Friday, February 29, 2008

The Indiana State Legislature's decision is a slap in the face of the Latino community

THINLY VEILED RACISM. Our State Legislators voted this week to officially unwelcome any undocumented worker in the State of Indiana. Over the counsel of thoughtful business leaders, over the wisdom of Latino leaders, over the concept of common sense, Carmel Republican Mike Delph got his wish and his way. And the way our so-called leaders have taken is thinly-veiled racism. This is not a policy intended to uphold the law, as has been self-righteously stated; it is a policy intended to drive most of the Latino community into subjection, intimidation, fear, and out of the state.

MOCKS THE COMMON GOOD. I can't think of a more inhospitable policy that serves so small a range of interests. It mocks the very idea of the common good and community. Our State Legislators should be ashamed of themselves. I call upon Governor Mitch Daniels to veto the legislation and call for a better way forward in light of a greater national deliberation that is taking place regarding comprehensive immigration reform. If he doesn't veto it, perhaps it should be challenged and overturned in Indiana's courts. I think most Hoosiers will agree that this policy does not represent our desires for our Latino neighbors.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A prayer of grateful recognition of God's daily presence

O God,

I have a desire to be connected to you,
not in merely official or superficial ways.
And as long as I have been praying,
attempting to converse with you
and living in relationship to you,
I have felt or sensed that connection.
I have never felt denied or ignored,
or perceived my efforts were illusory.

That I am conscious of you,
and that this consciousness is both
comforting and agitating,
deepening and transcending,
knowing and mysterious,
is, to me, reason enough to
continue to pray and live
in light of your grace.

That I recognize and am graced by this connection
does not mean I grasp or understand it,
or that I begin to comprehend you.
But because you are there,
and because I sense you are with me,
I approach life as a sacred journey
on which I am being graciously led,
in which I have much to learn,
and perhaps as much to share.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Truth is contrary to malicious e-mail rumors and inflammatory TV/radio host rhetoric

INDEPENDENT & REPUBLICAN ROOTS. I rarely talk politics with my parents. Dad's a tenacious Independent from before George Wallace days. Mom's family are thoroughly New Castle, Indiana, Republicans. I mimicked my parents' politics until I was 21 years old. It wasn't until graduate school days that I moved toward progressive politics. I did so based on an awakening to the plight of the poor and specter of poverty in America and around the world. You might say I soul-searched my way out of conservative political ideology. In a predominantly politically conservative evangelical milieu, I've often been made to feel like an outsider. I'm okay with that.

NOT ONLY NOT MUSLIM, OBAMA'S EVANGELICAL. Every now and then, mom and I will lightly broach the subject of politics on the phone. Recently, after I spoke of the phenomenon of Barack Obama's growing candidacy, she said she'd heard that he was a Muslim. "No, mom," I said, "he's Christian--an evangelical Christian, at that. He's a member and participant of a large predominantly African-American United Church of Christ on the south side of Chicago. He's spoken repeatedly of his Christian faith--before and since his campaign began."

WHO'S FOMENTING THIS STUFF? I'd like to know who's feeding lies about Obama--or any other political figure. Who's forwarding inflammatory e-mails? Who is spouting this stuff over the airwaves? Are these lies being planted in hushed, private conversations? Do they murmur about his middle name--"Hussein?" Do they also wink and tell a racist joke or two? I hope not. But I know that such wink-wink conversation, radio and TV talk, e-mail exchange and instant-message banter occurs routinely. It's an undercurrent that thrives on untruth and half-truths and is fueled by suspicion, fear, ignorance and hatred.

SOURCES OF THE TRUTH ABOUT OBAMA. I wish those who are telling lies could learn the truth about Barack Obama's Christian faith. I think they'd change their tune, at least a bit. I would recommend they peruse Obama's interview in Christianity Today (the leading conservative evangelical magazine). I would recommend they listen to his fellow-parishioners talk about his faith on National Public Radio. I would recommend that they read his Call to Renewal speech in witness to his faith before colleagues and Christian leaders in Washington, D.C.

LOVING THE SHADOWS. But it's not likely those folks will read, listen, or observe the truth. They won't because they've already decided what they want to believe, what they love to feel, and what they need to reinforce their self-justifying prejudices. They prefer shadowy untruth to the truth. Sadly, most of these people would call themselves Christians and will likely be found singing hymns in church on Sunday. Imagine that. I don't expect people to agree with the politics of Barack Obama, but I expect people to not lie and spread malicious innuendo about him or any other Presidential candidate. All deserve better than that.
A poem I penned about the mystery of calling and vocation

We may not with certainty know
That to which we are called.
There is a naïve arrogance
In declaring our vocations.

We serve in terms we can fathom
Without fathoming our divine range.
We may miss it by a mile
But still happen onto what God intended.

Seeking to know is less useful
Than living questions with a certainty
That grace ever goes before us
And leads us, unwittingly, home.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Five ways to reweave interpersonal fabric that has been divided or ripped apart

A RESTORING PRESENCE. To “reconcile” means “to bring together,” "to resolve, settle," "to restore to friendship or harmony." The Apostle Paul described the Christian mission primarily in terms of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2). Here are 5 ways to be a reconciler:

BREAK BARRIERS -- Fear, suspicion, doubt, bigotry, ignorance, arrogance--these are to be challenged and broken with the love of Jesus expressed through us.

BRIDGE GAPS -- Insulation, seclusion, exclusion, division, suspicion, resentment--these are to be spanned by the positive presence of outreaching care.

CROSS BORDERS -- Put yourself in the situations where you can grow in grace: cross cultures by intention again and again. Be enriched by those whom you consider poor. Love the city though you may prefer the country. Learn as you teach. Receive as you serve.

WELCOME STRANGERS -- Make room for those whom the dominant culture discards, looks down on, suspects, or dismisses. “Let every guest be received as Christ.” “Strangers expected” is the watchword.

STAND IN THE GAP -- Many situations and people resist reconciliation for a long time. You may be called to literally live in the tension between conflicts and estranged people. But that is the way Jesus lived. As his ambassador, dare to stand in the gap with the grace, love, and power God gives.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

When we plunged headlong into "progress," we didn't consider its real costs

STARK CONTRAST. Reading Ivan Illich's reflection on Mahatma Gandhi's hut (from Friday's post), I can't get away from the apparently stark differences between the world of "progress" Illich laments and a world in which the priorities Gandhi articulated would be taken with actionable seriousness. [I will frame "progress" within quotation marks in this piece because I want later to distinguish authentic progress from ill-conceived, market-driven, self-aggrandizing, short-sighted, poverty-fomenting, planet-sickening progress as it has been predominantly assumed and practiced.]

GENERATIONS OF "PROGRESS." It seems that the Western world, first, and now the East has embraced--full bore--the suppositions and practices of "progress" in the very terms Gandhi and Illich warned against. In the generations since Gandhi presented the world the alternative of creative stewardship, with the non-militaristic liberation of India as a budding example, we've "progressed" at break-neck intensity and speed. As a result, wonderful things have happened. As a result, terrible things have happened. Much has been gained; much has been lost.

UPSIDE, DOWNSIDE. An honest assessment of the kind of "progress" humanity has made in the past 70 years must include not only technological breakthroughs, but humanitarian setbacks. It includes economic development for some, but resource exploitation, economic devastation and servitude for many more. It includes unprecedented wealth generation for some, but the extension of life-crushing poverty for untold millions. "Progress" has been made in such a way that makes all of us more dependent than ever on non-renewable sources of energy, the consumption of which has sickened our environment and put the future of earth life as we know it in limbo.

BREAKING DENIAL IS NECESSARY. I'll give Thomas Friedman all the positive points he makes for the wonders of technological progress in his book The World Is Flat (a book I've read and recommend for anyone interested in understanding global economic forces and trends for the future). But, sadly, Friedman glosses grossly over or simply cannot see through his rose-colored market-world glasses the real downside of "progress." I think it's hard for those of us who've embraced the terms and benefits of "progress" to stop and consider the stark price of our "progress." Harder still: to consider that we might have bought into a less-than-the-best model for international human and social development. This, I am convinced, is exactly where we are at this moment in international history. I hope we can soul-search our way to better models for the sustainability of life and human relations.

GROWING BACKLASH. There are signs of backlash against the rawest expressions of unbridled "progress" on many fronts. It is couched in social resentment and religious upheavals. Militant extremist Islamic groups may not so much "hate our freedoms," as our President and his people have repeatedly told us, as they hate what our rapacious "pursuit of happiness" at their expense. Religious Fundamentalism is a growing response to "progress" for some at the expense of many.

COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE ACTIONS FOR "SECURITY." There will come a point in time where mustering military might in the name of securing protection for valued material resources against people who have nothing else materially to lose will become counter-productive. I think we are already beyond it, actually. America is already fighting these fronts with futility in Afghanistan and Iraq. We will not "win" these conflicts because we originally miscast the problem, continue to fail to grapple with the core issues, and are unready to amend our suppositions, repent of our economic and cultural sins against such people, or change our habits.

THE COMING CENTURY. Further, we have not yet begun to realize the levels of pent-up resentment in Africa and Central and South America. Nor, have we realized the extent to which China and India have cut into our corner on "progress" and are vying for the very resources upon which ours and their "progress" is so dependent. We're in for a very interesting century, one in which "progress" will be challenged repeatedly. Let's hope we can have the wits to hear the anguish with our hearts and respond with the kinds of changes we already know implicitly need to be made.

REASON FOR HOPE. My reflections here may seem like I am a naysayer and despairing. On the contrary. I believe in hope and an authentic progress in human relationships and international economic development. But if that's what we want, we're currently on the wrong track. Stopping the runaway "progress" train or diverting it while a better model is forwarded is not a luxury we have. Developing alternatives and leaning into them with confidence and faith until "progress" is overwhelmed by creative stewardship is, however, within our reach. But there's an urgency; "progress" has poisoned much.

More on this to come...

Explore "Redefining Progress"

Friday, February 22, 2008

Ivan Illich reflects on life and bicycles upon visiting Mahatma Gandhi's hut

THE WHEELS OF COMMON LIFE. I read through a piece written by Ivan Illich after he contemplated Bapu Setu, the rural home of Mahatma Gandhi near Sevagram, India. In the context of speaking to the simplicity and commonness of life in India, Illich wrote of the important role of bicycles in Indian society. There, bicycles are not for recreation as they are for most of us in America. In India, bicycles are the common person's basic means of transportation. Our 2,000-mike bicycle ride through India indicated that in most places in India, bicycles are more numerous on the roads than cars and trucks. Here's an excerpt of Illich's reflection,"The Message of Bapu's Hut":

PARADOX OF PROGRESS. "The paradox of the situation is that those who have more such conveniences are regarded as superior creatures. Will it not be considered an immoral society where illness is given more importance and those who use artificial legs are considered superior? While sitting in Gandhiji’s hut I was grieved to ponder over this perversity. I have come to the conclusion that it is wrong to think of the industrial civilization as a road leading towards development of man. It has been proved that for our economic development, bigger and bigger machines of production and larger and larger number of engineers, doctors and professors are not necessary. I am convinced that such people are poor in mind, body and life-style who would want to have a place bigger than this hut where Gandhi lived. I have pity for them. By doing this they surrender themselves and their animate self to the inanimate structure. In the process they lose the elasticity of their body and vitality of their life, they have little relationship with nature and closeness with their fellowmen."

RIGHT MEANS, RIGHT ENDS. "When I ask the planners of the day, why they do not understand this simple approach which Gandhiji taught us, they say that Gandhiji’s way is very difficult and that the people will not be able to follow it. But the reality of the situation is that since Gandhiji’s principles do not tolerate the presence of any middleman or that of a centralized system, the planners and managers and politicians have very little attraction towards it. How is not being understood? Is it because people feel that untruth and violence will take them to the desired objective? No. This is not so. The common man fully understands that right means will take him to the right end. It is only the people who have some vested interest who refuse to understand it. The rich do not want to understand."

TRUTH AND SIMPLICITY. "When I say rich, I mean all those people who have got conveniences of life which are not available to everybody in common. These are in living, eating and going about. Their modes of consumption are such that they have been deprived of the power to understand the truth. It is to these that Gandhi becomes a difficult proposition to understand and assimilate. They are the ones to whom simplicity does not make any sense. Their circumstances unfortunately do not allow them to see the truth. Their lives have become too complicated to enable them to get out of trap they are in. Fortunately, for the largest number of people there is neither so much of wealth that they become immune to the truth of simplicity nor are they in such penury that they lack the capacity to understand. Even if the rich see the truth they refuse to understand it. It is because they have lost their contact with the soul of this country."

PRODUCTIVITY WITHIN LIMITS. "It should be very clear that the dignity of man is possible only in a self sufficient society and that it suffers as they move towards progressive industrialization. This hut connotes the pleasures that are possible through being at par with society. Here, self sufficiency is the keynote. We must understand that unnecessary articles and goods that a man possesses reduce his power to imbibe happiness from the surroundings. Therefore, Gandhi repeatedly said that productivity should be kept within the limits of wants. Today’s mode of production is such that it finds no limit and goes on increasing uninhibited. All these we have been tolerating so far but the time has come when man must understand that by depending more and more on machines he is moving towards his own suicide."

SUFFICIENT FOR THE NEED. "The civilized world, whether it is China or America, has begun to understand that if we want to progress, this is not the way. Man should realize that for the good of the individual as well as of the society, it is best that people keep for themselves only as much as is sufficient for their immediate needs. We have to find a method by which this thinking finds expression in changing the values of today’s world. This change can not be brought about by the pressure of the governments or through centralized institutions. A climate of public opinion has to be created to make people understand that which constitutes the basic society."

VEHICLE OF THE COMMON PEOPLE. "Today the man with a motor car thinks himself superior to the man with a bicycle though, when we look at it from the point of view of the common norm, it is the bicycle which is the vehicle of the masses. The cycle, therefore, must be given the prime importance and all the planning in roads and transport should be done on the basis of the bicycle, whereas the motor car should get a secondary place. The actual situation, however, is the reverse and all plans are made for the benefit of the motor car giving a second place to the bicycle. Common man’s requirements are thus disregarded in comparison with those of the higher ups..."

Read the full article, "The Message of Bapu's Hut".

Thursday, February 21, 2008

In order to live a generous life, I must maintain spiritual focus and economic discipline

HOW CAN I GIVE? I desire to give as generously as possible in support of valid compassionate care and invest in legitimate Christian mission efforts. But we live on a modest income with four children. Even so, I realize that my ability to freely and joyfully respond to critical needs or contribute strategically for development requires both spiritual focus and economic discipline.

SPIRITUAL FOCUS & ECONOMIC DISCIPLINE. I am convinced that I simply cannot contribute in the manner I know is possible if I live as an American consumer, following the messages, norms, values, choices and habits that are commonly practiced all around me. To move beyond living as a mere consumer and to live as a creative steward requires, first, a vigilant focus on transcendent "first things first" values and purposes. Second, it requires economic discipline.

STARK CONTRASTS, DIFFERENT TRAJECTORIES. The difference between living as an American consumer and a creative steward cannot be underestimated. I make the following contrasts for the sake of keeping my mind, heart, and actions clear in regard to spiritual focus and economic discipline.

AMERICAN CONSUMER (messages I must repeatedly reject)
I am a consumer
I earned it; it is mine
Live on 100% of my income
Give me what I want, desire
Measure by what others get/have/do
I spend my income...and then some (credit-card living)
I live for the marketplace (defined by economic value)
Give me the lowest price--whatever it costs
I'll contribute whenever I feel like it

CREATIVE STEWARD (concepts I must repeatedly affirm)
I am a steward
God gave it, it’s God’s
Live on less than 90% of income -- 10% is tithed
I'll purchased based on what is responsible, necessary, beneficial
Measure by what I do with what I’ve been given
I steward resources with caring balance and margin (reject credit-card living)
I value fair global marketing--even if it costs us more
I’ll invest strategically in compassion & development

Photo: Called "the Springdale Tree," this great old oak graces the Near Eastside of Indianapolis along Brookside Drive South in the Springdale neighborhood area
The appeal of John Wesley in A Catholic Spirit needs to be embraced today

"But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works."

-- John Wesley in his sermon, "A Catholic Spirit"

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Context of "free and uncoerced actions" is worth weighing in our deliberations

GOING TO HELL? Somehow, the question of whether or not one who commits suicide will go to hell arose in the 5th and 6th grade Christian Life Club I work with on Wednesday evenings. Some of the churched kids asserted that one who commits suicide is hell-bound because, they insisted, the Bible says "Thou shalt not kill." Good literalists we're developing; and they would make Augustine proud, as this was one of his arguments. Though, technically, I could point out that the Hebrew would translate more like "You shall not commit murder." But I've waited to pray and read and contemplate a week before broaching the subject with the preteens again.

THE SILENCE OF SCRIPTURES. The question of the moral acceptability of suicide is weighty and complex, certainly not something to wrap-up in a mere blog. In light of the overwhelming reality of the sacredness of life, even a relatively mild consideration of the subject of suicide seems to be plumbing dark places. But among several books and articles I consulted, Thomas Kennedy had an insightful article in the conservative evangelical magazine Christianity Today. In Suicide and the Silence of Scriptures, Kennedy explores whether or not suicide is morally contemptible and under varying circumstances. Further, Kennedy, offers some sound guidance for Christians and the church who relate to folks who have relatives who have committed suicide or who are contemplating it.

SAMSON'S SITUATION. Occasions of suicide mentioned in the Bible are rare (there are seven and one attempted suicide) and there is an absence of moral condemnation associated with most. The most readily recognized suicides in the Bible are those of King Saul, Judas Iscariot, and Samson. Samson's suicide seems to have been considered martyrdom. Even Augustine and Aquinas, the two leading church teachers who condemned suicide and whose writings on the subject continue to form the main rationales held in the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches to this day, could not condemn Samson's act.

"FREE AND UNCOERCED ACTIONS" Kennedy defines suicide within this framework: "free and uncoerced actions engaged in for the purpose of bringing about one's own death." With that, Kennedy explores exceptions:

"If we define suicide as consisting of only free and uncoerced
, we must ask a series of questions as we try to understand any
particular suicide: To what extent do we know the suicide in question was
genuinely free? Could pain (either physical or emotional) have coerced the
individual to do what he otherwise might not have done? But even if we could
know that an act of suicide was genuinely free, can we know that the aim of the
act was indeed one's own death rather than a misguided cry for help? Can we know
that the suicide believed this action would really kill?"

Kennedy explores a further, more telling question:

"Did the individual aim at removing himself from God's goodness by suicide?
Was this an act of suicide directly aimed at saying no to God? Or was it rather
a tragically misguided attempt at saying yes to God? Eternal punishment is
reserved, Christians believe, for those who directly reject God and reject God
as a consistent pattern in life, not merely in a solitary final act. Every
suicide is not a rejection of God's goodness. Indeed, in many cases suicide is
mistakenly chosen to bring one nearer to God. We cannot say that such a motive
for suicide is correct. Nor can we say that a person who makes this tragic
mistake has removed herself forever from the grace of God."

Instead of focusing on pointing a finger in judgment and condemnation, those who represent the people of God would do better to be the people of God in truth, love and joy in relationship to people whose loved ones have committed suicide or with those who are contemplating it.

I welcome your helpful comments.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Enough with the light stuff, we're looking for a storm

We keep getting teased with
snow flurries.
Snow flurries are cute.
Snow flurries are charming.
Snow flurries are winsome.
But snow flurries don't put more than
a smattering of the white stuff
on the ground.
They don't pile up enough snow
to slide skis across.
They don't accumulate enough
to glide over with a sled.
They don't snarl traffic.
They don't suspend school.
They're not even worth
pushing aside with a shovel.
They just tease us.
What we're looking for,
what we're waiting for,
what we're praying for
is a real snow storm.
Is that too much to ask
in the middle of an
Indiana February?

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Central IMCPL Library draws me to the best desktop space in town

ROOM WITH A VIEW. I've taken up new office digs. The new-found workspace away from my primary desks at church and home happens to be one of the most expensive, panoramic, and well-appointed office areas in the city. And it's "free" to me. And to you. And to every other resident or guest of Indianapolis. I'm finding it possible to work quietly and creatively at one of many window-side tables (with lights and power plugs) in a Wi-Fi environment with endless reference information just a few feet away at the new Central Library in downtown Indy. The Central Library is worth visiting just for the "awesome!" comments it will inspire. Awesome, also, was the price tag. But it's built, it's beautiful, it's accessible, it's available, and it's ours to explore and use. See you there! Learn more about the Central Library of the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library network at ths link.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Finally declared dead after his small plane crashed 5 months ago

I've blogged about Steve Fossett in the past. He's the Chicago businessman/explorer who first successfully circumnavigated the globe in a hot-air balloon by himself. Fossett seemed to push the envelope for speed, distance, and endurance however, whenever he could. He climbed some of the world's highest mountains. He captained a crew that set a new speed record for sailing around the world. He worked with Sir Richard Branson to develop near-space flight projects.

Fossett's small plane disappeared five months ago after taking off in Navada. Massive searches for him over vast distances across the American west turned up nothing. Now it is time to recognize his efforts and hope others will be inspired to aim high and explore the limits of human and scientific capacity.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Nine days into Lent...are we fasting yet?

This is one of the typical gut-checking statements in John Fischer's book On a Hill Too Far Away:

"Society today is a consumer market, not given to much thought about anything--a society with a myriad of answers to choose from, any one of them as true as the next. This society does not question or contemplate meaning, it merely records data much as one would absorb sixty channels of cable TV all at once. It is a society incapable of making any lasting value judgments; whatever is printed or flashed on the screen is true… It should be pretty clear by now that most 'television ministry' has become merely one more channel of passive entertainment."

Graphic: "Consumers" by Yazan Khalifeh at Ramallah Underground

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Does a success-driven ethos foment the same kind of evil today?

COMFORT CONFRONTED. I mistakenly pulled from the shelf The Cultural Subversion of the Biblical Faith by Union Seminary theologian James D. Smart. I decided to browse Smart’s book for a moment. I’ve had it since Olivet Nazarene University days (1977-1981) where it was an assigned companion book in a class all students had to take. So, whether or not they took Smart seriously, all Olivet grads of that era were at least confronted with his assertions. I wonder if, in pursuit of success, comfort, place, etc., any ONU grads have since given Smart’s challenges a second thought? I pulled a few quotes from the final chapter that shed some light on the meaning of the cross in a culture of 'success':

SELF-RIGHTEOUS, FEARFUL, BLIND. “God’s sovereignty in human affairs must be understood in the light of the cross of Christ. The cross is the product of human blindness and evil. Men erect the cross—self-righteous men angered by what met them in Jesus, fearful men anxious for the future of their religious and political establishment, blind men not able to see what they were doing. But when men have done all that they can do, another Will becomes manifest, determining the actual meaning of the event in history.”

MEANING FROM DISASTER. “God is in the event in the sense that in binding this Jesus so completely to himself and making him the revelation of his inmost nature as a God of righteousness and love, he made inevitable the clash with human wills that resulted in the cross. And God is sovereign in the event, not in making it happen but in determining its meaning for the world, transforming it from a sheer disaster into the climactic and central even of the whole history of redemption.”

OUR WILL CONFRONTED BY GOD’S WILL. “At the cross all passivity and fatalism in relation to the events of history are purged from the Christian. Our eyes are opened to the dread possibility that, like a Caiaphas or a Pilate or a Judas, we may let our political, economic, or religious loyalties make us strike out blindly against God. What has happened in history is what we human beings have willed should happen. We have to take full responsibility for it. And there is no possibility of a different kind of history—a new age of justice and mercy—until the will within us is confronted and conquered by the will of God that meets us so compellingly in the Christ of the cross.”

FIRST CONCERN. “The task of theology should be to help us see more clearly where the line runs between faithfulness and unfaithfulness, between uncompromising faith and a religion deeply compromised by its cultural involvements. Life in the twentieth century under the sign of the cross is not what comes naturally for us. We are much more comfortable with a civil religion that provides us with principles and ideals that point the way to success in both personal and national life. But comfort, success, or even national unity is hardly a first concern of any thoughtful Christian.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Time magazine examines tough transitions in old Bombay, India

HEART & SOUL OF INDIA. Bangalore and Hyderabad are the emerging technology centers of India. Kolkata (Calcutta) is the sagging sacred city in the east. New Delhi, in India's northern heartland, is the government center. But Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) is India's throbbing heart and soul, as well as its primary gateway to the world. All that is hopeful, wonderful, and excellent, along with all that is despairing, troubling, and tragic about India converges in this west-coast megacity.

Time is producing a series of articles titled "Inner Workings of the World's Megacities." Time's online article about Mumbai focuses on the quandary of redevelopment in the world's largest slum--Dharavi, home to over 600,000 residents within a 500-acre area. Dharavi must be developed--but by whom, for whom, how, and at who's expense? How Mumbai redevelops Dharavi will be a signal to other megacities around the world.

The article is worth reading for two reasons: (1) It is spot-on in pointing out the juxtaposition of past and future and the ever-present challenge of poverty amid development and redevelopment, and (2) the future of the modern world must reckon with India--and global citizens need to learn as much about this nation as possible.

This Time photo by Adam Ferguson show an intersection in the world's largest slum, Dharavi, with downtown Mumbai in the background.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A gentle reminder as the "faith" rhetoric in the Presidential campaign heats up

COURTING THE "FAITH VOTE." While John McCain and Mike Huckabee court the so-called "Evangelical vote," each trying to sound more like defenders of the Bible than the seasoned Republican partisans that they are, Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton speak eloquently of injustices against the poor--a matter that is no less important in the Bible than life rights. For better or worse, the "faith vote" will apparently figure prominently both in the remaining primaries and the general election in November. And, once again, the Christian faithful are allowing themselves to be taken in and used by partisan politicians.

DISCERN BETWEEN CIVIL RELIGION AND BIBLICAL FAITH. This campaign season, the rhetoric used to court faith-sensitive voters is more sophisticated than ever. Huckabee is a former Baptist minister and Obama has placed his Christian faith front an center in his campaign (despite this, I still hear people murmuring that they are afraid he is a Muslim...thanks to the Fox News rumor-mongers!). More than ever, discernment between civil religion and authentic Biblical faith is required. Confusing and/or mixing the two can be lethal. Authentic Biblical faith ALWAYS loses in this shotgun marriage. I wonder if most voters in America who say they take Christianity seriously will dare to discern between Biblical faith and civil religion and, beyond that, cast their vote based more on the former than the latter.

WALLIS OFFERS INSIGHTS. A few years ago, Jim Wallis, a respected evangelical not of right-wing ideology, called people to make the effort to distinguish between civil religion, partisan politics, and Biblical faith. In a book titled God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It, Wallis described a political perspective that transcends both right- and left-wing pandering. His following insights may be helpful for faith-sensitive citizens to consider as they listen to Presidential candidates and engage in the national decision for who will lead America for the next four years.

  • "God's politics is never partisan or ideological. But it challenges everything about our politics."

  • "God's politics reminds us of the people our politics always neglects — the poor, the vulnerable, the left behind."

  • "God's politics challenges narrow national, ethnic, economic, or cultural self-interest, reminding us of a much wider world and the creative human diversity of all those made in the image of the creator."

  • "God's politics reminds us of the creation itself, a rich environment in which we are to be good stewards, not mere users, consumers, and exploiters."

  • "God's politics pleads with us to resolve the inevitable conflicts among us, as much as is possible, without the terrible cost and consequences of war."

  • "God's politics always reminds us of the ancient prophetic prescription to 'choose life, so that you and your children may live,' and challenges all the selective moralities that would choose one set of lives and issues over another."
To what extent is "illegal immigration" code for racism?

Before the Indiana State Legislature is a bill by Carmel's Mike Delph that would penalize Indiana business operators that hire "illegal immigrants." His bill and his perspective has been labeled racist by some Latino advocates. In today's Indianapolis Star, Delph tries to make the case that he and his efforts are not racist or based on racism.

Reading Delph's comments, it seems to me that he does not realize the extent to which he is immersed in the rhetoric of racism, surrounded by associates and fueled by self-justifying influences that, in the name of upholding the law, nonetheless foment suspicion, division, and bias based on race. He may not see himself or his efforts as racially biased, but he has engaged the perspective and language in which racial bias is embedded and inherent. The trajectory of "illegal immigration" as it is being used in current public discourse, moves toward alarming impacts.

So, I'm wondering: To what extent is "illegal immigration" code for racism?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

An old prayer, a contemporary plea

During my seminary days, Dr. Wesley D. Tracy pointed to the following collect from the Book of Common Prayer used in the Episcopal Church of England in John Wesley's day as a concise description of Wesley's theology of entire sanctification. I often lift up this prayer as I begin my times of private worship.

Almighty God,
Unto whom all hearts are open,

All desires known,
And from whom no secrets are hid,
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
By the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,

That we may perfectly love you
And worthily magnify your holy name,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,


Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Kolkata-to-Mumbai Cycling Event is Possible

ACROSS FOR A CROSS. It's been exactly one year since we completed our 2,000-mile bicycle ride from the southern tip of India to New Delhi and I long to ride in India once again. Joe James and some of our Indian friends have talked about an east-to-west ride to complement our south-to-north journey. On a map, the route from Kolkata (Calcutta) to Mumbai (Bombay), combined with the route we took from Nagercoil to New Delhi, would form a "cross."

TO FULFILL THE FINANCIAL NEED. The ride might help us complete what we started--to raise the full amount needed to replace Umri Christian Hospital. About $330,000 of a needed $600,000 had been thus far contributed. The remaining $270,000 is essential for completion, equipping, and sending a signal to all that UCH will have a significant stake in India's future. I would be honored to ride across India again if we could do so with financial commitments to fulfill the required amount for hospital replacement.

LEARNING LESSONS. I think our first ride and fund-raising effort could well-inform a second excursion. There were numerous lessons learned for consideration in planning that can produce a more fruitful outcome. Connections and networks were established in India that make a second effort welcome, too. We'll have to give this some prayer and further thought. I welcome your helpful input, too.

Friday, February 8, 2008

February 8, 2007 - from Kosi to New Delhi

FINAL DAY IN THE SADDLE. This day last year was our final day of a 2,000-mile bicycle ride from the southern tip of India to New Delhi. It would prove to be both a frightening and fulfilling day. But it’s not likely any difficulty could have dimmed our spirits or deterred us from making the last day of our cycling journey a bright one.

DANGEROUS FOG. We rode north out of Kosi in a serious fog. Visibility was extremely low. Objects were not visible until about 30 feet in front of us. It was eerie and dangerous. Vehicles were driving too fast to see us and we were forced off the road several times. We thought the fog would lift soon, but it persisted most of the way to Delhi. The moisture soaked our clothing and the vehicle spray covered our bikes.

INTO DELHI. The sun finally burned the fog away by the time we reached the outskirts of Delhi after noon. We faced a new challenge: plowing our bikes through the capitol's thick bumper-to-bumper traffic. Our experience of pedaling through Bangalore, Hyderabad and Nagpur served us well. We were tired from the day’s harrowing 75-mile / 120-kilometer ride, but we were psyched as we rode into the heart of Delhi. We’d studied the map of the city enough to know where we wanted to go and how to get there.

CELEBRATING AT INDIA GATE. We selected the India Gate in old Delhi as our “finish line,” and we headed straight there. The India Gate is a massive arch, memorializing all India’s war dead. It stands at one end of a grand boulevard on the scale of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. At the opposite end of Rajpath Marg are the Presidential buildings and India’s Parliament (we also visited these sites). Once we reached the India Gate, we lifted our bikes over our heads and celebrated the completion of the cycling portion of our journey. We’d ridden over 2,000 miles / 3,200 kilometers since starting at Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu+ on December 30. The feelings of accomplishment, relief, and gratitude were awesome.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

February 7, 2007 - from Agra to Kosi

TAJ MAHAL. Our little bicycle entourage arrived in Agra on February 5, 2007. We visited the Taj Mahal the next day. The world's most awesome mausoleum was simply grand. It's reflection of the hues of the sky at various times of day was glorious. The sheer size and intricate detail of the edifice, as well as its elegant endurance over centuries, seem to make it worthy of its reputation as a man-made wonder. Indians are rightfully proud of this expression of art, ingenuity and hard labor. Still, I winced at the sheer size of ego and heights of abuse of power that could convieve of and compel such a feat.

DAY FOR FLATS. When we got back on the road on February 7, it was our day for flat tires. I punctured and repaired quickly. Joe hit a piece of glass that cut his tire, which took a bit more time to repair. Then, my back tire went down...again. We found the culprit: the same tiny shard of glass imbedded in the tire surface. Three flats in a day after only two punctures in over 1,900 miles…interesting. Cross-country cycling requires readiness to quickly repair flat tires and access extra tires and supplies.

NEXT TO LAST DAY OF RIDING. On this day one year ago, we pedaled 108 kilometers / 66 miles to a little town on National Highway 2 called Kosi on what was our next to last day of cycling in India. The roads had become familiar to us. We'd become quite adept at the Indian “rules of the road.” We were accustomed to the diverse activity on the roadsides. We felt like we are part of it and it is a part of us. There were hardly any more unique visuals that we hadn’t already captured on photo or video clips. Still, the thought that we will not be riding these roads—Seals and Crofts’ song “We May Never Pass this Way Again” came to mind—put us in a wistful but grateful frame of mind.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Anticipation of Ash Wednesday and 40 Days of Prayer & Fasting

We saunter into
Ash Wednesday's service.
We are marked--
as much a sign of
obligation as mild

Lent launches
as we straggle up
the gangplank.
Though winded,
we're on board--
a bit bewildered about
where this journey ends,
somewhat unsure of
the purpose of this

When inspiration flags
discipline and duty
carry us.
Where vision is obscured,
the immediate horizon a fog,
soundings resonate

Others seem more
certain of this voyage--
Sails are trimmed and
crew busy themselves.
But we aren't sure
whether we should
settle in to rest
or keep watch
at the bow.

We're asked to
give up something--
to lighten the load?
Have we not already
given up home and land
for this unteathered vessel
churning through
inhospitable seas
to an unheard of

After a few days at sea
we notice atop the mast
flies a flag--are those
cross bones?
What were we thinking
when we bought the ticket
marked "Destination Port:

Monday, February 4, 2008

February 4, 2007 - transition day in Gwalior

GETTING READY FOR OUR LAST LEG. This day one year ago was a Sunday and a transition day into our final week of a 2,000-mile bicycle ride from the southern tip of India to New Delhi. The last leg of our journey would take us to Agra, where we would spend a day touring the Taj Mahal and Red Fort, and then two days of riding on to New Delhi. We would pass through territory where the "Bandit Queen" (India's version of Robin Hood) would run raids on freight trucks. We would enjoy the company of a hearty team of riders from Mumbai (formerly Bombay). We would encounter frighteningly thick fog on the ride toward New Delhi. And we would finally celebrate in the heart of India's incredible capitol.

POWER OF COWPIES. All along our journey, we had to swerve to avoid cowpies. Cattle, sacred in Hindu religion, roam freely or are harnessed for work. They are also the source of India's milk. Cow and water buffalo manure is collected, shaped into saucer-like pies, dried in the sun, and artfully stacked for later use in cooking or heating (as in the photo). Cowpies are also used as plaster to reinforce huts and serve doubly to keep insects away. Of course, the smell of burning cowpies serves up a distinct aroma wherever it is being burned. But it IS a biofuel...and cheap. No doubt, more uses of animal waste for energy will figure significantly in the future of energy-hungry, green-sensitive economies.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

February 3, 2007 - from Jhansi to Gwalior

MEETING SEBASTIEN. Our 100-kilometer / 62-mile ride north from Jhansi to Gwalior on this day last year was smooth, but not uneventful. Riding through a small town, a young man on a bike rode up beside me. Not unusual. It was unusual, however, that he was on a mountain bike and he was white. As he rode along beside me, I discovered that his name was Sabastien and he was from Lausanne, Switzerland. I invited him to ride with us and join us for lunch. We learned that he had ridden alone from Katmandu, Nepal and was touring India via bicycle, eventually intending to ride to Kolkata on the eastern border of India.

GREAT SAVE. After lunch, Sabastien left us, riding on ahead. But we came across him in about an hour. His bicycle had broken down, apparently irrepairably. We hoisted his bike on the trailer and took him on in to Gwalior. Bob Yardy spent the next three hours taking apart and repairing his back wheel hub and gear assembly. With Bob's know-how and parts cobbled together from local shops, the bike was nearly as good as new and Sebastien was able to continue his trek. I think our encounter with Sebastien at the time he would need the particular help our team was uniquely equipped to offer was a "God thing."

Saturday, February 2, 2008

February 2, 2007 - from Lalitpur to Jhansi

COLD START, WARM FINISH. On this day last year, we were thankful to bicycle on a smooth road for the first time in many days. And, for the only time on the 6-week, 2,000-mile journey, we were cold. When we began at 6:45 am, the temperature was 52 degrees Fahrenheit. Our fingers were numb and we were chilled. But by 9:00 am, the temperatured had climbed to 70. By noon it was over 80 degrees. Yep, an American Midwestern September day! When we arrived in Jhansi, we stayed in the guest house of the Maria Ackerman Hoyt Memorial Hospital.

JHANSI KI RANI. We arrived in Jhansi, our day’s destination, early in the afternoon. Our hosts told us that Jhansi was the beginning point of India’s freedom movement against Great Britain in 1857. The story goes that a 22-year old woman named Lakshmi Bai, the recent widow of the area’s Maharaja (territorial prince), rallied the town to fight the British when they tried to seize control of the area after her husband’s death. Agreements between the Maharajas and the British stated that Indians would maintain control of an area as long as there was an heir. Lakshmi Bai was childless, but she and her husband had adopted a son. Upon the Maharaja’s death, the British refused to recognize the child as the next prince and moved to take control. Rallying the town to resist the British and fight for their freedom, the people occupied the local hillside fort. A traitor in their midst opened the gates and the British forces flooded in. Lakshmi Bai, with her child on her back and a horse under her, leaped from the high fort wall and escaped to continue the freedom challenge. She is revered as Jhansi ki Rani…the Queen of Jhansi.

Friday, February 1, 2008

February 1, 2007 - from Sagar to Lalitpur

FROM SAGAR TO LALITPUR. We rode our bicycles 116 kilometers / 70.5 miles on on very rough roads the first day of February 2007. The trek from Sagar to Lalitpur didn't have so many potholes as uneven and patched tarmac. This section of the highway was being improved; lots of construction. Our new team of Indian riders got an immediate baptism in long and difficult riding. Yogish, a young man from Nagpur, experienced only our second tire puncture in over 2,400 km. We left the state of Madhya Pradesh and entered the state of Uttar Pradesh, inching us nearer to New Delhi.

HARRIET BENSON MEMORIAL HOSPITAL. In Lalitpur, we were privileged to be hosted in the guest house of the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital. This was our second evening to be guests of Christian hospitals (other than Umri Christian Hospital) initiated by missionaries external to India and now led by Indian medical and operations staff. The next night, we would stay at the Maria Ackerman Hoyt Memorial Hospital. These hospitals have an important medical mission in serving the poorest of the poor with caring and quality medical care in historically underserved areas.

AUTHENTIC HOSPITALITY. In addition to hospital guest houses, we were invited to stay overnight in churches, a school for deaf young people, homes, and training facilities. All along the journey, we experienced authentic hospitality.