Sunday, June 29, 2008

Push back against overly privatized life that's surrounded by a faux public life feel

PRIVATE LIFE VS PUBLIC LIFE? No one has articulated the differences between public and private living, or argued more convincingly for the preservation and renewal of a healthy public life than Parker Palmer. Listen to him in The Company of Strangers: Christians and the Renewal of America's Public Life (1981) --

VICTORIES FOR THE WHOLE. “A genuine public life begins with the premise that victories for the whole are greater than victories for any of its parts. We understand that we are members of one another; that the social order will be secure for our own life, liberty and pursuit of happiness only if it is secure for others as well."

A WAY FOR EVERYONE TO WIN. “The foundation of public life is the tenacious faith that we are in this together and can find ways for everyone to win. This is not a faith which accompanies many outbursts of so-called public activity these days.”

FACSIMILES OF PUBLIC LIFE. Public life has been all but co-opted by fabricated facsimiles in the private realm. Do we not generally prefer private places, secluded activity circles, cloistered fellowships of faith, private education, even highly-controlled shopping areas? So successfully has America fabricated the look and feel of genuine public life that we likely prefer the facsimile to the genuine article.

GOD IN THE GLOWING SCREEN. Cartoonist Bill Waterson shows Calvin bowing down to a television set and crying out: "Oh, great altar of passive entertainment, bestow upon me thy discordant images at such speed as to render linear thought impossible!" I am betting that most of us think of "the public life" as what we see flashed before us on TV. And we wonder what the world is coming to. By the way: I keep bringing offerings of chips, cookies, and soft drinks before the altar of TV, but end up eating it myself when nothing happens.

WHICH TAKES MORE FAITH? Interesting to me that private life takes no faith; it just takes money and control and a penchant for making everything extremely "safe." It turns us inward and often in on ourselves. It is a treadmill that takes a lot of negative energy. Public life, on the other hand, lives by faith--a faith many have abandoned. It is unpredictable, frequently unruly, ultimately uncontrollable--and utterly life-sustaining. It turns us outward, even inside out.

IT KEEPS BREAKING IN. For all our efforts to take things private, the public life keeps breaking out, breaking in, or breaking through our private worlds. Despite our satiation with sameness, neatness, and dullness--and despite being brainwashed regularly by marketing's most sophisticated mind games--we still hunger for a truth-telling solidarity and community and a Kingdom that is beyond our selectively-picked and tightly-controlled private lives and cloistered cells.

KEEP THE CANDLE BURNING. Keep the candle of a genuine public life burning in our privatized world--and fan its flame. A few ideas:

Turn off the TV, laptop and cell phone for awhile.

Go out of your way.

Sit and chat a while longer at a local restaurant.

Meet a neighbor.

"Waste" one evening a month at a neighborhood association meeting.

Choose nonfranchise, local shops, restaurants, etc. every now and then.

Volunteer at a public school.

Study the community council and its issues.

Participate in a parade, a public rally, town hall meeting, and/or cultural event.

Dare to collaborate with people who are "secular."


Do something in and for the community that has nothing to do with church.

Give of yourself to sustain and build up a community-serving organization.

Contribute to making the world real, whole, livable, sustainable, hopeful for others.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Saturday, June 28, 2008


I sit on the back porch in the morning
battling with my foul thoughts,
struggling against brooding
over some recent dissapointment,
when a fox appears in the backyard
and trots along the tree line,
stopping to look at me a second
when, amazed, I utter "fox,"
calling for my loved ones inside.
And, just like that,
wonder eclipses self-consumption.
Awe, like a gift, breaks pettiness
and I am aware that I am part
of something simultaneously vast
and incredibly intricate.
Gratitude replaces complaint
and darkness is driven back.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Do you welcome the future or strive against it?

It is in the forward look
that we are saved,
that life’s fullness overtakes us.
We are made to be dreamers,
strivers, imaginers, hopers.

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

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

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Is peace and happiness possible when 2/3 of humanity is suffering, hungry and poor?

LEONARDO BOFF. The following line of thinking and spiritual formation of Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff is, to me, critical to engage in. This is a far cry from the pop theologies of prosperity, escape and political pandering to American evangelical consumption.

DEFINING FACTOR. "Is it possible to live in peace and happiness when you know that two-thirds of human beings are suffering, hungry and poor? To be human we have to have compassion. This solidarity is really the defining factor of our humanity and is gradually being lost in a culture of material values. It’s not only the cry of the poor we must listen to but also the cry of the earth. The earth and human beings are both threatened. We must do something to change the situation..."

TO BELIEVE CHANGE IS POSSIBLE. "There won’t be a Noah’s Ark to save only some of us. To meet people’s fundamental concerns change is needed. The world as it is does not offer the majority of humanity life but rather hell. I believe that change is possible, because I cannot accept a God who could remain indifferent to this world, but only one who cares about the poor and the suffering."

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Will you join me and WEMO friends as we tour Indianapolis this Saturday night?

LATE NIGHT CYCLING FUN. This is one of the most fun bicycle tours on the map. Navigate Indianapolis This Evening (N.I.T.E.) is a 20+ mile ride that begins at 11 pm on June 28 and finishes a couple of hour later. Starting and ending at the Major Taylor Velodrome, a pack of 2,500+ cyclists winds its way into downtown Indianapolis, north on Meridian Street, and west to Butler University and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Lights and helmets are required. This ride is within the range of even occasional riders.

RIDE TOGETHER. I gather friends from WEMO and we ride the tour together as much as possible. If you'd like to join us, e-mail me. Arrive at the Major Taylor Velodrome about an hour early to make sure you get decent field parking and make connections. It's now too late to register online, but you can register at the Velodrome after 4 pm on Saturday. Registration closes at 10 pm. Find out all about the NITE Ride, hosted by CIBA.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A rower glides across the reservoir as fog lifts from the surface early this morning

Monday, June 23, 2008

Presidential election run-off sham causes opposition leader to withdraw and seek refuge

TSVANGIRAI SEEKS REFUGE. Tension and violence is rising to alarming levels in Zimbabwe. President Robert Mugabe's government apparently stole the recent national presidential election that had popularly favored opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and forced a run-off. Tsvangirai reluctantly agreed to a run-off election, but his supporters have suffered so much intimidation, violence, and death at the hands of Mugabe's government forces, that Tsvangirai has withdrawn from the election and sought personal refuge at the Dutch Embassy in Harare.

FOR WHAT SHALL WE PRAY? The hopes of the majority of Zimbabwe's electorate for unseating Mugabe, known for corruption and ineffectiveness that has brought this once-robust emerging nation to the point of chaos, seem crushed. Free governments, like Britain, are openly calling for due process to be followed and the will of the people respected. Is this something that can only be solved internally by Zimbabweans? Might neighboring African leaders and nations in the region bring strong diplomatic influence to bear? What creative non-violent responses or actions might be undertaken to bring about a breakthrough? How might a free press contribute healingly? What can Christians, Christian communities, and other religious groups do? Let us pray.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of tasteful discussion. To share yours, click on "comments" just below. Comments are moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

He suspected God was more merciful than advertized—and he couldn’t handle it

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE WHALE. Jonah’s story is not about the whale. It’s not even about running from the call of God. It’s about God being more merciful than advertized—and coming to grips with what that means for the likes of Jonah (i.e., us!). A simple reading of Jonah makes it clear that while Jonah wants to be a prophet of ultimate doom for people he deeply despises, behind God’s word of judgment is hope for Nineveh’s repentance.

A SPIRITUAL HISSY FIT. After serving a “time-out” in the belly of a whale, Jonah goes and does God’s bidding: he preaches God’s judgment against the city of Nineveh. It might have been more out of intense loathing for the Ninevites than out of reverence for God, but Jonah’s condemnation is completely convincing. In response, the Ninevites repent—the whole lot of them. And God, in mercy, relents, sparing the city. Jonah’s reaction? He gets so steamed at God for his mercy to the Ninevites, and his own loss of face, that he throws a spiritual hissy fit followed by royal pity party.

JUSTICE AND MERCY. Jonah, God’s defender and mouthpiece, is "mercy challenged." Jonah’s God, however, is merciful. Behind Jonah’s condemnation is real spite. Behind God’s judgment is real hope. Jonah’s sense of justice requires full punishment for outrageous atrocities. The justice of Jonah’s God, however, includes unfathomable pity. Jonah suspected God’s saving intentions all along. In the end, he felt “used” by God and saw his own sense of justice shattered. While repentant Nineveh celebrates with thanksgiving, indignant Jonah pouts. Go figure.

DO WE GET THE POINT? The Jonah story ends unresolved. We’re not sure if Jonah ever got the point. But his experience stands as a beckon to us all: Behind God’s judgment is God’s mercy, better than condemnation is confession, more important than preserving personal reputations is the repentance of sinners, and greater than salving wounded egos is the saving of people so lost they “don’t know their right hand from their left.”

I offer four basic observations from Jonah’s story:

1. At the heart of Jonah’s story and our story is a God of love who desires to save all from sin to live abundantly.

2. Our efforts to protect our reputations, feed our prejudices, and choose our preferred futures can land us in some strange and hurtful places.

3. We can do the right thing with the wrong spirit and miss the very joy we proclaim to others.

4. God is trying to move us to the point where we can serve the world freely and expectantly.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. To share yours, click on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A fall off a trail bridge left me with 17 fractures; what I’m feeling 365 days later

INTO THE WOODS, INTO AN AMBULANCE. On June 20, 2007, I went off the side of a trick bridge in the heart of a wooded mountain bike trail west of Indianapolis, fell 8-10 feet, landed flat on my bike with my bike on top of me, and suffered 17 (count ‘em) bone breaks. Four ribs in the front separated from my sternum, 11 ribs in front and back fractured, both shoulder blades broke, and four vertebrae were compressed. Ironically, my bike was unscathed. Paramedics carefully strapped me to a Stryker board and taped it to the back of an ATV that hauled me up out of the forest to a waiting ambulance. It might have been the smoothest ride to Methodist Hospital, but I felt every minor bump along the way. It was excruciating.

MY NINJA TURTLE SHELL. For all my fractures and a partially collapsed lung, there was no organ damage and nothing required surgery. Instead, I was fitted with a hard-plastic neck-to-waste torso brace that would be my “exoskeleton,” what I called my ninja turtle shell, for the next eight weeks. I blogged throughout this extended journey of pain and healing. Go to Bikehiker archives for June, July and August 2007. Thank God for good pain medicine, which I used at maximum dosage during the first few weeks and weaned myself of after six weeks. Thank God for a caring family and congregation. Thank God for a healing process. Though I missed only one Sunday of preaching and leading worship, I served from home for at least five weeks.

BACK ON MY BIKES. I’m happy to report, at the one-year anniversary (is that what we call it?) of my bike accident, I am fully recovered. I have taken my mountain bike back to the accident scene and I’m riding trails again. On Thursday, I pedaled my road bike 70 miles from Indianapolis to Clay City to attend the Wabash Free Methodist Annual Conference without any pain. I simply do not have pain in my back or shoulders. I DO feel some weird sensations in my back occasionally, but nothing that equates to pain. Some folks have suggested that I may eventually develop arthritis at the fractures. Perhaps. But not at this point. I’m grateful to have recovered so readily from such a tough and painful fall. I give praise to God for the way my body has healed -- without invasive surgeries, rigorous therapies, or costly medications (though I believe these, also, are often valid and God-glorifying avenues of bodily healing and health).

BURDEN OF A FULL RECOVERY. As with many others who have had near misses with tragedy or recovered readily when others experiencing similar traumas have not, I marvel at the burden of such a gift. Two years ago I was spared being caught by a pack of wild dogs (dholes) in India. Last year, I was spared debilitating effects of a fall off a bridge. For what purposes was I spared? Toward what ends shall a recovered life be lived? To some extent the message given to Private Ryan, after he was found and saved at the cost of many lives, applies here: “Don’t waste it.” Whatever the specifics of purpose and future impact, let it all be to the glory of God!

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. To share yours, click on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Look out, Dubya, Barack's got a bike...and he's not afraid to use it

BARACK ON WHEELS. Dan McFeeley sent me this clipping from a recent Chicago newspaper. Apparently, George W. Bush isn't the only current national-level politician who rides a bike in public. Should he become President of the United States, Barack Obama would be the second consecutive President to send a signal to the rest of us that riding a bike for recreation or work is a good thing.

DEMOCRAT HELMET ALERT. Note: Barack is wearing a helmet. So, all Democrats should, too! Even without it being mandated by Congress or regulated by a government agency, wearing a helmet is good for you and good for the country. Besides, when you have an accident, it will minimize costs under the proposed universal health care coverage!

BIKER BUSH. George W. Bush is likely the first U.S. President to be a serious mountain biking enthusiast. Reportedly, he rides frequently and goes at it with tenacity. There's not been a more biking-friendly or fitness-friendly President. I keep a photo of GWB riding mountain bikes with Lance Armstrong on the right sidebar of this blog (scroll down). Biking is one of Dubya's redeeming qualities.

REPUBLICAN HELMET ALERT: Note: Bush wears a helmet, too. So, Republicans, also, should wear a helmet! Though I suppose Republicans would strap on a helmet only out of a sense of personal freedom and generous social responsibility--certainly not because any government regulation or Congregessional acts would require it. Besides, when you have a biking accident, having worn a helmet will reduce the out-of-pocket costs under personal health insurance plans (which over 40 million other Americans cannot afford)!

McCAIN ON A BIKE? Dan McFeeley has yet to find a photo or reference to John McCain and bicycling. But doesn't it just seem that getting on a bicycle might do McCain some good? I mean, it might not only win him some points with American's young at heart and health-conscious Republicans and Independents, it might actually stave off old age a bit longer.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. To share yours, click on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Time Postcard is a good story about the cyclists who deliver packages in the city

There's a good, short story that goes with this photo. Read it in Time online here.

After 15 years of supporting 4 children who play soccer, I have a few observations about transitions and the game's overall impact

This is a blog post that can come only after more than 15 years of soccer coaching, parenting, and supporting four children in the sport at recreational, club travel, high school and college levels.

CHANGE IS THE CONSTANT. This fall, Molly will play her senior Ben Davis High School soccer season with 8 girls who've been playing together on the same team (though under different club names) for 12 years. On the other hand, Sam will play his sophomore season with only one player on his Pike High School team with whom he's shared a club team and coach in all previous years.

A BIT OF CONTEXT: [You must understand that Jr. High School and Sr. High School varsity soccer teams are generally less competitive than club teams. Though students play hard and well for their school teams, the higher level of soccer competition usually takes place in club league play that occurs on an area, state, regional and national level. During high school years, because the high school season is in the fall, most club teams for high school ages play only a spring/summer schedule.]

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BOYS AND GIRLS TEAMS. It seems that girls club teams are significantly more stable than the boys. Abby and Molly both played with relatively the same corps of teammates throughout their youth soccer days. Keeping a club team together during high school years is hard, because Indiana High School Athletic Association requires that no more than 5 players from the same high school team can play for the same club team. So, it is remarkable that Molly's group has stayed relatively close even though they've had to break up for club play to some extent. Abby and four other girls who played club together started varsity as freshmen at Ben Davis and played all four years. Abby played another four years on scholarship at Olivet Nazarene University and was a captain her junior and senior years.

JARED'S EXPERIENCE. On the other hand, transition and change is really the norm for boys' teams. The club teams Jared (who is now 20) played for after recreational-level soccer transitioned almost yearly, as have Sam's. Jared first played two years of travel-level soccer with Ben Davis Soccer Club before the team imploded and its young players looked for another program. Jared landed at Avon Soccer for one season then played a season with Inferno Soccer Club. He then had three years with Arsenal Soccer Club and Coach Jim Copsey (who became his Ben Davis High School soccer coach and coaching mentor). Finally, Jared played his senior year with Westside United. He then played on scholarship at Olivet Nazarene University. Now he's a high school soccer coach.

ONE YOUTH ATHLETE, MANY TEAMS. At age 15, Sam has worn jerseys for Ben Davis, Arsenal, Indy Burn (Pike Soccer Club), Carmel United Soccer Club, Westside United, and now Dynamo. Almost every year, there has been a change in club priorities, change of coaches, a morphing of teams together, some kind of blow up, etc. Having been burned a few times, our boys have learned to try out for several different club teams each June in order to try to get good coaching (i.e., rational, emotionally-balanced, reasonable, expert, experienced) and be a part of competitive teams. It's usually not easy, pretty, fair or economical. But it is the way it is, at least for now, at least in our experience.

PLAYING FOR "THE ENEMY." I think of this as I watch Sam work out with his new team -- Dynamo '93, a team of 15-year-old sophomores from various parts of Central Indiana. Dynamo is primarily the feeder club for North Central High School, a perennial state soccer powerhouse. A few years ago, when Jared and Sam played for Arsenal, Dynamo was considered the arch-enemy. Hostile feelings between the two clubs ran so high that, after a few ugly incidents, parents and players had to read and sign vows of non-aggression when the clubs played each other. Now, Sam's one of them!

SOMETIMES BRUTAL TRANSITIONS. All this may sound rather jaded or cynical to folks who haven't had the experience (yet). When our kids started out playing, it seemed like being together as a group of eager, fun-loving kids was more important than jockeying for competitive edges. I envisioned them playing for the same team and same club all the way through. Why not? In our girls' cases, that sense of camaraderie held their teams relatively together as they grew older. In our boys' cases, I guess I was just naive. Some of the transitions have been rather brutal. I think something has been lost through these upheavals and transitions; there is an innocence and purity of sport that gets sullied. But I'm impressed that our kids have managed to stay in love (or at least "in like") with the game and grow and excel through all the changes over the years.

WHEN A GROUP CAN STAY TOGETHER. I was describing all this to a father who has an outstanding first-grade player and winning team. It seemed rather unimaginable to him, so I downplayed the drama a bit. I pray that they will be able to play as the same robust corps and mature with a group of like-minded, equally-skilled players. But that is the exception. Molly's team is a wonderful exception, and because of it, the Ben Davis girls team may be able to advance well into the state high school soccer tourney in October. Last year, they won the Marion County high school tournament for the first time (BD didn't do that even with Lauren Cheney and Annie Yi, both outstanding D-1 players).

CAMARADERIE VS COMPETITION. I would say to every parent, when it comes to soccer, follow your child's instincts and desires for camaraderie and/or competition. Make sure the decisions for staying on the same team or club, or transitioning to another, are coming from them. Keep them informed of the dynamics of what's happening, and of options. Anticipate that at some point desire for competition may/will out-rank desire for camaraderie. When they decide to move up or make a change, then be their best advocate. Help them through the minefield of options and do your best to help them access the best opportunities...within reason. Also know that the higher the level of competition, the more will be required of you in terms of time, financial support, and moral/emotional support.

IS IT WORTH IT? So, after 15 years of soccer parenting, is it all worth it? I have watched each of our children enjoy soccer and grow with it. They've learned dynamics of team play and built personal confidence. They've experienced the feelings of accomplishment, victory, and jubilation. They've learned through losing as well as winning. They've learned the value of hard practice. They've become leaders. They've learned to take the bad with the good. They've learned to discern good leadership from poor leadership. They've pushed themselves to higher levels of physical and personal ability. They've worked through disappointments. They haven't given up. They've gained lasting friendships. And they've taught me and Becky quite a bit about them and ourselves. I've grown. We've grown. So, yes, it's worth it. Would I change some of it? Yes. Would I avoid soccer or another sport if I were doing all over again? No. Does it still wring me out? Yes. Am I tired of it? No.

YOU'VE GOT OUR SUPPORT. So, kids, you make me proud! Becky, too! Best wishes as you continue to play and coach soccer. Becky and I will always be on the sidelines or in stands whenever we can. On or off the field, know that we are pulling for you with all that is within us.

Photo: the photo of Jared and Elhaji Dieng of Pike High School appeared in the Indianapolis Star after Pike edged Ben Davis 2-1 in the semi-finals of 2005 Marion County Tourney. The caption mislabeled what occurred, however. Jared actually headed the ball away from Dieng. The next meeting between Ben Davis and Pike was for the Sectional Championship. Pike came into the game undefeated and ranked #1 in the state. Jared keyed on Dieng and held him scoreless. Ben Davis won the game, 2-1, and began a string of three consecutive sectional championships.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. To share yours, click on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Frame the pattern of your life around these primary practices...and see how you grow

HEALTHY AND GROWING? It occurred to me just a few years ago that there are four essential ways we grow spiritually--both at a personal level and with others. Since then, I have tried to frame everything that I plan and do around these "four fronts of spiritual growth." Without exercising in each dimension, we weaken and atrophy. The best-laid plans that do not include these primary Christian practices may come to nothing. Through their continuous practice, however, we are enlivened by grace and become more like Jesus and the Body He intended us to be. This summer, I challenge you to begin to build these four practices into your weekly schedule, routine and planning. Reshape your pattern of life so that it reflects these primary practices--whether you are working, volunteering, attending school, parenting, problem-solving, or planning for the future.

1. PRAYING. Let your longing for a deeper, more vital Christian experience begin right here. Confess your heart's desires. Tell God your hopes and hurts. Bring your world into God's presence. Hold nothing back. Then, be still and wait before your Creator, Redeemer, Healer, and King. Contemplate God's provision, receive God's counsel, respond with active faith to God's direction. Now, make this your daily practice.

2. WORD CENTERING. Life is too easily carved up by faux realities, our passion dissipated in trivia, and our focus scattered in myriad ways. Let the Word focus you. "Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." Is it guiding your path today? Today's challenges need today's Word. Dig in again, by all means. Read solo. Study with a partner. Reflect in a group. Explore in a Sunday School Class or Bible Study. Live what you learn. Share what you glean. Let the Word come alive in and through you.

3. INCARNATING CHRIST. Serving others is the simplest and most profound way we serve Christ and make him known to others and in the world. Apart from service, we atrophy spiritually--not later, but now. Every growing Christian is serving others and the world. Serving may not be easy, convenient, recognized, or personally satisfying, but it is the way we experience Christ in others. Reach out to a neighbor, a struggling friend, a student, an older person. Reach across borders, out of your comfort zone. How and where can you serve others--directly or indirectly--today or this week?

4. GATHERING. Fire lives and shines brightly when singular embers are close together. So do believers. Reuben Welch quips: "We really do need each other." We belong to each other when we belong to Christ. So, draw near. Be where you belong. Engage. There's a place waiting for you at the table. The church won't be the church without you.

APPLY WITHIN. First, commit personally to these four practices. Make a written plan for daily and weekly action on each of these four fronts. Check yourself often. Have someone hold you accountable for each front. Then, look at your family, church and community life through these four fronts. What are your opportunities for prayer, Word-centering, border-crossing service, and gathering? How can we help one another move toward these four practices? Address each of these fronts of spiritual warfare and breakthrough simultaneously.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. To share yours, click on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Henri Nouwen challenges us to live a question-asking, barrier-breaking life

"A Christian is a Christian only when he unceasingly asks critical questions of the society in which he lives and continuously stresses the necessity for conversion, not only of the individual but also of the world. A Christian is a Christian only when he refuses to allow himself or anyone to settle into a comfortable rest. He remains dissatisfied with the status quo. And he believes that he has an essential role to play in the realization of the new world to come--even if he cannot say how that world will come about. A Christian is a Christian only when he keeps saying to everyone he meets that the good news of the Kingdom has to be proclaimed to the whole world and witnessed to all nations." - Henri Nouwen

Friday, June 13, 2008

Our week-long youth service project ended hopefully today

MUCH ACCOMPLISHED, BUT NOT FINISHED. This was our last day to work on the Roberts Street house and to talk to the Jenkins family. We strove to finish as much of the painting as we could. We made great progress in a week, but there was just too much to do within this time frame. A 100-year old house like this has lots of surface repairs, difficult-to-reach eaves and a lot of square feet to cover with brushes and standing on ladders. But we feel good about what we were able to do. We got a bit attached to this family and it was hard to say "good-bye." We hope to see them all again someday.

WE FULFILLED OUR PART. We realize that lots of people have worked on this house before us. Many more will follow before work on it is completed. One plants, another waters... The family lives on the second floor, which has been restored, while the first floor, the level most badly damaged, has yet to be rehabilitated. Natasha's mother, who used to live there, will return once the first floor is restored.

CELEBRATING IN THE BIG EASY. We celebrated the completion of our week of work by spending Friday evening in downtown New Orleans. We walked the Riverwalk, visited the Audubon Aquarium and saw "Hurricane on the Bayou" at the IMAX Theatre. For the second time on our trip, we were entertained by the solo music of Leonard "the Human Jukebox," who says he's been singing along the Mississippi River front for 49 years. In addition to singing selected songs of jazz and blues artists, he sings his own gospel songs.

I RECOMEND THIS CHURCH ORGANIZATION. Our work and hospitality this week was coordinated by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Disaster Relief ministry in cooperation with the Disaster Relief office of the United Church of Christ. This is the second work group from West Morris Street Free Methodist Church to do Katrina rebuilding work in the Gulf area with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We have found their efforts well-planned and coordinated. We worked well with their site supervisor, mission director, and team coordinator. We would recommend other groups working with them in the future--there is plenty of rebuilding work still needed in and around New Orleans for years to come!

HEADING HOME. We start for Indianapolis and home early on Saturday morning. It will be an all-day drive, but we're anxious to be with our families again. We're also looking forward to sharing about our experience of service and the "Mission Trip Top Ten" in Morning Worship on Sunday. Thanks to all who supported us with prayer and financial support. God bless you as you stood with us in our mission of service.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I penned this poem amid the slow responses to Katrina and the levy-break flooding nearly 3 years ago

THEN AND NOW. I penned and posted the following poem nearly 3 years ago, amid the slow responses to Katrina and the levy-break flooding, while I watched on CNN as people were still sitting in groups on rooftops around the city. Now that I am here in New Orleans and have visited the lower 9th Ward (where I took this photo), I think the poem was valid then and, hopefully, a light for the future.

VERIFICATION. Last evening I talked to a man named Richard and read his first-hand account of surviving the Katrina and flooding ordeal. He described a similar experience and feelings.

Defying nature’s fury
we hunkered down
and waited out the storm

Sighing relief by sunset
we went to bed
and dreamed of clearing skies

Waking to rising water
we climbed the stairs
and hoped for nothing higher

Fleeing the rising dark tide
we stretched above
and moved to the attic

Cursing the wet-cold darkness
we pried the roof
and clambered for our lives

Seeing chaos at daybreak
we grieved for all
and gave thanks we were spared

Anticipating rescue
we searched the skies
and watched for signs of help

Passing time on the rooftop
we huddled close
and talked of rebuilding

Growing hungry and thirsty
we would grumble
and complain of delays

Waiting longer--into days--
we grew desperate
and despaired of surviving

Looking up, at last they came
we rose as one
and numbly whirled away

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Michael Grunwald's investigative essay in Time last August paints a foreboding picture of New Orleans' next storm

PERFECT POLITICAL STORM. I remember seeing this Time cover and reading several paragraphs into the cover story last August. I've since read the whole story. It's an investigative report by Michael Grunwald on the 2nd anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levy breaks that flooded out most of New Orleans for weeks and killed hundreds of people.

NO BETTER PREPARED. Grunwald's article points out that the 2005 disaster was not so much the result of a Category 3 hurricane but of crude politics, shoddy engineering, and environmental ignorance that created the perfect storm for what occurred after Katrina had passed. More importantly, Grunwald notes that these same factors have played into the multi-billion dollar "rebuilding" effort and have set up New Orleans for another disaster when the next hurricane hits. The article is worth reading and contemplating.

THE $1.3 BILLION LEVY. By the way, the Time cover picture is of the $1.3 billion one-mile section of the new levy along the Industrial Canal--the place where the levy broke, flooding the lower 9th Ward and most of New Orleans as the swollen waters of Lake Ponchartrain rushed in the day after the hurricane had past. Today, we stood at the base of this new levy (right about where the Time cover photo was taken) after touring the lower 9th Ward, an area that still looks like a war zone.
TV images can't convey the devastation--or the renewal--of New Orleans

At one of the foundation pillars of a 100-year old two-story house that was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and the flooding caused by the Industrial Canal levy break, grows this single flower. No doubt this region was devastated by Katrina, the levy breaks and halting initial responses and later political obfuscation in the wake of the disaster. Nearly three years later, evidence of the heartbreaking event remains everywhere. But so do signs of renewal and recovery.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I've been working alongside our church youth group on a house in New Orleans

TOURING THE OLD TOWN. Having arrived in New Orleans' French Quarter, our group of ten (including my two teen children, Molly and Sam) visited a number of the old city's famous places on Saturday, including the French Market area with open-air jazz, Bourbon Street, Cafe du Monde and the Mississippi River waterfront. On Sunday morning, we worshiped with St. Mark's United Methodist Church in the French Quarter, a diverse little congregation with big challenges and a great heart for their city.

A CHUCH THAT PRACTICES HOSPITALITY. On Sunday afternoon, we drove a few miles to a church that is our "home base" during this week of volunteer service work in the continuing post-Katrina Hurricane disaster relief effort by church groups. We are staying in the gymnasium facility of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the Metarie section of New Orleans. This church has hosted groups like ours weekly for the two and a half years since the disaster here. That's an amazing expression of hospitality!

GETTING STARTED ON A 100-YEAR-OLD HOUSE. On Monday morning, we headed to our work site in a neighborhood significantly damaged by Katrina. Our assignment is to prep and paint a 100-year old two-story wood-frame house that volunteer groups have been working on for some time. We are to finish scraping, caulking, and priming it and then paint it. So, the ten of us busied ourselves on the first day, setting up scaffolding and ladders and sorting through equipment and tools. We began to scrape, bleach, caulk and prime. The weather was hot and muggy. Our work ended Monday with a thunderstorm that blew through and soaked us. But it quickly passed.

MAKING PROGRESS. Today, we worked in the sun and 90-degree+ heat, completing prep work necessary before we can start painting. What at first looked like quick work has more detail and demands more time than I first thought. However, we've finished scraping paint, bleaching the wood, caulking cracks and corners, repairing wood, and applying a primer/sealer on the house. Two team members have been at the top of 28-foot ladders much of the time, though just about everyone has spent significant time on ladders at varying heights. We've done just about all the prep work we can do. We hope to start painting tomorrow.

THE JENKINS' STORY. We have engaged the homeowner Natasha, and her three sons, Justin (we helped celebrate his 13th birthday today), Trey (9), and Tyler (5), in good conversation today as they worked to assist us (her husband, Wilsey, has been working). This family was displaced by Hurricane Katrina. They lived for a while in Texas and then in Atlanta before returning to New Orleans to begin to rebuild their lives here. As with many families, it has been a long and complicated process. Stories of displacement and attempts to rebuild range from heroic to tragic. We're happy to be included in part of the story of this family's recovery and hope for the future.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Restoration and devastation side by side, the old city is a study in contrasts

HIGHWAYS OF ESCAPE. Our drive from Meridian, Mississippi into the New Orleans area didn't take too long. We drove southwest on Interstate 59, one of the highways that was an all-northbound escape route for those fortunate enough to get out of the city before Hurricane Katrina hit nearly 3 years ago. It was gut-wrenching to see evidence of the near complete devastation inland areas suffered in Katrina. Roofs tarped or caved in, windows blown out, siding ripped away, flora stripped bare. Even though much of the region is rebuilt and on the rebound, a lot remains as it was the day after the hurricane. Restoration and devastation stand side by side.

WALKING THE FRENCH QUARTER. We checked into our hotel around noon and walked into the heart of old New Orleans and the French Quarter. We strolled to historic Jackson Square, spent time on the Mississippi riverfront, visited the great cathedral and the Cabildo--the site where the Louisiana Purchase was signed. We ate a lunch of po boys and jambalaya in the French Market area. Almost everyone at least sampled the crayfish. Some of us returned to the French Market in the evening to get some "beignets" and Cafe au Latte. Beignets (pronounced "ben-yays") are a French pastry akin to donuts...very tasty!

CONTRASTING SPIRITUALITIES. New Orleans seems to be interested in spiritual things, though it would be a stretch to say that its interest is primarily in Christian spirituality. We passed by many voodoo shops, and, just outside the great cathedral, astrologists, tarot card and palm readers set up tables offering to tell people their fortunes. But they didn't have the fortune to make money on us!

Friday, June 6, 2008

I've joined our church youth group serving for a week in New Orleans

ROLL 'EM OUT. Our hearty group of ten youth and sponsors rolled out of Indianapolis around 9:30 am today. We drove and drove and drove. Ten hours later we safely stopped for the evening in Meridian, Mississippi. Traveling were souls: Travis, Hannah, Ronnie, Molly, Michelle, Jordan, Sam, Georgia, Gale and me. I'm the rookie on such a trip with the West Morris Street (WEMO) youth and I'm privileged to go along.

INTO THE DEEP SOUTH. The chrch van pulled a U-Haul trailer with our bags, bedding and tools for a week of work in the ongoing post-Katrina hurricane reconstruction effort. We will meet up with another youth group in New Orleans on Sunday. Tomorrow, however, our destination is the French Quarter in the Big Easy for some sightseeing around the city. Our route today took us south on Interstate 65 past Louisville, Nashville, and Birmingham. At Birmingham, we picked up Interstate 59 and drove over into Mississippi. The bulk of the driving behind us, we'll have just a few more hours on Saturday to reach New Orleans.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Robert Frost poem to consider on the 40th anniversary of Bobby Kennedy's assassination

TYPICALLY, WONDERFULLY FROST. I came across this 1962 poem while reading Robert Frost. It is from his collection "In the Clearing," which also includes his poem written for the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. Not sure exactly to whom or what Frost is referring in this piece. Coming as late in his life as it does, and amid the fresh notoriety and accompanying scrutiny he received that year, I wonder if he refers to himself? This is so typically, wonderfully Robert Frost.

IN HONOR OF BOBBY KENNEDY. Today, I frame it in memory of of that incredible seeker Bobby Kennedy, who was assassinated in the early hours of this day 40 years ago. I was nine years old, but remember waking up to the tragic news and amazed at the grieving it caused in so many people. Only much later would I begin to understand something of the impact of that event and what Bobby Kennedy positively represented for many people. This poem seems a fitting description of him.

He is no fugitive--escaped, escaping.
No one has seen him stumble looking back.
His fear is not behind him but beside him
On either hand to make his course perhaps
A crooked straightness yet no less a straightness.
He runs face forward. He is a pursuer.
He seeks a seeker who in his turn seeks
Another still, lost far into the distance.
Any who seek him seek in him the seeker.
His life is a pursuit of a pursuit forever.
It is the future that creates his present.
All is an interminable chain of longing.

FYI: There is a wonderful photo gallery of previously unpublished pictures of Bobby Kennedy by Life photographers at today.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Now here's a picture that a minister/cyclist could only dream of

Imagine a congregation of cyclists! Talk about preaching to the choir! This photo is one in a wonderful online Time photo gallery of events during May Bike Month.

The caption under this photo on the Time website reads: "What I really wanted was holy water on the bikes, but I didn't know if that was offensive or not," said Glen Goldstein, founder of Manhattan's annual "Blessing of the Bikes." The priest at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan had no problem obliging. Now in its 10th year, the spring event drew nearly 400 people, from bike messengers to daily commuters to casual riders. This year, for the first time, the names of 2007's fallen cyclists were read aloud. "It's a day to celebrate the beginning of the riding season, and to remember those we've lost," Goldstein said.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The gear shifts subtly but noticeably and welcomingly

We’ve slipped into summer. Can you feel it? Life shifts from overdrive to a lower gear. Though the engine may rev on for a while, everything around us is beckoning: slower, slower, slower.

A DIFFERENT RHYTHM. We’re being coaxed into a season that invites a different rhythm. Instead of pre-dawn rushes to get out to the school bus or off to the clinic and then bracing for a full range of evening activities every weeknight, folks in the Hay household are gradually easing off the accelerator. Mad dashes aren't demanded...for a while, at least.

SUMMER STATE OF MIND. It’s not that there aren’t things to do (thank goodness we haven’t yet heard “I’m bored), it’s that there aren’t so many things scheduled so tightly, so early, so conflictingly. It’s a welcome break, even if it’s still a pressing pace that would leave most folks weary by midweek. Becky's able to spend the time she'd like working around the yard. The kids sit around the glow coming from the backyard fire pit at dusk. We talk as we kick a soccer ball around a circle. The kitchen is a gathering place of friends and, with it, necessary clutter. The grill, unused for the past eight months, is getting a workout. And even our summer-long family project—getting ready for Abby’s August wedding—seems more manageable in a summer state of mind.

WALK IN STEP WITH SUMMER. We’ve slipped into summer. I perceive this as a good thing. It’s a state of being. It’s a condition of the mind and heart. Not a carelessness, it is more an intentional deliberateness and spacing. It is not taking it easy, but taking time for re-creation, re-formation, restoration, renewal, and relationships. Ignored or resisted in some cultures or by some households, I’m convinced that accepting and embracing summer is as important to relationships and health as it is to economies and spirituality. I hope you will recognize summer’s unique graces during these months. Perhaps the breakthroughs long-worked for will emerge serendipitously, surprisingly, graciously as you walk in step with summer.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Summer's official arrival is still weeks away, but Memorial Day turns the heart page

May summer warm your soul.
May you flourish and grown
in this season of sun.
May you absorb life
and exude it
in these vibrant months.
May you find work fulfilling,
play renewing,
relationships reconciling,
faith deepening.
May you return in your heart
to the beach,
to the campground,
to the drive-in,
to the garden
to the friendships
to the sports field,
to the forests,
and far-off places
that fueled imagination
and freedom to explore.
May you once again be
changed in a season of life
called summer.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Summer camp experiences fueled my imagination and formed my faith

Sleeping bag rolled up and tied
Suitcase neatly packed by mom
Ball glove and bat in hand
I board the bus for camp

As familiar friends we sing
And make jokes along the way
Winding into the high country
For a week at Summersville Camp

Soon unfamiliar faces and names
Assigned to the same dorm room
Become friendly acquaintances
Ready to take the camp by storm

The week flies by in a whirl of action
Mornings in groups and crafts
Afternoons on the field or in the woods
Evenings in services with music and preaching

Early morning assemblies at the flag
Dining hall lines and trays of camp mush
Junk food from the Snack Shack
Flirting with girls from other places

The green canopy and cool dampness of
The woods on a hot day compels me
And my afternoon walks there both
Frighten and entice me.

Occasionally I see salamanders crawl and
A snake slither down the steep ravine
And who knows what it was that just
Bounded for cover through the leaves

A path leads to a mountain stream
Running swiftly with whirlpools
Forming around outcropping rocks
An inviting but foreboding flow

Somehow amid the various activities
A child’s heart is enlivened
New challenges are attempted
And a soul is being formed

Camp is a place apart from
Liberty Street and the ordinary
Games and friends and routine
Of summer on the city block.

It hallows a place in my heart
And a vision in my mind
A place to which I return
In my thoughts year after year.

CAN YOU HELP SEND A KID TO CAMP? I know of a handful of urban neighborhood kids who'd like to spend a week at Wabash Park Camp in Clay City, Indiana, but can't afford the $150. If you'd like to help them, drop me an e-mail. I'll let you know where to send your tax-deductible scholarship.