Friday, May 30, 2008

Frederick Buechner prods us to plumb our belief to reach a deeper, heartier "Yes!"

MERELY SPRITIUAL PLASTIC SURGERY? "If anybody starts talking to me about religious commitment, I may listen politely, but what I'd like to answer him with is a few monosyllables that don't bear repeating here in the midst of the holy community. If you tell me Christian commitment is a thing that has happened to you once and for all like some kind of spiritual plastic surgery, I say you're either pulling the wool over your own eyes or trying to pull it over mine. Every morning you should wake up in your bed and ask yourself: 'can I believe it all again today?'"

NEW YORK TIMES & THE BIBLE--SIDE BY SIDE. "No, better still, don't ask it till after you've read the New York Times, till after you've studied that daily record of the world's brokenness and corruption, which should always stand side by side with your Bible. Then ask yourself if you can believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ again for that particular day. If your answer's always 'yes,' then you probably don't know what believing means."

LAUGHTER OF WONDERFUL INCREDULITY. "At least five times out of ten the answer should be 'no' because the 'no' is as important as the 'yes,' maybe more so. The 'no' is what proves you're human in case you should ever doubt it. And then, if some morning the answer happens to be really 'yes,' it should be a 'yes' that's choked with confession and tears and ... great laughter--not a beatific smile, but the laughter of wonderful incredulity."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

It's worth asking how our wants and "needs" impact the death of these children

10 MILLION CHILDREN PER YEAR. UNICEF figures show that 27,000 to 30,000 children die each day due to complexities of global poverty. In 2007, UNICEF reported that worldwide child deaths were at a record low: only 9.7 million per year. For the first time in modern history, the number of children dying before age 5 fell below 10 million per year. But that’s still 9.7 million children. It begs questions, like: In what ways might our wants and "needs" be contributing to nearly 10 million children dying each year around the globe? What percent of the world's food and energy resources do we consume? At whose expense do we indulge?

AT WHOSE EXPENSE DO WE INDULGE? Riding our bicycles up through the heart of India last year, the dramatic poverty I saw--alongside incredible industry—day after day was seared into my mind and heart. I commented to Free Methodist Bishop Joe James, who was making the 2,000-mile trek along with Bob Yardy and me: “we are seeing the people at whose expense we live.” He corrected me: “No, we are seeing the people at whose expense we indulge.” I think he was right.

WHAT COST “DISCOUNT PRICES EVERY DAY?” On the one hand, some would say that American consumer needs and purchases are creating opportunities for work and income for textile, clothing and manufacturing workers in developing world areas. On the other hand, one could also say that our demand for “discount prices every day” is enabling a slavish system that uses people instead of empowering them, that perpetuates a life of mere survival for millions of people so that people on the other side of the world can get a “bargain” and take it easy.

WITHIN A GENERATION. Christian conscience, at the most minimal level, calls for us to make this connection more clearly, challenge our appetites, change our habits, and transform our economic practices. We know too much now about the downside of economic globalization to continue to act as if we’re na├»ve or innocent of “blood diamonds.” This generation cannot pass with any integrity without a voluntary and vociferous change in buying and selling standards. And it begins with each individual, each household, each purchase, each product. Just like we are all now considering the cost of driving about willy nilly in our vehicles, we must also take fully into account and consider the “unseen” costs in every product and purchase.

DAYS OF IRRESPONSIBILITY. The days and ways of irresponsible consumerism are coming to an end. Either they will end in voluntary self-discipline or they will end in catastrophic social and geo-political upheaval. For these days we need spiritual discernment, wisdom and courage. We need leadership at national and international levels that possesses and utilizes great wisdom. For this, and for our next purchase in the world marketplace, let us pray.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenges us to plumb our motives and actions to the deepest place

"Only the one for whom the final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all these, when in faith and sole allegiance to God he is called to obedient and responsible action: the responsible person, whose life will be nothing but an answer to God's question and call." -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

5 indicators that it's time to challenge old assumptions and grow

What do you say when you sense God leading you to once-taboo actions or into thought-to-be unholy arenas?

“Not hardly, Lord.”

That’s the response of one of the leading followers of Jesus. Confronted in a vision with the voice of Jesus telling him to kill and eat Torah-forbidden animals, Peter naturally resists.

Three times he declines the non-kosher dinner offer. And three times he receives a counter-challenge to his risky rebuff:

“If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.”

This encounter, told fully in Acts of the Apostles 10-11, prepares Peter to get beyond himself, his phobias and his cultural insulation in order to let God’s grace flow through him. Out of this head-spinning, heart-searching vision, Peter would awaken to real-world needs--needs and opportunities for which God’s grace is the answer but through which only vision-challenged disciples who can get beyond themselves can be effective.

In order to bear grace to Gentiles in whom God was already stirring, Peter had to let go of long-held taboos, norms, legalisms and prejudices. Eating non-kosher food would just be the tip of an iceberg that would need to be melted over a lifetime of spiritual breakthroughs.

Getting beyond ourselves it still one of the great spiritual challenges for Jesus’ followers. Drawn from Peter’s story in Acts 10-11, here are 5 indicators that it may well be time—and past time—for us to get beyond ourselves.

It’s time to get beyond ourselves…

1. ...When our habits, preferences, traditions and self-interest DULL us to God’s present, forward-looking work in the world. Acts 11:5-8

How do routine, non-spiritual things in my life become barriers to fresh faith and my ability to see God’s work in others’ lives?

2. ...When we find ourselves RESISTING God’s voice of challenge to our “narrowness,” “stuck-ness,” or “me-ness.” Acts 11:8-10

What will it take for me to be shaken loose from my cocoon of familiarity, convenience, and excuses?

3. ...When God SENDS people our way who need and want to know about the faith we have been given. Acts 11:11-14

Who has God sent my way in the past six months with hopes, hurts, and spiritual longing? What has been my response? What can I do when this happens again?

4. ...When God DEMONSTRATES overwhelming grace in lives and groups we have previously written off, suspected, or excluded. Acts 11:15-18

Where in the world and in what groups is God’s grace being embraced? What changes in attitude, care, and solidarity does this call for from me?

5. ...When to stay where we are in our faith--or to not share our faith--will hide God’s light and NULLIFY our witness. Matthew 5:13-16

Am I willing to say "Yes" today as I am called let go of spiritual and cultural dead weight and to walk into a future of witness and growth as God leads me?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Our third child is on the brink of her Senior year...and I'm feeling kinda old about that

A SENIOR IN A FEW DAYS. The school year is drawing to a close. Just a day or two left for Molly as a Junior at Ben Davis High School on Indy's Westside. And then...and then our third child will be a Senior. A Senior!? This can't be! I'm too young. She's too young. Life is too precious. It's all happening too fast. Let's slow this thing down. Let's savor these days, these moments, these passages...

ACADEMIC PURSUIT. Molly's Junior year has been distinguished by a number of well-deserved achievements. She remains in the top five of her class and has scored very well on PSAT, SAT and ACT tests, opening up options for university placement. She was inducted into the National Honor Society a few weeks ago. All this comes by combining giftedness with a lot of hard work and discipline in the books. I appreciate her academic pursuit and I pray that along with it has grown a genuine love for learning. I believe that has blossomed.

SOCCER ACHIEVEMENT. She worked hard on the soccer field from mid-July through October, starting nearly every game for the third year in a row for the Lady Giants. Ben Davis girls achieved a new level of accomplishment this past season, winning the Marion County Championship for the first time. Hopes are high for a core of soon-to-be Seniors who started playing a recreational league together 11 years ago. State final four is possible.

DRAMA AND MUSIC. Molly opted out of track again this spring (she qualified for State on the 4 X 800 as a Freshman) in order to participate in the spring high school musical. Last year she had a leading role in High School Musical. This year she played "Chip" the teacup in a great production of Beauty and the Beast. Though the role was not leading, we think she was the best teacup in the nation! The musical received record attendance and it was fun to watch. Molly sang in both the Purple Aires concert choir and Premiers show choir this year, a challenge that took up a lot of time, weekends, and called upon her to sacrifice attending Abby's college graduation ceremony (no child should be made to do this for the sake of a grade!).

PROUD DAD. So, congratulations on a great year, Molly! And welcome to your Senior year! May it be a year of promise and fulfillment, pointing toward a future that brings you ever nearer to your dreams. You do not make me feel old, though I am surely getting older [on this, my 49th birthday]. You make me feel proud and grateful. And that makes age completely relative.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The poem that personifies the heart of the Memorial Day holiday

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

--Lt. Colonel John McRae, 1915

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Hoosier Poet's remains grace Crown Hill's highest point

INDY VISTA. In all the year's I've lived in Indianapolis, I'd never really explored Crown Hill Cemetery. I did so Saturday morning. I wondered about the white, parthenon-style monument at the top of the highest hill in the rolling, wooded urban park. I climbed the winding road to discover it was the resting place of James Whitcomb Riley, a citizen of Indianapolis and revered as one of Indiana's literary greats. The monument was a simple but profound structure. A charming feature was a small bronze statue of a child sitting on the ground, reading a book. Being the highest point in Crown Hill, the monument offers a wonderful vista of Indianapolis in all directions, with the downtown skyline clearly visible.

FROM FALLEN SOLDIERS TO JOHN DILLINGER. After visiting Riley's tomb, I rode around until I found two more sites: the first was the section reserved for fallen soldiers. The second was the grave site of the robber John Dillinger. I made a donation to the ROTC cadets giving out flags at the cemetery's entrance. The Heritage Fund is used to restore the grave sites of fallen soldiers. I'm sure I will visit Crown Hill again and recommend a visit to others. It is a beautiful place in the heart of Indy.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Instead of glorifying war, Memorial Day calls us to pursue alternatives to militarism

Reverently mourning the loss of even one soldier’s life and contemplating its cost in lost potential, relationships, creativity, and community contribution over a generation confronts us with a sobering, gut-wrenching challenge. War--and those whose lives are snuffed out or haunted by it--gives us every indication that we have not yet explored or employed our best intellectual, spiritual and material resources for preventing or addressing conflicts.

Instead of glorifying war and perpetuating the spirit of militarism, this holiday affords us an opportunity to contemplate how far we have to go as a nation--and as a human family--in transforming our means of defending liberty, advancing democracy, and procuring justice. Every Memorial Day is an opportunity to consider: given the cost in these precious lives, we must find a better way, not just repeat the past again and again.

Photo: I took this picture today at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis

Friday, May 23, 2008

Other communities may downplay Memorial Day hoopla, but we hype it in Indy

EYES ON INDY THIS WEEKEND. Living in Indianapolis, where on Memorial weekend the Indianapolis 500 is run, the massive 500 Festival Parade is conducted, and where there are more prominent war memorials than in any other U. S. city, we get a full dose of Memorial remembrance--and then some. It's in your face, really. This town pulls out all the stops for Memorial weekend. With the eyes of the nation (and much of the world, some like to think) on Indianapolis on Sunday's "Greatest Spectacle in Racing," there's a lot of Memorial Day pageantry and patriotic fervor to spread around.

MILITARY PRESENCE MAKES A DISTINCT IMPRESSION. Memorial weekend has a particularly distinctive military flare in Indy's annual festivities. Military power is prominent at all our big events. Military bands march in the parade. Spectators are given American flags to wave as regiments of troops march by. Military hardware is on prominent display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and other venues. And there is a bone-rattling fly-over of fighter jets at the singing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" before the race begins. In the eyes of a child, a distinct impression will be made: Memorial Day is about recognizing military might and honoring those who fight for us. A secondary assumption will be implanted: this is the way it's always been and this is the way it always must be to preserve and defend freedom and democracy.

CROSSING THE LINE. Speeches and public prayers at the 500 and other events this weekend will be laced with military references. God, guns, and guts will together be praised. The line that separates memorializing our war dead from glorifying war will not only be repeatedly and uncritically crossed, it will hardly be recognized as necessary or legitimate. Most folks will care more about how their bratwurst is grilled and the average speed of the race winner than about the morphing of the historic purpose of Memorial Day into a general glorification of military might and war as necessary, inevitable, and synonymous with American patriotism. Very few will visit a war memorial or mark a grave. I'm pretty sure such a scenario is not what General John Logan or Ms. Moina Michael had in mind. I wonder if we will ever get back to decorating graves and buying poppies? I hope we do. I believe we can.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

From decorating graves to selling and wearing poppies, here's a bit of the holiday's background

CIVIL WAR & WORLD WAR I. The earliest official declaration for "Decoration Day" comes from the post-Civil War era by the hand of General John A. Logan. After World War I, a civilian, Moina Michael, picked up the Memorial Day banner and inspired a movement to sell and distribute red poppies as a tribute to heroes fallen in battle.

PROCLAMATION FOR DECORATION DAY. Here is a portion of General Logan's May 5, 1868 proclamation:

"The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit."

"We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose
among other things, 'of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.' What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of
rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to
the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic."

"Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan."

SELLING POPPIES TO HONOR WAR DEAD. And here is a bit of the story of Moina Michael:

In 1915, inspired by the poem "In Flanders Fields," Moina Michael replied with her own poem:

Oh! You who sleep in "Flanders Fields,"
Sleep sweet -- to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And, holding high, we keep the Faith
With all who died.
We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.
And now the Torch and Poppy red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

Ms. Michael conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. Later a Madam Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Ms. Michael and when she returned to France, made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. This tradition spread to other countries. Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans' organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their "Buddy"Poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans. In 1948 the US Post Office honored Ms. Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on ii.

PURE-HEARTED ROOTS. So, it would appear that the roots of Memorial Day are relatively pure. On the one hand, comrades of fallen soldiers of the Union Army simply felt that decorating their graves was a fitting way to preserve their memory and honor. On the other hand, a civilian effort to honor the war dead took the form of selling and wearing poppies, the proceeds going to benefit the widows and children of fallen soldiers or to veterans disabled in wars. So, is that where we are with Memorial Day today?

Source for this post

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Carolyn Winfrey Gillette has written a soul-searching prayer song

A Hymn for Peace is dedicated to the memory of Shaul Lahav, grandson of Helen and Paul Loeb, who was killed on November 18, 2003, on the road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Another son is killed,
Another daughter dies,
And loving, waiting homes are filled
With loved ones' cries.
As rivers never sleep,
So wars flow on and on.
Hang up your harps, sit down and weep
For those now gone!

We grieve for children lost,
For hearts too sad to pray;
We mourn, O Lord, the growing cost
Of hatred's way.
And sure as threats increase
And anger turns to war,
We pray that we may find a peace
Worth struggling for.

We know your way, O Lord,
For all your people here:
A plowshare from a fighting sword,
A transformed spear!
Now comfort those who grieve,
Be in each saddened home,
And by your grace may we believe--
And seek Shalom.

Based on: Psalm 137:1-2 and Isaiah 2:4
Tune: LEONI ("The God of Abraham Praise"
hear the tune here), Hebrew melody adaptation by Thomas Olivers and Meyer Lyon, 1770.
Text: © 2003 Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Carolyn Winfrey Gillette gives free one-time use of this hymn to congregations that support Church World Service. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette is the co-pastor of the
Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware and author of Gifts of Love: New Hymns for Today's Worship, a collection of 45 new hymns published by Geneva Press. A complete list of her hymns can be found at . Email:

Monday, May 19, 2008

Heading toward the holiday gets me wondering about its original purpose, current focus, and the ascendancy of militarism

LOOKING FORWARD. This week, I intend to post some blog entries reflecting on the relationship between the current focus of Memorial Day and its original intention. Also, to contemplate the role of the military and militarism that has emerged in the United States of America in civilian, Main Street life since 9/11. I'd like to explore three relationships:

1. GLORIFYING WAR? Discerning the difference between memorializing those who died while serving in America's wars and glorifying war and military might [as right] is critical, it seems to me.

2. AN EXCUSE FOR DISPLAYING MILITARY PROWESS? Discovering and embracing Memorial Day (originally: Decoration Day) in its original intention and observance can offer a course correction to today's militaristic propaganda parade.

3. JUSTIFYING MORE WAR? Demonstrating the difference between "supporting the troops" and using their deaths as justification for continued war and "victory" is important as we think of the future of the Iraq War and other conflicts which our leaders thrust upon us.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Do you notice how many borders you cross each day?

I penned the following piece after working with John 4. "Jesus had to go through Samaria...", i.e., Jesus chose intentionally to cross a significant cultural border for the sake of expressing the Kingdom. I was contemplating the daily challenges and learning opportunities of border crossing afforded all of us who live in a metropolitan area.

Driving my car, I cross a border,
with hardly a notice
slice through historic turf
that defined and defied
urban neighbors for years.

More unmarked boundaries
pass beneath my wheels.
In another era they would have
separated white from black,
native-born from immigrant,
rich from poor.

Insulated, I crisscross the city—
mobile, transient, unfettered,
on freeways that bypass realities,
offering commuter illusions
of debt-free passage and place.

To one, this passing cityscape
appears an unbounded horizon,
to another it is precariously cut
and quartered territories—
staked, claimed, developed,
defended, abandoned, rehabbed.

One travels in and out of the urban core
with nary a thought (except gratitude
that one does not reside here),
another moves among these neighborhoods
acutely aware of spirit and place,
in reverence for soulful struggles.

One uses the city and retreats,
another embraces its rhythms.
One merely consumes its resources,
another, fueled by its complexities,
dares to steward what one still
seeks to understand.

We all cross these borders,
daily traverse a living polis
layered with polarity and paradox,
pulsating with power for shalom,
calling each to love the whole--
honoring one neighbor at a time.

photo by phillypenn on flickr

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Oil up your two-wheeler and get ready for a pedaled commute this Friday

RIDE THIS FRIDAY. Indianapolis Bike to Work Day is this Friday, May 16, 2008. As part of Indiana Bicycle Month, hundreds of bicyclists are anticipated to participate in the greater Indianapolis metropolitan Bike to Work Day. Indianapolis Bike to Work Day will include group commuting rides from different locations throughout the city that will converge on the southwest corner of Monument Circle. There will be free bicycle parking, breakfast, giveaways and information awaiting bicyclists as they arrive on Monument Circle. To register or obtain additional information, visit

DE-STRESS, RIDE YOUR BIKE. Typically, it takes me about 20-25 minutes to drive my Beetle from our house to the church office at 2302 W. Morris Street. Riding my bicycle, however, takes just 15 minutes longer. The extra time is worth it to me. It is much less stressful, I've exercised, listened to interesting podcasts or audiobooks, spared the environment that much more carbon waste, and saved a bit of money. I've committed to ride two days a week as long as the weather cooperates.

COMMUTER NATION. Do you know which nation has more bicycle commuters than any other? Not China. Not india. It's The Netherlands! And isn't that a cold place? Guess what nation is the LEAST bicycle commuting nation? You guessed it: USA. If gas prices stay high, might this change?

For fun, check in with the guys at the Kickstand Cyclery, Yehuda and Joe. A great online bicycle comic strip:

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I'll do my part, but will government and the energy industry do their part?

HITTING HOME. The price of fuel is really hitting our family budget. I can only imagine the stress it's causing in households across this country, not to mention it's impact on food prices around the world. We haven't been in this particular situation in a generation, I'm told. This thing isn't temporary and it's calling for some real changes at several levels.

TWO LEVELS OF RESPONSE NEEDED. It seems like two things are being called for: First: immediate personal lifestyle and mobility changes that ease the impact of the spiraling price of oil/fuel on our wallets. Second: a viable long-term strategy to stabilize oil prices, develop valid non-food-based alternative energies, and reward efficiency and conservation strategies.

CONSERVING AT HOME. Our family is moving beyond shock and awe (along with complaining and anger) to some lifestyle and mobility changes. Personally, I am commuting to work on my bicycle two days a week. We're consolidating drives when possible. I do as much work as possible electronically. We're also considering selling our little ski boat, usually a source of Saturday family fun in the summer. I'm not sure we can afford to maintain and operate it any longer. So far, we haven't either licensed it or put it on the market, but we're having that discussion.

WHAT "THEY" CAN DO. At a second, larger level (and I really need to see an honest and long-term effort by elected and appointed government officials and industry "leaders" here) it seems there is need to:

(1) stabilize oil prices,

(2) aggressively develop non-food-based alternative energies, and

(3) reward energy efficiency and conservation measures by valid investments and incentives.

NO LAUGHING MATTER. I saw a photo today of the U. S. Senate--including all our Presidential candidates--standing, applauding and laughing (see above). For the first time that I can remember, such a scene irked me. Surely they were laughing at something legitimately humorous. But it hit me that they would not be laughing if they were in my shoes right now. They should not dare walk out of that chamber until they have honestly grappled with this issue. But it appears they and the Bush Administration have not, are not...will not? We don't want pandering or "someday" gestures; we need to see a serious plan of action begin to develop...right away.
What spiritual stronghold stands against the liberation realized at Pentecost?

PENTECOSTAL PROMISE. Trying to seize on the rare convergence of Pentecost Sunday and Mother’s Day, on Sunday I attempted to explore the implications of Pentecostal grace for women and the church. Focusing on the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy in Acts 2 (“upon my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit and they will prophesy”), I laid out the following points by Scripture, story and application (CAPS are my emphasis):

1. In obedience to Jesus’ direction WOMEN gathered along with the eleven Apostles and other disciples in prayerful anticipation of God’s promised gift. Acts 1:12-14.

2. When God poured out the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, ALL of them—including women—were FILLED and began to SPEAK of the wonders of God. Acts 2:1-4.

3. Women PROPHESYING, or declaring God’s Word publicly under the unction of the Holy Spirit, is a FULFILLMENT of Joel’s prophecy. Acts 2:16-18; Joel 2:28-32.

4. Pentecost AFFIRMS Jesus’ teaching and regard for women and sets the STANDARD for the future of the church. Galatians 3:26-29.

MIXED SIGNALS. I got mixed signals from the congregation as I preached what I'd hoped would be an informative and inspiring message of transformation. But it was as if the Scriptures that are so plain to me and so clearly articulated by those in the historic Wesleyan-holiness stream as liberation of women for ministry were completely new to some ears. Or, that some hearts and minds were under the sway of a prevailing spiritual stronghold that has accepted patriarchal hierarchy and domination in human relationships as a natural or even Godly given.

ABANDONING A CORE FREEDOM? Perhaps I misread the congregation; I pray so. But I am wondering if the current evangelical church culture has so succumbed to patriarchal cultural underpinnings and the tenets of Fundamentalist influence that it is unable to recognize the radical freedom and renewal of the terms relationship with God and one another that was embodied by Jesus and unleashed at Pentecost? If it is not able to recognize and embrace this whole-heartedly, then the church has abandoned one of the core freedoms of the Gospel at a time in which it is critically needed to be articulated and incarnated in the world.

WORLD-WIDE CONCERN. The domination and manipulation--even servitude--of women by men around the world is profound. In greater and lesser degrees, I witnessed this directly and repeatedly in India last year. It is common in the culture at large in India, but also clearly noticeable in the church. Glaring double standards between men and women abound. Women are regarded in pre-Christian terms and treated in sub-Christian ways. Reading about the subjection of women across cultures leaves me with the impression that this is widespread in other world areas and in the church. Certainly, there are entire branches of the church in America, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, in which women are prevented on a so-called "Biblical basis" from teaching, preaching, and leading.

THREE BARRIERS TO HURDLE. If we cannot see the radical reversal regarding the very definition of womanhood and the liberation for ministry in the witness of Jesus and the impact of Pentecost, then we will certainly fail to embrace a vital part of our own witness and mission in the world today. In order to embrace Pentecostal grace in this dimension, I am convinced there are three significant barriers that must be hurdled:

JESUS’ DESCRIPTION OF WOMEN. 1. Over against prevailing cultural roles and identifiers, we must embrace Jesus’ description of women. According to Jesus, a woman’s identity and significance is not based on her ability to bear a male child through which to satisfy her husband and live out her ambitions, it is through apprehending and doing the will of God. This places all of us on common ground—male, female, younger, older, wealthy or poor, etc.

MUTUAL SERVICE-BASED RELATIONSHIPS. 2. Over against the common misconception that patriarchal hierarchy in family relationships is God’s design for healthy families, we must recognize (1) that domination-based relationships are part of the curse of the Fall, not God’s original intention, and (2) that mutual service-based relationships are the new norm in Jesus’ message and the best teaching of the early church.

WOMEN LED IN THE EARLY CHURCH. 3. Over against proof-texting a few references in the New Testament which would seem to reinforce “keeping women in their place,” we must read the fuller context of the New Testament witness to the teaching, preaching, prophesying, church planting, Apostolic partnership, and leadership of women in the early church.

UNFULFILLED PROMISE. Unless we can grasp and embrace these Biblical and spiritual realities of the Gospel, our ability and readiness to speak and act in liberating ways is severely hampered. Unless we align our understanding and behavior with the witness of Scripture regarding women and women in ministry, there are thousands of places and perhaps millions of people for whom the full promise of the Gospel will never be realized.

UNBOUNDED HOPE. On the other hand, if we dare to act in the Spirit of Pentecost, I am convinced that long-held spiritual strongholds of domination, oppression and distortion will ultimately be broken and the vibrant promise of the Gospel will be realized in individual lives, interpersonal relationships, churches, communities and nations.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Is the end of right-wing political co-optation of this branch of Christ's church in sight?

HOT OFF THE PRESS. I recently received a link to a new 20-page "Evangelical Manifesto" that purports to be an important realignment of Evangelicals in relationship to public policy and deliberation in the public arena. It was published and put online on May 7, inviting co-signers and comment.

READ AND REFLECT. I invite anyone reading Bikehiker blog to access it, read it, and respond to it here. I am reading it today, as well as the 29-page study guide that is a companion to it. I will publish my responses and questions in the "Comments" below when I've had a chance to digest and contemplate the document. I invite you to do the same.

CAN "EVANGELICAL" BE REDEEMED? You must know that I was so dismayed by the blantant and willing co-optation of Evangelicals by/to the Republican Party in recent national elections that I stopped referring to myself as an evangelical. I do not identify with the public statements and policy positions pushed by the leading Evangelical proponents and voices. I simply cannot reconcile their statements, political alignments, agendas, or specific policy positions with the overwhelming witness of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.

IS IT A BIG ENOUGH TENT? So, I am interested in what the steering committee of this "Evangelical Manifesto" has to say. I will be particularly interested if their perspective is inclusive of a Wesleyan-holiness ethic and compatible with my tradition's milieu. I can only hope the statement can go some way to helping those of us who think, believe and act evangelically (small "e" intended) to reclaim or redeem the term/identifier Evangelical (capital "E" intended) once again.

Again, here is the link to An Evangelical Manifesto.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A tribute to my nominee for "best mom"

I watch Becky mother our children
and I wonder where she got this stuff?
When I married her, she had not trained for it.
She had taken no courses in mothering.
She was a good-looking college girl,
talented and sensitive,
spiritually astute and fun-loving.
But how could I have known
she was mother-wise?

For the four childless years of our marriage
she never let on she had been covertly equipped
to react and respond-catlike-
to the needs of a child.
She studied no books and read no manuals
but knew what to do and when to do it
when each of our four children were born.

Mothering, I was to learn, was not just about
bearing an infant, nurturing a toddler, and
sending a six-year-old off to first grade.
Who knew Becky knew the delicate combination
of discipline and praise,
boundaries and freedom,
careful attention and graceful absence
that encourages children to flourish?

Is there some clandestine school for mothers,
a kind of underground academy,
undetectable by unwitting men, which
reveals the secrets and instills the acumen
for rearing and maturing a child?
Observing my partner over time
I am convinced it is so.
It is the school of motherly love
and Becky has mastered it with honors.

More readily than me, she will find
a graceful way to let go of each child
as they mature and clamor to leave the nest.
I may anxiously wring my hands, but
she will know when they are ready to
launch hopefully forward in life,
uncannily equipped to invest themselves
to enrich the lives of others.

I tip my hat to the Master of this school,
this unseen college with unwritten curriculum.
And I yield the floor to this masterful student
who graces the lives of our children with
a wisdom, taught or caught, that brings to them
the joy and hope of life.
Not your typical Hallmark card greeting for mom

A MOVEMENT FOR PEACE. Contrary to popular presumption, Mother’s Day wasn’t created in a conspiracy of greeting card companies and florists. Originally called Mother’s Peace Day and organized by abolitionist Julia Ward Howe (author of “Battle Hymn of the Republic”) in Boston in 1870, it was to be a day dedicated to the eradication of all war. Though Mother’s Day is now far afield of its origins, the following declaration written by Howe was its early watchword:

BE FIRM. “Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.’”

TEACHING & TRAINING. “‘Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’”

DISARM! DISARM! “From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, ‘Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.’ Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.”

NOT CAESAR, BUT GOD. “As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each learning after his own time, the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.”

CALL FOR ASSEMBLY. “In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.” (Source: Bruderhof, Wikipedia)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Harlem street lawyer and theologian William Stringfellow contextualizes Pentecost

NOT PRIVATE BUT PUBLIC. "...As a matter of history and theology, the biblical happening most pertinent to the baptism of the Spirit is, manifestly, Pentecost. The scene is not private but quite public; it is not individualistic but notorious, not idiosyncratic but scandalous; and onlookers are said to behold Pentecost as provocative and controversial; it appears to have been an offense to the ruling authorities."

TRANSCENDING DISTINCTIONS. "Central in the experience of the power of the Holy Spirit among the disciples, both commonly and severally, is a transcendence of worldly distinction (as race, age, sex, class, occupation, nationality, language, tongue) that anticipates the eschatological consummation of the whole of fallen creation in the Kingdom of God."

RESTORING ORIGINAL PERSONHOOD. "Simultaneously, in Pentecost, each person receives the renewal of human gifts and capabilities, the restoration, as it were, of one's original personhood, a reconciliation with and within self in utterly intimate detail happening within the environment of each person's reconciliation with the rest of humanity and the whole of created life throughout time."

PERSONAL AND COSMIC. "These same aspects of Pentecost--the most intensely personal and the cosmic and ultimate--become, ever after, the marks of authentic and credible conversion of the baptism of the Spirit. When a person nowadays can be said to be baptized of the Holy Spirit, it means that the person is, verily, incorporated into the experience of Pentecost."

Quotes are from A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings of William Stringfellow edited by Bill Wylie Kellerman, Eerdmans, 1994

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Mother's Day and Pentecost Sunday on the same day this year signals a kairos moment

ROOTING OUT DOMINATION. Heading toward Pentecost Sunday that just happens to fall on Mother's Day this year (May 11, 2008), I'm thinking about women in light of Pentecost. On the day of Pentecost that is recorded in Acts 2, Joel's prophecy is fulfilled: "even upon my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit, and they will prophesy." If it is true, as Phoebe Palmer Knapp declared, that "Pentecost laid the axe at the root of social injustice," then one injustice that was cut at the root was the domination of women by men and patriarchal societies.

REDEFINING WOMEN'S SIGNIFICANCE. Pentecost, it seems to me, affirmed what Jesus had been teaching and demonstrating. Jesus pointedly, dramatically and repeatedly challenged his culture and the religious practices in which men dominated women, relegating them to objects and property to be possessed and used. That Jesus regarded women radically differently is clear again and again throughout the four Gospels. It is illustrated powerfully when...

(1) Jesus forgives a woman caught in adultery in John 8;

(2) Jesus commends the woman who washed his feet with her hair in Luke 7:36-50;

(3) Jesus talks with and brings salvation and liberation to the Samaritan woman in John 4;

(4) Jesus redefines the role of women from being significant because they bear children (it was considered a curse to not be able to bear children; Jesus liberated women from this ungodly burden) to being holy because they do the will of God in Mark 3:31-35.

COMPANIONS AND FIRST WITNESSES. Women were among Jesus' traveling followers, some considered “patrons and benefactors.” The Gospel writers point out that women were the first to witness the Resurrection. In Acts, Luke makes clear that women were with the male followers of Jesus in the Upper Room as they prayerfully anticipated the promised gift of God that was given on Pentecost.

CONTRARY TO THE SPIRIT OF THE AGE. Theologian Walter Wink points out, "It is clear from the four Gospels that Jesus in no way condones, verifies, reinforces, or allows for the domination of women by men in either intimate or social relationships, or in his Kingdom. Jesus breaks the very spirit of domination that has been central in the spirit of the world from ancient times and is still prevalent today--sometimes being justified in the very name of Christianity! "

REFLECTOR OR TRANSFORMER OF CULTURE? Unfortunately, the historical church has not followed Jesus' example and teaching. It has not followed the breakthrough that was proclaimed and realized at Pentecost. The church, by and large, has acquiesced to cultural patriarchy and patterns of domination. Relatively few communions today have given full weight to the message of the Gospels and fulfillment at Pentecost regarding women. Still, the Gospels speak and Pentecostal liberation awaits all who will listen, believe, and act in the way of Jesus' given Spirit.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

It's the first time in a generation Indiana's Primary Election can make a difference

EARLY VOTER. I was in line when the polls opened at 6:00 am at the Pike Township fire station where neighbors who live within the boundaries of Marion County Precinct 31 vote. My paper ballot was the 14th to slide through machine. I hope it will be among the first of what eventually becomes a record turn-out for a primary election in Indiana. Whoever wins their party's nomination to run in the fall general election, may they know that more people voted for them than at any other time in Indiana history.

RALLY LAST NIGHT. Jared and Abby, along with Abby's fiance, my nephew, and a friend of Abby's, joined me to spend last evening downtown at American Legion Mall for a rally for Barack Obama. Stevie Wonder sang old favorites as part of this event. I don't know how many thousand people crammed into that open space, but it looked like over 15,000 to me. We had a good time. Obama's speech was good, if not as inspiring as I've heard him before. It was just fun to be part of the crowd and this one-of-a-kind event in Indiana's civic life.

IT SHOULD BE CLOSE. We'll see what happens today in Indiana and North Carolina today. The polls have been sending incredibly mixed signals, with a small amount of undecided voters able to swing either candidate into a lead in either state. Even though Hillary Clinton is expected to win narrowly in Indiana and Obama is expected to win narrowly in North Carolina, both states could break either way. We'll settle in to enjoy the heated debate and analysis on CNN and MSNBC tonight.

PLEASE VOTE. If you haven't voted yet, please do so! It's a right lots of folks have sacrificed--even given their lives--to make possible.

Photo: the kleig lights were incredibly annoying, but the crowd was vast and the evening was fun on the American Legion Mall last evening

Monday, May 5, 2008

May 11 is Pentecost Sunday. How shall we approach it?

Read: Acts of the Apostles 1-2

Out of sheer obedience
and with more than a little anxiety
they gather in an upper room,
their journey at
a crossroads.

The Teacher gone,
would his future be up to
the likes of them--
deserters, deniers, clamorers for
places of privilege?

Guilt and anxiety pervade
their sacred assembly;
they can hardly believe
it comes down to them,
down to this.

Perhaps for not being able to
bear looking squarely at each other,
they bow in prayer.
Only then do they
begin to see.

Whatever it holds,
whatever it promises,
Pentecost can be
approached only on
our knees.

The future, the vision,
the power, the passion,
cannot otherwise be

Sunday, May 4, 2008

So, is this what they mean when they label me?

These bleeding hearts are blossoming in our backyard. Remarkable, isn't it, how they resemble what they describe. This perennial has doubled in size in the past week. Do humans with bleeding hearts double in size, also? Please, no!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

For me, it's happened all too quickly

A BEATEN PATH. Our family made its way to Bourbonnais, Illinois on Friday afternoon for a weekend of graduation events at Olivet Nazarene University. The route between Indianapolis and Bourbonnais is well-worn for us. Becky and I attended ONU. Abby's finishing there and Jared is now officially a junior with an education major.

ON CRUTCHES, NO LESS. Abby,22, the oldest of our four children, graduated cum laud with honors in dietetics. She walked across the platform on crutches, having had ligament repair surgery for a soccer injury to her ankle four weeks ago. She was graceful, even at that. Congratulations, Abby! We are very proud of you!

ONWARD, UPWARD. In August and after her wedding, Abby will begin a two-year internship and masters degree program in nutrition and dietetics at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Onward, upward!

Photo: Abby and Becky smile for the camera after graduation ceremonies