Friday, August 31, 2007

HIGH COST OF CHEAPENED LABOR

HIGH COST OF CHEAPENED LABOR. The Labor Day weekend signals the end of summer. This week's news, however, has signaled a tough horizon for many citizens. The U. S. Census reported that 47 million Americans are now without any health care coverage--a new high. While there is a .3 percent dip in the number of Americans in poverty, 12.3% as an "acceptable" level of poverty is alarming. In addition, the sub-prime lending crisis, in which predatory and speculative lending combined with low-wage and unsteady employment among home-buyers, now threatens the stability of the global economy. This is a Labor Day holiday to remember the high cost of cheapened labor.

HOMELESSNESS BEGINS IN THE WORKPLACE. I can't help but connect Labor Day and labor issues to the challenge of homelessness. For many, homelessness begins in the workplace. Simply put: many workers can’t afford to live on the wages they receive. Does the community consider it an injustice when a minimum-wage laborer must work 82 hours a week to afford the average apartment in Indianapolis? Is the community concerned that many full-time workers cannot access affordable housing? Is it an acceptable ethical practice to build a business plan that counts on hiring most of one’s workforce only part-time to avoid paying benefits and fulfilling obligations required by law for full-time laborers, forcing workers into second and third jobs to try to get a roof over their heads?

ARE THESE OUR "HOOSIER VALUES?" These not-talked-about practices are “Hoosier values” that daily impact many homeless and near-homeless neighbors in Central Indiana. They fly in the face of a national survey that indicates 97% of Americans agree that every worker deserves a livable wage. Not high pay, not even union-leveraged incomes, just enough to afford housing and enjoy stability. But to listen to some local influence groups (like the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce), you’d think the idea of a livable wage was a sinister communist plot.

LOSING SOLIDARITY. Labor practices and livable wages--or a careless disregard for them--impacts the entire community and society. It has to do with our very sense of community. Robert Bellah, author of Habits of the Heart and The Good Society recently writes:

"We are facing trends, particularly downsizing and downgrading the work force, that threaten our basic sense of solidarity with others, solidarity with those near to us (loyalty to neighborhood, colleagues at work, fellow residents of our town or city), but also solidarity with those who live far from us, those who are economically in situations very different from our own, those of other nations."

WHAT WE CAN DO. All of us cannot work directly on the issue of homelessness. But all of us can advocate for and make available livable wage incomes for laborers wherever possible. Aside from unionization, there are various tools and approaches that can bring worker wages--particularly in the unskilled and service industries--into a range in which a person can afford to live on the income for which they labor. One tool is free or low-cost trades and technology education available to every worker or unemployed person desiring it. Another is a living wage covenant supported by communities for all companies doing business within their jurisdictions. Another is to upgrade the earned income or housing tax credit for folks whose incomes amount to less than 200% of poverty. These are just a few possibilities.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

POVERTY IN AMERICA - DECLINING? OR BECOMING MORE ENTRENCHED?

"SIGNIFICANT" DECLINE? COME ON! Yesterday's headlines from the Associated Press and other news outlets was that poverty in America declined "significantly" from 2005 to 2006. In reality, the drop was from 12.6% to 12.3% and it was the first drop after years of increases. A closer look at the U.S. Census information reveals not only the persistence of unacceptable levels of poverty, but that it is more entrenched than ever before. Read the article for yourself. Learn more about this report from the Census bureau.

SETTING A DISMAL TRAJECTORY. This one-year "drop" in poverty is nothing to cheer about, though the Bush Administration is doing just that. It is hypocritical, at best, for this Administration's near total abandonment of poverty-relieving programs and dribble of economic empowerment initiatives that direcly impact the poor (and that make sense) has set up a trajectory that ensures a steady increase in poverty for Americans into the foreseeable future.

INDIANA SINKS FURTHER. For Hoosiers, poverty continues to increase, as today's front-page story in the Indianapolis Star indicates. For all that Governor Mitch Daniels has savvily "fixed" with his crisp, corporate-style, can-do decisions and privatization policies, his administration is failing our state's poor individuals and families. If politics is about image casting and pandering to the privileged, Daniels is doing a great job. But if the measure of effectiveness is addressing the quality of life of the poorest and most vulnerable citizens (as I believe the bottom of line of politics should be), Daniels is ineffective. We--and he--can do better.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

THIS

"This" is a 1997 poem of the 1980 Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz. In this, the Pole confesses to an unmentioned backdrop, a silent but overwhelming reality, against which his endearing poetry and stories were for a lifetime written. I think of this in relationship to the newly released letters of Mother Teresa that reveal a 50-year long "dark night of the soul"--an inner spiritual experience of doubt and inner dryness lived simultaneous to an outward ministry of compassion that exemplified the very presence of Jesus. See my previous day's post: "Come Be My Light."

If I could at last tell you what is in me,
if I could shout: people! I have lied by pretending it was not there,
It was there, day and night.

Only thus was I able to describe your inflammable cities,
Brief loves, games disintegrating into dust,
earrings, a strap falling lightly from a shoulder,
scenes in bedrooms and on battlefields.

Writing has been for me a protective strategy
Of erasing traces. No one likes
A man who reaches for the forbidden.

I asked help of rivers in which I used to swim, lakes
With a footbridge over the rushes, a valley
Where an echo of singing had twilight for its companion.
And I confess my ecstatic praise of being
Might just have been exercises in the high style.
Underneath was this, which I do not attempt to name.

This. Which is like the thoughts of a homeless man walking in an alien city in freezing weather.

And like the moment when a tracked-down Jew glimpses the heavy helmets of the German police approaching.

The moment when the crown prince goes for the first time down to the city and sees the truth of the world: misery, sickness, age, and death.

Or the immobile face of someone who had just understood that he's been abandoned forever.

Or the irrevocable verdict of the doctor.

This. Which signifies knocking against a stone wall and knowing that the wall will not yield to any imploration.

Monday, August 27, 2007

COME BE MY LIGHT

A DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL...FOR 50 YEARS. This morning, a friend spoke of the profound impact an article in the most recent Time magazine had on him. So, I picked up the current issue with a photo of a pensive Mother Teresa on the cover and discovered what he was talking about. A new book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, contains unpublished letters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta to her confessors and counselors across many years. They reveal an inner life that was characterized by an absence of a feeling of the presence of Christ for 50 years. This is an extremely long experience of what St. John of the Cross described as a "dark night of the soul."

OUTWARD COMPASSION, INNER DRYNESS. This inner struggle is to be grasped in juxtaposition with her outward ministry of profound compassion and healing. While Mother Teresa is following through on her commitment to be Christ's hands and feet in serving the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, she is experiencing inner dryness. While she walks as a literal presence and beacon of "What Would Jesus Do" to the onlooking world, she is bearing an inner cross of the experience of absence. Even as she receives accolades for her persistent work among lepers and the dying, she not only shuns the praise but suffers as it echoes in the emptiness she feels.

LIVING FORWARDLY AMID DOUBT. Mother Teresa's life is apparently a testimony of perseverance and fulfillment of promise and devotion without the slightest inner reciprocation of divine affection. It is a life lived in Christian devotion amid the deepest doubts and heart anguish. Even the snippets of letters contained in the article reveal a Mother Teresa who is more real and more accessible to us than we ever thought. Instead of her compassionate work flowing out of experiences of ecstasy and constant assurance or repeated spiritual revelations, it flows out of a readiness to be and do what Christ asked her to do, day in-day out, year in-year out, without what most of us experience as basic spiritual assurance. Amid doubt, she still served.

HOW SHE WAS ABLE TO EXPERIENCE JESUS. Mother Teresa's experience makes her much more accessible to "ordinary" Christians, who experience such doubts and absence of "the glow" of God's presence more than they usually admit. Knowing that a so-called "saint" struggled with the very issues that so many others grapple with is both comforting and compelling. It is compelling that after accepting this extended spiritual trauma, she bore it with grace, all the while continuing to fulfill what she perceived to be an unequivocal calling to serve the Jesus that she was not able to experience in her heart but that she was able to experience in the poor.

Read the Time article here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

BICYCLE MOBILITY IN RWANDA

Recently, a family from our church moved to Rwanda for a year of medical missionary service. I asked them about the way bicycles are used in that part of the world. They sent me this photo and shared the following:

"This is a photo of a bike we saw at Kumbya. It belongs to the zamu (pronounced "zah-moo"), which means watchman or caretaker. I think you'd look pretty dandy riding this around Indy! It might slow you down some! We'll be on the look-out for other bike photo-ops."

"Bikes play an important role in the economy of Rwanda. Similar to India [where I spent January 2007 on a bike] almost anything can be transported on a bike. They are also the cheapest form of public transportation. The "drivers" wear green vests and stand up to pedal while the passenger sits on the seat. Sound like fun?"

"The next step up in public transportation is small motorcycles. They are big enough for 2 people to sit on and most people we've seen on them are wearing helmets. I thought that looked like a fun adventure to try until I thought of how many heads that helmet had been on!"

"For a bit more money, you can ride in a usually very crowded van, and for longer trips from town to town there are bigger buses. I guess I don't know the prices for all of these, but I'll have to find out."

Thanks, Dave and Kathy!

You can go to my Bicycle India 2007 blog to see lots of photos of the various ways bikes are used for basic mobility in India.

Anyone living beyond America who cares to tell me a bit about the way bicycles are used in your neck of the woods? Send a bike photo and 'splain it to me, Lucy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

SOLITUDE AND RELATIONSHIPS

"Without solitude there can be no real people. The more you discover what a person is, and experience what human relationship requires in order to remain profound, fruitful, and a source of growth and development, the more you discover that you are alone, and that the measure of your solitude is the measure of your capacity for communion."

"The measure of your awareness of God’s transcendent call to each person is the measure of your capacity for intimacy with others. If you do not realize that the persons to whom you are relating are each called to an eternal transcendent relationship that transcends everything else, how can you relate intimately to another at his or her center from your center?"

-- Henri Nouwen in The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery (Doubleday, 1976)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

DANIEL - SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER

TOO FAMILIAR. The story of Daniel is too familiar to some of us Bible brats. We heard it so often as a child and adolescent that we think we know it. Daniel in the lions den, his three friends in the fiery furnace, interpreting that handwriting on the wall--these are stories that make Daniel memorable. And irrelevant. "Yeah, I know that one," I say in my head even as someone mentions any instance of Daniel.

FRESH PERSPECTIVE. In reality, I don't know his story very well. In fact, I have not studied the book of Daniel seriously as an adult. When I did read this Old Testament account last week, I was struck by his life, circumstances, and witness with fresh perspective. Here is no children's storybook hero, but a refugee who is persecuted for his faith and yet able to speak redemptive truth to the most powerful leaders of his day. How could I have presumed I knew all there was of value in this story for so long?

LINGERING APPLICATIONS. I made the following cursory observations about Daniel as I revisited his life and witness after all these years. Within each one is a boatload of applications for daily personal living as well as global challenges.

1. Being apprehended by Grace and thoroughly embracing the way of Life precedes any redemptive influence our lives may have. Long before Daniel has the opportunity to speak truth to power, he settled the issue of personal faith and integrity. In fact, it is because as a youth he "resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine" and determined to reserve his ultimate allegiance to God that he is blessed to find himself, much further down the road, in a place of influence.

2. Power needs truth spoken to it if wisdom, justice, and grace is to be witnessed and realized in the world. Authority, in Daniel's case, is corrupt and irrational. His king expects the impossible and metes out retribution abusively. He doesn't think straight and the policies that serve his sense of power hurt many people. Sound familiar? I think of Rosa Parks' simple but profound statement to power when she refused to give up her seat on that Montgomery, Alabama bus. If justice was to be realized, ready or not, someone had to speak truth to power. Otherwise, corruption and abuse continues and even strengthen its hand.

SPEAKING TO IRRATIONALITY. I, for one, have been repeatedly baffled at the irrationality of our nation's leadership since 9/11. I think also of many irrational, corrupting or oppressive directives, policies, or accepted norms in our nation and world that beg to be confronted with truth and addressed with wisdom: "acceptable" levels of poverty, blaming the poor, unlivable wages, unaffordable health care, pandering to the richest, human trafficking, throw-away children, and militarism as a nation’s leading virtue, for starters. I'm thankful for those who speak to power regarding these moral challenges. I want to hear the voices of evangelical Christians in these more and more.

3. The God of truth is greater than any earthly power or persons with power over people or outcomes. Because he believes in and appeals to a higher power than the current regime or traditional practices or accepted norms or predominant policies, Daniel is able to envision and articulate an alternative outcome to the foregone conclusions that are apparent. There is a reality and promise beyond what is developed and portrayed through the political system. This is something people of faith must never forget or yield.

FIVE GRACEFUL RESPONSES. Confident that God’s truth and reality is greater and more gracious, I can readily envision five ways are we free to speak grace into relationships, institutions, and dominions:
- In response to offense: forgiveness trumps revenge and retaliation
- In response to misdeeds: redemptive action trumps mere punishment
- In response to discord: reconciliation trumps estrangement, division, and isolation
- In response to the vulnerable: compassion trumps “live and let die,” whether by policy, ignorance, or neglect
- In response to threats: creative wisdom trumps brute force, militarism, and using violence as a legitimate response to perceived evil

4. When you are given opportunity to speak truth to power, do so with awe, creativity, and in the very Spirit of Jesus. Daniel's responses to challenges and threats begin with prayer, reflect his thoughtfulness and imagination, and are carried out with the highest possible impact. As I think of it, the very spirit in which he responded and acted reflected the integrity and character of the God he worshiped.

WISDOM AND IMAGINATION. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas says that those who advocate peaceful responses to violence and evil are not effective not because they are not right, but because they are neither very thoughtful nor very creative. To offer a more compelling response to violence than the ancient pageantry and "shock and awe" of militarism, nonviolent practitioners must think and act more imaginatively. I would add that we must do so in very Spirit of Jesus.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

FIVE SOCCER GAMES IN SIX DAYS

You know the school year is underway and "summer" is history when you attend five high school soccer games within six days. Molly's played two varsity games. Ben Davis defeated Plainfield 5-0 on Monday and lost to Brownsburg 0-2 on Tuesday (Brownsburg may be headed to State, based on what I witnessed). Sam's Pike JV team won its first game on Wednesday over West Lafayette and downed both Lawrence North and Carmel JV teams this evening. Both Molly and Sam played with intensity and contributed well to their respective teams' effort.

Friday, August 17, 2007

MINING AND NEEDLESS TRAGEDIES

IN EVERY GENERATION. I grew up in West Virginia and counted the children of coal miners as friends. I know some of these church camp chums have now been toiling in the dark shafts and underground tunnels of Logan County for the balance of their lifetimes. Every generation sends a fresh batch of its hearty youth--motivated by who knows what--deep into the earth to mine the ores that keep us warm, that power our industries, that build our empires.

BEYOND NAMELESS NOBODIES. I've been thinking of my West Virginia friends as I've followed the developing story from Utah, a tragedy made more tragic now by the deaths of three rescuers (likely fellow miners) who were trying to get to six miners--dead or alive, we do not know--trapped by a mine collapse for over a week. I've been imagining each of these fellows as one of those colorful camp kids from Logan. He's not a nameless miner dulled by years of doggedly digging into a mountain to harvest black gold, aware of some risk but numbed by the monotony. He's an athlete, he's a musician, he's a God-seeker. He's a fun-lover, he's a prankster, he's an outspoken instigator. He's every one of us...but trapped in more ways than we can imagine.

NECESSARY AND UNNECESSARY RISKS. Unless you and I are willing to go into mines ourselves, we owe every miner respect and the best possible guarantee that reasonable safety measures are federally mandated and that every mining company manager is practicing a safety first protocol. Though there's never been a safer time in which to practice mining, miners are always at risk. The degree of reasonable risk depends on the type of mining they're doing. But the difference between reasonable risk and unnecessary risk has to do with the tone, expectations, and practices of the mining company, local managers, and the team of miners. So far, we don't know much about any of this at the Utah site.

TOUGH TALK, DANGEROUS RHETORIC. So far, I don't hear the press asking poignant questions of the Utah coal mining company that employed the trapped miners. Perhaps the press is waiting until the miners' fate is clearly known. But as of now the mining company owner and his associates don't seem to be telling a very straight or clear story regarding the cause of the collapse, the type of mining being practiced, and the exact manner in which "retreat mining" was being conducted. Could his tough talk and "get 'em out at all costs" rhetoric have influenced the rescuers to take undue risks, too?

DANCING FOR THE CAMERAS? I see this guy on TV repeatedly, I hear his words, I observe his tone of response to questions, I see his demonstrations of rescue procedures, and I wonder if I am seeing a coal cowboy who needs to be asked very pointed questions and held to very precise answers. I wonder how loose a ship he's run. As often as his mines have been cited for violations, I wonder why regulations have been winked at, put off, or ignored. The fact that he has been unable to satisfy the questions and concerns of the miners' families is a critical issue. Are his words and antics a great act intended to draw attention away from the most obvious questions and issues at stake? I wonder.

FOR WHOSE SAKE? I wonder for the sake of my old pals back in Logan, West Virginia. I wonder for the sake of the families of the trapped miners and fallen and wounded rescuers in Utah. I wonder for the sake of my own integrity and complicity as I turn on a coal-powered electric light tonight. I won't have the privilege of asking the mine operator my questions. I'm counting on a diligent press and honest government agency leaders to help us get answers and, beyond that, uphold right practices.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

FORGET

NOBEL LAUREATE. I picked up New and Collected Poems by Polish Nobel laureate (1980) Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004) from the Pike library a few days ago. It's a thick volume and I'm slowly picking my way through it. I'm also trying to learn of Milosz and his context of writing.

EASTERN EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVE. Milosz' life spans an incredible period in European, Polish and American cultural and political life. His life context is full of tragedy, earlier, and hope, much later. Poland moved from the grip of militant Nazism into a long night of militant Communism. Eastern Europeans have a very different view of the events of the 1930's, 40's, 50's, and 60's than Americans who came to middle adulthood in this period. The toll on naive faith is heavy. But the eventual emergence of "hope against hope" and a seasoned, cautious--if not jaded--faith perspective is evident in this short poem.

Forget the suffering
You caused others.
Forget the suffering
Others caused you.
The waters run and run,
Springs sparkle and are done,
You walk the earth you are forgetting.

Sometimes you hear a distant refrain.
What does it mean, you ask, who is singing?
A childlike sun grows warm.
A grandson and a great-grandson are born.
You are led by the hand once again.

The names of the rivers remain with you.
How endless those rivers seem!
Your fields lie fallow,
The city towers are not as they were.
You stand at the threshold mute.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

WOUNDED, HEALING

Molly took this picture of Abby and me at our "final summer family gathering" last Friday night. When I saw it, I thought of how temporary these internal breaks are and how relatively short a time this torso brace will support me. All summer long! In the course of things, this bit of suffering is but a moment. "Our light and momentary afflictions..." But there are other kinds of wounds and breaks that take much longer to recognize, comprehend, understand and heal. That set me to a bit of reflecting...

Most of our wounds are not so obvious
as a gash that opens the skin
or a break that requires a cast
or a disfiguring scar that
lingers a lifetime.

Most of our wounds bypass the surface
and pierce the heart
and impact our psyche,
strike at our soul.

Outwardly imperceptible injuries
distort self-image,
diminish a sense of the future,
break or bend the will,
starve imagination,
distort reality,
enslave to comparisons,
mis-authorize control,
create pain.

Does outward appearance
matter so much more
when inward wounds
fester and distort?
If only we can look well
we may become well?
If only our surroundings--
our labor and achievements,
our associations--can commend us,
we will be well?

We look on the outward appearance,
but God sees thru the heart,
and invites us to this view, too.
And whatever we dare to see,
to see as it is,
to name as we can,
to ask to be healed,
is bathed in divine love.

We heal from the inside out,
miraculously and naturally,
instantly and ever so slowly;
tuning into the corpus of grace
as best we can,
as far as we dare,
as much as we care.

Healing continues for a lifetime.
Inner wounds close
one layer after another.
Still, we are ever being wounded
and ever mending,
ever breaking, ever healing.

So, let every sub-surface injury
be lifted to the Wounded Healer
in trust that not a hurt
goes unseen, unheard, unfelt,
that no prayer for healing
goes unanswered.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

WORLD'S OLDEST PERSON AT HOME IN INDIANA

FROM SECOND TO FIRST. Until a woman from Japan died on Monday, Edna Parker of Shelbyville, Indiana, had been the second oldest person in the world. Now, according the folks who maintain the Guinness Book of World Records, Edna has the distinction of being the oldest person on the planet at 114 years.

In the photo, Edna is shown with Sandy Allen, the world's tallest woman (7'7"), who also lives in Shelbyville, Indiana.

MORGAN COUNTY BRED. Edna was born on April 20, 1893 in Morgan County. According to the WRTV story, she lives at the Heritage House Convalescent Center in Shelbyville, just a few miles southeast of Indianapolis. She was born in Morgan County, grew up on a farm, graduated from Franklin College, taught school, married, and served on her family farm. She's five feet tall, weighs 70 pounds, and is completely mobile.

IF I LIVE TO BE 114. So our youngest son, Sam, is 14; Edna is 100 years older than Sam. Edna was well into retirement by the time I was born. If I live to be 114 years old, that will be 2073. That's 66 years from now! Will Social Security, my pension, and those retirement accounts hold out? I'd better re-figure! And what breakthroughs will change lifestyles and patterns of living over the next 66 years? I can't wait to see!

THE SECRET? I imagine Edna's about to be inundated with unsought-for attention. What's the secret, Edna? Is it Indiana? Is it faith? Is it luck? Did you take risks or avoid them? Did you plan this or just happen on to it? Did you smoke, drink alcohol, gamble, or avoid such vices? How'd you do it? What do you recommend? What wisdom can you impart to the rest of us? And I can imagine Edna doesn't have time for such foolishness. She's satisfied with living the life she's been given to live...one day at a time.
CAN'T PREACH RESPONSIBILITY
"There is such an enormous gap between our words and deeds! Everyone talks about freedom, democracy, justice, human rights, and peace; but at the same time, everyone, more or less, consciously or unconsciously, serves those values and ideals only to the extent necessary to defend and serve his own interests, and those of his group or his state. Who should break this vicious circle? Responsibility cannot be preached: it can only be borne, and the only possible place to begin is with oneself." -- Vaclav Havel

Monday, August 13, 2007

LAST GATHERING OF THE SUMMER

HOME FOR THE SUMMER. It's been great having all our kids at home this summer. It's a privilege we didn't know we'd ever again enjoy. The house has been full of life and laughter. We shared dinner out one last time Friday evening and snapped this photo--one freeze frame in a dynamic and developing drama of life.

PACE QUICKENS. Now things start getting crazy. On Saturday, Abby left for soccer camp in Michigan, Jared begins coaching in Illinois in a week, Molly started back to school today and has the season opener this evening, and Sam starts at Pike tomorrow. From this point forward, the pace quickens and we just hang on for a few months of daily craziness. What fun!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

YOU SAY "GOODBYE" AND I SAY "HELLO"
A few reflections on professional cycling since the Tour de France

BTW - This is just stuff I pick up on by casually paying attention to a few online cycling news sites every few days or so. I'm no cycling expert, just an amateurish cycling and Tour de France enthusiast.

THE END OF DOPING IN CYCLING IN SIGHT? Believe it or not, the revelations of a few dopers in this year’s Tour de France (Alexandre Vinokourov, Cristian Moreni, Iban Mayo) went a long way to drain doping of its viability even for the stealthiest of cyclists. It’s become harder and harder to dope under the radar (Michael Rasmussen left the TdF "guilty by avoidance" of pre-race anti-doping tests). Doping’s also become unacceptable to more and more cyclists and teams. High profile doping exposures have toppled some once-thought great riders (Ivan Basso, Tyler Hamilton, Jan Ullrich). I won’t be surprised if a few more recognizable riders are implicated and banned. In the long run, cycling is cleaning up its act in a strong move toward integrity. Let's see some American-oriented sports do the same (MLB, NFL, etc.).

DISCOVERY CHANNEL TEAM SUNSETS. The team that Lance Armstrong built, that won the Tour de France 8 of the past 9 years, that won the Tour de France this year and placed two riders on the podium in Paris, will call it quits at the end of this season. Tailwind sports had U.S. Postal Service as its main sponsor until four years ago, when Discovery Channel picked up the $45 million + per year tab. Discovery Channel announced in February that it is ending its sponsorship and team leaders have been unsuccessful in finding a new American or international sponsor. So, the only American-based team in the elite Pro Tour cycling circuit is gone. Sigh! So, 27 of the world’s best cyclists, including a number of Americans, will be looking for jobs come October.

HELLO, SLIPSTREAM! The good news is that another American-based team is on the horizon. Former top-notch cyclist Jonathan Vaughters, a Tour de France veteran, has been coaching and building Team Slipstream to European-level respect. He’s signed American Tour de France veterans David Zabriskie and Christian VandeVelde, along with Scotsman David Millar. Other internationally-respected riders are lining up. Importantly, Team Slipstream has established model anti-doping procedures and ethical guidelines that will likely become a model for all of professional cycling--something that is critical for the future of competitive cycling. Team Slipstream may eventually fill the void left by Discovery Channel in ProTour competition. We may even see Slipstream at next year’s Tour de France!

VUELTA a ESPANA, ANYONE? Anyone up for one more cycling epic this year? The Vuelta a Espana begins September 1st. That is, the Tour of Spain. The triple crown of road cycling includes the Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy), the Tour de France, and the Vuelta a Espana. All are three-week epics that include the elements of bike racing we witnessed in the Tour de France—grueling time trials, breathtaking breakaways, epic climbs, harrowing bunch sprints, terrible crashes, incredible beauty, and great fans. All are ultimate tests for the complete cyclist, pushing the limits of human capability. Unfortunately, the tours of Italy and Spain are not available on American TV. But they can be followed with online TV (http://www.cycling.tv/) and by live minute-by-minute updates on http://www.cyclingnews.com/ or http://www.velonews.com/. Also, unfortunately, the Giro and Vuelta are somewhat less of an international field; they tend to feature and favor sons of their own respective nations.

SPAIN IN SEPTEMBER. Historically, the greatest winners of the Tour de France also raced--and won--the tours of Italy and Spain, riders like Bernard Hinault and Jacque Anqetil. But as the demands of today’s racing have increased (speed averages, degrees of difficulty), the toll of riding all three epics prevents most top riders from attempting all three. Lance Armstrong never attempted to win the tours of Spain or Italy, focusing, instead, only on the crown jewel of cycling. I wonder if Alberto Contador, a son of Spain and this year’s Tour de France winner, will try to ride and win the Vuelta? Find out more about the Vuelta here or go to my Tour de France blog for links to the Vuelta a Espana: http://tdf-bikehiker.blogspot.com/. I don't think I'll blog the Vuelta daily, but I hope to offer a few updates and highlights, particularly if an American is among the contenders.

SEPTEMBER: MY OWN RETURN TO BIKING. Personally, I hope to be back on my own bike in September. All summer, I have been jealous even of kids on banana-seat bikes in our neighborhood. But an MRI on September 5 will determine whether or not my torso torture chamber--er, brace--comes off and I am cleared to move toward physical re-conditioning. I have a goal of riding the Hilly Hundred in October, so that will just give me about a month to tune up. The Hilly is not a race, of course, but it is 100 miles of plenty of heart-pumping climbs around southern Indiana. It's a fun ride over two days and manageable by most half-serious cyclists. Get in on it at http://www.cibaride.org/.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

TWO HOME GROWN EXPRESSIONS OF "THE UPSIDE DOWN KINGDOM"

NOT LOOKING FAR. I don't have to look far for expressions of "grace between the lines" or the "upside down kingdom." Two home grown examples in Indianapolis immediately come to mind: Recycle Force and Rebuilding the Wall. These two non-profit start-ups are responding to real personal, neighborhood and community concerns with a creative, passionate focus.

WORKING WITH EX-FELONS. Recycle Force, Inc. targets to employ hard-to-employ ex-felons. Recycle Force deconstructs old computers and recycles the fine parts for resale to industry. Employees are paid a living wage and encouraged and counseled toward better employment and whole-life living. It's a win-win. I wish Recycle Force had been around all those days I worked with ex-felons, fresh out of the penitentiary, who came to Horizon House desperately seeking work and who, finding none, returned to familiar patterns of survival. Learn about Recycle Force, Inc. via their website. What other opportunities can be created and reserved for ex-felons that will help them begin a new life?

IT'S NOT ABOUT THE HOUSE. If I say that Rebuilding the Wall, Inc. is about rehabbing homes to sell to local urban neighborhood families, Chris Province, RTW's passionate and innovative director, will set me straight. Okay, so RTW DOES rehab homes within a specific Indianapolis neighborhood and local families DO purchase and dwell in them. But it's not about rehabbing homes for Chris and Mary, his wife (a gifted MSW social worker who once-upon a time served on staff at the community center I directed). It's about community and it's about relationships. To be more specific:

"The mission of Rebuilding the Wall, Inc. is to stabilize and empower
low-income families by renovating vacant inner city properties and giving
the families the opportunity for home ownership. We combat social injustice
by building relationships across racial and socio-economic barriers; and we
stabilize community by the recycling of resources within the neighborhood. "


With a proven track record and a complete commitment to its mission, RTW is en effort worthy of volunteer and investor involvement. Explore Rebuilding the Wall's website to get directly involved.

WHAT WE CAN DO. I will continue to name home grown examples of "the upside down kingdom." I do this because too often we either (a) are not aware of these grass roots efforts in our backyard, or (b) are so focused wringing our hands about seemingly intransigent national and global issues that we overlook what God's grace is making possible in the micro close to home. It will take a while to end poverty; but an ex-felon in Indy might be employed today if you will recycle your old computer. And you may be changed forever through your brief involvement with an RTW relationship and build effort.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A CONFESSION OF LOVE

THERE, I’VE SAID IT. I have a confession to make: I love the church. There, I’ve said it. Anyone surprised? Seriously: I love the church. I’m not sure what all that means; trying to unpack such a statement is a challenge.

WHOLE OR PART? It’s not a matter of WHICH church or any singular expression of it in particular that I love. I can no more specifically locate my love than St. Paul could when he wrote: “Christ loved the church…” Whole or part? Persons or institution? Seen or unseen? Historic or contemporary? Pure or corrupt? Magnanimous or petty? Conservative or liberal? High or low? Global or local? Big or small?

A SPIRITUAL EMBODIED REALITY. “I love the church” is contrasted to such statements as: “I loathe the church,” “I disdain church,” “I don’t believe in the church,” or “I’m not sure the church has much to offer.” On the contrary, I think there is a historically present, spiritual reality embodied in the collective lives and communities of faith with which the world reckons, which includes me in spite of my fitful reticences, and which is moved—albeit minutely—by my struggles and witness.

IN SPITE OF IDIOSYNCRASIES. I think “love” is the right word to use. “Endure” doesn’t get at what I mean. Neither does “agree with.” But love is the context of both the Gospel and community. One can love the church even when one cannot respect certain expressions of the church or give assent to skewed assertions. Love abides in spite of idiosyncrasies or foibles on either my part or the churches’.

SELF-DEFENSIVE AND CRITICAL. I realize that within the context of bikehiker blog, I am both self-defensive and critical of the church. The Good News and hope that issue from it—and that it occasionally actually embodies—seems to me to have the greatest potential for personal transformation and community vitality. This does not excuse or diminish the sins of the church or somehow serve as a justifier of the church as an authoritarian institution. Its struggle with idolatry is great and continuous.

TRYING TO CHANGE THE CHURCH. Frequently I have fits of trying to change the church, to somehow save it. I find parts of it very difficult to accept. I grieve over its smugness, its sense of social superiority, its aloofness from the larger community, its “right makes might” assertions, and, yes, its sins. I try to remind it of its other sides, believing that embracing its shadows can be healthy and that attending to neglected or forgotten aspects of its mission can brighten and purify its light. More often than not, the church resists my overtures.

ACCEPTED BY THE CHURCH. Someday I may realize just how much it means that the church has accepted me. I have felt the pain of its judgments and misjudgments, to be sure. But I also receive graces borne by the church—graces such as love, acceptance, and forgiveness. Its Word and table orient me in the world and whatever significance I have in the universe issues from the open invitation to Eucharist.

STILL SERVING. For all my reservations, you will find me serving the church, attending its public services of worship, supporting its financial needs, trying to embody its local and global mission, and offering prayers for its survival, renewal, and ultimate presentation before Christ as what he gave himself for it to be: “holy and blameless.”

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

PRAY THE NEWS

INTERACTIVE SITE. I appreciate the creative and highly useful website of the Carmelites of Indianapolis. Their site, called "Pray the News," offers interactive ways to participate with them in their intercession regarding events local and global.

MINDFULNESS. Their "course to mindfulness" is quite engaging. I can imagine that this site can be very helpful to anyone, especially to those who have all but abandoned prayer or reduced it--or have had it reduced for them--to a dull routine.

PODCASTS. The sisters have also ventured into podcasting, with a few podcasts available on their http://www.praythenews.com/ site.

NEWSPAPER & BIBLE. I can't remember which theologian recommended that we pray with the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other. These folks have taken that rather seriously, focused their efforts, and made available a resource everyone can use.

Monday, August 6, 2007

TO BE A PARENT

Today, I ran across the following reflection that I wrote a few years ago, when our oldest child, Abby, was in middle school and our youngest child, Sam, was entering elementary levels. Abby and Jared are now at University (Abby's a Senior) and Molly and Sam are in high school. I continue to be fascinated by each of them and with my role in their individually unique lives. Even though I have more time and terrain within my experience since writing this piece, I still approach this privilege and these relationships with awe.


What does it mean to be a parent?
With each new day I enter
personally unexplored territory;
I am still trying to chart the terrain.
But I am learning and living into it.

It means to fix my child's well-being
prominently in my mind, time, and action.
To endear and win him.
To discover what lies in her;
discern his possible trajectories.
To challenge her;
to urge him toward his best.
To enthusiastically champion her
and vehemently defend him.

It means to be sensitive to his independence;
to respect her pride,
and, through it all, to not get in her way.
To distinguish between my own needs
and his.
To cultivate confidence.
To find a way to talk with, not at;
to be quick to listen.
To find a way to reduce the heat of conflict
and correct for training amid calm waters.

It means to be aware that my child watches,
hears, notices, and senses my
words, moods, and moves.
What I am, what I do, what I value,
influences, as much as anything, her life.

It means to demonstrate value for the mystery
into which I have entered.
To try prepare him for a future that is beyond me.
To try to root her in the best of history.
To try to be faithful and authentic in the
present generation.

To be a parent means, at least, these things.
It means, in a word, to love my children.
And, desiring for them far beyond what it is
within my ability to give, to pray.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

HOWARD THURMAN ON HATRED

VOICE OF WISDOM. Howard Thurman is a voice of wisdom. I am always moved by his simplicity and insight. When he died in 1981, Thurman was Dean Emeritus of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, though most of his ministry was in San Francisco. He authored more than twenty books. The African-American Quaker’s work is becoming more readily available through online resources. The following meditation comes from his book, The Growing Edge (1956, Friends United Press, Richmond, Indiana) in the section titled, “Concerning Enemies.”

TAKING ROOT. “Hatred has its own morality, its own private life, its own source of nurture, its own evolution. Sometimes it begins in a quiet shimmer of resentment, just a quiver that moves through the spirit as one faces something that does violence to his inner sensibility. But it grows. It begins to establish its root system and its trunk system until it takes the form of hostility…”

REINFORCING SOURCE. “Hatred is an organism. It cannot be exorcised by generous quotation, by wooing the love of another. For hatred, again and again, in individual life and in the collective life of man, becomes one of the very terrifying sources for reinforcing and validating the personality.”

SOURCE OF SIGNIFICANCE. “It serves often to support the sagging self-respect that an individual has when he finds himself in an environment that is overwhelming, and against which he has no protection. He retreats within himself; burrows out a hole in which to live, and takes cover; his hatred, bitter and terrible, gives him endurance. It puts cunning in his mind. It explores hidden resources of his personality. It affirms his significance, the clues to which had been obliterated by the evil with which he was trying to cope.”

SOURCE OF SELF-RESPECT. “In this evolutionary process, hatred becomes one of the sources of our pride when all other sources have disappeared. It becomes a source of self-respect when no amount of projection can locate any other spot upon which self-respect may land and be nurtured and sustained. This is an important act in the drama of human life. What can we do about it?"

POSITIVELY DESTRUCTIVE. “There is a most important similarity between hate and love. Both are positive; but hatred is positive and destructive, while love is positive and creative…”

SEEK THE CAUSE. “One has to deal with hatred. First, I must seek to discover the kind of gentle wisdom that enables me to see my hatred in a causal perspective… The hated one is ever a victim of the predicament of his life. This does not excuse him, but it helps me understand him."

SEEING MYSELF. “Second, I recognize that I am not without guilt. The vision of God enables me to see that the roots of the hatred are in me also. When I look into the eyes of a violent man, I see myself. The moment I do this, a miracle takes place. The first fruit of hatred is isolation, and now my isolation is broken. Once more both my enemy and I stand in immediate candidacy to become members of the family."

POISONED SOUL. “Hatred is destructive but positive. If hatred finally destroys the individual, it is because an evil that operated on the outside shifts its basis of operation from outside to inside. When that happens, the soul of man is poisoned. May God have mercy on his predicament."

SOUL-SEARCHING. Thurman might have been describing the journey of a person (or a people) seeking to move beyond hatred to love in relationship to civil rights. But he might as well be talking to us today about the current focus of hatred…on an Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein. Does his description of the evolution of hatred apply? Are we and our leaders taking the soul-searching steps to put a face on our enemy and identify our own violence? Dare we ignore this process and simply de-face and destroy our enemies? And, in doing so, will what we have done bring an end--or significant measurable reduction--to hatred and violence to ourselves or to our world?

Saturday, August 4, 2007

WHERE I'VE BEEN THIS WEEK

VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL. I've not blogged much this week because I had a volunteer commitment that involved three hours each evening, Monday thru Friday. I served as a storyteller during the Vacation Bible School that WEMO hosted in our inner-city neighborhood. As creatively as I could, I told a different Bible story each night. Each evening, I had four half-hour sessions back-to-back with anywhere from 8 to 15 children ranging from age 9 to 13. I was but one of over 40 volunteers who set aside their evening leisure time for five straight days for the sake of contributing to VBS and investing in the lives of over 100 children.

CAN I CONNECT WITH KIDS? I consider it a test of my wits and credibility to be able to connect with kids. If I'm not sharp, they know it. If I go over their heads, it's immediately obvious. If I talk below their developmental stage, it's clear. Finding the right range and then working the full range of awareness and capacity within just one diverse group of students is an interesting challenge. By midweek, I felt like I was hitting my stride. I mixed up the storytelling with interaction and some application and review games. They were remembering the main point of the previous evening's story. Now, I pray they will take it to heart and put it into practice.

WHEN WE PULL TOGETHER. VBS is the largest annual team effort within our congregation. It's a week when more people set aside their preferences and personal schedules and pull together than any other. No doubt our folks are exhausted today. They will be exhausted, but also energized and encouraged because of the week. We won't be asking for such an intense commitment of volunteer time for awhile. But we're convinced this is one important expression of our care and our faith in our community. As a pastor, it's a week I appreciate and applaud.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

CHILDREN TEACH US TO BE HOSPITABLE

HOSPITALITY AND CHILDREN. I recently reviewed Families at the Crossroads by Rodney Clapp (IVP, 1993). I was impressed by his perspective on parenting. In a society in which birthing and rearing children does not seem to make much economic or consumer sense, Clapp asks Christians "Why do we have children?" His assertion: "Christians have children so we can become the kind of people who welcome strangers."

OUR CHILDREN, OUR TEACHERS. After tracing the bold threads of the history of Israel, the story of Jesus, and the life of the early church that put hospitality to strangers as central to spiritual formation and Godly practice, Clapp observes: "Christian parenthood, then, is practice in hospitality, in the welcoming and support of strangers. Welcoming the strangers who are our children, we learn a little about being out of control, about the possibility of surprise (and so of hope), about how strange we ourselves are. Moment by mundane moment--dealing with rebellion, hosting birthday parties, struggling to understand...--we pick up skills in patience, empathy, generosity, forgiveness..."

OPEN TO THE STRANGEST STRANGER OF ALL. He continues: "And all these are transferrable skills, skills we can and must use to welcome other strangers besides our children. We become better equipped to open ourselves to strangers, especially to those strangers who are not our children but our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet, finally, and most importantly, gaining courage to meet and love our children as strangers give us courage to welcome the strangest stranger of them all--the God who meets us in Israel and Jesus Christ."