Saturday, June 30, 2007

TO RIDE AND RIDE AGAIN

I DO KNOW HOW TO RIDE. My Free Methodist Bishop, Joe James, who rode with me in India, brought to the hospital a framed poster-size of this print of me riding my bike down a hill in India. He said he just wanted folks to know that I really do know how to ride a bike. Thank you for this kind gesture, Joe.

THERE AND HERE. It's hard to imagine that we pedaled over 2,000 miles over unknown roads and sometimes heavy and dangerous traffic conditions thru India in January and the first week of February without incident. And yet back home in Indiana, I ride a well-known trail on my mountain bike and end up with multiple fractures.

NO FEAR. When I am able, I plan to return to that trail and ride it again. It may take me a few runs to ride the bridge again, but I intend to do it. No curse on me. No intimidating aura. No "breaking" of my spirit. Will I use wisdom and warranted caution? Absolutely! Will I park my mountain bike in fear? No way!


BACK ON THE [STATIONARY] BIKE. Dan Laughlin brought over a stationary recumbent trainer for me to pedal on while recover. The trainer similuates variable speed resistances and monitors like a cycle computer. The pedaling and seat position is like a recumbent bike. I've taken some cranks on it and I think it will do the trick for next few months

Friday, June 29, 2007

STRUGGLE WITH PAIN

RAGING RIVER: CRESTED AND SUBSIDING? I am finding, on the balance, the intensity of pain associated with my 16 fractures in the mountain bike accident is subsiding. It dominates my days, but it's not as intense as it was four days ago. Like a flooded river that that has crested but is still raging, my pain seems to be inching down the scale but still defines my hours and days at this point.

SABOTAGES THE CREATIVE AND PRACTICAL. I've been surprised at how much pain just completely sabotages my will to do anything creative or practical. I get an idea for writing or remember a call I want to make, but by the time my laptop is booted up and ready, I'm wincing or drained. This is a real struggle.

THE TEMPTATION TO "GIVE UP." Given my current struggle to move toward basic functionality and self-expression amid significant levels of pain, it is not hard to imagine that people faced with chronic issues of pain--whether physcial, emotional, social, etc.--soon "give up" and "give in" to mere survival and live down to the inert condition their pain seems to be drawing them.

THE PAIN OF POVERTY. I would include poverty as one such pain, one such struggle, which folks may exert effort to free themselves, but against which they grow weary and feel completely overwhelmed. If we are to understand the soul/life condition of our neighbors who live with poverty as a constant companion, as the very horizon that seems to dominate and define their lives, then considering the struggle against pain of various kinds may make some sense.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Poverty is the worst form of violence."

-- M. K. Gandhi

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

THE GUEST HOUSE

This is to me a rather jolting poem by Jelaluddin Rumi, the 13th century Muslim scholar, mystic, and poet. I am just getting acquainted with Rumi. Given my work with hospitality regarding homeless and other neighbors, I found “The Guest House” intriguing. Instead of fearing the stranger, the challenge is to welcome and learn what it is they are sent to offer.


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably,
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

SOME NOTES FROM BIKEHIKER "RECOVERY CENTRAL"

FOCUS OF CARE. Since taking an apparently unspectacular but fracture-effective spill on my mountain bike last Wednesday morning, I've been at the center of care--trauma care, hospital orthopedic care, family and church care, and prayer care. After fracturing my back, ribs, shoulder blade, and sternum in 16 various places, I've been tended to with prescription narcotics, a neck-to-waste back brace (my Ninja turtle shell), and careful, slow movement in and out of bed, up and down stairs, and out for brief walks, including hand-held strolls through our Rutherglen neighborhood. Frankly, all this attention has been wonderful and embarrassing at the same time.

PROFESSIONAL COOPERATION. I am so grateful for trauma technology and technicians. People I may never see again--who knows their names--tended to me so professionally from that first Striker board ride behind the ATV that pulled me out the trails, to the two EMTs from the Avon Fire Department who talked me through things on the way to Methodist Hospital; from the first trauma doc--Ed Barkes was his name, I think--who examined me and gave me my first assessments of extent of damage and assurances, to the spine team that put me through their paces and the MRI; from the guys who moved me from room to radiology to room, etc., to the two orthopedic nurses--Theia and Lori--who seemed to take me and my case with a sense of personal care. My life depended on people working together as a team across shifts and days and areas of specialization--people who studied and train and have committed themselves to healing, no matter the name or status of the patient.

REPRESENTING JESUS. Hearing from friends and parishioners during this time, I must say, is quite heartening, too. Many visited me at Methodist and some have visited me at home. My Free Methodist Bishop, Joe James, who rode with me in India, brought to the hospital a poster-size framed print of me riding my bike down a hill in India. He said he just wanted folks to know that I really do know how to ride a bike. E-mails and cards of encouragement are read and I pray blessing back to each sender. When I can respond to e-mail, I do. Sitting up with my Ninja turtle shell is pretty comfortable if I position myself just right (like now). The presence of the Body of Christ in the midst of pain is an assuring, winning presence, I assure you. Not enough can be said of this grace. It is a representation of the presence of Jesus, doing what He would do. And, behind and beyond this...prayer. I know that people who do not know me are praying for my recovery. That's awesome!

STERNUM PAIN. My pain is focused mostly in my sternum, with a secondary focus at vertebrae 5 and 6 in my upper back. The broken ribs, right shoulder blade, and backbone processes are background to these two trumpeters. The back brace keeps all of these immobile and limits range of motion, as well as holds me up from waste to neck. My neck is fine. My hands and arms are fine. My legs and feet are fine. My internal organs are fine, they say. But since so much comes together at the sternum--muscle, cartilage, ribs--this separation seems to be the focal point of pain. Moving from a lying-down to a sitting-up position is excruciating. So, we've borrowed a lazy boy recliner for my overnight sleeping and resting. I can manage to sit down, lie back, and sit back up--ever so slowly--without much pain.

ON MEDICATION. Of course, pain at this level is regulated to some extent with prescription narcotics and other medicines. Currently, vicadin (spelling?) is the prescription. But there were a number of others along the way from trauma center to release from the hospital. I have never been administered drugs of this magnitude before. But I now know what it's like to anticipate with hope the next possible dosage ("Is it 3:00, yet?"). I am coherent through these doses or levels of medication, but I do feel a bit spaced out. I am not at the point yet where cutting back is an option, but I pray that I will be able to cooperate well at the appropriate time. For now, I am dependent and grateful for whatever ethically-sound measures go into producing medicines that address chronic or intense bodily pain.

READING, LISTENING. I downloaded and I'm listening to the audio book edition of Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey during this time. I'm also listening to podcasts that I can update regularly: This American Life, WBH Morning Stories, The News from Lake Woebegon, Speaking of Faith, NPR Shuffle, NPR Driveway Moments, some podcasts from Slate, and New York Times op-ed pieces. At Rick Shelton's recommendation, I downloaded "Cloudburst," an acapella choral CD; it is outstanding. I'm not watching much TV. For all the channels and options available, TV remains largely void of meaningful content. I catch a bit of news or documentary every now and then. For Eric: Not Fox news, just the good stuff on PBS and CNN!

THE PROBLEM OF PAIN. I'm also reading bits of The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis. This isn't the best book on the subject, but Lewis is always insightful (in his sometimes Englishly condescending, insulting, yet humorish manner). I am not having problems with God about this ordeal, but taking this time to think about pain theologically as well as experientially may be a rare opportunity. I hope it is rare! How Christian contemplatives assign meaning to pain is wide ranging and interesting. We have to be careful not to mislead or be misled at this very important point. Whether physical pain or emotional or relational pain, it is worth exploring Biblically-sound responses. New age folks tend to deny pain's reality, others deify it as a directive from God; some blame it on bad thinking, others blame it on one's sins. Being careful and caring at this point is as important as the trauma technicians' precision in diagnosis and plan for recovery.


I have more time than usual to respond to comments, so fire away (in a friendly way, that is)...

Photos: The top photo speaks for itself: "fair warning." The second photo is not me, it's Brandon B.; and it is not the bridge I wrecked on, but another one on the same trail. I've fallen off this one several times without incident; I've also sailed across it multiple times with a "Yippee!" This is one of two such bridges on an advanced trail at Washington Township Park in Avon, Indiana. I went off the side of the other one at its peak--the first time I'd gotten crooked on it in over 50 rides.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

THE SEVEN HESITATIONS OF DEMOCRACY

DRAWN TO THE EPICENTER. The following reflections do not come from an aspiring politician. They are not the two-bit comments of a journalistic wag. They are the observations of an American-born Methodist missionary who labored in India as a contemporary of Mahatma Ghandi. E. Stanley Jones is, to me, the model of authentic Christianity. The deeper his faith, the more reflective and engaged he was in applying its principles to the pressing issues of his time. His deep piety did not lead him away from difficult issues and hurting people; it drew him ever closer to the epicenter of world challenges. Written from India in 1944, this ever-so-brief excerpt from The Christ of the American Road, has a pointed ring of truth and challenge 63 years later. I have not adapted his writing to inclusive language; it was already inclusive in spirit and power.

AN EXPLOSIVE WORD. “When the word ‘all’ was written into the Declaration of Independence, little did the authors know how it would live to disturb and awaken the soul of this people. The word ‘all’ was inevitable, for there would not have been democracy if it had been left out; but, once in, it has become the most explosive and revolutionary word in our national history. It will not let us rest until we say the words ‘all men’ with complete abandon and with no reservations. The history of our struggling with that word ‘all’ is the history of the progress of America, and our future depends upon what we do with it.” Jones enumerates the seven hesitations of democracy in a historical sequence.

1. TERRITORIES. “The hesitation as to whether we should take in the territories beyond the original colonies on the basis of equality or make them subordinate.” Jones notes that this breakthrough from intellectual and cultural snobbery to give complete equality to territories “may prove the norm for a world pattern. The world will fight it—as we did—but in the end we shall have to come to it, for it is right. And whatever is right is stable and whatever is wrong is unstable. The world is in a state of instability because of the refusal of this simple principle.”

2. WOMEN. “The second hesitation about applying the word ‘all’ was in regard to one half the population within the union—namely, to women.” Jones comments on the rightness of this breakthrough: “The future belongs to cooperation; the competitive principle has run its course. If the future belongs to cooperation and women represent the cooperative spirit, then women are to be, in literal fact, the psychic center of power in that future.”

3. CHILDREN. “The third great hesitation in the application of ‘all’ is in regard to the most important group in our democracy—namely, the children.” Noting the brunt children have taken in the greed and blunderings of men in labor and in war (“he is called on to fight three years sooner than he is allowed to vote”), Jones asserted that “since children must bear the heavy end of things in a crisis, they must be allowed to help shape things for the ordinary days ahead. Democracy will not last unless the child inwardly accepts it because it is reasonable and right, and more important still, because he is a functioning part of it. He must vitally be a part of it; it must function where he is concerned. This we have not done—not really. We have applied the word ‘all’ to children grudgingly and with hesitation.”

4. LABOR. “The fourth hesitation about the application of the word ‘all’ is in regard to another group in our midst—labor.” Noting the reluctance with which American corporations have conceded to collective bargaining, Jones believed that America is tragically bent in a “property over the person” paradigm. In the struggle between the rights of property and the rights of people, Jones said “we have very grudgingly extended equality to those who labor.”

5. PEOPLE OF COLOR. “The fifth great hesitation has been to extend equality to those of another color.” Jones advocated the “equality of opportunity” for people of color and denounced white America for its hypocrisy and resistance at making the Pledge of Allegiance apply: “with liberty and justice for all.” He noted: “America’s power and influence in the world will be determined by her ability to set her own house in order, and thus to act up to her democracy.

6. ASIAN PEOPLES. “The sixth great hesitation in applying the word ‘all’ is in regard to those of Asiatic origin in our midst.” Writing during World War II, a time in which in the name of patriotism and loyalty Asians were being derided in America and abroad, Jones wrote boldly: “We have a right to limit immigration, but we have no right to humiliate others once they are in our midst. Such attitudes and practices deny our own democracy and sow the seeds of war. This discrimination was one of the causes that led to the war with Japan.” Jones decried the mistreatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII and spoke often to large groups interned in the camps.

7. DEVELOPING REGIONS AND NATIONS. “The seventh hesitation is in regard to applying the word ‘all’ to all peoples beyond our own borders.” Jones called for a complete renunciation of all trappings and vestiges of “imperialism” in order for peace and democracy to have a chance to emerge in developing regions of the world. “It is not enough to point to the benefits conferred by imperialism on subjected peoples—roads, schools, hospitals, and a kind of peace. All these benefits are canceled out in the minds of subject peoples by the fact of domination. They want freedom—everybody does. It is inherent.”

BE THE SERVANT OF ALL. Jones summarized his observations: “Let America be anchored to her words ‘all men,’ and let her world mission be the implementing of those words in world affairs. Let her become ‘the servant of all.’ Then, according to her Master, by that very service she will become the greatest of all. If you are the servant of some—white people, people of a certain class or race—then you do not become great, except a great snob. The future of the world is in the hands of those who will best serve the world.”
WHENCE SMUGNESS?

Whence smugness?
What is the pathology of
this ganglious weed?
What shallow sources feed it?
It presents itself assured, staid,
unflappable, self-contained.
Its roots, however, go not deep but wide
and the stalk is readily toppled.

Whence smugness?
From pride of place or pedigree,
love of heritage or family?
Does it sprout from savings on deposit,
or securities against disaster?
Does it spring from mere ideology
or form in personal achievements?

Whence smugness?
Were we to perceive clearly
smugness would wilt.
We would see our predicament as
shattered, vulnerable, indefensible.
We would be clinging to
disintegrating handholds,
wobbling on crumbling ground.

And we would cry out
desperately, “mercy!”
as bold Peter sinking into the sea.
We would gladly take our place with
lepers calling out: “Jesus, Son of David,
have mercy on us!”

Whence smugness?
It would be abandoned as a
bruised, withered reed,
a fruitless persona,
a fool’s bitter delusion.

Mercifully, graciously our cries
would be overwhelmed by a
greater Voice;
Our trembling stilled by a
steadying Hand.

And, mercifully, graciously, we
would be made to stand.
No longer smug,
not as ones who deserve,
or who achieve,
but as ones who receive
Mercy.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

BIKE ACCIDENT SENDS ME TO THE HOSPITAL

BREAKABLE. I'm embarrassed about it, but it happened. Mountain biking with a couple of guys from church early Wednesday morning at Washington Township Park in Avon, I went off the edge of a trail bridge, fell eight feet, and really did a number on my ribs, back, right scapula, and sternum. A beautiful early-morning bike hike turned into torturous pain, an ambulance ride, trauma center care, and three days in a hospital bed.

John: 16 fractures, including two compressed vertebrae.

Raleigh M-80: unscathed.

THANKS, THEIA & LORI. I have to say that the level of care and attention I received in Methodist Hospital's trauma center and on the orthopedic unit surpassed my expectations. These units hum. And there are some outstanding staff who humanize the patient's ordeal. I commend two nurses on the orthopedic unit, Theia (day shift) and Lori (night shift) for their focused care, good conversation, and prodding to get me up on my feet and on my way. Thanks, Theia and Lori!

I WAS SICK AND YOU VISITED ME. I had lots of visitors from our church, expressing care and concern. Lots of folks prayed with me at my bedside and from a distance. Thank you. I believe prayer makes a difference. John Wesley said, "God does nothing but in answer to prayer." This underscores to me the importance of a physical presence of the body of Christ in the midst of suffering and pain. Nothing is so important in a schedule as this.

CONTINUING PAIN AMID RECOVERY. So, I passed the physical therapist's walking test and the trauma center's oxygen count requirements and, with a hard plastic and foam back brace around my torso, I headed home Friday afternoon. I'm told I will have six weeks of painful recovery and it will be three months before I can resume normal physical and recreational activity. I can verify the "painful" part. My ribs and cartilage are loose at my sternum and that's where my pain is focused with nearly every movement. Despite prescription narcotics, the pain can be momentarily intense. Even so, I hope to move forward and step into the future in cooperation with healing grace, good therapies, and wisdom.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

KENOSIS LIVING
Part 2 of 3

CHANGING THE TERMS OF GREATNESS. I'm exploring an ancient way of living that eclipses personal and social change theories and practics, holding promise for the future of a very complex world. It begins with a personal choice to be deployed and to serve (instead of being served). Within this choice is the seed of a radically different definition of greatness. To the point: Jesus' self-emptying and self-giving changed forever how the world interprets human greatness. The recognition of "greatness" ever after has been turned toward kenosis.

NON-TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP. Perhaps once upon a time greatness might have been defined by having so many people and resources at your beck and call. This fantasy of greatness continues to tickle the imaginations of many would-be leaders and influential people today. They do, in fact, have people working for them and they are, in fact, very influential. But they have chosen a fading and non-transformational path, a path that for a while looks and feels great but ultimately is exposed for what it really is—self-serving.

A NEW PATH TO GREATNESS. When Jesus told his followers that whoever would be greatest would be the servant of all, he was setting a course for transformation in persons, relationships, institutions, communities, nations and among nations. Instead of perpetuating the “serve me” masks and shell games played by masters, magistrates, and Caesars, Jesus models a path that transforms leaders even as it transforms life for those they influence. It signals not only the end of dominating people, it spells the end of leadership that can do everything but fulfill the heart and God-given purpose of the person granted responsibility with others.

DOWN IS THE WAY UP. In Paul’s eloquent poem found in Philippians 2:6-11, Jesus sets aside his entitlements, privileges, position, exclusivity, and power in order to become a servant. Going further, he gives himself as a servant who serves to the point of death, ultimately dying a scandalous death on Roman cross. Is that the way to greatness—downward mobility and death? Paul’s poem continues, pointing out that as a result of Jesus’ ultimate self-emptying and self-giving for the sake of others, he was exalted to the highest place and makes a life-changing offer for all people everywhere.

DIVINE ECONOMY. Gerald Hawthorne calls this the “divine economy.” He puts it this way: “by giving a person receives, by serving he is served, by losing his life he finds it, by dying he lives, by humbling himself he is exalted. The one follows the other as night follows day, but always in this order—self-sacrifice first before the self is exalted by God.”

CAN EVERYONE BE GREAT? Others have followed this kenosis path, leaving privilege and typical patterns of power and influence. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. are two obvious recent examples of kenosis living that brings about both personal and social transformation. These men were being changed with every self-relinquishing, self-giving step they took for the sake of justice and compassion for others. King captured the essence of this path succinctly: “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.”

BEYOND DOMINION AND PHILANTHROPY. Gandhi and King are certainly not alone in emulating the promise and power of kenosis. The last two millennia are rife with people who chose to serve and give themselves for the sake of justice, compassion, and the beloved community without question of personal cost. What their sacrifice procured for their compatriots and communities far outweighs anything philanthropic morsels tossed into the mix by powerful but largely self-serving people ever has or ever will.

More tomorrow...

Monday, June 18, 2007

KENOSIS LIVING
Part 1 of 3

TRUMPS THE WORLD'S BEST AND WORST. I am convinced that Jesus of Nazareth initiated a way of living that is a winning path through contemporary and often dehumanizing complexities. It is a specific principle with requisite perspectives and actions that trump the world’s best and worst. Taken as a lifelong orientation, this way of living cultivates humanitarian excellence and culminates in greatness for others.

ANCIENT-FUTURE CHALLENGE. This way introduced by Jesus is kenosis living. Kenosis means, in Koine Greek, “self-emptying.” It is not new, of course; it is an ancient, tried and true principle. It is most exquisitely described in the Bible in Philippians 2:6-11. But kenosis living freshly applicable and in need of examination, exploration, and embracing today. Without it, the greatest challenges of this generation may well go unmet.

TWO CHOICES. Kenosis living begins with a personal choice to be deployed and to serve. There are two basic attitudes toward life: to be served or to serve. If you choose to be served, you will never change; you may accumulate many things but you will not essentially grow as a person. It is only people who choose to move from being served to serving, from being a consumer to being a steward, from expecting entitlements to creating their own futures who are really ever transformed. The trajectory of transformation begins with a choice to be deployed and to serve.

NOT TO BE SERVED, BUT TO SERVE. Even as they jockeyed for privilege and position in his kingdom, Jesus cautioned his disciples against such fruitless clamoring. Instead, he implored them to emulate him: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This is the most basic and essential change in attitude and outlook you will ever undertake. It is the decision that changes the tide for your future—and all those whose lives you will come to redemptively impact.

TIDAL CHANGE REQUIRED. Let nothing keep you from making this basic decision. The barriers may be extremely high. The challenge of changing expectations and attitudes that have built up over a lifetime of demanding or desiring to “be served” is great. I am convinced they will not be overcome without prayer and God’s grace in your life. But without this clear, definite choice to be deployed and to serve, you will never essentially change or grow or fulfill the purposes for which I believe God uniquely created you and placed you in the world at this particular time.

Part 2 of 3 tomorrow

Saturday, June 16, 2007

TO CLAY CITY AND BACK ON BIKES

WEST TO CLAY CITY. I've been away from internet access for three days, thus the gap in postings. On Thursday afternoon, I rode my bicycle, along with Bishop Joseph James, from Indianapolis to Clay City, the location of the Wabash Annual Conference of the Free Methodist Church. Joe was one of our primary cyclists for our Bicycle India 2007 adventure earlier this year.

SACRED GROUND. Clay City, 70 miles west-southwest of Indy, may seem an unlikely meeting place, but that's home for our conference camp. Those acres on the edge of Clay City called "Wabash Park Camp" are sacred ground for lots of Free Methodists who've attended camp meetings or week-long children's or youth camps or retreats over the past 100 years.

EAST TO INDY. Conference meetings were conducted Thursday night, Friday, and Saturday, concluding at noon. After adjournment and lunch, we climbed on our bikes and pedaled the 70 miles back to Indy in more 90-degree heat and heavy humidity. We traveled north from Clay City on highway 59 to Brazil and then east along U. S. 40 to Indianapolis. This is part of the route that I plan to ride as part of the RAIN - the Ride Across INdiana - on Saturday, July 14. The RAIN generally follows U.S. 40 from the Illinois state line to the Ohio state line.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

DIVINE ECONOMY

“In the divine economy of things, by giving a person receives, by serving he is served, by losing his life he finds it, by dying he lives, by humbling himself he is exalted. The one follows the other as night follows day, but always in this order—self-sacrifice first before the self is exalted by God.”

– Gerald F. Hawthorne

Monday, June 11, 2007

COMMUNITY-CENTERED LIVING

OUR PROBLEM IS WEAK COMMUNITIES. I like much of what I read by John McKnight. Here are some more excerpts from The Careless Society. "There is a mistaken notion that our society has a problem in terms of effective human services. Our essential problem is weak communities.”

A VISION OF COMMUNITY REGENERATION. “While we have reached the limits of institutional problem-solving, we are only at the beginning of exploring the possibility of a new vision for community. It is a vision of regeneration. It is a vision of reassociating the exiled. It is a vision of freeing ourselves from service and advocacy. It is a vision of centering our lives in community."

THREE VISIONS OF SOCIETY. “Our society is the site of the struggle between community and institution for the capacities and loyalties of our people. It occurs each day in the relations of people, the budget decisions of systems, and the public portraits of the media. Three visions of society dominate the discourse: a therapeutic vision, an advocacy vision, and the community vision. The first is a world of professionals and services to meet every need. The second conceives of individuals and groups guarded and supported by advocates.”

RECOMMUNALIZATION. “The community vision sees the goal of society as ‘recommunalization’ of exiled and labeled individuals. It understands the community as the basic context for enabling people to contribute their gifts. It sees community associations as contexts in which to create and locate jobs, provide opportunities for recreation and multiple friendships, and become the political defender of the right of labeled people to be free from exile.”

INCORPORATED INTO COMMUNITY. “Those who seek to institute the community vision believe that beyond therapy and advocacy is a society where those who were once labeled, exiled, treated, counseled, advised, and protected are, instead, incorporated into community where their contributions, capacities, gifts, and fallibilities will allow a network of relationships involving work, recreation, friendship, support, and the political power of being a citizen.”
REWEAVING THE FABRIC OF COMMUNITY

NO MORE LABELING. One of the most formative books I’ve read regarding community recovery is The Careless Society: Community and its Counterfeits by John McKnight. McKnight believes it is critical for our society to recover--and celebrate--the capacities and gifts of people who are so easily labeled, reduced, and excluded from community life.

BE A COMMUNITY GUIDE. McKnight challenges us to be “community guides,” who see capacities and assets, not merely deficits, in labeled neighbors. Community guides “believe strongly that the community is a reservoir of hospitality that is waiting to be offered.” They use whatever resources and influence they have to introduce and guide disenfranchised neighbors into vital community life.

EVERY LIFE IS INTERDEPENDENT. “It is critical,” says McKnight, “that we emphasize the word interdependence. The goal is not to create independence—except from social service systems. Rather, we are recognizing that every life in community is, by definition, interdependent—filled with trusting relationships and empowered by the collective wisdom of citizens in discourse. Community is about the common life that is lived in such a way that the unique creativity of each person is a contribution to the other.”

COUNTERING A CRISIS. “The crisis we have created in the lives of excluded people,” McKnight concludes, “is that they are disassociated from their fellow citizens. We cannot undo that terrible exclusion by a thoughtless attempt to create illusory independence. We are seeking nothing less than a life surrounded by the richness and diversity of community. A collective life. An everyday life. A powerful life that gains its joy from the creativity and connectedness that come when we join in association to create an inclusive world.”

REWEAVING THE FABRIC OF COMMUNITY. Reading McKnight resonates with my heart-felt sense that so-called “homeless people” are first and foremost “neighbors” who have been separated from community. Underlying my work to reboot and reshape Horizon House as a life-changing homeless day center beginning in 1999 was this conviction. Instead of being mere service providers for homeless "clients," we were striving to grasp and embody what it means to offer hospitality to homeless neighbors. In doing so, we aim at nothing short of community interdependence--removing labels and reweaving these gifted neighbors into the fabric of community life.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

COMMUNITY DAY ON WEST MORRIS STREET

STREET FESTIVAL. Saturday's weather was perfect for a great street festival on West Morris Street. The West Indianapolis Community Day was enjoyed by about 500 neighbors who live, work, or worship in the first matrix of neighborhoods southwest of downtown Indy. Hosted by West Indianapolis Community Development Corporation with funding from Mayor Peterson's Great Indy Neighborhoods Initiative (GINI), the event was the best in the past for years. Thanks to Beth Gibson of WIDC for great planning and coordination.


CHURCH INVOLVEMENT. As in past years, the staff of Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center put for yeomen effort. MRNC remains the foremost advocate for this inner-city community. But direct involvement of some congregations in the community made a positive contribution this year. West Morris Street Free Methodist Church's (that's the congregation I serve!) youth ministry hosted a 3 v 3 basketball tournament and Comunidad Cristiana's (our sister Latino congregation at WEMO) worship team sang on the main stage in the middle of West Morris Street. Over 50 folks from WEMO came out and participated in the day's activities. St. John the Forerunner Orthodox Church also got involved in a big way.

WIDE-RANGING PARTICIPATION. Local and state services participated with demonstrations, registrations, and interactive learning opportunities. Organizations included: Indianapolis Fire Department, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, Indy Parks & Recreation, Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library, Marion County Department of Public Health, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, IndyGo public transit, among others. Local businesses also participated and contributed significantly.

LOOK AGAIN. The preventive and proactive power of such community events is inestimable. What is accomplished during these hours in which neighbors come together to meet one another, learn about those who seek to serve and support them, and about their own capacities and neighborliness deserves serious consideration. Those who report only bad news of the inner city and define such communities primarily by their vulnerabilities would do well to rethink their assessments--even their contribution to disunity, division, and community demise. Social assets, community capacity, and solid infrastructure is significant here. Community is alive in the heart of the city.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

BELL RINGS FOR 3,503 AMERICANS KILLED IRAQ

VETERANS FOR PEACE. I was privileged to take part in a vigil and bell-tolling for the lives of 3,503 American troops that have thus far been lost in Iraq over the past four years. About 50 people gathered with the local chapter of the Veterans for Peace on Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis around 7:00 last evening.

FOR AMERICANS AND IRAQIS. The bell tolled 3,503 times for American lives lost. It tolled another 100 times for the lives of an estimated 1,000,000 Iraq lives lost--military and civilian. And it tolled once more, as organizer Harold Donle put it, to "send them all to heaven."

MORE DEATHS PER MONTH? I was asked to offer prayer as the vigil concluded in candelight around 9:30 pm. Veterans for Peace holds such vigils at the 500 mark. The last vigil, marking 3,000 American deaths, was held on New Year's eve. Organizers noted that it seemed the rate of American deaths has increased in the last twelve months.

FOUR YEARS LATER. How many more lives will be lost in this senseless debacle? I stood on these same steps at Monument Circle four years ago before the war began. Those opposed to war and offering viable alternatives gathered in protest and prayer, hoping to persuade President Bush to avert war with Iraq. I was one of several advocates asked to speak to those gathered in freezing February temperatures; my 2003 speech is online. So, it was rather sobering to stand there last night, realizing all that has transpired in four years. Very sobering.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

REMAIN

The following thoughts came together for me around the word “remain” in John 15:4: “Remain in me and I will remain in you.” Another word for “remain” is “abide” or, as in The Message paraphrase by Eugene Peterson: “Live in me; make your home in me.”

Remain.
At first glance, remaining feels
static, inert, backward.
What is there to do but stay put?

Remain.
Will I be left behind?
Will the world pass me by?
Will I miss the action?

Remain:
Not an easy instruction for
anxious or active persons;
a foreign language to would-be
change agents.

Remain
when I want to run,
when I’m tempted to quit,
when I’m full of doubt,
when I feel utterly alone.

Remain
by the Fire,
in the Word,
with the Presence,
for sacred counsel.

Remain
until wherever we go
the Word remains in us,
moves with us.

Remaining,
we grow as the vine--
nourished from the soil,
reaching to the sun,
moving higher,
growing stronger,
bearing fruit.

For what do we remain?
On what do we wait?
And when we go, do we yet
remain?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

BICYCLING TO WORK

LEAVE THE CAR AT HOME. I've committed to ride my bicycle to work two days a week this summer. Today, it took me 45 minutes from 56th Street & Dandy Trail at Eagle Creek Park to West Morris Street & Pershing near downtown. The main route was in a southeast direction on Lafayette Road. This is a four-lane roadway with wide shoulders and turn lanes. Traffic was fine. I hauled my laptop computer, a book, and change of clothes in saddle bags. I listened to several editions of news podcasts on my iPod while I rode, having downloaded updates earlier this morning.

MORE TIME, LESS STRESS. Bicycling to work has trade-offs, to be sure. It takes more time. I usually make it to work from home in about 20-25 minutes via my VW Beetle. The bike ride took me 45 minutes at a brisk but not rushed pace. When I drive, I am usually harried by the time I get to the church, having combated offensive drivers and hair-brained maneuvers all along the way. I arrived refreshed and invigorated via bicycle. I have to consider time to take a shower on this end of the journey, as well as when I arrive home in the evening.

WHAT'S SAVED AND ADVANCED. I saved money by cycling to work today. Driving round trip would have consumed at least two gallons @ $3.40+ per gallon. Anything I can do to deny petroleum tycoons a bit of their bloated power makes me feel good. I spared the environment to some extent, and that makes me feel good. I demonstrated to others what is possible as an alternative to driving around on fossil fuel, and that makes me feel good. I also burned excess calories and exercised my cardiovascular system and promoted good health habits, and that makes me feel good.

MOBILITY INTENSITY. I have fewer options for immediate and short-trip mobility by cycling to work. My work requires me to be mobile--to go to hospitals and nursing homes and homes and meetings throughout the day. This is why I am working on clustering these road trips on the same days as much as possible. For instance, Monday and Wednesday are heavy on appointments away from the church office. I drive on Monday and Wednesday. Tuesday and Thursday are planned to be focused at the church facility as much as possible, so I can ride my bike to work on these days. If there is an emergency, I can use a church vehicle as necessary. Friday is my day of rest and recreation. I work at home in the morning, sending in documents for publication for Sunday via e-mail and get out of the house by mid morning. Saturday's a day of visiting, preparation for Sunday, and tying up loose ends. It is the most flexible day of the week. Sunday's a work day for me. I drive to the church early in the morning and I'm usually one of the last people to leave in the afternoon.

GET BEYOND EXCUSES: RIDE FOR GOOD. I'm convinced I and most Americans have too many really poor excuses for not bicycling for things other that pure recreation. We are soft and puny in comparison to commuters in other cultures. It does not make you tough to ride around in a big SUV; it makes you weaker and lamer by the day. We're playing a loser's game at the expense of the poor of the world. I observed thousands of people in India use a bicycle for everything other than recreation. Where there is a will there is a way. I'm sure I can find ways to ride my bike more usefully if I try. What are the possibilities for you? What excuses can you set aside? What barriers do you have the wherewithal and will to overcome?
THE FORWARD LOOK

It is in the forward look
that we are saved,
that life’s fullness overtakes us.

We are made to be dreamers,
strivers, imaginers,
hopers.

It is in the vision of the ideal
that we live:
a kingdom that shall come,
a community to be formed,
a promise to be fulfilled.

The horizon shapes present realities:
It is against the future that we may strive
or welcome its promise today.

Monday, June 4, 2007

APPROACHING 3,500

The American death toll in Iraq is approaching 3,500. This morning it stands, by at least one standard, at 3,494. When the death toll reaches 3,500, I intend to join Vietnam veteran and peace advocate Harold Donle and members of the local Veterans for Peace chapter, along with other advocates for peace on Monument Circle at 7:00 pm for prayer, a vigil, and bell-tolling for the loss of these American lives in Iraq. Anyone who wishes to express their grief and pray for change and peace is welcome to participate.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

WHAT PUTS RELIGIOUS LIBERTY AT RISK?

CONCERN FOR EXTREMIST RELIGION RENEWED. If network news media is any reliable measure--and it may well not be anything near a reflection of the sentiments of most Americans, who are much less alarmist and given to exaggeration than TV news producers--the arrest of men conspiring to plan to try to cause massive explosions at JFK International is raising new concerns about Islamic extremism within the United States.

YOUR HOMELAND SECURITY DOLLARS AT WORK. More accurately, the concerns aren't new but the specter of violence being seeded from within extremist Islamic communities within the United States is being given fresh attention in light of the interrupted plot. Parenthetically: give a cheer for Homeland Security working successfully at what it's supposed to be doing with the multiple billions of taxpayer dollars now allocated to it. Ask: what specific provisions, if any, in the Patriot Act were put to use to successfully foil this plot? Also ask: were the illegal citizen wiretaps authorized by the Bush Administration used or helpful in this case?

USING THE PULPIT TO FOMENT HATRED. Even before 9/11, I wrote in Grace Notes of my concerns about the words and tenor of hatred that I heard from the imam at a Kansas City-area mosque ten years ago. I confronted the cleric about the impact of his words and he blithely passed them off as harmless rhetoric. Looking back, I see that the words were neither rhetorical nor harmless. If faithful Muslims attended that imam's Friday prayers routinely over time, the only conclusion they could come away with was that America was the great Satan that intentionally insulted the Koran and must pay for this and many other of its sins.

ON WHAT PART OF HOLY SCRIPTURES SHALL WE EXHORT? I am convinced that the preservation of religious liberty in America--whether Islamic, Christian, Jewish, etc.--counts on the leaders of local synagogues, mosques, and churches interpreting, teaching, and applying the their holy scriptures in non-inflammatory ways. It is always possible to find and cite divisive and imflammatory portions of holy scriptures. The Bible provides all the fodder one would need, from a certain point of view, to justify slavery, racism, genocide, irrational nationalistic milatarism, and holy war. Historically, all these have been justified by Christian leaders. It is equally possible to cite and exhort on portions of the Bible and other sacred scriptures that not only counter these claims, but eclipse them with a clarion call to understanding, love, and neighborliness that is the very essence of humanness and godliness.

SEEDING A FUTURE OF RELIGIOUS-BASED VIOLENCE. There are localized cells and firebrand leaders within my own faith--evangelical Christianity--that embarrass me, to say the least. At a more ominous level, I am convinced some of these right-wing Christian groups represent a threat to the integrity of the Christian faith and are fomenting a future of religious-based civil violence in America. Most of these pastors and evangelists are irresponsible and not credible (some even laughable), but their ability to influence earnest people and foment a divisive and holy-violent world view is significant.

TAKE THE BEAM OUT OF YOUR OWN EYE. So, before we tar and feather extremist Islamic community leaders and run them out of town, maybe we should take a more critical look at Christian extremism in America. What world view is being preached? What toxic assumptions go unexamined and unchallenged? What suspicions are being played to? What fears are being fanned? What people are being labeled and blamed for problems? Who's described as being and doing "evil?" How are these "problems" or sinners to be addressed? And what is the church being shaped into? We've got a long way to go to clean up our own Christian household before anyone goes about straightening out those other guys.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

TO LOVE THE WORLD

"To believe in God is to believe in the salvation of the world. The paradox of our time is that those who believe in God do not believe in the salvation of the world, and those who believe in the future of the world do not believe in God."

"Christians believe in 'the end of the world,' they expect a final catastrophe, the punishment of others. Atheists in their turn invent doctrines of salvation, try to give meaning to life, work, the future of humankind, and refuse to believe in God because Christians believe in God and take no interest in the world. All ignore the true God: He who has loved the world! But which is the more culpable ignorance?"

"To love God is to love the world. To love God passionately is to love the world passionately. To hope in God is to hope for the salvation of the world."

"I often say to myself that, in our religion, God must feel very much alone: for is there anyone besides God who believes in the salvation of the world? God seeks among us sons and daughters who resemble him enough, who love the world enough that he could send them into the world to save it."

-- from In the Christian Spirit by Louis Evely


GETTIN' READY TO GO. I find Evely's quote compelling, arguable, and hopeful. I think back on all the "get ready to get out of here," "this ship is sinking; save yourself from it," "I'll fly away" end-times preaching, songs, books, tracts, prophesies, films, etc. that dominated my childhood spiritual formation. Everything focused on getting your own and others' souls ready for "The Great Escape." Things were bound to go from bad to worse and the upheavals of the 1960's provided ample evidence that things were spiraling out of control. "The End" could happen at any time, particularly in "the moment ye think not."

LOVE NOT THE WORLD. On the one hand, love for God translated, in part, into disgust with, separation from, and something like hatred for the material and social realities of the world as evidenced in the local community, national issues, and world events. 1 John 2:15-17 was our watchword. To be "worldly" meant to purchase beyond mere necessity, to get involved with, let oneself enjoy, or become nominally committed to almost anything that took attention, time or resources away from the church and its soul-saving mission. Love of money, entertainment and sports, in particular, took tough hits. And there was plenty of guilt to go around if you let on you might be unduly interested in them.

LOVING ROTTEN SINNERS. On the other hand, love for God translated, in part, into love for people. "Hate the sin; love the sinner" was oft repeated. Whatever other churches cared for (we weren't sure, but we suspected what they cared for was their buildings, their image, and the quality of their membership!), we cared for children who came from the other side of the tracks, for broken-hearted divorcees, for alcoholics and misfits of all sorts. We believed in a God who made no distinctions between people ("God is no respecter of persons") and before whom all people are rotten sinners in need of saving grace. We fully believed that soul salvation could change a person, turn their lives around in an instant.

GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD. Looking back, I don't think our lived, local theology and practice ever really attempted to bridge the gap between soul/spiritual/individual and material/physical/social. We never conceived of the "world" that God loved (John 3:16) as anything other than souls or people. Certainly it was not referring to nature or the environment or material well being or communities or societies or the principalities and powers and systems that exist in the world! Or was it?

BLATANTLY WORLDLY. I am not sure this 1960's-era holiness theology and worldview has changed much in forty years. We just don't talk in those terms anymore. Yet, either unwittingly or with a sleight of hand, we holiness folk have become, by our own standards, blatantly worldly. We have tax-sheltered retirement accounts, investment portfolios, and expensive toys for trivial entertainment. We waste inordinate amounts of time on ourselves. We imbibe in material luxuries that far exceed necessities. We still have a heart for the down-and-out and broken-hearted, though, by and large, they seem more distant and out of place in our facilities.

USING THE WORLD. All the while, we still haven't figured out that we are to love the world in terms of a comprehensive stewardship, in terms of addressing its systems, in terms of participating in its issues for the sake of understanding, leavening, and redeeming them. We don't love the world; we use it, exploit it and manipulate it--just like all those "worldly" people. We still haven't brought our understanding of the "Reign of God," or "Lordship," into the present time and our present "this worldly" challenges. So, Evely's quote is worth grappling with. May our love for God more and more translate into a passionate, sending and serving love for the world as well as the human beings that God loves.