Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ten Ways to Cultivate Christlikeness at Home

FOLLOW-UP ON FAMILY LIFE. In an earlier post, I wrote of the particular challenge of being who we are--persons of faith who are following Jesus Christ--at home. In follow-up, I developed the following pithy list and called it "10 Ways to Cultivate Christlikeness at Home," drawing from Ephesians 4:17-5:21. Try these on for size:

1. CONFIRM WHAT YOU'VE PUT OFF/PUT ON. Recall the reality of your new life in Christ: You've "put off the old self; put on the new self--created to be like God." Bring this reality into your home life. According to Ephesians 4:17-24, this is the first and continuing top priority if authentic Christianity at home--or anywhere else--is going to be expressed.

2. FREE TO BE TRUTHFUL. Speak truthfully--put off falsehood. Read Ephesians 4:25. Because we no longer need to deal in cover up, truth-shading, or weighing words and actions between various "lords" and often competing masters, we are free to tell the truth to our loved ones. Truth here translates into truth in the public arena.

3. DEAL DECISIVELY WITH YOUR ANGER. Ephesians 4:46-27 is pretty clear: Anger IS an issue. Anger is an ISSUE. Anger is an issue for EVERYONE. The possibility that grace brings to us is not to deny that Christians become angry (as I was taught early on), but to not let the sun go down on our anger...and so not to allow it to go to seed and spring up as seething resentment and long-term hatred that shapes our world view, poisons our relationships and destroys our souls. If we find ourselves doing mental gymnastics to avoid acknowledging that we're angry when we are, anger isn't our most immediate or biggest problem.

4. WORK AS A WAY OF SHARING. Ephesians 4:28 warns against idleness and inert mooching, but not in a demeaning "get a job!" tone. Why work? "So that you may have something to share with those in need." John Wesley's dictum was: Work all you can; save all you can; so you may give all you can. Think of this in terms of time, too. Sharing in household chores and cooperative goals translates into time for service in the community or those in need.

5. CULTIVATE CARING COMMUNICATION. How we talk to one another matters a great deal. Words, tone, attitude, outlook, body language--these all convey value. Read Ephesians 4:29-31, 5:4, 19-20. While demeaning communication may be par for the course at school, work, or in the public arena, we are called upon to let our words be shaped by our new identity. The shape of our conversation and the words we use may well be one of the leading points of light in our witness these days.

6. FORGIVE, FORGIVE, AND FORGIVE AGAIN. Ephesians 4:32 calls us to compassion and forgiveness as a pattern in our basic relationships. Remember: each of us have been forgiven much; we can forgive, too! Consciously, pointedly, authentically choosing to forgive relatively small grievances and offenses in the household and family relationships establishes a pattern that makes forgiveness more possible and realistic in the larger community.

7. GUARD YOUR SEXUAL BEHAVIOR. Read Ephesians 5:3. In Christ, sexuality is not shunned, it is redeemed. In Christ, we are invited to put off self-destructive behaviors and relationships in preference for a wholesomeness and faithfulness that has authentic love as its creative context. Moreover, we are empowered to guard our sexual behavior so that it does not interfere with relationship or witness.

8. GUARD AGAINST GREED AND THE MAMMON SPIRIT. Some folks who would never engage in illicit sexual behavior, continuously lust after money and have so defined their value in possessions and securities that their admonitions to their family members about honesty and sexual purity fall on deaf ears. This, along with racism, is at the core of American Christianity's integrity issues. Read Ephesians 5:5-17.

9. WATCH WHAT YOU TURN TO FOR SATISFACTION. Don’t go in for cheap, destructive highs; let God keep on filling your heart. Read Ephesians 5:18. How much energy is spent indulging in addictive agents and chasing after disappointing illusions? I am convinced that we are given and have access to natural highs, satisfaction and joy in life that do not depend on alcohol-assisted or drug-induced states of consciousness.

10. LEARN TO YIELD. Yielding right of way and merging caringly has become a major spiritual and relational issue in America. If our behavior in traffic is any indication, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ is a real challenge. Read Ephesians 5:21. If I focus and insist only on my rights, I may disregard and devalue you and others. But if we focus on each other's good (and the common good!), we will yield to each other. There is synergy!

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, August 28, 2008

Cultivating Christlikeness may be most challenging in the household

IN THE MUNDANE. Living at home and with family in the mundane, routine, and daily is a primary front in the invitation to cultivate Christlikeness. Here is where weariness and tedium and all-too-familiar pressures expose us as we are in our most unguarded dimension of life.

WHAT WE ARE AT HOME. Home is most often thought of as our fall-back position, our place of retreat. It's where we are at our most basic--even raw--condition of being and relationship. Here, where there are no clients to impress or sales to be made or standards of achievement to be measured or production quotas to be met, we talk and interact and assess and surmise and reflect and re-gather our wits with those most nearest and dearest to us. What we are at home is what we--for better or worse--are.

WHERE JESUS REIGNS. Yet even at home--and perhaps particularly at home--the complex fabric of life produces the grist for conflict, challenge, self-expression, values testing, clarification, and decision. Here is where Christ abiding in one's heart is ever brought to consciousness and into the mix of relationships, words, actions, and responses. Home is not the only arena of spiritual formation--far from it. But it holds rich opportunity for spiritual formation and growth in Christlikeness like few other arenas do.

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, August 27, 2008

A few observations on the Democrats in Denver

DNC VS THE NEWS MEDIA. What the DNC is trying to accomplish and what the news media wants to accomplish are at odds. The DNC is trying to unify loyalties around Barack Obama after he unexpectedly bested Hillary Clinton--the once hands-down favorite to win the party's nomination--in the primaries. The news media is doing its dead-level best (with some help by Republican plants and Republican pundits) to fuel the discord for the sake of tantalizing story lines.

MAJOR POWER SHIFT. Do you realize we're watching a major shift in power within the Democratic Party? It is moving from a Clinton base to an Obama base. It is moving from a white majority to a thoroughly diverse constituency. It is moving from control focused in an older generation to leadership influence shared with a younger generation. It is moving from 1960's-era perspective and battle lines to a new millennial outlook and policy formation. Such major shifts are not easy and not pretty.

UGLY ALTERNATIVE SCENARIO. For whatever hurt or bad feelings Hillary's supporters feel because their candidate lost--fair and square--to Obama, whatever "disenfranchisement" or unfairness her supporters may claim, just imagine the scenario had Hillary managed to finagle a narrow but questionable win over Obama. The low-level angst we are witnessing is kid's play compared to an unmitigated mutiny if Hillary had, by hook or crook, wrested the nomination from Barack.

MOVING TOWARD THE CENTER. We are also witnessing a Democratic Party that is making one further step from its traditional liberal platform. Stalwart Republicans may not appreciate this, but Bill Clinton took the party a major step toward the center of the political spectrum. He was a centrist and an economic conservative. In many ways, Clinton positioned the nation to be a champion in a post-Cold War world economy and global reality. At this convention, the Democratic Party will pass a platform that continues its movement toward the political center. And it will put forward a candidate for President who truly represents the next generation in national and international leadership. While the right will still try to paint Obama and the Democrats as big-spending, tax-raising liberals, new DNC leadership is trying to effectively reframe pressing national challenges and offer a viable alternative to the same ol', same ol' politics of left and right.

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, August 26, 2008

George Bernard Shaw's statement continues to inspire

"I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatsoever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it onto future generations."

Monday, August 25, 2008

A tribute to a brother beloved

BLOGGING CAN WAIT. I haven't blogged in a few days, which is a bit unusual for me. We've had a death of a beloved man in our church family. When something like that occurs, everything else takes a back seat. Walking with a hurting family and our church family through this grief to this point has been consuming, but a great privilege.

DETERMINATION PERSONIFIED. Mike struggled valiantly to overcome the impacts of a recurrent brain tumor. He underwent high-risk surgery last November and had a lengthy recovery. Mike vacillated between setbacks and progress ever since. It seemed like three steps forward, two steps back--but there was real progress. Mike worked hard in cooperation with every therapy possible. He had managed to become relatively mobile, able to attend church and school and social events. His determination was depicted as he had a home-based medical assistant help stabilize him on a walker while he used a weed-eater to trim his yard.

BEWILDERING OUTCOME. But a sudden seizure last week left him unresponsive and he, for whom many have prayed for healing, died the next day. It was a disappointment to us, particularly because Mike had made such an investment of effort to recover, to become well again. All of us who knew him and visited with him can appreciate his and his family's investment toward a healing outcome. So, when all that seemed to evaporate in a moment, it was bewildering. We knew Mike was fragile and that a life-threatening seizure could occur again, but we were leaning hopefully, prayerfully in a different direction. His last and fatal setback caught us off-guard.

EACH DAY AS A GIFT. At the same time, I think most of us have been able to readily accept Mike's reversal and passing with a measure of grace and understanding. He let us know that he saw everything that he was able to do after last year's seizure and diagnosis of a recurrent brain tumor as a gift. Instead of foregoing brain surgery, he took the risk for the sake of hope. When his post-op condition left him unable to swallow, he accepted the tough implications even as he cooperated to beat the odds. And Mike set goals. He wanted to be in church on Easter. He was there. He wanted to see his youngest daughter graduate from high school. He was there as she got her diploma in May. To Mike, these were gifts he in his fragile condition appreciated.

SEIZE THE DAY. We are confident that Mike "fought a good fight, he finished the course, he kept the faith." The many tributes to him at Monday's funeral service reflected a life shaped by faith and service. As we come to terms with Mike's passing, we grapple with the fragility of life and the precious and perhaps few opportunities we may have to express our love and focus our faith. Make the most of today's opportunities. "Today is the day of salvation." Seize the moment. Let grace flow.

TAKES YOUR BREATH AWAY. My friend Dean has a quote at the end of all his e-mails. It goes something like this: "Life is measured not by the number of breaths you take, but the number of moments that take your breath away." I think Mike lived the last year of his life this side of heaven in breath-taking moments--taking in special encounters that represented life, love, grace, and peace to him. And that's something to be grateful for.

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, August 22, 2008

Two weeks of watching leaves me with appreciation...and a few concerns

TUNED IN. I've tuned into NBC on TV or online off and on throughout these two weeks. Like most, I've come away with a handful of impressions both good and bad. Here are a few:

NBC SPIRITUALLY HOLLOW. At its best, the Olympic movement represents to me the highest of ideals and considerable hope for increasing understanding, goodwill, and healing among nations. I just don't know if these are being served at the Beijing Olympics. The images and stories that are presented on TV and online have no focus on the athletes' cross-cultural mingling or bridge-building conversations, encounters, and exchanges. If these are occurring (and I hope they are), you wouldn't know it from NBC's vast multi-media, 24/7 coverage. Technically, NBC has done well. Spiritually, they're hollow.

INDIVIDUAL STORIES INSPIRE. Individually, the stories of some of the Olympic athletes are gut-wrenching and inspirational. Even without winning a medal, the accounts of dedication and achievement of athletes who emerge to compete at an international level are laudable. They are heroes and heroines of their generation. One of the "lost boys of Sudan" is running as an American sprinter. Families have mortgaged homes again and again to get their gifted child athlete the training to compete. A second generation immigrant Latino wins wrestling gold and tearfully wraps himself in an American flag. We've heard a few of these stories via NBC and I'd really like to hear more, particularly about non-American athletes.

SHADOWS BEHIND THE SPOTLIGHT. There's a sad and tragic shadow that is being cast by the Chinese Olympic spotlight. No doubt, China has put its best foot forward and everyone is impressed with what they've achieved. But refused-to-be-answered questions, overt denial, and persecution of political and cultural dissenters will define the memory and diminish the legitimacy of the Beijing Olympics. What is presented in the limelight is at the expense of people whose voices have been muzzled, whose rights have been denied, and whose lives have been taken. China's rank and file have sacrificed those who cry out for freedom and democracy to their gods that promise them legitimacy and prosperity. The fearful silence of China's 1.3 billion ordinary citizens is a compromise of integrity that poisons their future.

WILL OUR ATHLETES BE HONORED AT HOME? The closing of the Olympics will bring champions home. Will we hear about the winners of the 36 American gold medals or the many silver and bronze medalists? Will there be a national homecoming, ticker-tape parades, news media specials to follow up their achievements? When Bruce Jenner won the Decathlon as the world’s greatest all-round athlete a generation ago, he was on Wheaties boxes and TV specials. Do you know the name of the American athlete who just won the Decathlon in Beijing ? Will Bryan Clay (pictured) know anything of the enduring honor we’ve shown in the past? I’m wondering.

Photo: Bryan Clay of USA wins the Decathlon

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, August 21, 2008

A weekly brag about my high school varsity soccer-playing kids

WEEK ONE. So, the first games of the season have been played. Three straight nights, three straight victories! If only Ben Davis girls and Pike boys could keep this up!

BEN DAVIS STARTS WITH TWO WINS. Monday night, Ben Davis girls rolled over Plainfield (my alma mater), 3-0. Molly (17 and a senior) scored a goal and had an assist. On Tuesday, Ben Davis girls hosted Brownsburg--a state-ranked team BD hasn't beaten in modern history. But guess what? The Lady Giants finally defeated Brownsburg, 2-0. Molly had an assist on the first goal. BD outplayed the Lady Bulldogs from start to finish. A heartening beginning to the season with lots of challenges in their MIC conference play--Carmel, North Central, Center Grove, and Lawrence North.

SAM STARTS, PIKE WINS. Moving up from the westside to the northwest side...Becky and I drove up to Lafayette last night to watch Pike play Lafayette Westside. It was Sam's first game on the varsity squad...and he got to start in defense. Sam is 15 and a sophomore. The Red Devils easily routed Lafayette West, 5-0, in this season opener. Pike looks solid at every position and they are ranked #15 in the state. However, they play some of the top teams in the state in the course of the season, so we'll see how they do against powerhouses like Carmel, Cathedral, Westfield, North Central, and Lawrence Central.

Next update: August 28.

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, August 20, 2008

Sojourners has prepared an insightful but not directive guide for voting Christians

ONE GUIDE I RECOMMEND. The following link opens up an Adobe Acrobat document titled Voting All Your Values - Principles and Policies for Christian Voters that the folks at Sojourners' "Vote Out Poverty" project have prepared. I recommend this even as I tell you that I generally spurn "voter guides."

BEYOND "SINGLE ISSUE" VOTING. Unlike most "Christian" voter guides, this is not single-issue, partisan, litmus-test propaganda self-righteously parading as "the only way you can vote and still call yourself a Christian." Instead, it is a thoughtful, compassionate declaration of a breadth of Biblical concerns that invite due consideration as we vote, ask questions, advocate, etc. As its title indicates, it challenges us to vote ALL of our values as Christians--not just a single issue.

SEVEN AREAS OF CONCERN. Voting ALL Your Values invites consideration in seven areas that are linked to what the Bible teaches:

- Compassion and Economic Justice
- Peace and Restraint of Violence
- Consistent Ethic of Life
- Racial Justice
- Human Rights, Dignity, and Gender Justice
- Strengthen Families and Renew Culture
- Good Stewardship of God's Creation

SOJOURNERS IS TRUSTWORTHY. Led by the Rev. Jim Wallis, the folks at Sojourners have been at the forefront of calling for Biblical principles and informed policies at a national and international level for a generation now. Their hallmark is their advocacy to bring an end to poverty because it is one of the Word of God's most consistent and insistent watchwords. An independent evangelical organization, they side with no party, criticizing both leading political parties on the American scene in light of the Bible. These are folks I have gained a lot of insight and perspective from over the years. Their website, has a plethora of information, podcats, and free tools for local and personal use.

Photo by Sojourners

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!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

It Would Have Been Enough

Sister Miriam Therese Winter reflects a gratitude for grace

It would have been enough
if You had simply given life to us,
O Genesis of Our Being,
but You also gave us meaning
and liberty
and love.
How shall we respond
to such an outpouring of blessing,
except to give back life for Life
and love for unending Love.

-- from Prayers for the Common Good, edited by A Jean Lesher (Pilgrim Press, 1998)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Hauerwas challenges Christians to move peacemaking front and center

PEACE TALKS, ANYONE? I hardly ever hear Christians talk about peace. And when they do, many talk about it in muted tones and in terms that seem to justify whatever violence is necessary to procure peace for themselves or their nation—a reflection of the world instead of a nonviolent, transformative witness to it. I guess these want to appear “reasonable” and “practical” to their neighbors. In doing so, they inadvertently compromise the heart of Christian faith and scuttle the greatest possibility of mission-witness of our generation. I invite all Christians to reconsider their assumptions about the Biblical call to be peacemakers.

HAUERWAS’ REFLECTION. One place to begin is with the following snippets that I lift from a piece called “Peacemaking” in a collection of essays by Stanley Hauerwas titled Christian Existence Today (Brazos Press, 2001). In the spirit of John Howard Yoder, Hauerwas is considered by many the most important American theologian today. Sifting through these assertions could make for an invigorating extended conversation.

WITHIN OUR HOUSE. “Peacemaking among Christians…is not simply one activity among others but rather is the very form of the church insofar as the church is the form of the one who ‘is our peace.’ Peacemaking is the form of our relations in the church as we seek to be in unity with one another. Such unity is not that built on shallow optimism that we can get along if we respect one another’s differences. Rather, it is a unity that profoundly acknowledges our differences because we have learned that those differences are not accidental to our being a truthful people--even when they require us to confront one another as those who have wronged us.”

CONFRONT SHAM PEACE. “Regarding those outside the church, first, I think we must say that it is the task of the church to confront and challenge the false peace of the world which is too often built more on power than truth. To challenge the world’s sense of peace may well be dangerous, because often when sham peace is exposed it threatens to become violent. The church, however, cannot be less truthful with the world than it is expected to be with itself. If we are less truthful we have not peace to offer to the world.”

THE HABIT OF PEACE. "Second, Christians are prohibited from ever despairing of the peace possible in the world. We know that as God’s creatures we are not naturally violent nor are our institutions unavoidably violent. As God’s people we have been created for peace. Rather, what we must do is to help the world find the habits of peace whose absence so often makes violence seem like the only alternative. Peacemaking as a virtue is an act of imagination built on long habits of the resolution of differences.”

LACK OF IMAGINATION. “The great problem in the world is that our imagination has been stilled, since it has not made a practice of confronting wrongs so that violence might be avoided. In truth, we must say that the church has too often failed the world by its failure to witness in our own life the kind of conflict necessary to be a community of peace. Without an example of peacemaking community, the world has no alternative but to use violence as a means to settle disputes.”

CONFRONT WITH RECONCILIATION. “Peacemaking is not a passive response to violence; rather, it is an active way to resist injustice by confronting the wrongdoer with the offer of reconciliation. Such reconciliation is not cheap, however, since no reconciliation is possible unless the wrong is confronted and acknowledged.”

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, August 14, 2008

He was as odd as they come, but music lived through Todd

BACK ON PEARCY AVENUE. As a kid, I lived six years on Liberty Street and four years on the other side of the block, on Pearcy Avenue, in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Ted and Nancy lived four doors down from us on Pearcy Avenue. They had a son named Todd. He was four years younger than me. The family attended church with us and our families frequently exchanged hospitality, so Todd was very much a part of our family’s life back then.

IN MEMORIAM. Just a few years ago, Todd died of complications of various diseases brought on by a severely weakened immune system. He was 41 years old. I was unable to attend the memorial service that was held for him in West Virginia. I wrote the following poem and sent it along with a friend.

The little boy down the street
was different than me:
I was scrappy;
Todd was scrawny.
I rode my bike a lot;
he rarely touched his.
I read books when I had to;
he read them for fun.
I readily tanned in summer;
he cultivated a constant pale.
I tried to toughen him up,
but he was football-resistant.
While I played outside,
Todd played the piano.
I was okay with music,
but he lived for it.
I did well to sing in tune
and laughed at his early vibrato.
Todd seemed always out of step,
except when the music began.
Then he would soar to heaven
and we would look up in awe.

The little boy down the street
was thirteen when I moved away.
I was four years older than him;
a world apart to adolescent minds.
In that frame of mind,
I viewed him an odd,
but accepted him as so.
Whatever agonies he suffered
I dared not have known.
I moved on through college;
and saw him last at my wedding.
I do not know what life since held for him,
or all he was able to offer it.
I can only imagine a voice
trained and seasoned with grace;
A mind filled with eloquent words
penned by thoughtful dreamers;
And hands flowing over ivories,
drawing melodies from a keyboard.
Beyond disease and deathbed,
that is how I will remember him.

Rest well, my little friend,
And sing us all to heaven.

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, August 13, 2008

Two books offer a better way forward than traditionally-held teachings of most churches

ALTERNATIVE TO REPEATING "THE CURSE." Of the numerous books I've read regarding family relationships, parenting, and family life, none compare to the two following. Families Where Grace Is In Place by Jeff VanVonderen (Bethany House, 1992) is a direct counter to traditional patriarchal and supposedly "Biblical" approaches to family relationships. VanVonderen points out that much of what passes for Christian household guidance is pre-christian and based on roles and rules defined by the fall instead of what God originally intended. This would include the Bill Gothard approach to family relationships and discipline. He calls this curse-full family living. It's counter is to fully recognize and embrace the impact of New Testament grace in the life, words, and Spirit of Jesus--and in believers--as a new power and pattern for household realationships.

GOD'S JOB AND OURS. VanVonderen builds a strong case against CURSE-full relationships: Controlling, Unforgiving, Reactive, Shaming, and Ego-driven. Here's a quote from VanVonderen: "We must learn the simple difference between God's job and ours. God's job is to fix and to change. Our job is to depend, serve, and equip. This is the work of grace. And it is more restful than you can imagine... When we depend on God to meet our needs, it sends ripples through every relationship we have."

CROSSROADS FOR FAMILIES. The second book is Families at the Crossroads by Rodney Clapp (Inter-Varsity Press, 1993). Clapp also challenges long-held, foregone conclusions about what a Christian family or household is supposed to look like, act like, accomplish, represent, etc. For the sake of living out an authentic faith in the present generation, Clapp challenges evangelical Christians to get to heart of Biblical faith and stop mimicking or echoing return-to-the-past patterns that reflect more of culture than of faith. This work is full of challenging insights and applications. Clapp's book has received very little discussion, but is, to me, one of the most important for evangelicals today.

HOME AS MISSION BASE. Clapp posits: "We need a world bigger, richer, and tougher than that which can be created by a little family fixated on itself and its emotional coddling. We need a cause large and exciting enough that many people, not just a spouse and two or three children, can devote their lives to it. The kingdom of God moves us beyond home as a haven to home as mission base."

EXPLORING FAMILY GRACE. I intend to post more about these two books in days and weeks ahead, as I am re-reading them as part of a preaching/teaching series in August and September I'm calling "Family Grace." I've written about and posted excerpts of these books on bikehiker before, so you could do a search on the site to find a few morsels. You're also welcome to listen in/engage the series on Sundays at 10:30 at WEMO as you're able.

LOVING, DESPITE GRAVE RESERVATIONS. Parenthetically, I have observed that many women who bought into the Bill Gothard, "men rule," top-down approach to Christian household relationships have done so with grave reservations in mind and emotions but with a heart that truly wants only God's will. They have yielded and laid down their lives against legitimate reservations. They have done so because they loved, not because it was right. They have never really considered any other option than what their church has presented. Therein lies the problem: the church has done a disservice to men, women and children by assuming that its "experts"--past and present--know best. I wonder how many people have suffered unnecessarily under curse-based patterns and relationships? There is a better way...and it is drawn from the heart of New Testament faith.

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, August 12, 2008

A poem penned from the experience of being spewed upon

People are more
fragile than they appear
behind assertive voices
and a best foot forward
unmet needs mingle
with untame emotions
mixing a volatile brew
ready to erupt
spewing hurtful debris
in unintended directions
finding unsuspecting targets
inflicting undeserved

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!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Parker Palmer's insights offer breakthroughs in teaching and learning

A GIFT TO WOULD-BE EDUCATORS. Of the many gifts Parker Palmer has given this American generation, The Courage to Teach is one of the strongest. I wish it could be given to and read by every educator, would-be educator and everyone who has influence in shaping the American educational system. If what Palmer says is even partly right, routine educational protocols need to interrupted for the sake of letting the quest for learning breathe anew. A few excerpts:

CREATING THE CONDITIONS. “Teachers possess the power to create conditions that can help students learn a great deal--or keep them from learning much at all. Teaching is the intentional act of creating those conditions, and good teaching requires that we understand the inner sources of both the intent and the act.”

A SILENCE BORN OF FEAR. “The silence of our students is the same silence we have known in other settings: It is the silence of blacks in the presence of whites, of women in the presence of men, of the powerless in the presence of people with power. It is the silence of marginal people, people who have been told that their voice has no value, people who maintain silence in the presence of the enemy because in silence there is safety. Student silence is normally not the product of ignorance or indifference or cynicism. It is a silence born of fear.”

EXORCISE FEAR. “I should have remembered from my own experience that students, too, are afraid: afraid of failing, of not understanding, of being drawn into issues they would rather avoid, of having their ignorance exposed or their prejudices challenged, of looking foolish in front of their peers. When my students’ fears mix with mine, fear multiplies geometrically -- and education is paralyzed. If we were to turn some of our externalized reformist energies toward exorcising the inner demons of fear, we would take a vital step toward the renewal of teaching and learning.”

BEYOND “OBJECTIVITY” ONLY. "Though the academy claims to value multiple modes of knowing, it honors only one -- an 'objective' way of knowing that takes us into the 'real' world by taking us 'out of ourselves'… In this culture, the self is not a source to be tapped but a danger to be suppressed, not a potential to be fulfilled but an obstacle to be overcome."

APPEAL TO THEIR INNER TRUTH. "We can, and do, make education an exclusively outward enterprise, forcing students to memorize and repeat facts without ever appealing to their inner truth -- and we get predictable results: many students never want to read a challenging book or think a creative thought once they get out of school…. What we teach will never 'take' unless it connects with the inward, living core of our students' lives, with our students' inward teachers."

Photo on flikr by duconihilum

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, August 9, 2008

Molly and Sam are ready for their autumn season to get underway

MOLLY AS A SENIOR CAPTAIN. Today was "picture day" for Ben Davis High School soccer teams. This no "official" photo, but I asked Molly to let me snap a picture while she had her uniform on. In addition to individual and team photos, Molly was in the senior member photos and captains' photos. She learned that she'd been selected as a team captain yesterday. Very cool! That means that Abby, Jared and Molly will all have served as team captains at Ben Davis. The Ben Davis Lady Giants will participate in a jamboree next Saturday and then get their season underway against Plainfield (my alma mater) the following Monday. They have the promise of a very good season and run into the Indiana High School Athletic Association state tourney. A core of the squad has been playing soccer together since first grade and have achieved some significant wins and tournament trophies along the way. Let's hope it all comes together this season.

SAM VARSITY AS A SOPHOMORE. It was picture day for Pike High School, too. Earlier this week, Sam made the varsity team as a sophomore, one of three sophomores on the top squad. He also started the Red-White Game, an inter-squad scrimmage game as part of a day of team introductions, parents' meeting, and alumni game. Parents were treated to a vigorous display of soccer competition before the season gets started. The Red Devils have a tournament in a week and then get their Conference Indiana season underway after that. The Red Devils graduated a slew of starting seniors, so this is a bit a of rebuilding year. How quickly their younger team members mature and the team gels together will determine the level of success they achieve.

SPLITTING OUR TIME & ALLEGIANCES. All this means that Becky and I will split our after-school hours on most weeknights in August through October between Ben Davis and Pike High Schools. Some games will be watched up on 71st Street and Zionsville Road and at the Red Devils' competitors. Some games will be watched at 10th Street and Girls School Road and the Lady Giants' competition in the MIC. I have to be sure to wear red for Sam's games and purple for Molly's. We're looking forward to it, actually. We've always enjoyed encouraging our kids and watching them compete and achieve. The fall may get a little crazy, but that's okay. It's part of the journey on which we've embarked.

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, August 8, 2008

Teachers can make a world of difference...and we must help them do it

TRIGGERING SCHOOL REMINISCENCES. Becky is a public school nurse with over 1,000 students assigned to her clinic. As she went back to work yesterday in preparation for students returning to school next Monday, I got to thinking about the world of teaching and education as I experienced it, particularly in elementary school.

WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD IT WOULD BE. How wonderful the world would be if it was like the world Mrs. Dodd seared into the imaginations of each of her first and second grade students at Park Elementary School in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Or, if teachers were all like Mrs. Mumaugh, my fourth-grade teacher at Park School, each student would feel inspired and challenged to do their best. The world these teachers invoked world was diverse and accepting. That world was hopeful. It was a place of discovery of old ways and new frontiers. It made room for everyone. That world had boundaries and restorative consequences for crossing those boundaries. That world valued music, art, play, and laughter along with hard work. That world was one to which I looked forward to being a part. I still try to live Mrs. Dodd’s and Mrs. Mumaugh's world.

INSPIRED BY TEACHERS. Each of our four children have had positively influential teachers like Mrs. Dodd and Mrs. Mumaugh, who have put more passion into their teaching than what is standardly required. Abby's third-grade teacher, Mrs. Thate, fueled her imagination and saw incredible potential in her. Jared has been inspired to become a teacher himself because of two of his teachers--Mrs. Hahn and Mrs. Johnson. Mr. Tatum at Ben Davis High School has motivated the intellectual imaginations of students like Molly.

What in a teacher so inspires a child, motivates them to learn, and broadens their horizons? Whatever it is, we must fuel it. We must find ways to encourage every teacher to be and do their best. Why not take a teacher to lunch? Tell them what you think of their value. Present them with a gift or book in their class at school. Applaud and reward their "good behavior." With some of your free time, help them out. We can find ways to reinforce their positive role in the lives of our children and their shaping role in our society.

ONE BAD APPLE. This is not to say all teachers are good. They aren’t. Some are woefully out of focus or off base. A few like that have been responsible for teaching my children somewhere along the way. But, like students, let us begin with the assertion that no teacher is beyond hope or beyond being able to change and grow. Let us assume their original choice to teach was not the pursuit of job security, summers off, control, pettiness, or prosperity. Might they, with steady encouragement and accountability, rediscover their sense of calling, their vocation, and once again let their lives speak and not their frustrations and fears?

CHURCH SUPPORT FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Shouldn’t churches take the lead in encouraging public school teachers? How quick our pulpits and coffee conversations are to run down public education. Church folk can be rather dismissive of local schools. Our private conversations and harbored notions translate into widely-felt spirit, action, and policy—for good or for ill. What are you and your congregation projecting onto the whole? Have a teacher appreciation day. Re-deploy some volunteer resources from the church to the school. Orchestrate ‘round-the-school-day prayer for teachers, students, administrators, and school systems. Invest in needed school equipment. Let your local schools know how much you care and how critical to the future of children, the community and the world you believe they are.

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!

Photo: Park Elementary School in Parkerburg, West Virginia, where I matriculated 1st-6th grades. Built in 1913, it was demolished in the 1990's.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

93-year old Granny D challenges us to consider our challenges and opportunities

O, BE JOYFUL. “Aren’t we privileged to live in a time when everything is at stake, and when our efforts make a difference in the eternal contest between light and shadow, between togetherness and division? Between justice and exploitation? O, be joyful that you are a warrior in this great time! Will we rise to this battle? If so, we cannot lose, for rising up to it is our victory. If we represent love in the world, you see, we have already won.”

-- from Doris “Granny D” Haddock’s 93rd birthday speech, quoted from The Bruderhof

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, August 5, 2008

Who am I and what am I becoming when I am alone?

PLACE OF CONTINUOUS RESOURCING. I am not sure who stated it, but I consider it occasionally: “Spirituality is what one does with one’s solitude.” The Scriptures invite: "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength." "Be still and know that I am God." Learning to value aloneness and to practice solitude has been one of the deepest and most resourceful developments of my adult life. I could just as readily sing the praise and power of community engagement as a second and equally valuable pole of spiritual vitality. I wrote the following during one contemplation of solitude:

Apart from the crowd, peers, assembly, spotlight
Apart from family, siblings, spouse
Apart from church and program
When outward action is ceased
When one is alone
What are we?
Who am I?

To whom do I listen?
To what do I give my attention?
What occupies my consciousness?
Where do I turn?

Out of aloneness
Out of solitude
Emerges the shaping of the soul
Which either breathes energy and shalom,
Community formation and kinship,
Or barriers of fear, doubt, and suspicion.

O, to be nurtured in the stillness of solitude
By love divine itself
Here, shape my soul
And fill it
With creative redemption.

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!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Dr. Wes Tracy crafted this prayer and passed it along; let it be lifted up

SCHOOL AND PRAYER. Wes Tracy, one of my at-a-distance, across-the-years mentors and to-Phoenix-retired seminary teacher and writer, crafted the following prayer and passed it along. With his permission, I present it on bikehiker in hopes that it can be used by many. All of us who are conscious not only of the start of a new school year that's just around the corner (our kids start on August 11!), but of the challenge of educating young people, will appreciate its content. Wes attached the following note to the prayer, which puts it in context:

TRACY'S NOTE FOR CONTEXT. "My granddaughter asked for a prayer. She teaches in Central Phoenix Charter school, a last-chance high school. Many of her students are drug dealers, gang members and/or mothers at 15. She is starting a prayer group with several Christian teachers. I'm proud of her for teaching where she teaches BY CHOICE. She tells me she works in a mission field and she does... The prayer follows classical Christian structure: Praise, Thanksgiving, Intercession, Petition, Benediction. Note that distinctive Christian prayer is also Trinitarian, that is, each Person of the Holy trinity is named in the prayer. This prayer could be offered in parts with a different person reading each section. The prayer is brief and general, as group prayers usually are."

PRAISE: Oh God, our Father, we praise you for your majesty, glory, and power. Oh Creator God, we praise you for your Holiness, Love, and Mercy.

THANKSGIVING: We thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ who embodied the love of God and extended redeeming grace to us. We thank you for the life of God in the soul of human beings, for the image of God that we sense within our hearts.

INTERCESSION: We pray, oh Lord, for our community -- the broken heart of Phoenix-- where there is too much violence, too much crime, too many broken families, and too many crushed hopes. May the ministry of the Holy Spirit redeem our community, our school, and our students.

PETITION: Give to each of us teachers and staff members a deep sense of loyalty and love for each other. Help us to help each other, Lord. Give us the grace and strength and insight to light the way for our students through the gift of teaching that you have given to us. Help us to encourage within our students a love for learning, and a sense of hope. Make us lights for God and good.

BENEDICTION: May your will be done in us as it is in heaven. May we serve you acceptably today. This we pray in Jesus name. Amen

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!

flickr photo by cafemama (Sarah Gilbert)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

I survived, they thrived, and it's the day after the long-anticipated wedding

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. It's the day after the wedding that's been in the works for eight months. All is calm. All seem to be satisfied. We are relieved. And weary. That part of the mission was accomplished.

PLEASINGLY UNEVENTFUL. Exacting preparations coalesced in an enjoyable weekend. On Friday, family and participants in the bridal party helped set up for the reception. The Friday evening rehearsal and dinner was pleasingly uneventful. Over 400 friends and faith family members attended the wedding ceremony and reception at West Morris Street Free Methodist Church yesterday afternoon. About 200 extended family members, guests and friends of Abby and Alex joined in an evening catered dinner gathering that ended around 11:00 pm.

THIRD DAY. I woke early this morning and made my usual preparations for leading Morning Worship and exploring the Word of God with our congregation. I returned home after noon to join in a brunch with extended family members during which Abby and Alex opened wedding gifts. To say we are all weary is an understatement. But it is a weariness seasoned with satisfaction and joy at attending to Abby's wedding and a great beginning for their marriage.

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, August 2, 2008

This song sung at Abby's wedding was moving

Words & music by Chris Eaton, sung by Rachael Lampa

Let everything that breathes praise You
The earth the sky the sea praise You
Just as nature shows to us Your blessing
Soon I find my heart confessing

My love is not my own
It all belongs to You
And after all You’ve done the least that I can do
Is live my life in every part
Only to please my Father’s heart

Love is all You need to heal us
Flowing from the heavens Jesus
And with one voice we’ll sing together
And this will be our song forever
My love is not my own
It all belongs to You
And after all You’ve done the least that I can do
Is live my life in every part
Only to please my Father’s heart

Photo by Molly Hay

Friday, August 1, 2008

Performances repeated nightly, recognized or not

THERE'S GLORY ALL AROUND. Driving home after evening Vacation Bible School each night this week drew my eyes to the western horizon after 9:00 pm. I got to see some stunning sunsets. Imagine...such performances are repeated nightly in every sector of the globe but go largely unrecognized. Our eyes are looking elsewhere. Look up! There's glory all around. I snapped this photo from the window of my Beetle near Indianapolis International Airport on Tuesday.