Thursday, January 31, 2008


Even as Kenya errupts in a convulsion of ethnic violence and the wars and suicide bombings in Afghanistan and Iraq continue, each snuffed-out life cries out in testimony. I make this reflection out of my appreciation Gil Baillie's Violence Unveiled and my confidence that nonviolence is the certain path into a grace-full future.

We've turned a corner
from which we can't retreat:
We've seen ourselves and
all other human beings
as individuals, each with
infinite soul and worth.

What Jesus opened up and
the Enlightenment recovered
cannot now be put back
in the box for the sake of
countering chaos or controlling
this unruly leader or that
unwieldy populace.

You are as important as me.
They are as valuable as we.
Though some try not to believe,
self-evident truth reveals
the image of the Creator
stamped on us all.

Still, armies amass and weapons
strike with a surgical precision
that nonetheless snuff out
the individual lives of suspected
and unsuspecting alike.

War is a relic of antiquity,
a hold-over from an age
when all were expendable
for the sake of the whole,
when the victor's ballad
was written in the blood of
friend and foe, a symphony
soured by its disregard
for the value of one.

When one mattered less
as one, when one mattered
more as a thing, a tool, a pawn--
however patriotically proclaimed--
war could be waged eye for eye
and tooth for tooth.

But the Cross closed that chapter
and Resurrection opened the next--
when one suffered for all and
redeemed the life of even one,
when one life burst forth with
love to grace every last one.

And each life was lifted beyond
the pale of mere existence;
the simplest, the lowest, the basest
was exalted and restored--
never to be cast aside or
undistinguished in the masses.

And even though we demand
blood vengeance in the face
of our own losses, vengeance
no longer satisfies the heart;
though justice be done, justice
no longer is served.

In our killing, we surely
poison our own souls; living,
we slowly die by our own sword.
Our warring seeds the earth
with a billion broken particles
that cry out each to God.

But God would hear--
and will surely respond--
if but one in a billion
called out to heaven.
It is in one and for one
God turns the universe.

Dare we lay our weapons down
while others still breathe
a deathly past? Unless we do,
we shall not live the future
into which we are drawn,
nor make it possible for others.
January 31, 2007 - somewhere in northern Madya Pradesh

ANCIENT & FUTURE. On the one hand, India seems incredibly ancient. One gets the sense that life in the villages has not changed much in thousands of years. On the other hand, India seems to leap-frogging into the 21st century with breathtaking speed and agility. There is ample evidence of a storied history that lives in the present. There are also signs everywhere of an emergence as a post-modern nation.

ON THE MOVE. While traditional ways prevail in villages and small towns, even there, in the faces and lives of children and youth, a very different future can be seen taking shape. Children on the move to schools, to higher levels of technical training and into the cities were a constant reality throughout our 2,000-mile bicycle tour from Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu to the government center in New Delhi one year ago.

ON A THRESHOLD. It remains to be seen what shape India's future will take. It is very much a work in progress. The present and future of India is being formed by many different--sometimes competing, sometimes conflicting--forces. This dynamic makes it one of the most fascinating cultures and nations to observe and engage over a lifetime. When I go back to bicycle there again in a few years (I hope!), I anticipate much to have changed. For better? For worse? It depends on who you talk to.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

January 30, 2007 - from Lahknadon to Sagar

JOLTED AND JARRED. Our bicycle entourage veered off National Highway 7 and traveled a "short cut" to Sagar on this day last year. The road turned out to be the roughest section we would ride in the 2,000-mile journey. We were jolted and jarred and the going was slow. But, even for the really bad parts, there were a few segments that were good as well as hilly. Bob Yardy and I had fun sailing down a few of the hills, as this photo taken by Joe James indicates.

DO I KNOW HOW TO RIDE? When I had my mountain bike crash in June 2007 and landed in the hospital with 17 fractures, Joe had this photo enlarged to poster size and framed. He brought it to my hospital room and said he just wanted everyone to know that I really do know how to ride a bike! This photo now hangs in my office for all to see. I'm back on my bike and feeling no pain. In fact, the very bike in this photo--an old Cannondale touring bike I picked up used a few years ago--is what I'm riding outside through the winter. My newer Cannondale (all of 1991 "new") is on a Cyclops trainer in our basement--for use when it's just too cold outside. I'm way behind in my effort to pedal half the 2,000-mile distance between December 30 and February 8, but still cranking whenever I can.
Mayor Ballard's appointment of Randall Tobias to IAA humiliates Indy's faithful

[an edited version of this post was printed as a Letter to the Editor in the Indianapolis Star on February 3, 2008]

WHAT KIND OF LEADERSHIP IS THIS? Newly-elected Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard cursedly instructs us (Indianapolis Star, January 28, 2008; see quote below) that Randall Tobias deserves a second chance and hands the leadership of Indianapolis International Airport to the nationally-shamed local ex-Lilly CEO. In doing so, has Ballard tipped his hand as to the kind of leadership we can expect over the next four years? Will integrity take a back seat to expediency? Will a moral compass yield to political pragmatism?

SWALLOWING A CAMEL. During his campaign to become mayor, Ballard’s supporters made political hay by calling into question City-County Councilor Monroe Gray’s conflicts of interest. But Gray’s issues pale in comparison to the moral disgrace Tobias made of his Bush Administration appointment when he admitted to using a notorious escort service. This is called straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.

BUSINESS AS USUAL? Surely a person of impeccable personal, business, and community qualifications can be found to lead Indianapolis International Airport. If Ballard is serious about making good on his campaign promises and raising the level of expectations from cynicism with local government, he should begin by presenting leaders who do not carry baggage that humiliate the city’s faithful residents. But, apparently, it's business as usual.

Ballard's quote in the Indianapolis Star: “Am I going to not get the best talent available in the city because of something that’s damn near irrelevant to the position?” Ballard said. “This is America. We believe in second chances.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

January 29, 2007 - north of Lahknadon

LOCAL FOOD. During our 2,000-mile bicycle ride up through the middle of India at this time last year, we ate local food for all meals. From south to north, we ate whatever was available at the dhabas and restaurants. Without exception, it agreed with us and we agreed with it. We had to get used to the spices and chilies, sometimes asking that the food preparer go light on the chilies. Aside from that, Indian food set well with us all.

WHAT WE ATE. At the roadside dhabas that we stopped at each day, we'd have (and please pardon some of my spelling) edly, dall, roti, dosa, samosas, toasted bread, and/or an omelet for breakfast. Sometimes, Sanju and other members of our group helped cook at the dhabas (as in the photo below). After 60 kilometers of pedaling, we stop at a dirt-floor, tin-roof, open-air restaurant for a modest lunch of rice, chapatis, vegetable, chicken or mutton curry, and fruit. Each evening we reload our depleted energy with the same, or some soup and fried rice, at a local eatery.

AQUAFINA, GATORADE & BANANAS. Our essential nutrition mix focused on carbs and protein, with simple sugars for immediate energy. On the road during the daily ride, we ate bananas and whatever fresh fruit Sanju selected from roadside markets. As we were riding in 85-100 degree Fahrenheit temps, each of us took in about 6 liters of bottled water or Gatorade during the course of a day.

MANGO TREATS. One occasional indulgence (okay, constant obsession) was to comb a village or town in an evening for mango jam or mango ice cream. It was almost as good as Indian chai. Almost.

Monday, January 28, 2008


I love snow. I’m praying for snow in Indiana--enough snow to sled and ski in Eagle Creek Park, enough to change gray winter days into heart-jogging experiences of delight. Here are three snow poems. The first is mine. The second two are by some two-bit New England poet by the name of Robert Frost (hey, even his last name points to his love for winter!).


I’m waiting on the snow
A hope to fulfill;
I’ll prepare my skis,
Anticipate the thrill.

A Midwestern winter
With its bleak, dark days
Needs a good snow storm
To hearten the soul’s way.

Mere cold stiffens the heart
And drives us inside,
But warmth and four walls
Alone cannot abide.

I’m like a child praying
The snow will be deep
Enough for sledding,
And, tired from it, to sleep.


Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.


The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
January 28, 2007 - somewhere in Madya Pradesh, India

NOWHERE, MOVING QUICKLY. The land steadily rose and became more forested, the villages few and far between the further we moved north of Nagpur. Still, we saw signs of development even when it seemed we were in the middle of nowhere. We traveled on National Highway 7 for about 85% of our bicycle ride from the southern tip of India to New Delhi. All along the 2,000-mile ride, construction on the roadway was nearly constant. The road was being upgraded and widened from south to north. We felt that India, ancient at one level, was developing rapidly and on the move at another level.

MOVING TO THE CITIES. This family was waiting for a bus to transport one or all of them to New Delhi. Movement away from villages to urban areas is steady. This is part of a complex, multi-faceted pattern that is dynamically changing the cultural and economic realities of India. One wonders if India as it is now known will be recognizable in ten years. Note the warm clothing being warn by this family: it was a "cool" 70 degrees when this photo was taken. That's about 15-20 degrees below normal for a January day in the middle of India.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

January 27, 2007 - heading north from Nagpur

URBAN SCENE AND VILLAGE LIFE. This day one year ago we were one day into the 5th leg of our journey from the southern tip of India to New Delhi. We started the morning with a team of fresh Indian riders from Maharashtra Village Ministries, riding thru the city of Nagpur (population approximately 2 million) before traffic became heavy. As interesting as passing village life is, a bike ride through an urban area is overwhelming. We’ve ridden through a thousand villages and only a handful of large cities, but because the city scene is so concentrated and intense, its impact lingers long on our senses.

INTO FORESTED HEIGHTS. We continued north on NH 7 for 138 kilometers / 85.5 miles. This was 24 km / 15 mi further than we planned. But, after making the longest ascent of the tour (rising nearly 1,700 feet in a 10 km / 6.2 mi climb), the town we hoped to stay in overnight turned out to be a small village without lodging. Already tired from the tedious climb, our only recourse was to pedal another 24 km / 15 mi to a town called Seoni. We arrived safely, though weary.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

January 26, 2007 - from Sevagram to Nagpur

GROUND ZERO FOR INDIAN INDEPENDENCE. One year ago today, we awoke at the home of Indian independence--Gandhi's ashram at Sevagram. Not long into our day's ride north to Nagpur, we realized it would be no ordinary day. It was Republic Day in India. Unlike anything we'd experienced in America on July 4, Indians came out into the streets in a proud demonstration of their nation's democratic freedoms.

CELEBRATING IN EVERY TOWN. Every town and village we rode through on our way to Nagpur was having a parade or celebrating. India gained its independence non-violently from England on August 15, 1947. But it was three years later--on January 26, 1950--that India formally became a republic, adopting its constitution and installing a democratically-elected government.

WORLD'S LARGEST DEMOCRACY. The democracy is still young--just 57 years old--and quite dynamic. One gets the sense that the nation is still coming into its own. India is now the world’s largest democracy, at nearly 1.2 billion citizens.

"MY INDIA." Indians are very proud of their country and its growing place among nations. It was written on their faces and in the intensity of their patriotism on this day. It was affectionately spoken: "My India!" We celebrated, too, flying the India flag on our bicycles from this day forward--all the way into New Delhi.

THE ARGUMENTATIVE INDIAN. While in India, I picked up a book by one of India's Nobel laureates. The book is titled The Argumentative Indian. The author makes the point that democracy will likely have its fullest expression in this nation because of the will and ability of Indians to express their views and concerns vociferously and to organize and take to the streets for the sake of their voices being heard. May it be so.

Friday, January 25, 2008

January 25, 2007 - from Yavatmal to Sevagram

FROM YAVATMAL TO WARDHA. Early in the morning on this day one year ago, our bicycle entourage was sent off by staff and students of Yavatmal College for Leadership Training. Five Indian riders from the school would accompany us to Nagpur. The more, the merrier! We passed through Wardha, a major intra-India train exchange depot. We then rode on to a little place called Sevagram.

AT GANDHI’S HOME. Sevagram became the rural home of Mahatma Gandhi in 1936. From this quiet place, Gandhi not only practiced the simple, powerful principles of his convictions, but led India in a non-violent manner until England "quit India" in 1947. Gandhi guided India to Independence without a military, but with the force of non-violent spirit and non-violent civil disobedience. We stood in the one-room hut, Bepu Kuti, where Gandhi welcomed world leaders and strategized for India's independence. We saw his walking stick and the Quran, Bible, and Bhagavad Gita that he read each day.

REPUBLIC DAY: JANUARY 26. Three years after English rule ended, the Indian democracy was established on January 26, 1950. Republic Day is commemorated across India with great affection. We spent the night in guest huts at Gandhi's ashram in Sevagram. It seemed fitting that we should begin Republic Day from the birthplace of Indian independence.Visiting Sevagram was a deeply moving experience for us.

ASHRAM OBSERVANCES. At the Sevagram ashram (retreat center), I read the sign posting the "Seven Deadly Social Sins" that Gandhi defined. I was also interested in the 11 Ashram Observances and have contemplated the impact of the power of the use and abandonment of these practices both in India and among American Christians. Here are the 11 Ashram Observances at Sevagram:
1. Truth
2. Non-violence
3. Chastity
4. Non-possession
5. Non-stealing
6. Bread-Labor
7. Control of palate
8. Fearlessness
9. Equality of religions
10. Swadeshi (Gandhi's description: "a call to the consumer to be aware of the violence he is causing by supporting those industries that result in poverty, harm to workers and to humans and other creatures")
11. Removal of untouchability

Thursday, January 24, 2008

January 24, 2007 - visiting in Yavatmal, Maharashtra, India

AROUND TOWN. This day one year ago, our 2,000-mile bicycle ride was idle in Yavatmal. Joe had a series of meetings, so Bob and I walked through the marketplace, caught up on news, and basically went wherever Gope wanted to take us in his homeown. We were welcomed into his home, met his family and enjoyed wonderful cooking and discussion.

TRIBAL DANCE. The photo is a tribal dance that welcomed us when we arrived in Yavatmal. The dancers are outreach workers of Maharashtra Village Ministries, young men from villages throughout Maharashtra. I captured the dance on video and will post it here soon.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

935 documented false statements by President Bush and his cohorts in two years

Yesterday, I quipped in my post: "Each MLK Day since President Bush attacked Iraq under false pretenses, the thought occurs to me that King would have not been silent about or acquiesced to the Iraq War..."

Today, the Associated Press carried a story indicating that a new study finds that, in fact, false pretenses were orchestrated in the lead-up to President Bush's decision to attack Iraq. The story is at this link.

Here are excerpts of the AP story by Douglass K. Daniel:

A study by two nonprofit journalism organizations found that President Bush and top administration officials issued hundreds of false statements about the national security threat from Iraq in the two years following the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The study concluded that the statements "were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses."

The study was posted Tuesday on the Web site of the Center for Public Integrity, which worked with the Fund for Independence in Journalism.

The study counted 935 false statements in the two-year period. It found that in speeches, briefings, interviews and other venues, Bush and administration officials stated unequivocally on at least 532 occasions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to produce or obtain them or had links to al-Qaida or both.

"It is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to al-Qaida," according to Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith of the Fund for Independence in Journalism staff members, writing an overview of the study. "In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003."

Named in the study along with Bush were top officials of the administration during the period studied: Vice President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan.

Bush led with 259 false statements, 231 about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 28 about Iraq's links to al-Qaida, the study found. That was second only to Powell's 244 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 10 about Iraq and al-Qaida.

The center said the study was based on a database created with public statements over the two years beginning on Sept. 11, 2001, and information from more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches and interviews.

"The cumulative effect of these false statements — amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts — was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war," the study concluded.

"Some journalists — indeed, even some entire news organizations — have since acknowledged that their coverage during those prewar months was far too deferential and uncritical. These mea culpas notwithstanding, much of the wall-to-wall media coverage provided additional, 'independent' validation of the Bush administration's false statements about Iraq," it said.

January 23, 2007 - from Umri to Yavatmal, Maharashtra, India

After a long weekend at Umri Christian Hospital, we were ready to get back on our bikes and get on up the road. On this day last year, we rode about 40 miles to Yavatmal. We were welcomed into that city by Free Methodist friends and outreach workers of Maharashtra Village Ministries. We would spend two days in Yavatmal for a series of meetings before heading north to Nagpur--our next major city on the map.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Inspiring, admired pulpit orator or street-level change agent?

OUT OF THE PULPIT. Most images of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday the nation observed on Monday, depict the pastor/civil rights leader behind a pulpit or before a great throng of adoring people. But I prefer the more rare pictures of this Christian minister being manhandled, hand-cuffed, or intimidated by government authorities serving vested, bigoted white interests.

POWER IN THE STREETS. King's primary witness and power come not from the pulpit and podium, but from his stand in the streets with unnamed people with whom he identified and for whom he gave his life. My favorite photo of King was taken in 1958 in Montgomery, Alabama. In it, sheriffs are twisting the minister’s arm behind his back and forcing his head down onto a counter while his wife, Coretta, looks on. He was arrested for "loitering"; the charge was later changed to "failure to obey an officer."

PASTOR [GASP!] ARRESTED. This image of King and others like it were intended to scandalize him, to discredit him in the eyes of most people who do not think a pastor should stoop to disobeying governmental authorities. Instead, such photos called attention to unjust authority and corruption. Question: when was the last time we read of a Christian minister being arrested for any issue of peace and justice? Plenty of ministers have been arrested for fraud or other immoral behavior. But help me recall those who have so irked the powers that be regarding peace and justice that the fallen principality we call "government" has had the audacity to lay hands on them? I know of only one: Darren Cushman-Wood, a United Methodist Pastor in Indianapolis who works with the Justice for Janitors effort in downtown Indy. I applaud his efforts. I have not yet taken advantage of such opportunities.

STATE OF THE DREAM. King’s dream of a nation of races reconciled, diversity embraced, and poverty rolled back gets mixed reviews today, at best. Fear, hatred and "tolerable" levels of oppression fester beneath a relatively smoother social surface. Civil rights and equal opportunity still do not come voluntarily. They must be enforced, particularly in the face of a conservative Supreme Court that continues to bleed away their strength. Those who three years ago voted for a President who promised to install judges to uphold “conservative moral values” unwittingly voted to install jurists who have proven records of rolling back civil rights and civil liberties for people of color. As if that is not a moral value?

VIETNAM AND IRAQ. Each MLK Day since President Bush attacked Iraq under false pretenses, the thought occurs to me that King would have not been silent about or acquiesced to the Iraq War. Based on his outspoken perspective on the Vietnam War (a perspective largely based on that war’s impact on poverty and economics), I doubt many would want to hear what Martin Luther King, Jr. would have to say about the Iraq War today. King’s stand against Vietnam was very unpopular; some of his handlers felt he should not speak out against it. But his last speech was a vow to stand solo, if need be, as a black civil rights leader against war.
January 22, 2007 - on the campus of UCH in Umri, Maharashtra, India

REACHING OUT. The nurses training program on the campus of Umri Christian Hospital is robustly developing based on the vision of its founders--an outgoing husband and wife nurse team. Amirson and Esther Jacob recruit young women who do not have the means to attend other nursing schools. In particular, they reach out to brides of arranged marriages who have been abandoned by their husbands and who are at risk of suicide.

WINNING AWARDS. Named for a Free Methodist missionary, the Helen Rose School of Nursing is certified by the government and has received awards for its outreach and excellence. However, it is essential for the continued certification and development of Helen Rose School of Nursing that Umri Christian Hospital be replaced and its equipment upgraded. Want to help? Visit our website and blog to support.

Monday, January 21, 2008

January 21, 2007 - visiting Umri Christian Hospital campus & programs

WHY WE RODE 2,000 MILES. This day one year ago, though we had more than 800 yet to pedal, we took time to visit the place for which we were riding 2,000 miles in India. We had a good day with the staff, participants and supporters of Umri Christian Hospital in the village Umri (Yavatmal District of Maharashtra state, India).

AN EXPANSIVE CAMPUS. In addition to the hospital, the campus includes a Free Methodist Church, Bethel Youth Hostel, an English medium school, and the Helen Rose School of Nursing. It is a significant complex of healthcare, education, and spiritual formation. The youth hostel and nursing school buildings are relatively new.

HOSPITAL NEEDS REPLACED. The heart of the campus is the hospital. It serves the poorest of the poor in a medically underserved area. Its 1920's-era builidngs are deteriorating and in dire need of replacement. While we were there, we were glad to participate in the groundbreaking for the first wing of the new hospital. Since then, construction has progressed well, in spite of major flooding experienced in the Autumn of 2007.

MORE FUNDS TO RAISE. We hope to be able to return to Umri in a few years when the hospital complex is complete. Over $330,000 has thus far been raised for hospital construction and new equipment. An additional $270,000 is still needed for the project to be completed. Every contribution makes a difference. Can you help? If so, go to our website or blog.

I have a chapter in this new compilation on Free Methodism

FROM ESSAY TO BOOK CHAPTER. I've been providing a link in the right side bar of bikehiker blog for the paper I presented last year at a symposium sponsored by the Free Methodist Historical Society. The article, "To Break Every Yoke," is renamed and given a chapter titled "Free Methodist Mission: Justice" in Soul Searching the Church: Free Methodism at 150 Years. I feel privileged to be among some Free Methodist mentors published in this small volume, including editors Howard Snyder and Bishop Gerald Bates. The book is a available through the Free Methodist Historical Society.

Here's an excerpt from my chapter:

While my inclination is to assert that ‘doing justice’ should have a more central place in my life as a believer, my leadership as a pastor, and our common life as a Free Methodist congregation, it seems to me that explicit acts of ‘doing justice’ are currently more exceptional and set apart from the spiritual disciplines and service priorities of most Wesleyan/holiness believers, pastors, and congregations. This heightens the urgency and complexity of the question.

Could it be that we know justice is not being done and we know that it should be done but that we don’t believe it is the role of the individual believer, local pastor, or local community of faith to be about ‘doing justice’ as a matter of principle or priority? Perhaps we believe justice should be done, but that more important than ‘doing justice’ is church growth, evangelism, conversion, discipleship, and membership development. Will we ‘do justice’ after we get these other ministry priorities well underway? Will we get around to it? Do we feel that adequate justice is being done through these other priorities? Or do we leave ‘doing justice’ to specialized ministries within our congregations, to organizations represented in the Association of Human Service Ministries (AHSM) of the Free Methodist Church, to para-church organizations, to political influence groups supposedly acting in the best interests of Christianity, or to secular justice advocacy groups? In other words, do we believe that ‘doing justice’ is a specialized ministry and not a central imperative for our local believers, pastors, and congregations?

Or, do we follow what seems to have become the dominant practice of most Wesleyan/holiness believers, pastors, and congregations (following the lead of many contemporary evangelical churches): revert to letting acts of charity, compassion, mercy, and philanthropy supplant or substitute for the Biblical mandate to ‘do justice?’ If it is appropriate to ‘show mercy’ in parish ministry, why is it not equally appropriate to ‘do justice’ in this setting? Are we satisfied to provide local, national, and international relief for the oppressed and support philanthropic care for those who are repeatedly wounded by society’s injustices, or shall we also engage the imperative of Isaiah 58: “loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,” “set the oppressed free and break every yoke,” “do away with the yoke of oppression,” “spend ourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed?”

Sunday, January 20, 2008

January 20, 2007 - from Adilabad to the village of Umri, Maharashtra

VILLAGE WELCOME. One year ago today, our bicycle group arrived in the village of Umri, home of Umri Christian Hospital--the aging medical facility for which our ride was raising awareness and funds for a complete rebuild. We were welcomed both by the village leaders and residents as well as the hospital, nursing school, church, youth hostel, and English school students, staff, and friends. Hundreds of people lined the road and campus to greet us. On campus, we had a huge celebration under a tent to shield us from the hot sun. Great singing, gracious words, joyful hearts. What a day it was!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

January 19, 2007 - Nirmal to Adilabad

NOT DOMESTIC PETS. This is the day one year go that I was chased by wild dogs. I made it to the top of a mountain after a long series of switchbacks and was coasting slowly, waiting on the other riders. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some dogs at distance begin to move toward me. Typical Indian dogs don't chase anything. But this was a pack of dogs and they were running hard. They were reddish-brown--and quite vicious. They picked up speed and closed in quickly. Full of fear and exploding with adrenaline, I also picked up speed. The lead dog got within 10 feet before I was able to find a high gear and, with the benefit of starting down the other side of the mountain, pedal away. The dogs finally gave up and headed off the road. I cell-phoned back to the other riders to warn them. But the dogs, which I later learned were called dholes and known for cornering and killing large animals, had departed by the time the other riders and the trailer-pulling Tata Victa went through that stretch of road. I felt grateful to have escaped unharmed.

Friday, January 18, 2008

January 18, 2007 - to Nirmal

SWEATING THE DETAILS. His nickname is "Gope." He is a professional driver, by trade. In spirit, he is the very embodiment of a servant. Even today, one year and half a world away, Sanju Sumadre is an inspiration to me of grace under pressure. While we pedaled along on our bikes feeling like we were working hard, Gope sweated detail after detail, request after request day after day. Where would we eat breakfast? What about lunch? Was the food safe for us to eat? Could he toast bread for us at the dhaba? Could we get more mango jam? Where would we spend the night? Where would we share an evening meal? How would clothes get laundered? How can we get all that luggage in the back of the Tata Victa?

TRIP MANAGER. And all the while Gope smiles, genuinely smiles. "No problem," he responds. When we arrive at a place of lodging, we head for the showers. Gope, however, heads out to locate an Internet cafe for me, scopes out places to eat, buys fresh fruit and supplies for the next day, and performs--unasked, unprompted, but in ready anticipation--endless menial tasks. He handles all our money, makes all purchases, barters for the best price. At the end of the trip, his thrift has brought our journey expenses well under budget. He is paid well and we are able to give left-over expense money to the capital fund to rebuild Umri Christian Hospital.

RESISTING GOPE'S HELP. I acted like a "proud American" during much of our 2,000-mile ride through India. I insisted on carrying all my own luggage, getting my own supplies, finding Internet sites for blogging on my own. Still, there was Gope ever insisting: "I take." "I help." "I buy." "I find." He would seem genuinely disappointed when I resisted his offers of help. I tried to convey to him that caring for my own things was not only fair, but my way of relieving him of unnecessary stress. He just didn't see it that way. Eventually, I began to cooperate with his way and his way helped me accomplish all I'd hoped I would.

LOOKING FOR GOPE. I miss Gope. Of all the people we met and all the friends we made, whom I hope to see and be with again, Gope stands out. I'd like for Gope to be able to visit America; he has a brother living here. Several times he has applied for a Visa and each time has been denied. But if he can visit, I would like to serve him here as he served us there. I hope to return to India, perhaps for another bike ride, perhaps at the dedication of the new Umri Christian Hospital. I will look for Gope, waiting again outside the airport terminal. And the excursion, for whatever else it holds, will have been complete.
And, implicitly, a way toward resuscitation

"A nation that continues
year after year
to spend more money
on military defense
than on programs of
social uplift
is a nation
spiritual death."

-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

January 17, 2007 - north toward Umri

TRIBES OF PEOPLE. All along the 2,000-mile bicycle ride from the southern tip of India to New Delhi, mostly along NH 7, we encountered tribal people. Most of India, both rural and urban, is oriented to tribal identities. Some tribal groups maintain ancient ways of living. A few tribal groups continue to be nomadic or migrant. We encountered this group of people residing in stalk huts one day north of Hyderabad. The juxtaposition of tribal life in and near modern cities is mind-stretching and heart-grabbing.

AN EFFERVESCENT FEAST. I wrote this in my journal last year: "What our eyes see as we pedal along an Indian highway: A man follows a plow pulled by oxen. Women plant rice fields in calf-deep mud and water. Traffic slows for a herd of cattle being driven down the road. A flock of goats forage by the road, several with their front feet on the trunk of a tree while they reach for tender leaves. School children in uniform wait for their transportation beside the road, smiling, waving, and calling out to us. Men on motorcycles and in auto-rickshaws slow down to ask about us. A caravan of oxcarts with sugar cane piled high creates a challenge for steering your bike as you approach them from behind. There’s an ancient fort on the right. See that little Hindu shrine over there? Monkeys play along the side of the road. And this is just the countryside; India’s cities and towns are even more interesting. India by bicycle is an effervescent feast for the senses and an artesian well for the heart."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

January 16, 2007 - moving north out of Hyderabad

BACK ON OUR BIKES. Our bicycle group of three North American and two Indian riders headed north out of Hyderabad on this day one year ago. We were joined by a man from the state of Washington in the US--David Goodnight. David would ride with us as far as Umri. Having been off the bikes for several days, we were more than ready to be pedaling again. The week would take us north on NH 7 to Nagpur, drawing us ever closer to Umri--the village in Maharashtra state where Umri Christian Hospital stands.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

January 15, 2007 - Touring Hyderabad

HOLED UP IN HYDERABAD. While it's cold and snowy in Indianapolis today, it was 85 degrees and sunny where we were in Hyderabad, India this day last year. Our North American touring partner, Joe James, had a series of meetings during the day, so Bob Yardy and I decided to go sightseeing around "Cyberabad," so called for the many computer technology centers in the city.

ANTIQUITY EVERYWHERE. We toured the Nehru Zoological Park and Golconda Fort as part of our excursion. I'd wanted to see something of real antiquity (as if I hadn't seen enough of it on NH 7), so we were taken to this massive fort. Golconda was a centuries-long project built on a towering peak above Hyderabad by Indian labor for the outlandish desires of the Maharajahs.

A TIME TO BUILD. The fort was impressive in every way. But the realization of the corrupt power it represented and its cost in lives, servitude, and abuse saddened me. I climbed up the rock-carved stairs to the very top of the fort and then descended quickly. I walked back to our truck in silence. That day, I lost my fascination with ancient forts--whether in India, America or anywhere else. Indians have been building exquisite shrines to foreign conquerors and high-minded oppressors for thousands of years. Perhaps they can now build a society of freedom and creativity that is all their own.

Explore our 6-week, 2,000-mile bicycle journey through India, December 30,2006-February 8, 2007, on our blog (for daily posts and photos) and websites (to support Umri Christian Hospital).

Monday, January 14, 2008

January 14, 2007 - Speaking and celebrating in Hyderabad

SERVICE & CELEBRATION. Each of our Bicycle Indian 2007 core team members spoke about our project of raising funds and awareness for rebuilding Umri Christian Hospital at different locations on this day last year. That afternoon, we headed to a youth hostel for a welcome celebration by the Emmanuel Conference of the Free Methodist Church. It was an uproarious event with garlands, dancing, signs, and children throwing flower petals. Men danced the “tiger dance,” encircling each of our cycling team members and gyrating to tribal drums and instruments. What fun!

SYMBOL OF SACRIFICE & PARTNERSHIP. After the hilarity, we were then offered a foot washing--an ancient rite of both honor and humble service--by two bishops of the Indian church. Feet that were pedaling the length of India for the sake of raising funds to rebuild Umri Christian Hospital were caressed by hands that offer servant leadership to the pastors that serve fledgling communities of faith throughout the southern part of India. In turn, we were privileged to wash the feet of the Bishops.

Explore our 6-week, 2,000-mile bicycle journey through India, December 30,2006-February 8, 2007, on our blog (for daily posts and photos) and websites (to support).

Sunday, January 13, 2008


QUANDARIES AT THE POLLS. Knowing I am an evangelical Christian minister, I've sometimes been asked how I reconcile the Democrats’ stands on abortion and gay marriage with confidence that the Bible is true. At least one inquirer personally confessed to having the same problem reconciling the Iraq war and dishonesty in the White House with Christian faith. Such are the quandaries of Presidential elections.

PARADOXES IN THE PLATFORMS. Earnest Christians are faced with tough choices in the voting booth. Whoever one casts a vote for, it may feel like something less than making a clearly Christian choice. There are paradoxes in candidates, parties and their platforms. I hope folks struggle long and hard with how they will vote, and then second-guess themselves all the way home from the polls.

BEYOND ELECTION DAY. There are seven considerations I make as I vote and as I live as an engaged citizen and conscientious Christian between elections. I share them here with a hope that they can help make voting and citizen engagement more responsible and responsive--though not necessarily more easy or clear-cut.

1. WHAT DOES IT DO TO THE POOR? I ask of any candidate’s or administration’s positions and proposals: “What does it do to the poor?” Domestic poverty and the impact of American policies on those who are poor internationally may not factor much into the Presidential election. Yet it was to the poor who were being crushed by the empire and belittled by religious sects that Jesus of Nazareth primarily addressed himself. The concerns of the poor continue to be lost in political agendas that are influenced more by the preservation of moneyed advantage than a moral compass.

2. BEWARE LITMUS TESTS. I don’t expect the American President to be a professing Christian or my brand of Christian. Candidates love to wear righteousness on their sleeves and court faith votes. Beware: personal piety does not necessarily translate into sound leadership or policies that reflect Biblical integrity. There’s never been a Christian platform or Christian Presidential Administration. Instead of holding them up to a so-called Christian litmus test, I expect the American President and governmental leaders to uphold the Constitution and lead with utmost wisdom, compassion, and diplomacy.

3. AMERICA AND GOD’S KINGDOM ARE NOT THE SAME. I recognize that the priorities of the Kingdom of God and the agendas of American Presidents and governments are not the same. Combining or confusing the two is, to my way of thinking, a potentially lethal mix. I do not think the American President or government can express the Kingdom of God; that is the challenge of the church. I yield necessary and limited obedience to given authorities and hope--and advocate--for a better America. But I give my heart to and live unqualifiedly for Jesus Christ and His Kingdom; that is where ultimate hope for humanity’s future lies.

4. COMPASSION BEYOND CLICHÉS. I look for a candidate who I think will lead compassionately, not just talk about it. Will the candidate give an ear to those who are vulnerable and dominated? Will he or she be moved by more than money and political pressure? Beyond personal benevolence, will the candidate seek to make America fairer, instituting policies that roll back prejudice, disadvantage, and poverty? Will he or she hold truth and human rights higher than political or economic expediency?

5. LOOK BEYOND “ALL OR NOTHING.” I recognize that most “all-or-nothing” issues cast during election campaigns are NOT “all-or-nothing.” No candidate is as extreme or demonic as the opposing candidates says he/she is. None are as morally right and righteous as his/her own press indicates. Major ideological battles will not be won or lost because either a Republican or Democrat is elected. In the end, right-wingers do not get their way and left-wingers do not get their way. Through tough, extended deliberation, a consensus response that is palatable to most Americans will emerge on most of the issues currently framed as “all or nothing”--though the consensus response may not be Biblically tenable and though I may continue advocate for core Biblical principles behind the issue.

6. CONSIDER THE USE OF VIOLENCE. I ask “How has a candidate responded to violence or used violence? And how does he/she plan to respond to and use it in the future?” Life is precious and killing (in the womb, by slowly suffocating neglect, or on the battlefield) has devastating consequences even when “good” results. We also know “violence begets more violence,” the spiral increasing in intensity and breadth every time is it used even “justifiably.” The measured use of deadly force and the threat of the use of deadly force is, to me, a very high concern in national elections. Will the candidate use this awful power responsibly and with an eye to ending violence by the hands of Americans? How will he or she influence regimes to abandon nuclear weapons programs? Will the candidate lead, not so much by violence, but with the winning power of personal influence and persuasion?

7. AMERICA’S ROLE IN THE WORLD. Finally, I consider how candidates envision America’s place and role in the world. I am very concerned, as are many Christian missionaries, about an emerging aura of “empire” or “Pax Americana” that American actions are foretelling. In what appears to me as outright hegemony, we flex our muscles and other peoples must cow tow to our might or else be cut off (or receive reduced support or be left to fend for themselves against their enemies). Simultaneously, goodwill toward America appears to be dissipating around the world. In more places Americans are deeply resented, hated, and threatened like never before. This is making it more difficult for Christian missionaries, particularly those from the United States, to convey a trans-national gospel. Is it not also making it more difficult to develop congenial commercial markets?
January 13, 2007 - arriving in Hyderabad

CELEBRATION AND NIGHT RIDE. We arrived in the bustling, rapidly-growing city of Hyderabad on this day one year ago. After riding only 20 miles, our entourage was greeted and celebrated with a street parade and gathering of over 500 Free Methodists. Lots of humbling hoopla. After a shared early-afternoon lunch, we got back on our bikes to travel through Hyderabad to our weekend quarters at the Operation Mobilization center on the other side of the city. What we thought would be a brief 10-mile jaunt turned into a harrowing 25-mile ordeal, as our local guide decided to take us around the city instead of through it. The extra time took us into the evening; we rode the last five miles in the dark--a scary ordeal on American roads and much moreso in India. But, we all arrived safely.

BIKES FOR SALE! I enjoyed stopping briefly at a few of the many bicycle shops in Hyderabad. More bikes than autos are sold and serviced in India, so a bike shop in a city is quite a center of activity and intrigue. The bike shop in the photo above is typical of an urban bicycle shop. It is a far cry from the single repairman sitting on the ground in the market that I observed on New Year's Eve. Most bikes are either Atlas, Hero or Hercules brands and are a standard-size, single-speed, sturdy-steel frame painted black. Most bikes in India are not used for recreation; they're used for work. But in the city we saw a few multi-speed bikes and a few bikes sporting mountain bike handlebars or sport-style features. But even sport bikes had to be used for ride sharing--as this older brother demonstrates.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

January 12, 2007 - nearing Hyderabad

EATING AT DHABAS. During our daily rides, we would stop to eat an early-morning breakfast and noon-time lunch at dhabas, or open-air restaurants, along National Highway 7. The dhabas were operated by local folk and it was usually a family affair. The food was cooked with wood or other biofuel stoking hot plates and ceramic ovens. It was quite basic. But the food was usually tasty and surprisingly consistent. Gope, our driver, would find dhabas that had well-cooked food and, when possible, meat to eat. Most Hindus are vegetarians, but you can find plenty of dhabas that serve chicken or mutton (goat) dishes.

ENGLISH-SPEAKING FUTURE. Most of the people we encountered at the dhabas did not speak English. But occasionally a child in the family waiting to go to school or returning from school would be anxious to try out the English they were learning at school on us. This girl at a rural dhaba south of Hyderabad spoke English quite well and her parents were proud of her ability to communicate with us. I have since wondered about this girl's future and what potential it holds. I imagine her future will be far different than that of her parents. Young people who become proficient at English and computers skills find well-paying work in the international corporate centers in Bangalore and Hyderabad. We were told that a young person can earn more in one year than their parents will have made in a lifetime.

Our oldest daughter, Abby, a senior at Olivet Nazarene University, got engaged over the Christmas holiday break. The lucky guy? Alex Butler, another ONU senior who is from suburban Washington, D.C. Alex and Abby met at ONU and have been dating for about three years. They've both been outstanding in their studies: she's a biology/dietetics major, he's a religion major. They've both been student athletes: she's a captain of the women's soccer team, he's in his fourth season on the Tigers baseball team. I'm happy for Abby and I bless her and Alex for their future life together.

Friday, January 11, 2008

January 11, 2007 - between Bangalore and Hyderabad

AN 80-MILER. We bicycled 80 miles on this day last year to get to a busy little town that put us about 150 kilometers south of Hyderabad--the major Indian city that would be our second-weekend destination. It was one of those days when the town we were looking for was really much further than expected. "Only 20 kilometers to go" really meant 40 k further up the road in the sun, heat, dust, and honking trucks. We were over six hours in the saddle on our 13th day. But we arrived safely.

GADGETS FOR THE JOURNEY. We carried several gadgets on our bikes that heightened interest on the journey through India. Each North American rider had a cycle computer, which measures such things as current speed, average speed, distance for the day, total distance for the trek, rpms/cadence, duration of the ride, maximum speed for the day. I used a handlebar-mounted E-Trex GPS unit, which tabulates information like altitude, direction, and a hundred other interesting geo-positioning facts. Two of us carried binoculars. We took still photos and video footage each day. Bob Yardy make audio reports into a tiny digital voice machine. I listened to music and books on my iPod all along the route. And, of course, we and our Indian hosts all yacked on cell phones throughout the journey (there will be more cell phone customers in India than in the USA by the end of 2008!).

INTERNET POSTING. In addition, I would pull out my laptop computer each evening, make an entry, download photos from my camera and Joe's, put the entry and photos on a pin drive and head into the marketplace in search of an Internet cafe. I would post the entries and photos to our blog and check e-mail and news. Almost every town we stayed in had Internet access. Rarely was it high-speed access, but it was usable and useful.

NECESSARY OR HELPFUL? All this for a simple bike ride. Were any of these electronic gadgets necessary? No. Were they helpful? Yes. Our Indian hosts and the folks we encountered along the way must have thought we were crazy.

WHAT I HOPE I REFLECT. I put this list together in January 2003. I can't remember what might have prompted the thought flow at that time. To whom was it primarily addressed? I don't recall, if anyone. Reading over it today, I made only a few updates. I think the statements reflect my heart, my mission, and my intentions. I hope they are reflected in most of my actions and life direction.

You can count on me to take you seriously…as seriously as you dare to take yourself.

You can count on me to be faithful to a friendship and covenant relationship…across time and space.

You can count on me being what I am…no pretenses or pretending or layers to cut through.

You can count on me to try to make things accessible…so much in our world is based on feigned exclusivity, dishonest rarity and fabricated difficulty.

You can count on me to hold a confidence.

You can count on me to not answer my cell phone when we are talking face to face…I try to practice a few such basic interpersonal courtesies.

You can count on me to grieve when I become aware that a vulnerable person or group is being taken advantage of or misrepresented…and to try to intervene.

You can count on me to defend my children and spouse when their feelings are hurt or when they are mistreated, disregarded, or undervalued by family, friends, or others.

You can count on me to be disgusted with you when you lie to me, withhold critical information from me, or try to manipulate me.

You can count on me to look for grace in the mundane…and to point it out like a child finding a four-leaf clover.

You can count on me to look for the best in you…and to affirm it.

You can count on me to make mistakes, errors in judgment, and occasional off-target emotionally-based assertions...I have limited knowledge, understanding and am more fragile than I'd like to admit.

You can count on me to recognize addiction and codependency…and not play into it.

You can count on me to seek truth and reconciliation…the two are inseparable.

You can count on me to be wary of large institutions…I want to know how they regard those who have, apparently, nothing to offer to their bottom line.

You can count on me to recognize sin…and not accept it being excused and rationalized, but acknowledged, forgiven, and, whenever possible, restituted.

You can count on me to try to be forgiving…I know what it means to be forgiven.

You can count on me to look beyond the surface of things…there is usually history, depth, dimension and paradoxical complexity to most appearances, whether pleasing or troubling.

You can count on me to talk about faith and politics in the same breath…though they are separate they are also inseparable.

You can count on me to love the church too much to let it easily become a reflection of the status quo, a mimic of prevailing ideologies, or a throwback to nostalgic traditions.

You can count on me to seek out and celebrate pockets and expressions of authentic community amid prevailing isolation, pseudo-community, and faux feelings of neighboring.

You can count on me to live in hope…believing that what we believe to be true about the future has more power to shape our lives than anything that has happened in the past or occurring in the present.
$2,500 puts people in developing regions in a four-wheeler

AFFORDABLE. Tata is India's largest vehicle maker. It is now the maker of the world's most affordable auto. At $2,500, the Nano is about the same cost of a motor scooter and less than many motorcycles in India and other world areas. Indians who make an average of $200 per month might begin to consider a Nano in their future.

21st CENTURY BEETLE. The four-seater Tata product is intended for use well beyond its own nation of over 1 billion residents. The Nano is intended have a similar impact to the Volkswagen Beetle in developing regions, where limited incomes have limited four-wheel vehicle access and use. In many world areas, bicycles, motor scooters, motorcycles, and animal-pulled carts are the predominant means of personal transportation and trains and buses are receive heavy use for mass transportation.

CARBON IMPACTS. The Nano gets about 50 miles per gallon and meets European emission standards. However, the thought of multiple millions more vehicles consuming petroleum and emitting carbons in traffic on roads around the world is a challenging scenario in the face of climate change.

Read more in Time's article.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Is life a series of concessions
played out against a backdrop of
some lost original intent,
a series of dramatic attempts at
second best?

Do we work backward through
mistaken assumptions,
misguided notions,
and moral falterings
to a design or plan or ideal
in which we had
no say?

To some extent it is.
To some extent we do.
Even when we think we have
done it all right and righteously,
Fallenness came before us and
still pervades.

Yet there is an original beauty,
a residual sacredness which
brokenness and sin have
not been able to overcome or
completely eclipse.

Perhaps grace is the love in action that
draws us, nearly blind and unwittingly,
both backward and forward,
toward a recovery of the very
holiness in and for which we
were created.
January 10, 2007 - to Dhone, Karnataka

A THIRD OF THE WAY TO DELHI. One year ago today was our twelfth day in the saddle on our 2,000-mile bicycle trek through India. We reached the one-third point in our journey. With untrained Indian riders as our companions, our pace was slower and we were spending more time on our bikes each day than expected. But, all in all, we were pleased with our progress toward Umri Christian Hospital near Yavatmal and, ultimately, to New Delhi.

SHARE THE ROAD. Some local folk referred to Indian roads as "the zoo." Seriously, we saw enough variety of animals on, beside or near National Highway 7 to populate a small zoo. Motorized vehicles and bicycles share the road with oxcarts and pony-drawn carriages, with goat and sheep herders, with all kinds of cows and water buffalo. Alongside the roads, one frequently saw chickens, pigs, monkeys, and a variety of unfamiliar birds. Strangely, all this seemed normal to us after only a few days.

ROAD OF LIFE. Why NOT use this main north-south roadway to move India’s dynamic life along? Unlike an American Interstate highway which prohibits bicycles and pedestrians, India's main artery is used by every sort of vehicle, animal, and human for transport. Fast-moving trucks and cars have to swerve, slow down, or stop for a herd of goats or camels. Sacred cows meander untethered and are affectionately called RTO's - "road traffic officers."

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

January 9, 2007 - between Bangalore and Hyderabad

WORK ALONG THE WAY. These women aren't dressed up for a special event. This is standard brillance and variety of color in everyday saris worn by women all over India. These women were working as field laborers. They carried grain- and weed-cutting tools along with a lunch box. Two men were apparently in the role of foremen.

HARD WORK. We encountered many such groups of laborers throughout our 2,000-mile bike ride through India this time last year. Our day-long toil on our bikes, putting us 100 kilometers or so up the road, couldn't compare with the hard work these folks put in each day. We wondered what their compensation per hour or for a day's labor would be. We also wondered if the people so working had choices in the type of work in which they engaged.

Photo by Joe James

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Sorry I didn't get to see you off as you headed back to the university yesterday. My prayers and thoughts for your happiness and future are full today.

I keep this picture in my PC files. It must be from when we lived on Medford Avenue. It's one of my favorites.

May God guide and bless you in your studies, decisions, and endeavors. I am proud of you.

-- Dad
January 8, 2007 - from Bangalore to Bagepalli, Karnataka

REJOINING THE JOURNEY. On this day one year ago, we struck out from Bangalore with two new Indian riders--Mohan and Shereesh. Our guide through Karnataka was a minister named Sagar. It was very humbling to think these guys would take a week out of their year to accompany us on our journey. We set our sights on making it to Hyderabad by week's end. Each day we would crank about 100 kilometers northward on National Highway 7.

MARKETPLACE VARIETY. Villages are relatively close together throughout India. We were never far from a village and a small marketplace. The marketplaces were full of carts filled with every kind of ware that might possibly sell. Fruit and vegetable carts were most prominent and they were often tended by children, like this girl, while other family members cared for other marketplace duties. What a great smile!

Monday, January 7, 2008

January 7, 2007 - resting in Bangalore, Karnataka and visiting Christian Medical College in Vellore, Tamil Nadu

THREE PLUS TWO. Little did we know how much of an impact the Indian riders would have on our 2,000-mile cycling trek from the southern tip of India to New Delhi. Three of us were North American--two from the United States and one from Canada. Two riders were from India--but a different two riders each week and each state. The Indian riders were companions to orient us to their particular region, language, culture, customs, etc. Since India has so many different languages and tribes, we felt it was important spread the experience and sensitize ourselves as best we could to India's diversity.

FROM NAGERCOIL TO BANGALORE. The first set of riders were two teenagers from Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu. Jose (second from right) and Anand (far left) were best friends and Christians, though not Free Methodists. They were great traveling companions. Their humor and earnestness won our hearts. They rode slower than we wanted to ride and we tried to coach them in how to use the multiple speeds on the bikes we provided to their advantage. They eventually sped up--a little. As it turns out, they kept the best pace of any of the other wonderful and colorful riders who joined us in the remaining five weeks.

ALL THE WAY TO NEW DELHI? Jose and Anand hoped other riders would not be found in Bangalore and that they could ride with us all the way to New Delhi. There's a part of me that still wishes that could've happened for them. They were certainly capable to making the entire trek. But more riders were waiting for us Bangalore. I will never forget the heart pain of watching Jose and Anand head to the Bangalore train station on this day one year ago. I hope to see them again someday.

"When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart."

Howard Thurman in The Mood of Christmas

Sunday, January 6, 2008

January 6, 2007 - to Bangalore, Karnataka

A HARROWING RIDE THROUGH BANGALORE. One year ago, five of us who had started pedaling from Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu, India seven days earlier, arrived in Bangalore, Karnataka. Bangalore is a city of 10 million souls--and we think they were all on National Highway 7, our route into the metropolis. A far cry from the light traffic in rural areas, we were in thick traffic all the way into Bangalore. Once in the city, our host led us on his motorcycle to a guest house. “Led us” means that we wound our way through four lanes of traffic packed with all sorts of vehicles, turning left and right, crossing lanes back and forth. Harrowing. And invigorating!

AFTER EIGHT DAYS. To this point, we had ridden an average of 110 kilometers (68 miles) a day for eight straight days. We were not exhausted, but we were certainly looking forward to a rest day. In Bangalore, we said farewell to our Tamil Nadu riders Jose and Anand. These young men rode strong and had great humor; they would be the best Indian riders we would have with us on the six-week journey.

"CHAI?" We enjoyed chai several times each day--first thing in the morning, at mid-morning break, mid-afternoon break, and usually in the evening. Indian chai is hot Indian tea mixed with hot milk, spices, and lots of sugar. I suppose tea time in India is a tradition held over from English days. I drink generous amounts of coffee--black, no sugar--but I didn't have any coffee during this excursion. Indian chai won my taste and heart. I prefer Indian-style tea to what I know of English and American teas. I also prefer it to coffee. But, despite Gope sending me home with Indian tea and his own recipe, I can't match the native Indian taste (another good excuse for returning to India!)


A Reflection on the Visit of the Magi

Read: Psalm 72; Isaiah 60; Matthew 2:1-11; Luke 2:30-32

THE LAST TO ARRIVE? It is likely that in most of our households the nativity crèche and figurines of the first Christmas story are by now packed away with all the other Christmas decorations. But in some ancient Christian traditions, today would be the day that the figures of three wise men, or Magi, would finally be placed at the nativity scene. Their arrival completes the entourage of people who are drawn to the Christ child. In the fullness of Christmastide and in the light of the star, the journey to adoration of the Christ child is nearly complete.

FROM BEYOND THE REALM. The arrival of these mystery people from some distant place signals something new that has forever broadened, opened, and heightened the trajectory of grace. The trajectory of grace now emphatically includes Gentiles—all those not heretofore considered a part of the story of salvation. The advent of the Messiah, spoken of in Old Testament prophecies (like Isaiah 60) and in the Magi being led by a star to Bethlehem, signals that something long hoped-for and anticipated has come to be: the promise of grace and the way of grace is open and inclusive. From this day forward, "whosoever will" may come.

UNLIKELY PEOPLE, UNUSUAL MEANS. Epiphany celebrates that God’s light draws unlikely people to grace by circuitous means. Perhaps now more often than not, people may see light and respond to grace from odd places and by unorthodox means. Praise God for people who have been reared within orthodoxy, who have for generations been brought near to Biblical faith, who are faithful to the means of Grace as they have been taught. Praise God, also, for the fact that grace is just as likely to shine its light in unlikely places, on unlikely people, and bring them by unlikely paths to the foot of the Cross. Epiphany celebrates such "appearings," such small and great invasions and in-breakings of grace as part and parcel of the Kingdom.

WELCOME OR THREAT? Epiphany also celebrates the fact that the child is, in fact, born King of kings. This is signaled not only in the Old Testament (like Psalm 72), but in the declaration of the Magi and in the gift of gold they present. The prospect that a child has been born "king of the Jews" sends Herod’s regime into a search and seizure mode. The announcement that a new King is on the scene is simultaneously welcoming and threatening. For those living off the spoils of the present reign, who have invested in and count on the continuance of present power arrangements, the news of a new king is unsettling, threatening, undermining. For those who long for justice, for mercy, for inclusion, for place, for peace, for dignity, for a tomorrow, for equitable economy, for fairness, for a second chance, or for just a chance, the news of a new King is Good News, indeed.

IT WON'T BE COMPLETE WITHOUT YOU. I wrote earlier that the journey to adoration of the Christ child is nearly complete. Nearly. It is as nearly complete as our own adoration. Have you made the journey in your heart? Place yourself among the unlikely figures who hear the Good News or who have been drawn by some light. You are no less out of place than anyone else. I am no more worthy of being there than the next person. But have we been drawn? If so, then let us do the only thing one can do in the presence of divinity, in the presence of unparalleled royalty—let us be silent, let us be grateful, let us bow down in worship and adoration, let us prepare ourselves to be forever changed, let us be still and know that God is God. Let us be amazed at grace. And let us turn it inside out in a lifetime of bearing grace to all who are drawn to His light.


As With Gladness Men of Old by William C. Dix

As with gladness men of old
Did the guiding light behold,
As with joy they hailed its light—
Leading onward, beaming bright,
So, most gracious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to Thee.

As with joyous steps they sped
To that lowly infant bed,
There to bend the knee before
Him whom heav’n and earth adore,
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy seat.

As they offered gifts most rare
In that dwelling rude and bare,
So may we with holy joy,
Pure, and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to Thee, our heav’nly King.

Holy Jesus, ev’ry day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy glory hide.

A BENEDICTION FOR EPIPHANY. May your journey ever lead you to the wonder of the Christ child. May God’s light ever draw you, guide you, comfort you, challenge you, send you. May grace guide you from morning to evening, day by day, until, at last, either His Kingdom has come or you have come into His Kingdom. Amen.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Twelve Drummers Drumming

A Reflection for the Twelfth (and last) Day of Christmas

"On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, twelve drummers drumming..."

Twelve drummers drumming = The twelve points of the Apostles’ Creed

Scripture: Psalm 19, Colossians 2:6-17

The Apostles’ Creed:
(1) I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth (2) And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord; (3) who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, (4) suffered under Pontius Pilate, (5) was crucified dead, and buried; (6) He descended in to hell (or Hades); (7) the third day He rose again from the dead; (8) He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; (9) from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. (10) I believe in the Holy Spirit, (11) the holy catholic (universal) church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,( 12) the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

LAST DAY OF CHRISTMAS. The final day of Christmas at last! Every day we have been keeping vigil at the manger. Every day we have been focusing on the Word become flesh. Every day we have been attempting learn what it means to be among the "ye faithful" who respond to the invitation to "come and adore him, born the king of angels." And every day we have been opening and receiving the distinctive Christmas gifts, gifts that bring the full impact of this child home to our hearts and our world. And we have one more gift to open.

TOMORROW IS EPIPHANY. Tomorrow is a new celebration, a new festival. It is Epiphany. It recalls and celebrates the visit of the Magi, or wise men, who followed a star from distant places to find the one born King of the Jews. Epiphany, which means "appearing," focuses on two things: 1) the Incarnation being announced to and made available to Gentiles, and 2) the fact that Jesus is not only born the Savior, he is born the King. I hope you will join me for one more set of readings and reflections for Epiphany. It will be something of a capstone and "sending" from this Christmastide journey.

APOSTLES' CREED POINTS. Open today’s gift: the twelve points of the Apostles’ Creed. Reading through the Apostles’ Creed and realizing it is one of the twelve core gifts that have been included in this clandestine catechism, I make note of some personal responses.

NO FUZZY THEOLOGY. First, I note that this and other summaries of essential Christian faith are very under-appreciated and under-used in the Free Church tradition in which I was reared and educated. Our near total emphasis on what the heart feels all but eclipsed a heart-felt reasoning of that on which faith is based. It is apparently difficult for some to hold these two in common. Based on the fuzzy theology and all-but-heretical notions I have encountered among pulpiteers in my tradition, I have come appreciate and embrace such Biblically-rooted, time-tested declarations as the Apostles’ Creed.

A WELL-TESTED CATECHISM. Second, the Apostles’ Creed is, in itself, a catechism, a carefully constructed rehearsal of some essential points of the Christian faith. It is a statement carefully worked out in early days of the church when the church faced not only external threats but internal divisions and factions. Every point of the Apostles’ Creed was fiercely tested for Scriptural validity, debated, and ultimately ratified. Perhaps another twelve days (or years) should be spent unpacking each point of the Apostles’ Creed (a number of resources for this can be found at a local library, the best of which is, to my thinking, I Believe: The Christian’s Creed by Helmut Thielicke).

AN INVITATION AMID UNCERTAINTIES. Finally, I note that the Apostles’ Creed helps me declare my simple and profound faith in the midst of world awash with relativism, syncretism, and despair. In a world that is constantly implying that there are no constants, nothing commonly authoritative for all, nothing that isn’t dispensable for the sake of practicality, convenience, or comfort, the Apostles’ Creed stands firm. But the Creed also is a beckon to all who have been washed ashore by the "every wind of teaching and cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming." It is an invitation to God’s love for all who are overwhelmed, confused, despairing, shame-ridden, wounded, broken, and dying. As the song declares "Where cross the crowded ways of life…we hear Thy voice, O Son of man!"