Wednesday, April 30, 2008

IN RESPONSE TO A CALL
Calling is part knowing, part mystery, but all encompassing

O God,
I live in response to your call.
My life is not my own.
But yielded to you,
my life is given creative capacities
and myriad opportunities
to serve, to learn,
to grow, to give--
to live more fully
than if I'd never heard
or never responded to
your call.

Yet your call remains a mystery,
an enigma that challenges me
without being fully fathomed
or sharply focused.

I would like to understand more,
in the thought that I may more pointedly
cooperate with your purposes
in my life.

But if my fuller knowing
ignites my pride or selfish will,
or inhibits an iota of your desire,
then let me carry on
seeing as through a glass darkly
that I may be led haltingly
into a future that fulfills
your call on my life.

Amen.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

HOOSIERS IN THE POLITICAL SPOTLIGHT
After generations of pointless primaries, Hoosiers get a chance to be pandered to. Too bad it’s deteriorated into a frat-house food fight

MOVE OVER, IOWA. I’ve always resented Iowans. An all but all-white state in the middle of nowhere gets the royal treatment by pandering politicians every Presidential election cycle. Would-be Presidents rub shoulders and talk national policy minutia with hometown folks. By the time the Indiana primary rolls around, the candidates are decided and our votes are but rubber stamps on a foregone conclusion. We hardly ever have a promising candidate even acknowledge the state.

CURTAIN’S UP! Well, move over, Iowa. You didn’t matter so much this time. O yes, you gave Barack Obama the first caucus victory and put his candidacy on the track of electable legitimacy. But what you started, we get to finish. Who’d have thought Hoosiers would get such an opportunity? After all these years, after all this time, we get step into the national spotlight of electoral politics!

FEELING EXPOSED. Whoa! Wait a minute! Are we ready for this? You mean our politics of prejudice are going to be exposed? You mean our small-minded pettiness is going to be scrutinized? You mean our dogged stubbornness to even look like we’re ever going to be progressive is going to be laid bare before the nation and the world? Shine that light somewhere else! Run for cover!

DUMB AND DIRTY. Here we have two sophisticated Democratic candidates with highly nuanced policy positions, respectable reputations, and an unprecedented opportunity to change the direction of our nation and political process, and what do their campaign advisors feel it necessary to do in order to court Hoosier votes? Dumb it down. Dumb it down and cast the other candidate as inept, untrustworthy, uncaring, elitist, unready, unworthy, and unfit.

RUBBING SALT ON THE WOUNDS. So, Indiana gets to meet and greet the candidates. But we’re getting to be a part of one of the worst knock-down, drag-outs a national political party has likely ever had. He said, she said, they said. And the Republicans are rubbing salt on every open wound. Hoosiers, long denied a place at the primary political table, are getting in on the last throes of what degenerated into a frat-house food fight weeks ago. The last man—or woman—standing, wins...or at least gets the chance to be schooled by the political savagery of Carl Rove and company in the general election.

CROSS-OVERS WIN IT? According to Indiana pundit and pollster Brian Howie, most Hoosier Democrats have already decided who they’re voting for and the outcome looks to be razor thin. It may well be decided by Republicans who cross over in our open primary. Some moderates may cross over and vote or Obama, as has been the pattern in other states. But more conservative Republicans may follow the rantings and ravings of Rush Limbaugh and cross over to vote for Hillary Clinton in hopes of being able to have the delight of trashing her and defeating her in the national election. So, imagine that: the first Democratic primary that matters in Indiana in a generation and it could be settled by…Republicans? Go figure!
GLORY OF SPRING
Late April finds Indianapolis in full bloom

Here are a few snapshots from the backyard at the Hay house. The Dogwood and Redbud are at the height of their glory right now.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

A BRIEF SOJOURN IN MASSACHUSETTS
While disconnected from the Web for a few days, I discovered a bit of New England

UNEXPECTEDLY UNPLUGGED. I didn't expect to have no readily available Internet access when I headed to the Boston, Massachusetts area for a three-day conference (plus an extra day lost to travel). But, such was the case, as I accepted the graciousness of a home-stay instead of a hotel. The Lawrence, MA, church at which our conference was conducted was not wired for Internet access, but we enjoyed rich fellowship and a generous sharing of ideas.

PEDALING NEW ENGLAND. This was my first visit to New England and the weather looked to be warm and sunny. I decided to box my black Cannondale touring bicycle and take it with me on the flight, in hopes of pedaling around New England a bit. My hope was fulfilled. I biked three days, including one jaunt up into Derry, New Hampshire and an extended ride over to Salisbury Beach on the Atlantic seacoast. I rode past the birthplace of poet John Greenleaf Whittier and through towns founded in the 1600's. I suppose I put a little over 120 miles on the same bike (same tires, no less!) that I rode through India last year.

DISCONNECTED, RECONNECTED. So, I made no blog entries for four days and caught only snippets of the news. But the days were filled with meeting new people, enjoying great vistas on brisk rides, and living on the receiving end of authentic hospitality. I felt simultaneously disconnected and reconnected. I felt both a bit of disorientation and a real sense of belonging. I was in the minority as one for whom English is the only or primary language (Lawrence, MA, seems to be predominantly populated by immigrants from the Dominican Republic). Just the same, I was welcomed, listened to, and appreciated. I think I will contemplate these four days for quite some time.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

10 WAYS TO PRACTICE CREATION CARE
Howard Snyder offers ways to bring faith and environmental responsibility together beyond Earth Day

The following suggestions are offered by Dr. Howard Snyder of Asbury Seminary from an essay titled “Salvation Means Creation Healed”:

1. STUDY THE BIBLE WITH CREATION-CARE EYES. Learn what the Bible teaches about the creation, earth, God’s covenant with the earth (Gen. 9), and God’s plan for creation restored. Key biblical themes worth studying are earth, justice, land, shalom, the poor, the nations, Sabbath/Jubilee, and reconciliation.

2. PRAY FOR THE HEALING OF THE LAND AND THE NATIONS. We can pray for reforestation in Haiti; peace in places where war ravages the environment; God’s sustenance for frontline earth healers—and for discernment: “Lord, what would you have me to do?” “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but [the Holy Spirit] intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).

3. RECYCLE. Recycle things rather than throwing them “away,” realizing that waste products never really “go away.” Support community-wide recycling efforts. Remember that it is about 90% cheaper and more ecologically responsible to make recycled pop cans than to make new ones. Recycling has an economic as well as ecological benefit. It is a way to slow down rather than speed up the entropy of the created order.

4. PROTECT. Support local, state, and federal legislation and international agreements that protect the environment and promote creation care. Strengthening the Endangered Species Act, supporting the McCain-Lieberman Climate Change Bill, and working for international accords to limit “greenhouse” gases are good places to start. Locally we might work for bike lanes on city streets, for more parks and footpaths, and expanded recycling.

5. OBSERVE SABBATH. Make Sundays (or another day) real Sabbaths by spending at least an hour reading good books and articles on creation and on creation-care as a part of mission and discipleship. Combine this with walks (alone or with friends) in fields and woods, paying attention to God’s other creatures.

6. STUDY TOGETHER. Form a group that focuses on the creation-care dimensions of mission and discipleship—prayer, study, conversation, action.

7. WRITE CREATIVELY. Write a poem, hymn, song, or meditation celebrating the greatness of God as seen in his creation. The books of Psalms and Job provide wonderful models.

8. CHANGE YOUR HABITS. Form some creation-affirming habits—moderate eating, regular exercise, walking (if possible) instead of riding or using elevators, bird-watching, nature photography, gardening—whatever best fits your own situation. Use personal disciplines and exercise for the benefit of creation and others, not just for your own health.

9. CONSERVE. Practice energy conservation—for the sake of the planet and the poor, not just to save money—in home-building or renovation, transportation, entertainment, and daily habits.

10. NETWORK. Become active in an organization or network that promotes the healing of creation from a biblical standpoint. The Evangelical Environmental Network is a good place to start and a source of information on various networks, resources, and programs. The book Redeeming Creation by Van Dyke, et al., lists numerous Christian groups devoted to creation care in an appendix.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

GIVE A MAN A FISH…
I tie responsibility to the poor, creation care, and Pentecost together in an extension of this familiar parable

You’re familiar with the parable: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime...” That’s okay, as far as it goes. But it doesn’t reflect real-world complexity, complicity, mutual accountability or spiritual depth. Let me extend and complete the parable: “…provided that you guarantee his or her right to fish freely and responsibly, ensure that the water upstream is not being polluted, and share table fellowship in a spirit of gratitude and mutual accountability.”

Saturday, April 19, 2008

CALL ME “ONE OF THOSE” TREE HUGGERS
My evangelical faith, along with responsible citizenship, calls me to creation care

FAITH AND CITIZENSHIP. Yeah, I’m one of “them,” one of those tree huggers. I try to participate in Earth Day and care for creation as an act of faith and citizenship. As an act of faith, because I believe God--who created this world--loves it as much as God loves humans, who are direct objects of divine grace. Our history and future of salvation is linked integrally to this planet, according to the Bible. Creation care is an act of faith, also, because the Biblical record of stewardship and faithfulness to the land compels me.

A LEGACY IN THE BALANCE. My participation in Earth Day and related environmental concerns is an act of citizenship because our national legacy on environmental responsibility hangs in the balance. Some would say our legacy is one of irresponsibility and degradation. That may be going too far. But even the most positive perspective must admit that we have far to go to pass on to our great-grandchildren a planet that is in at least as good a condition was we found it. More realistic assessments indicate that we're still degrading earth.

SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY. The impact of end-times apocalyptic preaching and teaching on evangelical believers in the 60s and 70s became a self-fulfilling prophecy. By and large, the social impact amounted to a notable non-participation and withdrawal from hopeful actions in public institutions and community life. An unprecedented privatization of lifestyles and reactionary fear masking as “bold faith” are part of the legacy of prophecies of doom. The Apocalypse didn’t occur, but our unfounded suspicions and fears became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Without positive participation, social engagement, and confidence in Kingdom principles, the public square has become more fearsome and its problems more complex and deeply entrenched.

APOCALYPTIC IMPACT. Apocalyptic teaching also shaped evangelical responses to the environment. Since the locus of salvation was presumed to be another world, since we were just getting ourselves ready to get on out of here in “the rapture,” since pollution and deterioration were further evidence of an impending hell on earth, what did we care? We did nothing. Actually we did do something: we used and consumed and demanded cheap fuel and cheap products like everyone else without a question (or a clue, perhaps) as to environmental cost or future impact.

MISSHAPEN STEWARDSHIP. It’s not just that environmental issues didn’t seem important to evangelicals. Environmentalists were lampooned and lambasted from many of our pulpits, in “Christianity Today,” and over Christian airwaves. What a legacy with which to live! What shall we tell our grandchildren when they ask us how our faith informed our stewardship of the world?

TODAY IS THE DAY. As always in the biblical faith, “today is the day of salvation.” Whatever has—or has not—been done in the past, today presents opportunity to repair the world. The present moment gives opportunity to reflect on the Scriptures which call for stewardship of the land, regard for cycles of life renewal, respect for the law of the harvest. Take time to contemplate the parables of Jesus. Without worshiping the earth, evangelicals can and should honor the earth out of reverence for--and in gratitude to--the God who created it and us. Faith, even so-called evangelical faith, calls for nothing less.

Earth Day 2008 is April 22 -- Get involved!

Friday, April 18, 2008

I FEEL THE EARTH MOVE UNDER MOVE UNDER MY FEET
This morning's pre-dawn temblor was the first in the new millennium for Central Indiana

WAKE-UP SHAKE-UP. Did you feel it? It woke me up just after 5:30 am. I sat up in bed and watched everything in the room shake and rattle for maybe ten seconds (at the most). All in our household felt the tremor but we didn't know for sure that it was an earthquake until we listened to the news and started talking with folks.

RARE OCCURRENCE. The earthquake, a 5.2 temblor and very rare in the Midwest, was the common ground of conversations throughout the day. I've experienced only one other earthquake in my lifetime. Central Indiana felt a quake similar to this one back in 1987. As I recall, that quake occurred in the middle of the afternoon.

IMPORTANT REMINDER. Amazing, isn't it, the power of nature? We feel that we are in control of events and outcomes. We are planners and strategists. We foolishly surmise that we can determine our days and destinies. And then, ever so subtly, a small portion of earth shifts and we scramble for solid ground. Earth burps and we run for cover. Lilliputians we are. Ants.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

AT EACH OTHER'S EXPENSE
William Stringfellow's 40-year old insight eclipses political sound-bytes

CONNECTING THE DOTS. I haven’t found a more striking statement regarding Christian insight into the idolatry of money and the relationship of rich and poor than the following excerpts from Dissenter In A Great Society by William Stringfellow. This is food for thought, and prayer, for all of us who tend to segregate our quest for financial security from the poverty of others.

IDOLATRY OF MONEY. “The idolatry of money means that the moral worth of a person is judged in terms of the amount of money possessed and controlled. The acquisition and accumulation of money in itself is considered evidence of virtue. It does not so much matter how money is acquired—-by work, or invention, through inheritance or marriage, by luck or theft—-the main thing is to get some. The corollary of this doctrine, of course, is that those without money are morally inferior--weak, or indolent, or otherwise less worthy as human beings. Where money is an idol, to be poor is a sin.”

ONE AT THE EXPENSE OF THE OTHER. “This is an obscene idea of justification, directly in contradiction with the Bible. In the Gospel none are saved by any works of their own, least of all by the mere acquisition of money. In fact, the New Testament is redundant in citing the possession of riches as an impediment to salvation when money is regarded idolatrously. At the same time, the notion of justification by acquisition of money is empirically absurd, for it oversimplifies the relationship of the prosperous and the poor and overlooks the dependence of the rich upon the poor for their wealth. In this world human beings live at each other’s expense, and the affluence of the few is proximately related to, and supported by, the poverty of the many.”

POVERTY MAINTAINS LUXURY. “It is true today as it was in earlier times: the vast multitudes of people on the face of the earth are consigned to poverty for their whole lives, without any serious prospect whatever of changing their conditions. Their hardships in great measure make possible the comfort of those who are not poor. Their poverty maintains the luxury of others. Their deprivation purchases the abundance most Americans take for granted.”

ILL-GOTTEN PHILANTHROPY. “This leaves prosperous Americans with frightful questions to ask and confront, even in customs or circumstances that are regarded as trivial or straightforward. Where, for instance, do the profits that enable great corporations to make large contributions to universities and churches and charity come from? Do they come from the servitude of Latin American peasants working plantations on seventy-two hour weekly shifts for gross annual incomes of less than a hundred dollars? Do they depend upon the availability of black child labor in South Africa and Asia? Are such private beneficences in fact the real earnings of some of the poor of the world?”

ENTANGLED AND IMPLICATED. “To affirm that we live in this world at each other’s expense is a confession of the truth of the Fall rather than an assertion of economic doctrine or an empirical statement. It is not that there is in every transaction a direct one for one cause and effect relationship, either individually or institutionally, between the lot of the poor and the circumstances of those who are not poor. It is not that the wealthy are wicked or that the fact of malice is implicit in affluence. It is, rather, that all human and institutional relationships are profoundly distorted and so entangled that no person or principality in this world is innocent of involvement in the existence of all other persons and all institutions. ”

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

MY POLITICS
Bottom line: "What does it do to the poor?"

Here's the statement that was my "aha" moment in terms of what matters most in public policy and politics. After I came across this in 1984, my once vascillating political orientation found "true north" on its compass. I continue to consider this the Biblical bottom line in terms of public policy and political discourse in local, regional, national and international arenas.

"The fundamental criteria by which all political and economic institutions and practices must be tested is just this: 'What do they do to the poor?' ... We must work for the day when practices which perpetuate poverty...have lost their legitimacy in the eyes of the people."

-- Nicholas Wolterstorff in Until Justice and Peace Embrace

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

CHRISTIAN TWILIGHT ZONE
Has it really yet dawned on us what occurred on Easter?

We live between the times --
between sunrise and fullness,
between dawn and high noon,
between Resurrection and Spirit baptism,
between surprise and surprise.

We are still dazed and amazed (or should be)
at the blinding light of Resurrection.
It is searing our minds,
re-framing our consciousness,
resetting trajectories,
redefining boundaries,
mysteriously buoying our hearts.

Like Saul of Tarsus knocked to the ground
on the road to Damascus,
Light-blinded, we grope along,
awash in vertigo,
unable yet to perceive
the new horizon blazing before us.

We aren't marching into the future
to triumphant strains of resurrection victory.
Instead, we stagger beyond Easter
more like AWOL recruits whose
thought-to-be-fallen leader
has been sighted alive.

Easter is a ray of hope that has yet
to make its full impact on us,
much less on a world still play-acting
a tragic, ancient script.
Easter is no weak beam, nor faint;
but hasten, Lord, its fullness in Pentecost.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A NEW INTERNATIONAL FOOD CRISIS
Oil prices and bio-fuel use of grains trigger sky-rocketing food costs

WHO CAN AFFORD FOOD? While I've been casually whining about the price of fuel at the pump and murmuring about the need for alternative fuels, a truly alarming crisis has been growing. The spiraling cost of basic food supplies in developing nations is sending thousands of otherwise economically self-sufficient people into ques for free food. The high costs are resulting in shortages and violent protests. The World Bank is calling for immediate action.

SHORT LIST OF CULPRITS. A short list of causes for the price spike includes: record-high price of fuel (used in every aspect of food production, distribution and delivery), diversion of grains for bio-fuels (such as ethanol), higher demand and corruption in delivery systems. Oh, yes, and greed.

WATCH, PRAY, ACT. I will begin to pay closer attention to this concern so that I can better understand it and be a part of a redemptive solution. I hope you will, too.

This article in today's Wall Street Journal is helpful.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

THREE DAYS, THREE SUITS
A rare run of busy "up front" days

A FUNERAL, A WEDDING & A WORSHIP SERVICE. It's rare that I don a suit with tie. Rarer, still, I do so three days in a row. But so it has been since Friday. Friday, it was for the funeral of a 92-year old saint of our church. Saturday, it was for a wedding I officiated in our sanctuary. Today, though I usually do not wear a suit for morning worship or preaching, I did so for a special request.

CLERGY UNIFORM? I suppose I could go on dressing as a business person, but that is not what I am nor what I believe I am to represent. As I conceive of it, a pastor is not a member of the "business community." If so, we forfeit a solidarity with the poor and disenfranchised to which we are called. Nor is a pastor a mere reflector of what I call the casual "Dockers culture." I suppose there is no uniform for clergy. Sometimes it seems beneficial to go incognito. Other times it seems critical to appear as official as possible.

CLOTHED WITH CHRIST. Dress and style are nothing--nothing--in comparison to the constant beckon to reflect as authentically as possible the Spirit of Jesus. The Apostle Paul writes, "clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience" (Colossians 3:12). Whatever the outward dress, let us clothe our heart, our mind, our spirit with the likeness of Jesus.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

RECOGNIZING GIFTEDNESS

"One of the tasks of ministry is to show people their divine gifts. A gift becomes visible in the eyes of the receiver. As ministers, we awaken others to their own qualities by receiving, celebrating, and valuing them, by accepting those gifts and expressing our gratitude."

"This happens when we interpret something as the grace of God in the other. It becomes revolutionary when the poor can realize their giftedness and know that they have something to give the world. Liberation theology is about claiming that giftedness and setting it free."

-- Henri Nouwen, quoted in The Road to Peace edited by John Dear (Orbis, 1998)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

FORGIVEN...WE CAN FORGIVE
This is an authenticating core of Christian faith and lifestyle...so, let's live it

FREEDOM OF FORGIVENESS. Forgiveness is a distinguishing hallmark of authentic Christian faith. The Bible says that when we confess/repent of our sins, we are forgiven completely (1 John 1:9; one of many places the Bible makes this clear). We can't live down the past. We can't work our way out of shame or earn our way into forgiveness. But what we could not--cannot--do, Jesus has accomplished in our behalf via his death and resurrection. Have you accepted your forgiveness? If so, you know the freedom of forgiveness. Not only is your heart set free from guilt and shame, you are free--and empowered--to forgive others.

OUR GREATEST WITNESS. We are free to forgive--to release from our need to punish or see punished--anyone who harms, hurts, offends, disparages, or shuns us. Whether petty offenses or life-scarring damages, we can forgive. We do not do this in our own strength. We pray for grace to offer others what we ourselves have received. Commit to forgive and you will be given the grace to do it. I am convinced that the commitment and grace to forgive becomes the greatest testimony to being like Jesus the world will ever witness.

FORGIVENESS IS A PROCESS. Forgiving for a significant trauma is often a painful process that ends in freedom and reconciliation. Forgiveness is the process of coming to terms with an enemy whereby s/he is held accountable for wrong but not paid back evil. It involves healing our own memory and our hearts being infused with God’s love for an enemy. Lewis B. Smedes points out the following aspects in the process of forgiveness. He writes that we forgive: (1) slowly, (2) with a little understanding, (3) often in confusion, (4) sometimes with anger left over, (5) a little at a time, (6) freely, or not at all, and (7) with a fundamental feeling.

DIFFICULT, INTENTIONAL JOURNEY. Forgiving others may be the hardest, most courageous spiritual struggle a person who has been traumatized by individuals, institutions, family, or enemies will ever confront. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that fully extricating oneself from tangles of anger and bitterness is no cake walk. Living into the grace of forgiveness is something we must earnestly desire and commit to.

THE OTHER SIDE OF FORGIVENESS. Sometimes reconciliation with the offending party is possible, sometimes it's not. Offenders may or may not recognize their offenses. They may or may not want to restore relationships. They may not be able to. But I can testify that the relief, release, and freedom from holding a grudge and harboring vengeance is more than worth it. Beyond release from bitterness, there is freedom to live forwardly and creatively as never before. The other side of forgiveness is life.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

CREATIVE IS DAILY
Don’t overlook or undervalue what will never be found in a gallery

Creative
is not only something
we intend to do
with paint and brush,
is not just an expression
we go to a museum
to contemplate,
is not exclusively contrived
beyond the framework
of the ordinary.

Creative
is daily.
It is illumined in the work
of common forgiveness,
is found in that conspiracy
of grace we call joy,
is in the daily honing and preservation
of a pure heart,
is in the transformative power
of gratitude.

The great creative work of God
in our lives is diminished
when we look only
outside the soul,
beyond relationships,
past the daily.

Look again.
God is doing a new thing,
a creative thing,
in our hearts and
through our lives.

Monday, April 7, 2008

YEHUDA MOON AND THE KICKSTAND CYCLERY
Up and coming cycling comic strip is worth more than a frequent gander...even for non-peds

And now for something totally different...

Go to http://www.yehudamoon.com/ and browse a comic strip that cyclists can appreciate. You might even like it if you don't ride a bike!

Rick Smith is my new hero! This is great stuff for commuters and roadies alike to enjoy. The more you ride, either to and from work or cross-country on the open road, the more you'll identify with the adventures of Yehuda and Joe. Thanks to http://www.fredcast.com/ podcast for the heads-up.

Enjoy!

By the way, I enjoyed a brief but beautiful ride through Eagle Creek Park and north on Lafayette road earlier this evening. Mid-sixties temps and sunshine made this Sunday evening a great contrast to what we experienced in Breckenridge, Colorado last Sunday evening--freezing temps and lots of snow! Each has its place and is appreciated. Somehow, I really appreciated the warmth and sun today. Bring on spring!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

TROUBLED TROOPS, PROPHETIC RESPONSES
How shall we respond to alarming mental health indicators in fighting ranks?

HIGH PTSD RATES. Top Army leaders are speaking out about the toll the Iraq War is taking on troops who return repeatedly for tours of duty. Nearly one third of soldiers who return from a third tour of duty evidence PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorders) and other war-related mental health issues. The implications are stark, especially in the face of a "stay the course" policy and recommendation of General Petraeus that troop levels not be reduced.

Read the New York Times story by Thom Shanker in today's online edition. Here are a few excerpts from the article. I marked points of particular interest to me in bold:

But in a meeting with Mr. Bush late last month in advance of General Petraeus’s testimony, the Joint Chiefs of Staff expressed deep concern about stress on the force, senior Defense Department and military officials said.

Among the 513,000 active-duty soldiers who have served in Iraq since the invasion of 2003, more than 197,000 have deployed more than once, and more than 53,000 have deployed three or more times, according to a separate set of statistics provided this week by Army personnel officers. The percentage of troops sent back to Iraq for repeat deployments would have to increase in the months ahead.

The Army study of mental health showed that
27 percent of noncommissioned officers — a critically important group — on their third or fourth tour exhibited symptoms commonly referred to as post-traumatic stress disorders. That figure is far higher than the roughly 12 percent who exhibit those symptoms after one tour and the 18.5 percent who develop the disorders after a second deployment, according to the study, which was conducted by the Army surgeon general’s Mental Health Advisory Team.

The Army and the rest of the service chiefs have endorsed General Petraeus’s recommendations for continued high troop levels in Iraq. But Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, and their top deputies also have warned that the war in Iraq should not be permitted to inflict an unacceptable toll on the military as a whole.

“Our readiness is being consumed as fast as we build it,” Gen. Richard A. Cody, the Army vice chief of staff, said in stark comments delivered to Congress last week.
“Lengthy and repeated deployments with insufficient recovery time have placed incredible stress on our soldiers and our families, testing the resolve of our all-volunteer force like never before.”

Beyond the Army, members of the Joint Chiefs have also told the president that the continued troop commitment to Iraq means that there is a significant level of risk should another crisis erupt elsewhere in the world. Any mission could be carried out successfully, the chiefs believe, but the operation would be slower, longer and costlier in lives and equipment than if the armed forces were not so strained.

HOW SHALL I PRAY? I'm wondering how I might, as my Carmelite sisters over on North Cold Springs Road would put it, "pray this news" (see the "Pray the News" website)? For whom, for what should I pray? Why should I care and what expression might my care take?

THE PRINCIPALITY OF MILITARISM. This is how I begin to frame my prayer: My heart goes out to all who have been drawn into this war and into the spirit of militarism, with its idolatrous absolutes. Some have been able to serve and still maintain a heart of peace, resisting the principality of militarism. Others, perhaps unwittingly, have immersed themselves in the very spirit of militarism and follow its skewed moral compass. But all--all--are victims of war, though not all equally so.

THESE SOLDIERS ARE PROPHETS TO US. At one level, these soldiers who experience flashbacks, depression, irrational irritability, anxiety, anger, etc. speak to us and to the world in a prophetic voice. Together they shout to us that war's manner of resolving conflicts exacts a dehumanizing toll--even among the most well-trained, equipped and resourced--and that we must find a better way. Profoundly, war does not work.

RESPOND TO WOUNDED SOLDIERS. At another level, these wounded soldiers call out to us to respond with compassion and healing actions at every possible level. This, too, is a prophetic call they make. They beckon to us to enter into their suffering with understanding and solidarity so as to be with them, identify with them, to take on their guilt, shame, pain, unanswerable questions, and anxiety, and, in hope, together to move toward healing.

Photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, U.S. Air Force, accessed @ Flickr


Saturday, April 5, 2008

ETHEL KENNEDY GRACES MEMORIAL TO BOBBY & MARTIN
RFK's widow and son, Max, mark the 40th anniversary of Bobby's speech in Indy


40 YEARS LATER. I wish I could have been there, but I will appreciate it from Colorado. While the national focus of attention for Friday, April 4, was on Memphis, Tennessee, the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., a lesser-known but no less momentous gathering took place in Indianapolis to mark the 40th anniversary of Bobby Kennedy's speech the evening of King's death.

SOMBER NIGHT. That day, Kennedy was in Indianapolis for a presidential campaign stop when news of King's death broke. Bobby went to the near-north side park where the would-be political rally became a more somber occasion. Tension was in the air and riots of anguish were occurring in other American cities that night. But Bobby Kennedy's brief speech, in which he recalled King's way of nonviolence and the assassination of his brother, John, turned away wrath (read it in an earlier post this week). There were no riots in Indy that night.

STRIKING SCULPTURE. Ethel Kennedy, Bobby's widow, and son, Max, participated in the Kennedy-King Park event yesterday. The sculpture and memoral are striking. Bobby Kennedy would be shot not too many weeks later in California. I was nine years old in 1968 when all these incredible events took place. Then, I was not very conscious of the power and symbolic nature of what was taking place. Now, I am more tuned in to what took place then and what is occurring in the community, nation and world.

Friday, April 4, 2008

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. KILLED -- 40 YEARS AGO TODAY
Here are excerpts of his April 3, 1968 speech the day before his assassination

Below are excerpts from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech in Memphis on April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated. Read the whole speech here, or view/hear it's stirring conclusion here on You Tube.

"...I would turn to the Almighty, and say, 'If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.' Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a away that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same — -We want to be free.'"

"And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we're going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demand didn't force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence."

"...We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God's world.
And that's all this whole thing is about. We aren't engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying that we are God's children. And that we don't have to live like we are forced to live."

"Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we've got to stay together. We've got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the salves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh's court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that's the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity."

"Secondly, let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we've got to keep attention on that..."

"Now we're going to march again, and we've got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be. And force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God's children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That's the issue. And we've got to say to the nation: we know it's coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory."

"...All we say to America is, 'Be true to what you said on paper.' If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn't committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren't going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on."

"We don't have to argue with anybody. We don't have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don't need any bricks and bottles, we don't need any Molotov cocktails, we just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, "God sent us by here, to say to you that you're not treating his children right. And we've come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God's children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you."

....

"...Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

Thursday, April 3, 2008

BOBBY KENNEDY’S SPEECH IN INDIANAPOLIS: 40 YEARS LATER
On the evening of Martin Luther King, Jr’s. assassination, Kennedy’s words turned away wrath


APRIL 4, 1968. Friday, April 4 marks the 40th anniversary of King’s death. On that evening, anguish-driven riots broke out in nearly every major American city. But not in Indianapolis. On that night, Bobby Kennedy happened to be in Indy on a presidential campaign stop. A planned rally was scrapped for a more solemn announcement and spur-of-the-moment speech. His speech turned away wrath. The place is now marked by a monument in Kennedy-King Park on Indy’s near-northside. Here’s the heart of Kennedy’s speech that night. You can view/hear excerpts of it here on You Tube:

“Ladies and Gentlemen,

“I'm only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening, because I have some very sad news for all of you… and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world; and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

“Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it's perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black -- considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible -- you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.

“We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization -- black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.

“For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with… hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

“But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.

“My favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God.

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

“So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King -- yeah, it's true -- but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love -- a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

“We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We've had difficult times in the past, and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it's not the end of disorder.

“But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

“And let's dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

“Thank you very much.”

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

POSTCARD FROM BRECK
We're enjoying our week in Breckenridge; forget the beach!

ELEVENTH YEAR. Forget the beach; head for the mountains to break the monotony of a Midwest winter. This is the eleventh Spring Break our family has been privileged to spend in Breckenridge, Colorado, nestled in the high country of the Rockies about an hour west of Denver. Sam was four and Molly was six when they learned to ski here. This year, only Molly and Sam have been able to be with us, as Abby and Jared's Spring Break week was earlier this year. Thanks, again, to Dave and Lillie, Becky's mom and dad, for sharing the place and time and hospitality with us.

LOTS OF SNOW. Skiing and snowboarding conditions have never been better. We're skiing in fresh powder each day. It also looks like amounts of snow in the Rockies this winter will create generous amounts of runoff, which is needed not only for water supply in the region, but to dampen the possibilities of forest fires.

HEALTH AND SPEED. No injuries, so far. Minor spills, sore muscles, petty aches--nothing more, nothing to complain about. We're missing John and Marilyn Thomas, who had planned to join us again, but John suffered a broken leg three weeks ago in our "Over 40" indoor soccer game in Indy. Next year, John. By the way, John, I'm using the GPS unit you gave me for fun. None of us can catch Sam or Molly on the slopes. I keep telling them to slow down, but they're convinced I'm just saying that because I can't keep up. Partly right.

WITH THE COWLES. On our first day here, Dean Cowles picked me up at Denver International Airport and he and his family drove me up to Breckenridge (Becky, Molly and Sam arrived a day earlier; I had a wedding to conduct). Dean and I shared classes in seminary and served four years together in ministry leadership at Shepherd Community in Indianapolis. The Cowles live in Denver and we spend a day together on the slopes just about every year now. Dean is now director of Youth Partners, which supports urban youth ministry efforts across the country; Cheryl is an OB/GYN in Denver.
WE NEED ATTEMPTS
Holy living is not about rules-keeping or subcultural fear

Just in case anyone ever begins to associate holy living with timidity, weakness, or an obsession with meticulous rules-keeping, read this:

“What have we made of our younger generation - cowardly little people without youth, wildness, courage, without joy in attempting anything, without originality and individuality? But we need all that. We need attempts. We need failures upon failures and the tough nature that is frightened by nothing, that holds firm and endures and starts over and over again until it succeeds, until we are thorough, until we are unconquerable. Whoever does not take upon himself the danger of defeat, of loneliness, of setbacks, will never attain victory. We want to create from the heart, and then we want, if must be, to suffer shipwreck and bear defeat until we have the victory and land is sighted.”

– Gustav Landauer of the Bruderhof Community

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

BRECKENRIDGE IN APRIL
This year's annual spring excursion to the Rockies is especially snowy

FRESH POWDER. Breckenridge is basking in six to ten inches of fresh powder today. We snowboarded and skied in heavy snow all day yesterday. Sometimes it was near white-out conditions. Visibility was about 40 feet. Today, however, the sun shines on Peaks 7, 8, 9 and 10 and distant trails and ski runs are visible from our window down in the town. In a little while, we hope to be sailing down the trails for our third day of this annual family Spring Break excursion.

GLORY REVEALED. Everything is covered with snow this morning. It weighs down every branch of every pine tree. It graces every rooftop and fills in the valleys. It piles six inches high atop railings and fence posts. The whole mountain side is turned white from a day's worth of snowfall. Sunrise makes its way down the mountain, revealing the glory of the storm on everything in sight.

A PLACE APART. This is good for my soul, especially after nearly a year without a break from daily and weekly service. This place has been an annual retreat for about ten years now. It is no less beautiful than the first time we visited here. I'm grateful for this opportunity. A place apart for brief respite and renewal is important for everyone, it seems to me.