Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent challenges us to let go of wishes and start hoping

“I have found it very important in my own life to let go of my wishes and start hoping. It was only when I am willing to let go of my wishes that something really new, something beyond my own expectations, can happen to me. This is what Mary did..."

"To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. It is trusting that something will happen to us that is far beyond our own imaginings. It is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life. It is living with the conviction that God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, expecting new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination or prediction.”

– Henri Nouwen in The Path of Waiting

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, November 29, 2008

Anticipation marks the Christian life and brings the future into reality

"Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for. We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus. We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory. We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God's footsteps. Waiting for God is an active, alert - yes, joyful - waiting. As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes."-- Henri Nouwen

Friday, November 28, 2008


I toured Gateway to India, the Taj hotel & Victoria Terminus in 2006

PLACES OF PEACE & TERROR. During my first visit to India in January 2006, I spent a day with a guide in the southern part of Mumbai (formerly Bombay). We enjoyed the beauty and grandeur of once-serene sites that now are the center of the world's attention due to the terrorist attacks that began on Wednesday. These are 3 of many photos I snapped that afternoon in Mumbai.

ON THE WATERFRONT. News reports tell us that some of the terrorists arrived in boats from the harbor that opens out to the Arabian Sea. They landed at the Gateway to India and ran across the street to the Taj Mahal Hotel. I spent most of an afternoon admiring and touring these Indian landmarks.

GATEWAY TO INDIA. The Gateway to India (pictured above) is a maginficent archway that opens to the Arabian Sea. It was built under British guidance as a welcome to King George of England. One year later, in Feburary 2007, I was privileged to stand under another great Indian archway. Similar in style and size, India Gate is over 700 miles away in New Delhi. We lifted our bikes in victory at the end of our a 2,000-mile bicycle ride through India.

THE TAJ. The Taj Mahal Hotel (at left), known as the Taj, is across the street from Gateway to India. It is a multi-story structure with architectural influence reflecting indigenous Indian grace. The Taj is a point of pride in India particularly because it was built in 1903 with Indian resources, under Indian guidance, by Indian workers at a time when most construction was overseen by and had the imprint of the English. Now it is a 5-star hotel, used by many foreign tourists, including those from England and America. Inside, the Taj features arching ceilings and a massive rotunda in the main lobby area. Note: This is not the Taj Mahal, but the Taj Mahal Hotel. It is named for the arhitectural marvel that is about 700 miles from Mumbai in Agra, India.

VICTORIA TERMINUS. The Victoria Terminus train station (below), now renamed the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, is the epitome of gothic architecture. I took a book on arhitecture by John Ruskin with me to India. As he described gothic style, it was as if Ruskin were looking directly at Victoria Terminus. This is the busiest train station in Mumbai. People are nearly wall to wall. Getting on and off a train here is like getting into or out of a can of sardines. This is the location of most of the killing in the terrorist attacks.
A PRAYER FOR MUMBAI. I grieve the loss of so many lives and the erruption of terror and fear that these days have brought to the people of Mumbai. I pray for them and for the restoration of peace for these gracious, hard-working people.
CAREFUL ASSESSMENT. I don't think it will be easy to identify the terrorists. It will be harder, I think, for the West to grasp the "why" behind the attacks. It is very important that the leaders of Mumbai and India carefully and accurately identify the terrorists and their reasons. With multiple millions of Hindus and Muslims living side by side, carelessness and scapegoating can lead to unimaginable reactions. Careful assessment can ease tensions and garner great support from both mainstream Hindus and Muslims in combating terrorism in the future.
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!
Thanksgiving Day, Sunday, and Monday -- a eucharist of life

I wrote this piece a few Thanksgivings ago, relating Thanksgiving to worship and daily living.


Gathered together with family and friends.
Sat down to turkey with all the trimmings.
Offered thanks for blessings seen and unperceived.
Pushed ourselves back after several helpings.
Sauntered outside to pass a football.
Played until we could not see the ball.
Headed back inside for a round of desserts.
Talked and told stories late into the evening.
Piled into the van and headed back home.
Collapsed into an exhausted, satisfied sleep.


Gathered together as families and neighbors.
Stood up to worship with all our senses.
Offered thanks for blessings seen and unperceived.
Pondered the preached Word's fresh helping.
Sang of the grace that is greater than our sin.
Prepared to share in the blessed Sacrament.
Headed down the aisle to kneel around the altar.
Took in the consecrated bread and wine.
Piled into the van and headed back home.
Contemplated anew the wonder of these blessings.


Scattering apart as neighbors and laborers.
Standing up to serve with all our capacities.
Offering thanks for blessings seen and unperceived.
Pondering the interface of word and deed.
Singing of faithfulness even as our strength fails.
Playfully considering the sacredness of life.
Heading interactions in the direction of community.
Talking and telling stories as work is accomplished.
Plowing through traffic as we head back home.
Celebrating the fullness of life as a gift from God.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Thanksgiving poem

This holiday is for all that we
Take for granted,
Assume as a given,
Absent-mindedly overlook,
Claim as our God-given right.

This holiday if for all those we
Unnecessarily criticize,
Agitate with our demands,
Impatiently rush,
Regularly impose upon.

This holiday is for all that we
By-pass in our drivenness,
Go out of our way to avoid,
Carelessly forget,
Thoughtlessly leave out.

This holiday is for all things we
Receive as gracious gifts,
Share as common ground,
Express as transcendent grace,
Return in praise to God.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Monday Memo from my friend John Gibson

The Rev. John Gibson e-mails a "Monday Memo" on behalf of Indiana's effort in the Earth Charter project. I met John while working on regional sprawl, land use, and transportation issues. He's a retired United Methodist pastor who ran for mayor of Indianapolis with the Green Party several years ago and gives his energy to promote sustainability. I especially liked today's note from John:

Thanksgiving has traditionally been about gratitude for such basic needs as
food, health, family and freedom. Basic needs should never be
taken-for-granted especially in these times of economic uncertainty. Our
hearts go out to those who have or are in danger of losing house, job, health
insurance, etc.

For those who still have most or all the basics we might ponder an
additional sphere of gratitude prompted by the Earth Charter: "...when
basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not
having more."

The thought of "being more" elicits gratitude for purpose in life, for
compassion and forgiveness received or rendered, for embracing nature as a
sacred trust, for respecting those we dislike, for the joy of deep friendships,
for faith in the next generation, etc.

May your Thanksgiving include both the basics and the

For our children's children,

John Gibson

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, November 22, 2008

Winter-like weather in Indy puts a damper on our balmy fall

DEEP INTO AUTUMN. It had been nice. It had been relatively warm. It had hardly rained. Up until this week, I hadn't worn a but a light jacket. Now I'm wearing a coat and gloves. Daytime temps in the mid-30's and nightime lows in the 20's in mid-November is a rude awakening. I am sure there will be some warmer days throughout what remains of autumn (officially, we've a month to go!), but winter has warned us: brace yourself, bundle up, and get ready for a long haul.

CANAL TOW PATH. I snapped this photo as Chris Province and I rode along the Canal Tow Path near Butler University last week. Most of the leaves on these trees are now down, even though our first frost was late and the leaves clung to the trees longer than usual. The Canal is a great place to ride or run, even in fall and winter.

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, November 21, 2008

Howard Thurman demonstrates a thoughtful practice worth considering

CONTEMPLATE THE YEAR. I like the way Howard Thurman recollects the year. The following words of thanksgiving come from For the Inward Journey, a collection of Thurman's writings (Friends United Press, Richmond, Indiana, 1984). Perhaps the simplicity and profundity of them may prompt us to consider such in our own lives.

OTHERS’ LABOR. “I remember with gratitude the fruits of the labors of others, which I have shared as a part of the normal experience of daily living.”

BEAUTIFUL THINGS. “I remember the beautiful things that I have seen heard, and felt--some as a result of definite seeking on my part and many that came unhearalded into my path, warming my heart and rejoicing my spirit.”

DISTRESS. “I remember the moments of distress that proved to be groundless and those that taught me profoundly about the evilness of evil and the goodness of good.”

NEW PEOPLE. “I remember the new people I have met, from whom I have caught glimpses of the meaning of my own life and the true character of human dignity.”

DREAMS. “I remember the dreams that haunted me during the year, keeping me ever mindful of goals and hopes which I did not realize but from which I drew inspiration to sustain my life and keep steady my purposes.”

THE SPIRIT OF GOD. “I remember the awareness of the Spirit of God that sought me out in my aloneness and gave to me a sense of assurance that undercut my despair and confirmed my life with new courage and abiding hope.”

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, November 20, 2008

The prolific, rotund English journalist posited some assertions worth contemplating

FROM ORTHODOXY. I listened to the audiobook of Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton on my iPod as I rode my bike through India last year. I purchased the audio and hardbound versions of the book based on a chapter about Chesterton in Philip Yancy's book Soul Survivor. While it is must reading, Orthodoxy isn't easy reading or listening. His English sentence structures are sprawling and he seems to go all the way around Robin Hood’s barn to make a point.

5 PRE-CHRISTIAN OBSERVATIONS. About a third of the way through the book, however, Chesterton stops to summarize the impressions that preceded his “discovery” of Christianity. We Wesleyans attribute such leadings and leanings to Prevenient Grace (the grace of God that precedes, prepares, and makes saving grace possible). Chesterton's five observations are significant across generations:

SEEDS OF DOCTRINE. “These are my ultimate attitudes towards life; the soils for the seeds of doctrine. These in some dark way I thought before I could write, and felt before I could think…

1. BEYOND NATURAL EXPLANATION. "I felt in my bones; first, that this world does not explain itself. It may be a miracle with a supernatural explanation; it may be a conjuring trick, with a natural explanation. But the explanation of the conjuring trick, if it is to satisfy me, will have to be better than the natural explanations I have heard. The thing is magic, true or false.”

2. PERSONAL MEANING IN THE WORLD. “Second, I came to feel as if magic must have a meaning, and meaning must have some one to mean it. There was something personal in the world, as in a work of art; whatever it meant it meant violently.”

3. BEAUTY. “Third, I thought this purpose beautiful in its old design, in spite of its defects, such as dragons.”

4. GRATITUDE, RESTRAINT, OBEDIENCE. “Fourth, that the proper form of thanks to it is in some form of humility and restraint: we should thank God for beer and Burgundy by not drinking too much of them. We owed, also, an obedience to whatever made us.”

5. GOOD A REMNANT OF SOME PRIMORDIAL RUIN. “And last, and strangest, there had come into my mind a vague and vast impression that in some way all good was a remnant to be stored and held sacred out of some primordial ruin. Man had saved his good as Crusoe had saved his goods: he had saved them from a wreck.”

IN SPITE OF THE ZEITGEIST. “All this I felt and the age gave me no encouragement to feel it. And all this time I had not even thought of Christian theology.”

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, November 19, 2008

Molly will play Jo March in "Little Women" at Ben Davis High School This Weekend

FEISTY JO MARCH. I can't wait for Thursday evening...and Friday evening...and Saturday evening...and Sunday afternoon. Molly, 17, has a leading role in the Ben Davis High School Music and Drama Department's production of the Broadway musical "Little Women," adapted from the story by Louisa Mae Alcott. Molly plays and sings the part of Jo March, the gutsy girl, er, woman, at the center of the story. Performances are at 7:00 pm Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, Thursday-Saturday and at 2:00 pm on Sunday. Tickets available at the door or the Music Department office. Go Molly!

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, November 18, 2008

A few sites that can connect you to viable, local sustainability and green earth action

Clean coal? Wind? Bio fuel? Alternative fuels? Buzz words, only?

When? How? Will they make a difference? How much?

Readily recognizable corporations are seizing on the emerging call for clean energy with very slick (and expensive) TV commercials. Which makes the cautious cynic in me ask: What are they REALLY up to? Bait and switch? Obfuscation? Maintaining monopoly or market share? How hard are they really pushing themselves away from carbon-heavy fuels for consumers?

I don't dare take them at their word as it is presented in a TV commercial. Believing TV commercials/ads, in general, for truth and real commitments is unwise and unaccountable. Image, impression and illusion reign at the expense of reality in the ad world--no matter who is selling the product or promising pleasing outcomes. Count on it.

Below are a few online sites of valid, accountable organizations and initiatives that are working for sustainability and green earth practices. I recommend concerned citizens browse them and see if there are valid, local ways to connect. I will grow this list as I learn more and keep a link list in the Bikehiker sidebar.

I want to thank my friend John Gibson of Indianapolis for his consistent, persistent advocacy for sustainability. He introduced me to the Earth Charter and its local efforts.

Here are some worthy sustainability/green earth links:

Sustainable Indiana - a clearinghouse on grass roots sustainability efforts in the Hoosier state.

Indiana Sustainability Alliance - a business-based initiative

Indiana Living Green - links to lots of commercial resources and events

Hoosier Environmental Council - good folks in it for the long haul

A Greener Indiana - blog-style site with forum, local events, opportunities to get involved

Earth Charter Indiana - state site and initiatives of an international effort

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, November 17, 2008

Racism is a spiritual issue; recovery and reconciliation call for leadership from Christians and the church

SEEKING A REMEDY FOR RACISM. Even though many of us are hoping for breakthroughs in race reconciliation with the election of Barack Obama as our President, racism lurks just beneath the surface. A few seasons ago, comedy actor Michael Richards (aka Kramer of “Seinfeld” fame) sought professional counseling to help him understand what happened to him--in him, through him--at a comedy club that he hurled racial epithets at two black hecklers. Maybe what he discovered will not only help him, but many more.

RACISM IS SIN; IT NEEDS GRACE. In terms of Christian spirituality, we attribute such racial explosions to sin. Healing begins in seeking and finding forgiveness for hurtful words spoken and hateful attitudes expressed. It continues in a changed and purified heart through faith in Jesus Christ. Healing is completed as love becomes the guide for one’s thinking and actions. We believe this straight-forward analysis and faith response is a critical part of healing for personal bigotry and overcoming social disharmony.

A SEASON FOR SOUL WORK. Continued racial outbursts, racism exposed in recent Presidential campaign rallies and rhetoric, re-emergent anti-immigrant sentiment, and an unprecedented number of threats on the life of a President-elect should trigger a season of thoughtful reflection and responsible action for race reconciliation and community justice. Perhaps this should be our primary soul work in the upcoming penitential season of Advent.

RESISTANCE OR THRESHOLD? Why not take the time during the next several weeks to ask "why?" Kindle a fire of holy concern through personal awareness raising, relationship building, and whatever steps these call forth in your spirit. Resistance to diversity, awareness of prejudice's impacts, self-examination, and institutional questioning is a critical spiritual marker. Challenge resistance early and often. Let it become, instead of a point of shut-down, a threshold to walk through, however painfully, into new awarenesses, new relationships, and new perspectives.

DEAFENING SILENCE OF THE CHURCH. The silence of the church in regard to racism is as deafening now as it was when Martin Luther King, Jr. was trying to peacefully organize communities for racial justice in the 1960s. With notable few exceptions, his appeals to the churches largely fell on deaf ears. Continuing silence of the evangelical churches, in particular, is an indictment on Christian leadership. Every Christian Bible school, home school, elementary and high school, college, university, seminary, and graduate school that does not equip its students to understand and articulate the Christian call to community justice, racial reconciliation, and to stand with suffering neighbors abrogates whatever claims to moral leadership it asserts. The lingering question is: Why does the evangelical church NOT speak and act boldly--even lead the nation--in relationship to race reconciliation and community justice?

UNHEALED WOUNDS, UNEXPLORED ISSUES. A generation after the civil rights movement won landmark court decisions and Congress passed civil rights legislation, the "dream" of reconciled races, equal opportunity and justice, and community harmony amid diversity is yet to be realized. For the most part, most whites recognized the fairness of the court decisions and complied with these laws and directives. Still, race-related tension, regrets, accusations, hard feelings, unhealed wounds, and unexplored issues simmer beneath the surface of a veneer of superficial civility. That veneer will not last another generation; we already see its raw exposure in the increase of hate crimes among young people.

SIGNS OF HOPE. On the other hand, signs of hope and actions of positive engagement continue to be the salt, light, and leaven that penetrate fear, apathy, and ignorance. Usually, they are local and isolated—relationship breakthroughs mostly. Occasionally, they are national or international in scale and scope. Whether they are small or large initiatives, people of evangelical faith have opportunities to engage across racial and ethnic boundaries like never before. Our generation has run out of excuses and self-justifications for isolation, insulation, and disengagement. If the evangelical branch of the church of Jesus Christ is to emerge from its white suburban sub-cultural ghetto, here is one area of engagement it cannot fail to make.

Graphic: Racism: America's Original Sin is a good resources for thinking and talking through the challenges of racism in churches and small groups. Compiled and updated by Sojourners from articles that have appeared in the magazine. I've used it and recommend it. Available at

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, November 16, 2008

Loving others isn't always easy or predictable, says Helmut Thielicke

“Anyone who loves must always be prepared to have his or her plans interrupted. We must be ready to be surprised by tasks which God sets for us today. God is always compelling us to improvise. For God’s tasks always have about them something surprising and unexpected…"

"God is always a God of surprises, not only in the way God helps us, but also in the manner in which He confronts me with tasks to perform and sends people across my path. Be flexible, adaptable, maneuverable, and ready to improvise!"

– Helumt Thielicke in The Waiting Father

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, November 15, 2008

One of the greatest disciplines and acts of love is active listening

I penned this a few years ago. I commit to it anew.

Foregoing advice
Withholding “how to’s”
Alternative to scolding
I’ll listen to you.

Instead of a lecture
Not judging outright
Suspending legalities
I’ll hear your plight.

Expect no reprisals
Let go of your fears
No harm will come
Just know I am here.

I offer you grace
And a deepening desire
To know your heart
And to be inspired.

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, November 14, 2008

Now, more than ever, it's time to deal with racism that lurks in the American psyche

FEAR & HATRED BROUGHT TO THE SURFACE. The recent 20-month Presidential election season brought America's residual racism to the surface. Fueled by code-word campaigning by Barack Obama's opponents in the primary (to a lesser degree) and general elections (to a shamelessly large degree), the rawest of racial bigotry was turned inside out and whipped into age-old stereotypes and fears--even hatred and rage.

CRITICAL MOMENT, GREAT OPPORTUNITY. Despite the race card having been heavily in play, more registered American voters cast their ballots for hope instead of fear. Still, a significant number--perhaps millions of Americans--let race and racism determine their vote. Now we are told that the number of threats on the life of President-elect Obama are unprecedented. My poem, "Residual Racism," invites all to look for the roots of racism in ourselves and deal with it there decisively. Now is both an incredible opportunity and critical moment to turn away from hatred, fear, and resentment and embrace a surpassing grace.

What is this beast that lurks beneath the surface
so long bridled, seemingly dormant, even dead
that breaks the fa├žade of apparent inclusivity
spewing venomous vitriol in fits of pathetic
racial rage?

What feeds this thing during years of guarded restraint
keeping it subdued, at bay, and yet ever alive
until mild provocation shatters political correctness
and the charade ends in a revelation of sheer

Is it birthed by early familial murmurings
implanted in impressionable minds by
loved ones who fail to confront their own
hatred of what they fear and so carelessly
inflict blame?

Is it nurtured by nursing perceived sleights
encountered in the schoolroom and playground,
each conflict and every word reinforcing
an irrational calculation justified by
each new hurt?

Is it fed by the observation of unaddressed injustices
ignored by leaders, minimized by influence groups,
cynically renamed and recast as inconsequential
to a public too satiated by technology and toys to
second guess?

Is it fueled by unspoken allegiances, winks and nods--
the stuff of fraternal bonding and back-watching
that is etched unquestioningly into the social psyche
as necessary and acceptable norms for getting along
in one’s herd?

Is it given wings by ideologies that define civility
by drawing narrow circles and daring those on the margins
to get up to speed, measure up, perform to the standard
that the self-protecting privileged could never fulfill
on their own?

It is driven deep into some supra-social DNA,
by resentments, pride, unsettled scores, and revenge
that build layer upon layer, generation upon generation
until one’s identity as race or class or caste or ethnicity are

Wherever it comes from, whatever its sources
let each and all of us attend to this residual parasite
that leeches our very hope for finding common ground
and knowing ourselves—and the other—as capable of being

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, November 13, 2008

Anticipating Thanksgiving, here--two weeks ahead of schedule--is a poem I crafted

Thanksgiving doesn’t live in a vacuum;
We do not pluck it from thin air.
We cannot be grateful on command,
Genuflecting at the drop of hat.

Talk is cheap when it comes to thanking,
Yet beyond courteous etiquette
Lies a deeper reality that beckons,
Inviting us to reckon with grace.

Native American graciousness
And Pilgrim hospitality,
Turkey and all the trimmings point
Beyond finely folded, praying hands.

Through and beyond these images
We glimpse a sacred connection,
As generations across time
Hail some gracious provision.

It’s not so much a debt we owe
Or tribute for posterity
As it is a virtue we receive
And reflect into eternity.

We deep-down know we are held
By sustaining, life-giving hands.
Not our own or on our own,
We belong and are lovingly known.

We cannot utter such mystery
Tradition and rite fall short
But these, and we, can point and say
“Thanks” for life and grace 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!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This Sunday, the church I pastor can take a healing step amid Heritage Day festivities

Here are the facts for the event:

West Morris Street Free Methodist Church Heritage Day & Homecoming
Sunday, November 16
The Rev. Rick Francis - guest speaker - 10:30 am
Pitch-in Fellowship Dinner - 12 pm
Historical display & photos of friends across the years
All Invited - Celebrate 94 years together with us

Here's what's behind the significance of the event:

GIVING THANKS Heritage Day & Homecoming at WEMO is a way to look back with thanksgiving, gather insight and encouragement for present opportunities, and look forward in our unique mission and ministry in this place. This year, for our 94th Anniversary celebration, we have invited a former Youth and Associate Pastor from the 1980’s to preach in Morning Worship.

RICK FRANCIS TO PREACH. Rick Francis grew up in West Morris Street church and attended Greenville and Asbury Colleges and Asbury Seminary. Rick has over 25 years experience as a Pastor and counselor. He currently serves as Pastor of the Vineyard Community Church at Mount Comfort. This is his first visit back to WEMO to preach in 20 years. I hope all will join us in welcoming Rick and Debby with open arms.

21 YEARS AGO: A PAINFUL DISMISSAL. Whether or not one has history with West Morris Street, this is an important day for our church. Even as a visitor, you will have the opportunity to experience our fellowship reaching across time in hope and reconciliation. In 1987, Rick was asked by Wabash Conference leadership to leave the West Morris Street fellowship and Free Methodist ministry after he indicated that he had received the gift of a prayer language (tongues speaking), even though he did not promote it or make the issue divisive. The impact of that decision had an incredibly painful impact on many people, but none moreso than on Rick and Debby and their families.

A SPACE FOR GRACE. After picking up on the lingering regrets of several parishioners and feeling that this may a continuing barrier for us, I invited Rick to come and speak at this year's Heritage Day. There is no intent to point fingers or rehash history, but to provide a space for grace to bring healing. My prayer is that, somehow, this day will mark a point of grace and reconciliation for all.

CONTACT & INVITE We hope many who no longer attend WEMO will gather with us for this special day. WEMO folks are reaching out to friends, relatives, and WEMO folks from before the 1990’s. After the 10:30 am Morning Worship, there will be a fellowship dinner for all in the Lower Level at 12 pm. We've invited folks to bring photos or memorabilia from "good ol' days" to share or display, to send a letter or note (via e-mail to for a message board if friends just can’t be present.

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, November 11, 2008

America's Veterans have been to a different world and come back

BURR HAIR CUTS AND STIFF UNIFORMS. Growing up in the 1960's, war was something a few guys in our church went off to and returned from with burr haircuts and stiff uniforms while most of the other guys worked in town or went to college and wore long hair and bell bottom jeans. Vietnam was distant and a source of debate in the few conversations I overheard about it. The wars I could read about and somewhat understand and that the people around me talked about had already been fought--the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War.

SHEFFIELD SOLDIERS. That I know of, I have only two relatives who have been soldiers--Uncle Emery Sheffield served in World War II and Uncle Gene Dale Sheffield (pictured here) served in the Korean War. Neither of my mom's older brothers seemed soldierly; they were overweight, gentle, huggable and fun-loving. How could they possibly have carried guns and grenades and shot at America's enemies, I wondered? Whatever action they had seen was so much of another place and time it seemed to me to be hardly plausible. Only Uncle Emery still lives, but I have never talked to him about his war service.

TIGHT-LIPPED ABOUT WAR. But even the homeless Vets of Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War whom I have worked with talk only haltingly about their war experiences. And those who are returning again and again from Iraq and Afghanistan seem to be coming from a different world, leaving it behind and glad to be back. War and battlefield service are not usually the topics of common conversation. The real stories are tucked away, as if locked up, spoken among a few buddies who understand, and kept mostly to a Veteran's self. And so, Ken Burns' efforts notwithstanding, war and Veterans' service remains largely not understood and a mystery, which serves questionable purposes, it seems to me.

WE SALUTE YOU TODAY. Regardless, here's to the men and women who have responded either voluntarily or compulsorily to the call of our nation's leaders to take up arms in the defense of freedom across the years and around the world: we honor you 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!

Monday, November 10, 2008

What difference does the election of Barack Obama mean for race reconciliation in America?

NOW WE CAN TALK ABOUT RACE. The one thing it wasn't politically correct to talk about during the Presidential campaign -- race -- is what everyone is now talking about. What was minimized in the news media and by the campaigns (for the most part) is now maximized. Before the election, Barack Obama's racial background was emphatically de-emphasized. Since the election, it is jubilantly celebrated. A barrier once thought insurmountable was overwhelmed. Americans are in awe. The world is in awe.

COULD WE DO IT? Weren't many of us holding our collective breath on election day? Weren't we a bit afraid of watching the returns? Would the "Bradley Effect" be repeated? Would whites actually vote the same way they were telling pollsters they were intending? Were enough of us able to vote our conscience and hopes over our prejudices and fears--regardless of whether we voted for John McCain or Barack Obama? Someone asked me today if was a happy with the outcome. More like relieved. I celebrate that collectively Americans exercised a conscience that bends toward common sense and grace--at least every now and then.

A BIT OF ALL OF US. It is fitting, it seems to me, to celebrate the election of a President who light-heartedly referred to himself as a "mutt" in his first press conference. Son of a black Kenyan father and white Kansan mother and raised partly by Midwestern grandparents in both international and homeland communities, Obama is a living expression of the oft-touted American melting pot. He is African American, but not just African American. He is a bit of all of us--whatever our backgrounds. So, this breakthrough is not just for African Americans, but for all of us.

ENJOY THE JUBILATION. Still, I don't think I as a white American can begin to feel what black Americans are feeling right now. Whatever appreciation and wonder I feel at the election of a minority to be President of the United States must pale in comparison to what African American citizens are experiencing in the wake of November 4th. So I say to all white Americans, some of whom are already expressing weary words at the extended jubilation of blacks: stand down. If you can't share in the deep significance and collective joy of this extended moment, please at least just try to watch for awhile. Perhaps in watching--in listening, in observing, in taking it in, in contemplating--it may dawn on you what is occurring; it may yet touch your soul and soften your heart and bring a smile. I pray it does--sooner than later. Perhaps we may yet be able fully to "rejoice with those who rejoice" and celebrate together.

LOOKING AHEAD ON RACE. The election of Barack Obama does not max the issues of race in America. Not by far. But it does signal, it seems to me, an incredible invitation and opportunity to see differently, relate healingly, and live more cooperatively. An African American President does not erase injustices and inequalities that persist 40 years after the Civil Rights Movement's apex. The struggle continues. In fact, the years ahead may produce some of the most raw expressions of prejudice Americans have yet to see. However, the years ahead may just was well produce some of the most powerful breakthroughs in racial justice, race reconciliation, and a politics of cooperation we have ever experienced. I expect both but plan personally to participate in the latter.

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, November 9, 2008

Sojourners offers a sign-on letter to President-elect Barack Obama

FIRST THINGS FIRST. On November 5, Jim Wallis and Sojourners drafted the following letter and is inviting citizens to sign on as it is submitted to President-elect Barack Obama. I have signed it and recommend those who read Bikehiker consider the invitation. I appreciate the spirit and content of it. It is an attempt to hold our new President and his Administration accountable on issues of serious concern to many Christians. It is a way to make ourselves accountable for our words and actions, too. This is one way to exercise concerned citizenship for the days ahead.

Dear Mr. President-elect Obama:

I want personally to offer you my prayers as you embark on the enormous challenge of leading our country in a time of great crisis and crossroads. While our ultimate hope is our faith in God, we also have high hopes for your administration.

I am one member of a growing movement of Christians and people of faith who support a broad moral agenda that includes a deep concern for poverty, peacemaking, a consistent ethic of life, and care for creation. During the campaign, you said that, if elected, you would face powerful special interests trying to block change. You said you would need a citizen movement to support and push you.

Today, I am pledging to be part of that movement. It will be a movement that will both pray for you and hold you accountable to the things you promised. So I urge you to give high priority to:

1. Overcome poverty, both here in our rich nation and globally. Your efforts to resolve the economic crisis must include those at the bottom, the poorest among us. You pledged during the campaign to mobilize the nation to cut domestic poverty in half in ten years and to implement the Millennium Development Goals to cut extreme global poverty in half.

2. Find better ways than war to resolve the inevitable conflicts in the world. It is time to end the war in Iraq and emphasize diplomacy over military action in resolving problems in Iran and Afghanistan. We need better and smarter foreign policy that is more consistent with our best national values.

3. Promote a consistent ethic of life that addresses all threats to life and dignity. We must end genocide in Darfur, the use of torture, and the death penalty. I urge you to pursue common ground policies which can dramatically reduce abortions in America, and help bring us together on this divisive issue.

4. Reverse the effects of climate change on God’s creation. We must learn a new way of living in America to end our dangerous dependence on Middle East oil. We need a spiritual commitment to stewardship and national policies that promote safe, clean, and renewable energy. You spoke of job creation and economic renewal with a new “green economy.”

We need your presidential leadership for this type of societal transformation, but I promise also to do my part.

I will pray for you as you assume the awesome responsibility of leading our nation. To be the best president you can be, you will need both the support and the push of the faith community. I pledge to help build the movement that will keep your administration accountable and faithful.


[Your name]

Click here to sign and send the letter

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, November 8, 2008

Occasions of hospitality and accessible points of entry are critical in urban ministry

WEDDING IN AN URBAN NEIGHBORHOOD. Today, I conducted a wedding for neighbors who live just a few blocks from our church facility. This is one of my hopeful acts as an urban pastor, something I do not take lightly. Our large and nice, if aging, facility is a landmark in West Indianapolis. Couples like to get married here. And I like to assist them in this important step in a lifelong journey of faith.

IDENTIFYING THE CHURCH. Rarely do couples seeking to be married at West Morris Street Free Methodist Church attend services regularly. In this instance, the couple's children attend Sunday School occasionally, enough that I know them by their first names. The family certainly identifies WEMO as their church. And if they identify us as their church, I feel a responsibility for us to BE the church as best we can.

MAKING LASTING CONNECTIONS. I don't require much hoop jumping. I walk a couple through a series of premarital meetings (I would hardly call it counseling) and get to know them and let them get to know me and the church. I try to establish connections that can become readily-activated channels of care and response...even the beginnings of friendship and community. I pray that such a point of entry is poignant enough to open up a retracable pathway of grace.

Check out our developing WEMO Blog; have wide-ranging, ongoing conversation of faith with us.

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, November 7, 2008

Inside and out, the metropolitan area is an arena begging the incarnation of grace

CYNICS, THIEVES, & SOLDIERS. The invitation to serve, to which we can respond gratefully with our own unique “send me,” does not necessarily lead us into sanitized places or safe situations. In his book Only One Way Left (1956), George Fielden MacLeod writes:

"I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not
crucified in a cathedral between two candles but
on a cross between two thieves; on the town
garbage-heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan
that they had to write his title in Hebrew and in
Latin and in Greek; at the kind of place where
cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers
gamble. Because that is where He died. And that
is what He died about. And that is where
churchmen should be and what churchmanship
should be about."

DESPERADOES ALL. I have been mulling this quote over again in my capacity as pastor to an urban congregation. We have all, in one way or another, at one time or another, lived as thieves and among thieves, as desperadoes, contributing our own crudities to the diverse mix of humanity that calls the city “home” and tries to make a way in it. There is little difference, save money and levels of sophistication and self-deception, between the inner-city desperado and the suburban one. But for grace, the whole metropolitan area languishes hopelessly.

THE SAVING SCANDAL. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection--“such love”--is the saving scandal to which the obviously hungry and the thought-to-be-satisfied both turn. Grace is not neat, not tame, not controlled, and certainly not quaintly preserved on the table of Communion. “That God should love a sinner such as I…how wonderful is love like this!”

PUT GRACE TO THE TEST. There is a notion aloft that grace is fragile and somehow needs to be protected from the forces or influences that would threaten the church, undermine orthodoxy, or derail the faithful. But grace does not need our stained-glass protections. Instead, it needs to be released, laid bare before the powers that be, and tested in the warp and woof of raw community life. Let us follow its lead, trusting in its promise to hold and draw, particularly amid the wreckage of the world’s broken people and broken promises.

BREAKING THE SPELL. Grace is greater. The power of forgiveness, the promise of reconciliation, the reality of lived love, the freedom of truth, the possibility of peace, the healing touch of comfort, hope, faith (just for starters)... these are greater than the cynical spell of resentment, hatred, division, greed, prejudice, alienation, despair, and fatalism that pervade so many individuals, groups, media, and institutions. Dare to dispense grace, to act boldly on its promises, to lean into its assertions, and to become its emissary in the cosmopolitan community.

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, November 6, 2008

George W. Bush has been an easy target; but his absence will expose the blame game

"You won't have me to kick around anymore." -- Richard M. Nixon

DEFAULT SOURCE. Earlier today, I had a passing thought that I am--and perhaps many others are--going to miss not having George W. Bush to blame so many problems on much longer. He's been an obvious and easy target, like an automatic default source for whatever's going wrong on the national or world stage.

FOCUS OF OUR DISSATISFACTION. No doubt, W and his Administration have really messed things up and have not represented America very well. No doubt, a collective finger will point back to his ways and foibles for years to come. But perhaps we've given him too much credit for our significant levels of civilian dissatisfaction. Perhaps... but then again, maybe not!

FROM HOPEFUL TO DISHEARTENED. Background context: In 2001, at the beginning of his Presidency, I tried hard to support and get in sync with George W. Bush. I paid close attention to national and international issues and polices and, as an exercise in citizen participation, wrote him and posted many serious letters as My Letters to the President of the United States. But somewhere along the way (after about 80 letters) I became too disheartened by his ways to continue the project in a positive spirit. I decided that I would no longer worry about George W. Bush, that his Presidency had set a predictably tragic trajectory early on, and that it would simply play out rather pathetically. At its end, America would be ripe for dramatic change.

PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY, COMMUNITY PROACTIVITY. So, here we are. Soon W will be back in Crawford, Texas. But removing an obvious source of dissatisfaction with "the way things are" has a downside/upside. It's called personal responsibility and community proactivity. Proverbial crutches kicked away, scapegoats driven out of the picture, blamable and troubling people no longer in power--we come a step closer to claiming our own role in the problems and in embodying solutions of which we've long daydreamed. Are we ready for this?

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!

Wendell Berry's Mad Farmer Manifesto: 1st Amendment seems apropos today

" is not too soon to provide by every
possible means that as few as possible shall
be without a little portion of land. The small
landholders are the most precious part of a state."

-Thomas Jefferson, to Reverend James Madison,
October 28, 1785

That is the glimmering vein
of our sanity, dividing from us
from the start: land under us
to steady us when we stood,
free men in the great communion
of the free. The vision keeps
lighting in my mind, a window
on the horizon in the dark.

To be sane in a mad time
is bad for the brain, worse
for the heart. The world
is a holy vision, had we clarity
to see it--clarity that men
depend on men to make.

It is ignorant money I declare
myself free from, money fat
and dreaming in its sums, driving
us into the streets of absence,
stranding the pasture trees
in the deserted language of banks.

And I declare myself free
from ignorant love. You easy lovers
and forgivers of mankind, stand back!
I will love you at a distance,
and not because you deserve it.
My love must be discriminate
or fail to bear its weight.

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, November 5, 2008

I am both relieved and happy at the election of Barack Obama as our 44th President

POST-SIMPLISTIC AMERICA. I've been trying to think of what to post today--the first day of what culture critic Stanley Crouch calls the "post-simplistic" America, in which the old ways of thinking about race and neighbor are not only called into question but eclipsed by more graceful terms of public discourse. In many ways, it seemed like a tide turned yesterday.

FEAR REBUFFED. On the one hand, I want to express my relief. Relief that most American voters saw through the politics of fear. Relief that the expected "Bradley Effect" did not occur. Relief that whatever voter intimidation and fraud there was was overwhelmed and overcome. Relief that enough white voters expressed their hope instead of their fears. Relief that enough anti-abortion voters saw and expressed a fuller pro-life ethic. Relief that Carl Rove-style campaigning may have finally (or at least for now) been exposed for what it really is.

I AGREE WITH HIS SPIRIT. On the other hand, I want to express my happiness. Yes, I am happy that Barack Obama won this election. I felt like he represented something intrinsically hopeful and challenging for America. I do not agree with all his proposals, but I agree with his spirit and respect the manner in which he has approached this campaign. And, if you know me very well, you know I usually pull for the long-shot, unlikely underdog--and that's what Barack Obama has been from the start. I am happy for all minorities who have struggled against bigotry and injustice for so long. So, yes, I wept last night as I watched the celebrations in Grant Park. Whatever part of my spirit that cries out for justice and compassion for struggling neighbors in our community, nation and world has been touched deeply. I am not giddy. I am not high-fiving people. I am not in a "take that, mean people everywhere!" mode. I am simply reveling quietly in the breakthrough this morning.

THERE WILL BE OTHER DAYS. There will be other days to be more objective and critical. There will be other days to try to speak truth to power, as I have many times to President George W. Bush. There will be other days to distinguish the mission of the church and the Christian from the government and the nation. There will be other days to address the important nuances, etc. But I am relieved and happy at the decision of the American people to elect Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.

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, November 4, 2008

One vote for everyone who wishes to have a voice in freedom's ring--that's the cornerstone of democracy


Monday, November 3, 2008

The hate-mail attacks keep being forwarded by "concerned" Christians

ATTACK AFTER ATTACK. Well, the outrageous and misleading attack e-mails against Barack Obama just keep coming. Forward after forward, innuendo after innuendo, lie after half-truth, smear after smear. I'm amazed at (1) the gullibility of my fellow Christians and (2) surprised at their readiness to pass along uncritically stuff that contains clearly unsubstantiated falsehoods originating from irresponsible sources. I'm amazed and saddened. I'm keeping some of the e-mails in order to exegete a few to demonstrate the irresponsibility and falsehood of them. Have you received a really juicy hate-mail? Send it to me so I can add it to my growing collection!

NOTHING GOOD TO SAY? Interestingly, none of the e-mails I have received from Christians have had much of anything or anything good to say about John McCain or Sarah Palin. Just trash about Obama and the Democrats. How pathetic. I get it: it's part of the old Carl Rove last 72-hour strategy to scare the wits out of people, intimidate them into doing the "only Christian thing," and shore up the evangelical church-going white vote for the Republicans.

NOTHING PERSONAL? Also, no one has sent me anything they have written personally. Nothing original. Nothing from a personal perspective. No one telling me or anyone else their personal convictions or reasons for voting the way they intend to vote. They just pass along mean, fear-mongering words of others. By contrast, I have declared openly on this blog and in Grace Between the Lines e-journal the principles that guide my voting. Note that I have not written or said anything against either John McCain or Barack Obama. Still, No one has told me what's behind their electoral choices, particularly why they feel their vote is specifically Christian. Interesting.

WHAT NEXT? I'm wondering: If Barack Obama happens to win the election tomorrow, what will those who have spread rumors and fomented falsehood about their new President do? What will they say? How will they respond? Some have worked themselves into a frenzy and painted themselves into a corner what will be hard, should Obama happen to become the next President, to reverse or reconcile. Just something to think about.

PUT AWAY FALSEHOOD. If you're interested in some truth-telling, the Matthew 25 Network has put together an online resource called "Put Away Falsehood" that dispels, one by one, many of the misleading statements, innuendos, and perspectives about Barack Obama. It may be helpful...if truth is something you care about in this election. Some, however, don't want to be confused or bothered by the truth.

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!
Don't confuse freedom with maintenance of the status quo, warns Paulo Freire

"Fear of freedom, of which its possessor is not necessarily aware, makes him see ghosts. Such an individual is actually taking refuge in an attempt to achieve security, which he prefers to the risks of liberty."

"Men rarely admit their fear of freedom openly, tending rather to camouflage it--sometimes unconsciously--by presenting themselves as defenders of freedom. They give their doubts and misgivings an air of profound sobriety, as befitting custodians of freedom. But they confuse freedom with maintenance of the status quo."

-- Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed

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, November 1, 2008

by Gregory Norbert found in Celtic Daily Prayer

A time to gather, a time to reap
the fruits we've planted, hoping to bear peace.
The seeds have fallen so many months ago:
the harvest of our life will come.

In tenderness is life's beauty known;
and as we listen the morning star will shine.
The days go by; why not let them be filled
with new and surprising joy?

A time for kneading love's leaven well,
to open up and go beyond ourselves;
and as we reach for this moment, we know
that love is a gift born in care.

A time for hoping and being still,
to go on turning away from brittle fear.
A time to come back with all of one's heart
and bending to another's call.

This is our journey through forests tall;
our paths may differ; and yet among them all
life's dreams and visions sustain us on our way,
as loving gives birth to joy, gives birth to joy.