others, and the world. They may move into the future with a limp, but, like Jacob, they also know grace as a constant companion. They may even become wounded healers.

FAITH AND GRACE. Real people don’t wear their faith as a badge…they pray and worship because their lives depend on it. They are not into religious performance or do-goodism. They are into meaning and relationship. Faith is the buoy, compass, and beacon amid continuous change and challenge. Faith grows them toward being fully human, toward wholeness, toward genuine community. In short, it makes them real.

SEEING TO THE HEART. Real people look you in the eye…and somehow see to the heart.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A SACRAMENTAL USE OF MONEY

In Dissenter in a Great Society, William Stringfellow offers a constructive commentary on the use of money:

A SIGN OF THE RESTORATION OF LIFE. “Freedom from the idolatry of money, for a Christian, means that money becomes useful only as a sacrament—as a sign of the restoration of life wrought in this world by Christ. If, in worship, human beings offer themselves and all of their decisions, actions, and words to God, it is well that they used money as the witness to that offering. The sacramental use of money in the formal and gathered worship of the church is authenticated, as are all churchly sacramental practices, in the sacramental use of money in the common life of the world.”

FREEDOM FROM THE IDOLATRY MONEY. “The consistent mark of such a commitment of money is a person’s freedom from idolatry of money. That includes not simply freedom from moral dependence upon the pursuit, acquisition, or accumulation of money for the sake of justifying oneself or ones conduct or actions or opinions, either to oneself or to somebody else. It means the freedom to have money, to use money, to spend money without worshiping money, and thus it means the freedom to do without money, if need be, or, having some, to give it away to anyone who seems to need money to maintain life a while longer.”

NOT MY OWN. “The charity of Christians in the use of money sacramentally has no serious similarity to conventional charity but is always a specific dramatization of the members of the Body of Christ losing their life in order that the world be given life. For the members of the church, therefore, it always implies a particular confession that their money is not their own because their lives are not their own, but by the example of God's own love, belong to the world.”

GIVING AWAY THE GIFT OF LIFE. “That one’s own life belongs to the world, that one’s money and possessions, talents and time, influence and wealth, all belong to the whole world is, I trust, why the saints are habituĂ©s of poverty and ministers to the outcasts, friends of the humiliated and, commonly, unpopular themselves. Contrary to many legends, the saints are not spooky figures, morally superior, abstentious, pietistic. In truth, all human beings are called to be saints, but that just means called to be fully human, to be perfect that is, whole, mature, fulfilled. The saints are simply those men and women who relish the event of life as a gift and who realize that the only way to honor such a gift is to give it away.”

Sunday, May 13, 2007

KENOSIS IN ACTION; IN IRAQ?

GEORGE ELLIS INTERVIEW. I happened to hear a remarkable interview on NPR’s Speaking of Faith (http://www.speakingoffaith.org/) as I drove into the church before worship this morning. Christa Tippet interviewed Dr. George Ellis, a renowned cosmologist and 2004 winner of the Templeton Prize. Ellis, one of the leading scientists of our time and also a Quaker from South Africa, was asked about his take on the situation in Iraq. In response, he read a letter he received from a Scottish soldier, David Christie. It demonstrates Ellis’ concept of kenosis (self-giving) in action.

OVERWHELMING POWER FOR DESTRUCTION. “In 1967 I was a young officer in a Scottish battalion engaged in peacekeeping duties in Aden town in what is now Yemen. The situation was similar to Iraq, with people being killed every day. As always, those who suffered the most were the innocent local people. Not only were we tough, but we had the power to pretty well destroy the whole town had we wished.”

NOT REACT WHEN ATTACKED. “But we had a commanding officer who understood how to make peace, and he led us to do something very unusual, not to react when we were attacked. Only if we were 100 percent certain that a particular person had thrown a grenade or fired a shot at us were we allowed to fire. During our tour of duty we had 102 grenades thrown at us, and in response the battalion fired the grand total of two shots, killing one grenade-thrower.”

FROM VIOLENCE TO TRUST. “The cost to us was over 100 of our own men wounded, and surely by the grace of God only one killed. When they threw rocks at us, we stood fast. When they threw grenades, we hit the deck and after the explosions we got to our feet and stood fast. We did not react in anger or indiscriminately. This was not the anticipated reaction. Slowly, very slowly, the local people began to trust us and made it clear to the local terrorists that they were not welcome in their area.”

THE POWER OF LEADERSHIP. “At one stage neighboring battalions were having a torrid time with attacks. We were playing soccer with the locals. We had, in fact, brought peace to the area at the cost of our own blood. How had this been achieved? Principally because we were led by a man whom every soldier in the battalion knew would die for him if required. Each soldier in turn came to be prepared to sacrifice himself for such a man.”

THE HEART OF THE PEACEMAKER. “Many people may sneer that we were merely obeying orders, but this was not the case. Our commanding officer was more highly regarded by his soldiers than the general, one must almost say loved. So gradually the heart of the peacemaker began to grow in each man and determination to succeed whatever the cost. Probably most of the soldiers, like myself, only realized years afterwards what had been achieved.”

ALTERNATIVES TO VIOLENCE AWAIT. Ellis said that despite the British army's overpowering might, they risked their lives in order to achieve peace by not retaliating and exercising restraint, even while being attacked. It's this type of sacrifice, he pointed out, that can be applied to the situation in Iraq. I submit this as one of many instances that are realistic alternatives to the rush to use violence and deadly force that has become the signature of the United States both in international military and homeland civilian conflicts. Violence as a way to end violence does not work at any level. We’ve destroyed enough. It is time to give creative nonviolence opportunity to transform situations and individuals.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

KEEP ON SINGING!



Parentally speaking, Molly did an awesome job in the role Gabriella in Ben Davis High School's production of Disney's "High School Musical" this weekend. Her solos were clear and heartfelt. Her duets with the male lead were in good harmony and touching. The whole production was not flawless, but it was winning. It drew packed houses and the youngest average age audience I've ever seen at at BD drama and music department presentation. Congratulations, Molly! We are proud of you. Keep on singing!

Friday, May 11, 2007

MOLLY IN "HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL"

The Indianapolis Star "Hendricks AM" carried this story and photo (that's my daughter, Molly, in the foreground of the photo) today:

Hersel Cremeans sat in the dark a few rows back from the stage at Ben Davis High School, a yellow writing pad in one hand and the other around his young daughter.

It was quite the balancing act -- jotting down critiques of his students' musical rehearsal while keeping little Emma in tow. The toddler, who turns 2 this month, waved her arms to the lively tunes. She swung out her legs. And when a song ended, she clapped with a devotee's appreciation of the musical theater.

Emma has been alongside Dad at other productions and knows what she likes. And she likes this week's production of "High School Musical," based on a Disney Channel original movie. The play is set in a high school and centers around a boy named Troy, played by Jon Johnson, and a girl, Gabriella, played by Molly Hay. He is a basketball star, she a brainiac. They meet during school break.

"It's very much like 'Grease,' " said Cremeans, who heads Ben Davis' choral department and is the play's director. "They find out later that she was transferred into this school, and it happened to be the same school the boy goes to."

When the pair steps out of their comfort zone to try out for the school musical, they meet resistance from the jocks and the nerds. They care more about the upcoming big ballgame and a scholastic competition, in which Gabriella is key -- than in supporting their friends.

Enter a character played by senior Kelsey Breece. The self-centered Sharpay has grown accustomed to playing the lead in school plays. Threatened by the emergence of the two new entries, she sets out to sabotage their shared goal, first by telling lies to Gabriella -- Troy hates math and chemistry, Sharpay claims -- and then by manipulating a change in the audition date.

In the end, the obstructionist students realize that if the couple can break free from the status quo, so could they. In one song, a jock admits he loves to bake. A top student reveals she relishes dancing --"it's even cooler than homework."

The overriding message, says Johnson: "Don't be afraid to be you."

Preparing for the musical, which runs through Sunday afternoon, has been stressful. Hay and other cast members have had to divide their time between rehearsing and preparing for advanced placement testing, in which students seek to earn college credit.

Brian Benson, a junior, faces a different kind of challenge. Between two of the scenes, he must change costumes in about 15 seconds. How does he do it? "Layering," Benson says, confiding that he wears the shirt from his next scene under his outfit.

"High School Musical" is playing at Ben Davis High School's theatre this evening and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm. Tickets are available at the door.
JOURNEY INTO HOSPITALITY
Part 3 of 3

IT WORKS; TRY IT. With the reboot of Horizon House, we began to effectively develop a functional hospitality paradigm at a significant organizational scale. It was awesome to to be part of that process for four years before I was assigned to a local pastorate by my Free Methodist Conference. I am confident that hospitality in this and many other insstances can transform social services for a much greater good.

COSTS, RISKS OF HOSPITALITY. But hospitality as a paradigm in social services is always at risk. I perceive that hospitality can quickly become a catch-phrase and clichĂ© in organizational life. We can say “hospitality” but practice something unworthy of its meaning. Hospitality will always be emotionally costly. It will always take a lot more of a volunteer or staff person’s time with fewer guests than is thought financially feasible. It will always blur the lines that professionals and mere do-gooders like to maintain. It will always be a bit more complicated and entangled than funders who are enamored with neat flow charts and sharp trend lines like to support. So, hospitality may not be for everyone or every social service organization. Even when it works, it may not be supported.

NOTHING COMPARES. But I am convinced that once an organization and those who are engaged with it have had the experience of genuine hospitality, nothing else will seem quite as good, quite as effective, quite as close to what is conveyed in instances of Biblical community. The fruit of hospitality is relationship, hope, and community.

WE ARE NEIGHBORS. In the three years since I was assigned to serve as Senior Pastor of a near-downtown congregation, hardly a week goes by that I do not encounter a homeless or now-housed neighbor who was once—or still is—a guest of Horizon House. We pick up on a lingering conversation or talk about our lives or surmise how something in the community might be improved. I move on from such encounters feeling both blessed and burdened—blessed to be “on the level” with my neighbor and able to receive his or her gifts, and burdened that we—that I—have such a long way to go to realize the blessed community to which our Lord called us.

The journey into hospitality continues.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A VISIT TO NEW CASTLE AND THE CEMETERY

FLYING IN. Yesterday, my folks flew into Indy from Florida primarily to see our daughter Molly perform as Gabriella in the Ben Davis High School spring drama "High School Musical" (tonight through Sunday night, 7:30 pm at BDHS; get your tickets at the door!).

HOMETOWN GATHERING. Today, I drove with them to New Castle, Indiana. New Castle is their hometown. My sister was also born there. Most of our family--my aunts, uncles, and cousins on both the Sheffield and Hay sides--continue to live there. We met mom's two remaining living siblings and their spouses, along with the widow of one of mom's two deceased brothers, for lunch. The crew ranged in age from 68 to 81. Growing up with these familiar people as my family elders is one thing; seeing them as becoming elderly is quite another. But their kinship, friendship and laughter is comforting, even inspiring.
MARTIN & LOLA HAY. After lunch, they decided to go the cemetery where all the Sheffield and Hay people are buried. So, we drove over to the grounds and walked among the tombstones. Casually, nonchallantly, they pointed out gravesites of friends, classmates and family members of people they'd gone to church with in New Castle back in the day. We made our way to the gravesite of Grandpa Martin and Grandma Lola Hay, dad's parents. We also stopped at the tomb of dad's brother Billie. Another brother, Teddy, was buried in another section of the park. Both brothers were younger than dad.

FIGHTING WORDS. I'll never forget my grandpa Hay's funeral. I was 18 at the time. The preacher, an ultra-conservative holiness firebrand, said such offensive things in the funeral service that Teddy and Billie wanted to beat him up afterwards. Dad intervened to prevent the scrap. I remember being angry at the preacher, too. I told dad today that I sort of wished he'd have let Teddy and Billie go at Amos. "Me, too," dad said. And we laughed.


SHEFFIELD LOVED ONES. We also spent some time at the gravesites of my papaw Willie Robert and mamaw Laura Mae Sheffield. Aunt Willie Mae Sheffield, their eldest daughter, is buried right next to them. Papaw and Mamaw died before I was five years old. After their deaths, Aunt Willie Mae, a single school teacher, became the matriarch of the Sheffield clan. We all loved her alot. We were all very upset when she succombed to the ravages of diabetes in 1998. We still grieve her death to some extent. "It just isn't right!" I proclaimed at her grave today. "No, it isn't," mom agreed. She and Willie Mae were best friends.

FOUR SIDE-BY-SIDE. We sauntered down the hill to a newer section of the cemetery. We walked up to four side-by-side plots, three of them with tombstones already in place and inscribed with names--minus the death dates. They were the purchased grave plots of each of the seven elders I stood among at the moment. Emery and Jean Sheffield will be buried next to Gene Dale (aleady in the grave) and Virginia Sheffield. Dad and mom will be next in line, though they have chosen to not place a stone on their plot at this point. And, next to them, Harold and Myra (Sheffield) Hacker. How these people can joke and laugh in front of their graves, I do not know. To top it off, they wanted me to take their pictures standing at their respective gravesites. I told them they were all sick...and then whimsically snapped their photos.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

JOURNEY INTO HOSPITALITY
Part 2 of 3

PUTTING POHL TO THE TEST. My consent to lead a homeless day center in a relocation and rebirth of its services in 2000 coincided with a friend recommending Christine Pohl’s book, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. Whatever had ignited and fueled my fascination with hospitality as an alternative in compassionate care found roots, form, and flower in Pohl’s careful research and caring call for a recovery of hospitality not just in congregational life, but in the broader social service system. I decided to put Pohl’s approach to the test, hinging my leadership and the effectiveness of our organization helping neighbors end their homelessness on hospitality.

STRENGTHS-BASED AND HOSPITALITY-FOCUSED. As I rebooted the organization, one staff member and volunteer at a time, I seeded the concept of hospitality at every level. I did not have to sell it; when I explained the approach, it was usually readily recognized as a legitimate and liberating alternative to standard professional practice. The fact that Pohl’s book was also coinciding with a major shift in social work practice to a “strengths-based” approach was helpful. Social workers were beginning to be trained to look for and value a “client’s” strengths, capabilities, assets, etc. over their vulnerabilities. So, it was easier for me to help them see the stranger coming through the door as a gift-bearer, to make room for them, to anticipate their process of recovery in the context of hospitality, and be open to receive the gifts they had to offer.

TESTED EARLY AND OFTEN. As Horizon House opened its doors in a new facility adjacent to downtown Indy in 2001, our intentional expressions of hospitality instead of merely providing services were tested early and often. The old approaches were easier, quicker, and apparently safer. I found that I needed to persistently reinforce the concept and keep teaching and training staff and volunteers in the primary approach and practices of hospitality. I dared them to be different than other homeless-serving organizations. I challenged the entire city to say “homeless neighbor” instead of the usual labels, believing that our very language bears images into which we live. I felt we might have turned a corner in the broader community when I heard our mayor begin to use the term “homeless neighbor” routinely.

CRITICAL OUTCOMES. Within a year our outcomes in percentages of guests who were no longer homeless, who were working, and who were reporting an increase in their quality of life were slightly better than other homeless-serving organizations in the city. After two years, our hospitality-based outcomes were distinctive. This trend has continued in subsequent years.

WHAT ARE ITS POSSIBILITIES? But hospitality is neither easy nor automatic. It flies in the face of the vast majority of service-focused organizations. Can it be sustained? Will it be supported? Can it move to scale without losing its distinctives?

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

JOURNEY INTO HOSPITALITY
Part 1 of 3

FUELED BY NOUWEN. I’m not sure when my journey into hospitality as a primary practice for the intersection of spirituality and social work began. Whenever, however it was born, it was fueled by reading Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen. Particularly, Nouwen’s section “From Hostility to Hospitality” fascinated me. Nouwen described hospitality as I’d never before imagined it:

OFFERING A PLACE FOR FREEDOM. “Hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbor into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment.”

UNLIKE ANTHING ELSE. This radical, risky kind of hospitality—along with its implications regarding Christian evangelism—pointed to something beyond what I was seeing in the practice of compassion in rescue missions and professional social work in our city. Rescue missions did the “soup, chapel, and bed” routine, but the line between evangelizing volunteers and “homeless people” was sharply drawn and relatively few escaped this system of compassion. Likewise, professional social workers in the community center I led at the time often felt trapped in merely dispensing demanded entitlements for persons defined almost entirely by their deficiencies, vulnerabilities, and at-risk lifestyles. Staff burned out quickly.

IS THERE A BETTER WAY? It was clear to me that in both typical rescue mission and professional social work, the givers felt taken and the takers were perceived to have nothing to give. There had to be more to compassion and the hope for personal and social transformation than that. Perhaps this idea of hospitality offered a better way.

To be continued...

Monday, May 7, 2007

SUNSET AT EAGLE CREEK

TIME FOR GLORY? As I rode my bike through Eagle Creek Park earlier this evening, I knew the clear spring sky was going to produce a great sunset on the west side of the reservoir. I hurried home to get my camera and invite my family to go with me to the marina. All were preoccupied in one way or another, so I enjoyed the sun's curtain call in solitude.

NOW PLAYING. The sun repeats the performance down at the marina every evening around 8:30 pm, of course, but no two are quite the same. And how often do we take the time to watch? I'm not sure if there's anything so simultaneously peaceful and inspiring as a sunset over a body of water.

AFTER ELECTRICITY. This grand routine will be faithfully offering peace and inspiration long after the last TV set has flashed out and what's left of the human race once again looks to the sky.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

THREE FACSIMILES OF FAITH

SABOTAGING AUTHENTIC FAITH. As my exploration of Paul's letter to the churches of Galatia has progressed into chapter 4, it dawned on me that some of the things that sabotaged authentic faith then are similar to some of the things that sabotage authentic faith now. Just as faith can be sabotaged by worldliness, it can be undermined by attempts at greater godliness. If lawlessness is a problem for Christians, so is lawfulness.

WHAT DIFFERENCES DOES IT MAKE? Paul was concerned for the young Galatian Christians because they didn't realize the full implications of adding law-keeping to the simple faith by which their lives had been changed. We, too, can be taken in by pseudo-faith formulas without realizing how badly we've distorted or missed the path until we're far down the road.

WHAT KIND OF FAITH JETTISONS RELIGIOUS TRAPPINGS? It is likely that the Jewish believers who were influencing the Galatians did not realize the weight and implications of the imposition of their Jewish traditions on new Gentile believers. Who could ever have imagined following a Jewish Messiah without following Jewish customs? How could faith not look like religion? How could faith be practiced apart from these structures and boundaries and definitions and guidelines and laws? Perhaps we need to consider these distinctions afresh!

Three facsimiles that can sabotage authentic faith:

LEGALISM
Focus: performance, better performance, or fulfillment of a set of rules, laws, regulations and/or traditions.
Triggers to discern: traditional values, perfection, standards, measuring up, the good ol’ days.
Problem: following the letter instead of the Spirit, worshiping the tradition and/or structure instead of following the Savior.

MATERIALISM
Focus: acting in self-interest for material gain in God’s name.
Triggers to discern: seed faith, God’s going to bless you, if you had enough faith..., God wants you to be successful.
Problem: using terms and formulas of "faith" to sanctify mammon and mask self-aggrandizement.

EMOTIONALISM
Focus: predefined, sought-for emotional experiences as evidence of faith.
Triggers to discern: seek the gift, in the Spirit, transcendent experiences.
Problem: substituting transcendent experiences for faith that forms us in Christlikeness.

PARTLY RIGHT. All these can be attractive because they are partly right. And, because they point to something “more” that it would seem God deems we “should” have “if only” we would…


ENOUGH FOR ME. These facsimiles of faith all suggest that basic faith is not enough. But the message of the New Testament is clear: faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus is enough not only to forgive sins and change one's heart and direction in life, but to move one forward in a lifetime of growing in Christlikeness.

Friday, May 4, 2007

ASTRONAUTS FOREVER YOUNG

News of the death of American Astronaut Walter Schirra, Jr. , 84, the fifth Astronaut in space, was more than merely notable to me as I drove along a highway today. It gave me pause to consider the mortality of these childhood heroes of mine, as well as reminding me of my own limitations.

As a child growing up in the 1960's, I watched several Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo launches when our family vacationed near Cape Kennedy. I could name many of the original Astronauts. Their part in NASA's endeavor to put a man on the moon fueled my imagination. From fiery launches to moon walks to dramatic splash downs, Astronauts provided some of the most memorable moments of my youth.

In my mind's eye, these men are forever young. They represent to me the very best of the spirit of America--always striving for excellence and challenging new frontiers. Their example will always inspire me to be courageous and strive higher even as I, like they, age into a future yet unknown.

NOTE: This post was eventually published as a Letter to the Editor in the Indianapolis Star on May 9, 2007

Thursday, May 3, 2007

CRY TO GOD

The cry to God as 'Father'
in the New Testament
is not a calm acknowledgement
of a universal truth about
God's abstract fatherhood.
It is the Child's cry
out of a nightmare.

It is the cry of outrage,
fear, shrinking away,
when faced with the horror
of the 'world'
- yet not simply or exclusively
protest, but trust as well.

'Abba Father'
all things are possible
to Thee

-- Rowan Williams

I came across this meditation in the Northumbria Community's daily office online

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

FREEDOM VS CONTROL

Freedom does not come by getting control of things or people but by freely assenting to the reality of being, whether that being is a stranger's illness, or a crushing disappointment, or an incomprehensible failure, or a futile desolation. We discover the meaning of the free life in acts of compassion and loving service, not in running after people who make big promises to us. We realize the life of freedom in Christ by accepting pain and trouble and ailments, not in grabbing after the smooth solutions to life proposed by celebrities or experts… Freedom comes from trusting, not from manipulating, from leaving matters to God rather than trying to be in control.” – Eugene Peterson
LATINO FAMILIES RALLY AT MONUMENT CIRCLE

I joined in the march for good immigration policy last evening in downtown Indy. The march, which started at St. Mary's Church, made its way to Monument Circle--the symbolic center of the city and state--where there was a rally.

For the record: these were not the kind of people portrayed so badly in the so-called "news" media. These were families and individuals who work hard, pay taxes, honor America, and who are simply asking for fair representation and treatment in immigration reform. These are not people who deserve the kind of vitriol local radio voices like Greg Garrison on WIBC radio and national cable TV show hosts like Sean Hannity and Glen Beck espouse and spew.

Also for the record: There were extremely few non-Latinos in the march or at the rally, even though advance information about the rally was readily available. So, I suppose most non-Latinos will form their perceptions and opinions about the issues and the event through the heavy-handed filter/bias of the news media.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

STAND WITH

SUPPORT FOR GOOD POLICY. Along with several thousand other Central Indiana residents, I plan to meet and march with our Latino neighbors this evening in downtown Indianapolis. This May Day event is a local expression of support for a national policy to compassionately address the issue of millions of working immigrants who are currently undocumented. This march is sponsored by the Indiana Coalition for Justice for Immigrants and Central Indiana Jobs With Justice. My participation is to stand with my neighbors.

STOP THE VENOM. I do not personally know the best way through the dilemma of undocumented immigrants. But I hurt for my Latino neighbors when I hear the venom in the words and contempt in the attitudes coming from some U.S. Congresspersons, talk radio gurus, and TV "news" show wise guys. Standing with Latino neighbors and trying to understand their situation and the situation of their undocumented loved ones is altogether different than the mean-spirited demands made by those who are full fear and hatred.