Thursday, July 31, 2008

THE COUNTRY OF MARRIAGE
The insights and truths in this Wendell Berry poem fascinate me

I.

I dream of you walking at night along the streams
of the country of my birth, warm blooms and the nightsongs
of birds opening around you as you walk.
You are holding in your body the dark seed of my sleep.

II.

This comes after silence. Was it something I said
that bound me to you, some mere promise
or worse, the fear of loneliness and death?
A man lost in the woods in the dark, I stood
still and said nothing. And then there rose in me,
like the earth's empowering brew rising
in root and branch, the words of a dream of you
I did not know I had dreamed. I was a wanderer
who feels the solace of his native land
under his feet again and moving in his blood.
I went on, blind and faithful. Where I stepped
my track was there to steady me. It was no abyss
that lay before me, but only the level ground.

III.

Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.

IV.

How many times have I come to you out of my head
with joy, if ever a man was,
for to approach you I have given up the light
and all directions. I come to you
lost, wholly trusting as a man who goes
into the forest unarmed. It is as though I descend
slowly earthward out of the air. I rest in peace
in you, when I arrive at last.

V.

Our bond is no little economy based on the exchange
of my love and work for yours, so much for so much
of an expendable fund. We don't know what its limits are--
that puts us in the dark. We are more together
than we know, how else could we keep on discovering
we are more together than we thought?
You are the known way leading always to the unknown,
and you are the known place to which the unknown is always
leading me back. More blessed in you than I know,
I possess nothing worthy to give you, nothing
not belittled by my saying that I possess it.
Even an hour of love is a moral predicament, a blessing
a man may be hard up to be worthy of. He can only
accept it, as a plant accepts from all the bounty of the light
enough to live, and then accepts the dark,
passing unencumbered back to the earth, as I
have fallen tine and again from the great strength
of my desire, helpless, into your arms.

VI.

What I am learning to give you is my death
to set you free of me, and me from myself
into the dark and the new light. Like the water
of a deep stream, love is always too much. We
did not make it. Though we drink till we burst
we cannot have it all, or want it all.
In its abundance it survives our thirst.
In the evening we come down to the shore
to drink our fill, and sleep, while it
flows through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us, except we keep returning
to its rich waters thirsty. We enter,
willing to die, into the commonwealth of its joy.

VII.

I give you what is unbounded, passing from dark to dark,
containing darkness: a night of rain, an early morning.
I give you the life I have let live for the love of you:
a clump of orange-blooming weeds beside the road,
the young orchard waiting in the snow, our own life
that we have planted in the ground, as I
have planted mine in you. I give you my love for all
beautiful and honest women that you gather to yourself
again and again, and satisfy--and this poem,
no more mine than any man's who has loved a woman.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

HOW CAN I GIVE MY DAUGHTER AWAY?
Some thoughts about the presumption of giving a daughter's hand in marriage

JUST LIKE THAT. Almost everything in the Hay household this summer has revolved around plans for August 2nd. Abby and Alex Butler will marry at our church this Saturday afternoon and, just like that, our oldest daughter will be off to married life in Kansas City. After a honeymoon, she and Alex will move to the KC area to begin graduate school. All I have to do is walk her down the aisle and say “Her mother and I” when asked “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” I pray for grace to say that deeply, sincerely.

WHO HAS THE RIGHT? I've been turning over in my mind this whole idea of giving a daughter's hand in marriage. It is ancient and practiced in the Hebrew scriptures, to be sure. But any reference to it is entirely missing from the New Testament. It seems to be something more of culture than of grace. More of pre-Christian and a-Christian tradition than of inspiration and authority. It seems to be based more on a pagan sense of ownership, possession, and contract than a sense of Christ-centering Lordship, stewardship, and blessing. In Christian grace, no man possesses a woman--whether a wife or a daughter. So, it is not in any father's--or mother's--purview to presume to "give away" a daughter to another person.

ALREADY GIVEN. The way I see it, Abby has really never been ours to “give.” She and all our children have been given to us for a while. They’ve come through us. We received them as stewards. Soon after they were born, we presented them in dedication to God--they’ve already been given. They are not our possessions. They are not intended to represent or serve Becky and me. God’s creative work and graceful intention is far greater than that. We are blessed to be stewards of their lives through formative early years. It’s been clear from early on that they’ve got minds, lives and futures uniquely their own. Our role, in large part, has been to recognize that, nurture it, and to try not inhibit it in any way.

ATTENDING TO CHOICES. One of the more critical transitions in the process of parenting as stewards is attending to a child’s choice to marry and the choice of whom to marry. This, too, is beyond us. Parents are in the role of attendants to fledgling romances, break-ups, courtships and, hopefully, emerging mature relationships based on grace and a measure of wisdom. We can guide and occasionally advise, but not choose. But this particular transition is more about prayer than anything else--and as much for myself as for them.

BEYOND ME. So, while “giving” Abby’s hand in marriage to a young man is really beyond me, it is something I’ve committed to God in prayer. I am pleased that they have found each other, that they each have a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, and that they are choosing to take the journey of life together with Jesus as their Guide. I celebrate their choice and commitment. May Abby and Alex have God’s blessing all their days.

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, July 29, 2008

ON THE BRINK OF AUGUST
"Dog Days" heat up, but August brings a certain grace

ANY DAY NOW. We’re on the brink of August. These are Dog Days (officially, July 3-August 11). For the first time I can remember I am anticipating the surprise lilies that will any day now shoot a single, leafless stalk out of the dry ground, climb to 24 inches and produce a beautiful flower. In Indianapolis the onset of August means NASCAR good ol’ boys have rolled in and out of town for the Brickyard 400. It means two-a-day soccer practices, varsity tryouts and anticipation of return to school--on August 11, believe it or not!

AUGUST ALARM CLOCK. August steals its way into our summer world. Amid camps and trips and enduring the heat and outdoor recreation, we happen to look at the calendar and...it’s August. Already? Like waking to an annoying alarm clock, we respond to August with denial, then protest, and then we hit the snooze button. Denial buys a week or two. Just a few more weeks of a slower pace. A few more stretches of R & R. Let summer continue a bit longer, we pray.

MIXED MESSAGES. The heat says its summer, but the calendar says it’s the brink of a child’s senior year of high school. One will be marrying. One will soon be returning to college. Another will begin his Sophomore year of high school. Already soccer conditioning has heated up. Vacation Bible School is in progress and Autumn on the horizon begs planning. Responsibility urges us to move forward and opportunity bids us press through, even as the chirping cicadas on a hot summer evening would lull us back into summer slumber.

THE GRACE OF AUGUST. We don’t leave summer completely in August, or at least it doesn’t leave us. It is in August, when the unique experiences and moments of summer begin to be numbered, that we realize that we have been blessed by summer. This is the month when we savor summer, linger with its graces. Though September is on the horizon, perhaps the best days of summer are still to come.

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, July 28, 2008

VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL WEEK
We're having a great time each evening in the heart of the city

West Morris Street Free Methodist Church, affectionately dubbed "WEMO" by our youth group several years ago, has pulled out the stops for a week of Vacation Bible School in the heart of the city. I love this week for our church, not just because children come from far and near to participate in five 2 1/2-hour evenings packed with fun songs, crafts, stories, recreation, drama, and Bible verse memorization. I love it because so many people in the church get into it and serve fully--and beyond expectations. It's a concentrated effort of coordinated service and, though folks will be worn out by the end of the week, fulfilling. I used to think VBS had become superfluous and superficial. But then I saw its promise and purpose within our WEMO mission and 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!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

OUTDOOR WEDDING IN THE CITY
A wedding in a beautiful garden park in Fort Wayne included two humorous incidents

"DON'T DO IT, MAN!" Friday afternoon, some members of our family drove north to Fort Wayne, Indiana to attend the wedding of a young man who grew up in our Indianapolis faith community. The wedding was in the middle of the city--an idyllic park with beautiful gardens, reflection pools, and grand trellises just beyond the noise of traffic. The sky was clear and the summer evening was warm. The wedding program was printed on a hand-held fan--very useful. A string quartet played as the bridal party processed and the bride and father of the bride glided to the altar. As the bride joined her groom at the altar, a passing car's horn started honking and a loud voice bellowed exaggeratedly from the distance: "You're crazy! Don't do it, man!"

ILL-TIMED FLY-OVER. Then, during the wedding ring ceremony, four fighter jets from a nearby air base flew overhead, their deafening sound drowning out the "with this ring I thee wed" recitations of the couple. I pondered the possibility of a planned fly-over for the next outdoor wedding I would conduct--the fly-over timed to the moment the groom kisses his bride to seal the deal. That, and/or fireworks!

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, July 24, 2008

FORGIVE ME FOR MAKING FAITH HARD
My prayer as I think of times when I bought into the "measure up" brand of faith

FORMATION AND DE-FORMATION. According to Dr. Christine Pohl, gratitude is an essential part of healthy spiritual formation. She says we also experience spiritual de-formation when its opposites are expressed and experienced. A brief contemplation on gratitude can bring to mind not only all we take for granted and have to be grateful for, but also our own past ingratitude and unthoughtful contributions to the de-formation of others. That's what brought about the following confession.

HARD FAITH. I observed a person whose bearing, mannerisms, and words made it evident that he works very hard at his way of faith. He works hard at believing and defending what he believes. He bolsters himself against straw men with postulated, ever-ready arguments. He wears his faith on his sleeve to ward off whatever questions or inquiries may arise. He works hard at his faith. I wonder if he ever grows weary. I did. Recalling a book which freed me from this treadmill, Tired Of Trying To Measure Up by Jeff VanVonderen, I wanted offer him grace. Aware of my life of ministry, some of which has been conveyed from this "trying harder" mode, this confession formed in me:

For all the times I have tried to make holiness happen on my terms: forgive me.

For making faith appear hard to those under my care: forgive me.

For those who have perceived that faith was hard because of my words or actions: have mercy.

For times when pride of faith has made me falsely comfortable and feel superior: forgive me.

For glances or looks that have conveyed disapproval or disdain for the faith efforts of others: forgive me.

For words that have conveyed “not enough” to those who are cleaving to You: forgive me.

For the sense of earning or working or toiling to be right with You: deliver me.

For conveyed norms of dress, style, or form which make faith seem hard: forgive us.

For interpretations of the Bible which appear hidden, exclusive or obscure: forgive us.

For loading free grace down with imposed conditions and contrived costs: forgive me.

Forgive me for making faith seem hard.

Let me be reminded often of the terms of faith: grace, grace, grace.

And though it cost me everything, let me proclaim grace freely and faithfully all the rest of my days.

Amen.

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

SUNRISE AT CLAY CITY
An early-morning ride among the corn and soil fields

I was greeted with a glorious sunrise during an early-morning ride near Clay City, Indiana. I drove west of Indianapolis yesterday for several days of activities at the Wabash Conference Free Methodist Family Camp (from one camp to another! 'Tis the season!). The road from Clay City to Shakamak State Park is lightly traveled and relatively flat--a good ride. It's about 14 miles to the park. A bit of a head wind slowed me down on the way back to Wabash Camp. I enjoyed the spare scenery and listened to Fernando Ortega instrumentals on my iPod. A good way to start any day, I'd say.

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, July 21, 2008

HEADING HOME FROM CAMP
After 11 days in West Virginia, I'm back home in Indiana

DRIVING WEST. Yesterday, after finishing my last presentation at Blackhills Free Methodist Camp near Grafton, I drove west from the heart of West Virginia to Parkersburg to visit with some childhood friends. The drive across Ohio and into central Indiana seemed longer than usual. I must be worn out. I kept focused by listening to the audio version of Kurt Vonnegut's book Cat's Cradle. My, what an imagination! I finally pulled the Beetle into our driveway just before 12 am.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME. So, having been raised in West Virginia, it felt like I have spent the last 11 days "back home." Folks were as genuine and gracious as I remember and I acclimated to the setting and environment with ease. I could imagine living there again. But toward the end of my stay, I was feeling homesick for my family, local challenges, and Indianapolis. So, I'm now "back home again in Indiana."

WHERE IS HOME? Home. West Virginia? Indiana? Where the heart is? Where you lay your head? Where they have to take you in? Where you belong? What was clear and concrete as a child and adolescent seems to take on more of a conceptual "moving target" form as one moves through adult life. For this morning, however, I'm very glad to be safely home with my wife and children and in the places where we together love, serve, and grow.

Photo: vista at Cooper's Rock State Forest near Morgantown, West Virginia

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, July 19, 2008

WEST VIRGINIA DREAMIN'
A few snapshots of some parts the Mountain State I took in this week

SCRATCHING THE SURFACE. I enjoyed seeing and being in West Virginia again. I was able to squeeze some biking and sightseeing in between my daily preparation and presentations over ten days. Biking on the roads and trails was challenging. I recommend the trails at Cooper's Rock State Forest (in photo at left). I also had the most awesome mountain bike downhill ride of my life on the rail trail from Thomas to Parsons along an old mountain railway. I was privileged to go kayaking on the Cheat River one afternoon. In addition to Cooper's Rock, I visited Black Water Falls and rode around Tygart Lake State Park. Of course, I barely scratched the surface of what's possible for cyclists in north central West Virginia. Below: Tygart Lake, Black Water Falls, and a forest road in north central West Virginia.



Monday, July 14, 2008

TdF '08 UPDATE: AUSTRALIAN CADEL EVANS NOW LEADS
It's just by one second, but the injured Aussie withstood tough tests to wear Yellow

STAGE 10 BREAKTHROUGH. The Tour de France completed the hardest stage in the first 10 days of racing, passing over two highest category mountains, including an uphill finish on Hautecam. While Italian Leonardo Piepoli won the stage, Australian Cadel Evans moved into first place overall, just ahead of Luxemburger Frank Schleck. Evans is a favorite to win the race, but a bad crash on Sunday put his effort into question. He rode in bandages today, but showed the kind of grit and power that it will take to win. American Christian Vande Velde moved into 3rd place overall. Vande Velde has the experience to win and he rides best in the last week of the Grand Tours. Go to the Tour de France for the Rest of Us for more.

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, July 12, 2008

RIDING THE MONONGAHELA RAIL TRAIL
Morgantown, West Virginia ride is rustic along the river

NEAR WVU. A camper from Morgantown, just 12 miles up U.S. Highway 119 from the Blackhills Free Methodist Camp, recommended that I ride the rail trail there. I started at a trail head near West Virginia University and rode my road bike on the paved and fine powder gravel. It was quite smooth. I rode south toward Fairmont along the river. The trail, a converted railway bed, is well maintained. The river on one side and wooded cliffs on the other make it an entertaining ride. I came across a number of walkers and bikers, even 10 miles outside the city. I want to go back and ride the trail northward--into Pennsylvania if I have time.

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, July 11, 2008

MOUNTAIN BIKING WEST VIRGINIA
This is a mountain biker's dreamland...or torture chamber!

UPHILL SUFFERING. It didn't take me long to find a challenging trail to ride. Just outside Grafton, West Virginia is Tygart Lake State Park. Pristine lake, just beautiful. While there is no mountain biking allowed on the hiking trails, a park assistant pointed me to a gravel and dirt road that headed straight up a steep hill. "That'll do," I said. I saddled up and hit the trail. Within minutes I was suffering, inching my way up a 15% grade of dirt roads. At the top of the hill I had choices to descend to more dirt and narrow paved roads.
MORE TOMORROW? Suffice it to say, I spent 2.5 hours riding around, up and down, and completely spent myself. Folks are telling me about good trails up in Morgantown, so tomorrow I may head that direction.


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, July 10, 2008

IN WEST VIRGINIA
I'm back in the place of my childhood & adolescence for 10 days

WILD, WONDERFUL. I drove six hours from Indianapolis, Indiana to Grafton, West Virginia today. The terrain went from flat to rolling to hilly to extremely hilly. The drive across Interstate 70 was monotonous until near the West Virginia border. But the drive south on Interstate 79 from southwestern Pennsylvania into northern West Virginia was just awesome. I veered off onto US 119 just south of Morgantown, but I know the vistas on I-79 to Charleston and Beckley are incredible.

10 DAYS, 21 PRESENTATIONS. I'm here in West Virginia to speak at the Free Methodist Blackhills Camp for 10 days. Ten days! Twice a day! This is an overwhelming assignment I accepted a few months ago. At that time I thought speaking 10 times would be a challenge and a stretch. Then I learned that I am to speak each morning, too. Whoa! I have never attempted anything like this before. So, we'll take it a day at a time and, undoubtedly, I will be praying and asking for grace. Appreciate your prayers, too.

WHERE I LIVED. You may not know this: I grew up in West Virginia. I lived here from the age of six months until I was 17. My dad was a Nazarene pastor for six years in Charleston and then 11 years in Parkersburg. So, this is where I learned to talk, ride a bike, read and write... This where the "habits of the heart" were formed in me. It's been a long time since I've been here, other than very brief visits to Parkersburg. So, I am looking forward to spending time in Mountain State and among friends in the West Virginia hills.

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, July 9, 2008

'08 TdF STAGE 5: ONE FOR THE BRITS!
23-year old Mark Cavendish out-sprints the best for Britian's first win in 5 years

YOUTH MOVEMENT. Mark Cavendish of Britain out-sprinted the best of the best sprinters at the finish line of the longest day of this year's Tour de France (232 km) to claim a striking win. The charging peloton swallowed up a day-long breakaway group of three within the last kilometer. Several teams worked to set up to spring their best sprinter across the finish line. Oscar Freire was there. Thor Hushovd was there. Eric Zabel was there. And there, also, powering ahead of these sprint greats, was a 23-year old from England riding for American team Columbia. It as the first TdF stage win for a British rider since David Millar won a stage in 2003. Read and explore more about the Tour de France at my blog The Tour de France for the Rest of Us.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

ONE WAY TO FLY THE AMERICAN FLAG
Christian Vande Velde lets his patriotism roll across France

SPEEDWAY ON DISPLAY. I love this wide angle photo of American Christian Vande Velde riding in Tuesday's Stage 4 Individual Time Trial of the Tour de France. You know, Vande Velde didn't HAVE to put the image of an American flag on his American-made Zipp wheels (hand-built in Speedway, Indiana, actually!), but he did! I think that's cool. I usually don't go in for flag-waving expressions of patriotism, but every now and then some graphic strikes me as fitting and fun. This is one. Vande Velde finished well enough to put himself in the top ten overall for the race after four stages.

SIX TO WATCH. The Tour de France has its 3rd different race leader in four days. I guarantee that it will change again and again. I'm watching six riders who are emerging as the real contenders for the Tour win. Read my updates at The Tour de France for the Rest of 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!

Monday, July 7, 2008

'08 TdF STAGE 3: A BREAKAWAY GETS AWAY WITH IT
American Wil Frischkorn takes a 208-kilometer risk that pays off

American Wil Frischkorn (on left in photo) didn't win the stage; he placed second. The Tour de France rookie didn't win a jersey; one of his breakaway compatriots, Frenchman Romain Feillu got two--the Yellow Jersey as new race leader and White Jersey as best-place rider age 25 or younger. And Frischkorn won't get the attention; another Frenchman, Samuel Dumoulin, won Stage 3 and all of France is gaga over their triumphant duo tonight. But it was Frischkorn that took the risk to lead a breakaway from the very start of a long 208-kilometer stage. He worked with Dumoulin, Feillu and an Italian rider to out-wit and and out-pedal the peloton in a rare breakaway that gets away with it. Read my comments and summary at The Tour de France for the Rest of Us.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

FORGIVEN ENEMIES OF GOD
Forgiven, we are empowered to extend forgiveness to others

“Jesus Christ crucified is not merely some heroic example to the church. He is the living power and wisdom of God empowering us to reach out a hand of healing to people who have ripped us off, screwed us up, and turned us down... He slowly turns our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. At the foot of the Cross we recognize ourselves as forgiven enemies of God and are empowered to extend forgiveness and reconciliation.” – Brennan Manning in The Signature of Jesus
'08 TdF STAGE 2
Thor the Norwegian makes his mark at the line

After over 100 miles of undulating Brittany terrain and a long breakaway (involving Frenchman Thomas Voekler for the second straight day) that almost succeeded, Norwegian sprint specialist Thor Hushovd out-kicked Luxemburg's Kim Kirchen at the finish line to win Stage 2 of the 95th Tour de France. Read my summary and comment and get links to follow the Tour de France closely at The Tour de France for the Rest of Us.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

2008 TOUR DE FRANCE STAGE 1
Alejandro Valverde stakes a claim with a blistering uphill finish

Alejandro Valverde, one of the pre-race favorites and recently-crowned Spanish national champion, hammered past his rivals in an uphill sprint finish after 197.5 kilometers to win Stage 1 and claim the first Yellow Jersey of the 95th Tour de France. Read my summary and commentary at The Tour de France for the Rest of Us. Also there: my "Tour Lingo" guide, essential links to tracking the Tour live, etc.
THE DAILY COST OF FREEDOM
One citizen's reflection amid questions about candidates' and progressives' patriotism

PATRIOTISM IS NOT GULLIBLE OR NAIVE. I feel a deep gratitude for American-style freedom and for those who have thought, deliberated, lived and died to frame, preserve, and advance it. The fact that I feel, simultaneously, that it is not in American freedom’s best interest to act like it currently is--in the manner it is conducting its internal affairs and in international relations--does not negate my gratitude or reduce my sense of patriotism. Nor does it mean I write a blank check and cast a rubber-stamp vote for everything my government--in any of its three branches and myriad bureaus--does in the name and for the sake of America and freedom. It is one thing to be grateful and patriotic; it is another to be gullible and na├»ve.

FREEDOM IS BIGGER. I try to keep in mind that freedom is bigger than any Administration. America is greater than a duly elected Congress. The Constitution stands above any appointed Court. The soul of America is deeper than policies conceived and implemented through layers of bureaucracy. Freedom's spirit is broader than what can be expressed by any region, state, or local community. For this reason, and for the fact that pride and prejudice is ever present and must be grappled with in each generation, it is necessary and prudent to be vigilant against apparently benign directives and decisions that appropriate the term “freedom” but do not necessarily embody and advance it for all.

WHAT IS FREEDOM’S COST? I once saw this quote etched in stone at a monument in Washington, DC: “Freedom isn’t free.” So it isn’t. That doesn’t necessarily mean its only cost is blood and that the primary manner of preserving freedom is war, the threat of violence, preemptive attacks on rogue regimes which we suspect, or the deployment and funding of a bloated military at the expense of local community creativity and our most vulnerable citizens. The fact that freedom has occasionally been preserved by unavoidable war does not mean that war is the primary and most-celebrated cost of freedom.

THESE LIVES TESTIFY. I write this, having visited Arlington National Cemetery, where tombstones in the shape of Crosses and Stars of David line the hills as far as the eye can see--each representing a life given for American freedom. I write this, having visited the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, The Lincoln Memorial, and the World War II Memorial. These given lives testify to heroic efforts to preserve American freedom or to win it for those who asked for our help. But war and the death of soldiers is not the primary way freedom is preserved and promoted.

FREEDOM IS WILLED BY ORDINARY CITIZENS. Freedom is more proactive than an occasional defensive response of protection when it is truly under attack or an aggressive response of preemption when it is perceived to be threatened. The cost of freedom is a daily vigilance and active exercise of freedom by ordinary citizens. We mistakenly think that freedom is something won for us by the few who bear arms; in fact, freedom is something willed by the many who confirm its blessing and fuel its light through responsible use of its privileges and responsibilities.

VIGILANCE OF THE CITIZENRY. A vigorous and watchful exercise of such freedoms as speech, religion, and one’s vote serve to intensify freedom’s promise and buttress it against would-be detractors. It takes the vigilance of the citizenry to hold elected and appointed officials accountable to ensure there is freedom from want and freedom from fear. That “the pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are not repeatedly abused by the likes of either arrogant Enron executives or domestic abusers is far from a given. Some will always construe freedom for license and frame liberty in ways to serve themselves at the expense of others.

WILLING THE BEST FREEDOM CAN MEAN. Nothing short of an attentive, informed, and engaged citizenry willing the best freedom can mean will prevent genuine freedom from dissipating without a shot being fired or a terrorist attack being launched. It is possible to wave flags and sing of freedom all the while speech is curtailed, civil liberties conceded, corporate monopolies on goods and services permitted, equal opportunity redefined, religion regulated, poverty increased, and personal and community security decreased. Disengagement and apathy are greater threats to American freedom than terrorism or rogue regimes.

A MONUMENT TO ORDINARY PEOPLE. When I've been in Washington, DC, I've wanted to see a monument to the average American citizen. There were monuments to war heroes and esteemed Presidents and national figures. These are likely all great people and deserving of honor. But should there not be, in the capitol of democracy, an unmistakable message to the world that what preserves and promotes freedom and democracy is not so much “great persons” as a great people, not so much war but a vigilant peace, not only the notable actions of a few but the faithful and ordinary actions of the many who choose everyday to make freedom ring true in every community across America?

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, July 4, 2008

ON THE EVE OF THE 2008 TOUR de FRANCE
Here's a taste of my July mania...and the race doesn't start until tomorrow!

IT'S THAT MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR. Anyone who knows me at all knows that I have a mania for the Tour de France. Every July it hits. I go crazy for the Tour. The following post but one of many posts to my blog "The Tour de France for the Rest of Us." I have fun with the blog from June to August, but mostly it's just a place to follow the Tour from July 5 to 27. I welcome your visit there, where I try to make the Toru de France understandable and approachable and fun for non-techies like me. My Tour de France for the Rest of Us includes numerous links to websites that carry the Tour live and breakdown every aspect of this spectacular event.

REFRESHING CALM. All has been relatively quiet before the start of the 2008 Tour de France. No major doping revelations. No last-minute suspensions. Sniping between professional cycling sanctioning and doping oversight authorities has subsided for the moment. After the last two years, it's refreshing to get to this point to be able to talk about the race and cyclists in positive terms. The "Tour Depart" sets off tomorrow, July 5. Hope you will be able to follow it on TV on the Internet.

NO PROLOGUE. For the first time in over 30 years, the Tour de France will not start with a time-trial Prologue. Instead of the usual time trial to set up an initial time separation between the riders, Stage 1 takes the cyclists 197.5 kilometers from Brest to Plumelec and over four Category 4 climbs. The finish in Plumelec (hometown of Tour de France legend Bernard Hinault) is an uphill climb known locally as the "Breton Alpe d'Huez,"--named for the monster mountain climb that has challenged cyclists time and again.

THERE WILL BE A NEW CHAMPION. No cyclist has yet taken the place of Lance Armstrong, who could be named the hands-down pre-tour favorite to win the overall classification Yellow Jersey every year after his first win. No one since has emerged with such dominance. And since last year's Tour de France champion Alberto Contador is now riding for a team (Astana) which Tour de France organizers suspended for a year after it was kicked out of last year's tour for doping, there WILL be a new champion this year. American Levi Leipheimer, who finished 3rd in last year's Tour also now rides for Astana and he, too, will miss this year's event.

[And, yes, I think the suspension of Astana is unfair, since the entire team leadership and most of the team is new, and since the decision to suspend Astana from the 2008 Tour de France was made AFTER Contador and Leipheimer, along with team director Johann Bruyneel, joined the team as part of its rebirth. If Astana is out, why is Rabbobank in? Answer me that!]

FAVORITE: CADEL EVANS. While no racer seems ready to dominate, there is a favorite to win the Yellow Jersey. It's Australian Cadel Evans (in photo) who placed 2nd last year, just a few seconds behind Contador. Evans has the right combination of climbing ability, time trial skills, and a strong and supportive team to win it. Does he have the explosive power and ego strength to assert leadership? Yet to be seen. Should he win, he'd be the first Aussie Tour de France champ.

FOUR MORE. Evans isn't alone, however, as a top contender to win this year's edition of the Tour. Alejandro Valverde of Spain, Damiano Cunego of Italy, and Denis Menchov of Russia are easily conceivable as leader/winners. All three have the complete combination of developed skills, demonstrated leadership and wins in multiple-stage races and the savvy necessary to win the race. Some pundits also include Spaniard Carlos Sastre in the mix, but Sastre has never made a serious move in the Tour de France.

UP FOR GRABS. Cyclingnews' sub-headline reads: "Unknown predators could swoop in on Paris prize." I think they're right. Reading through the list of riders, I recognize many who have ridden the Tour de France, Vuelta Espana, and Giro d'Italia in past years, sometimes with flares of brilliance. I wouldn't be surprised if some of these, like Christophe Moreau of France, make a move to lead or win. It's up for grabs and that, along with the Tour's daily dramatic twists and turns and boiling sub-plots, will make for a very interesting race.

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, July 1, 2008

CITY WITHOUT A CHURCH
Let Christian faith and life overflow from the church into our city's streets

HENRY DRUMMOND'S INSIGHT. A few paragraphs from Henry Drummond's little book The City Without a Church inspire me this morning. Drummond (1851-1897) uses The Revelation of John to point out that heaven is envisioned as a city--a city without a church. It takes little sanctified imagination to say a hearty "yes!" to Drummond's insights:

REAL-LIFE RELIGION. "The heaven of Christianity is different than all other heavens, because the religion of Christianity is different than all other religions. Christianity is the religion of the city. It moves among real things. Its sphere is the street, the marketplace, the working life of the real world."

CARE OF THE CITIES. "When Christianity shall take upon itself in full responsibility the burden and care of cities--the Kingdom of God will openly come on earth. People do not dispute that religion is in the church. What is now wanted is to let them see it in the city."

A CITY ON A HILL. "One Christian city, one city in any part of the earth, whose citizens from the greatest to the humblest lived in the spirit of Christ, where religion had overflowed the churches and passed into the streets, inundating every house and workshop, and permeating the whole social and commercial life--one such Christian city would seal the redemption of the world."

WEEP FOR THE CITY. "How are you to begin? As Christ did. First he looked at the city; then he wept over it; then he died for it."

MAKE HEAVEN WHERE YOU ARE. "Where are you to begin? Begin where you are. Make that one corner, room, house, office, as like heaven as you can. Begin? Begin with the paper on the walls, make that beautiful; with the air, keep it fresh; with the very drains, make them sweet. Abolish whatsoever makes a lie--in conversation, in social intercourse, in correspondence, in domestic life."

HEAVEN IN YOUR HEART. "This done, you will have arranged a heaven, but you have not got it. Heaven lies within: in kindness, in humbleness, in faith, in love, in service. To get these in, get Christ in. Teach all in the house about Christ--what he did, and what he said, and how he lived. Teach it not as a doctrine, but as a discovery, as your own discovery. Live your own discovery."

PASS IT ON. "Then pass out into the city. Do all to it that you have done at home."

THE GREATEST THING. To read The City Without a Church online: click here. Henry Drummond, a Scottish speaker, author and teacher who was associated with Dwight L. Moody, is most known for The Greatest Thing in the World, a profound reflection on 1 Corinthians 13.

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!