Tuesday, September 30, 2008

WALL STREET, MAIN STREET, & ELM STREET
The $700 billion rescue effort failed because leaders didn't even attempt to win our confidence

ALL ABOUT THEM. It was always about them, not about us. It was about bailing out Wall Street fat cats who play fast and loose with other people's money. What American citizen wants to bail out Wall Street? Not many, you can be sure. But that's how our nationally elected and appointed government officials framed the issue. It's no wonder the bill failed to pass in the U. S. House of Representatives Monday afternoon.

A PROBLEM MISCAST. Better leaders would have recognized immediately that many people despise Wall Street and the most mildly endure it's wranglings and excesses. More authentic leaders would have cast the problem and their solution in a very different scenario, in very different terms. They would have started and looked at the issues from a very different place.

MAIN STREET & ELM STREET. They would have started with ordinary citizens. They would have looked at problem from our perspective. They would have talked more, as Barack Obama has, about Main Street. Or, as I heard one Representative describe, "Elm Street." They would have started with the challenges every household faces and drawn out the implications of credit there. They would have taken us to the very roots of the problems in graphic terms. They would have spoken firmly and specifically about reforms intended to curb greed and abuse in the future.

TOO MUCH PRESSURE. But, in the 10 days since President Bush made his $700 billion request, no leader ever got around to doing that. Not once did I hear anyone come to the mainstream media with a clear, household-based explanation or appeal. No one tried to convince me--and I was very interested in finding out about it in a way I could get on board. Why didn't they talk straight to us? Because they wouldn't? Or because they couldn't? They didn't, and House Representatives got their ears--and e-mails--full of Americans who told them 100 to 1 that a "Yea" for this bill would mean a "Nay" at the ballot box in November. So, we're back to square one.

SECOND CHANCE COMING UP. It's not too late. Now there's a second chance for leaders who are convinced this bailout/rescue measure is essential to win the understanding and confidence of more Americans. "'Splain it to us, Lucy." We're waiting...

Political comic by Tony Auth as viewed at http://www.slate.com/
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, September 29, 2008

ONE STEP BACKWARD TAKEN
Robert Frost's poem might help our nation's leadership in these conflicted days

WHEN THE ROAD TAKEN WASHES OUT. Most Americans have surely read (or memorized) "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost. Have you heard of his 1947 poem, "One Step Backward Taken?" I've shared this with students at Indianapolis Peace House and other groups. Consider it in the context of partisan wrangling in the face of the financial sector's crisis. Consider it in the context of the Iraq War. Consider it in the context of the unnecessary national and global precipices to which our leaders have drawn us and over which we perilously peer. Consider it in the context of the principles--or lack thereof--upon which we may be trying to stand. Perhaps it is not only important to take the road less traveled, but to step back from the brink every now and then.

Not only sands and gravels
Were once more on their travels,
But gulping muddy gallons
Great boulders off their balance
Bumped heads together dully
And started down the gully.
Whole capes caked off in slices.
I felt my standpoint shaken
In the universal crisis.
But with one step backward taken
I saved myself from going.
A world torn loose went by me.
Then the rain stopped and the blowing,
And the sun came out to dry me.

from The Poetry of Robert Frost edited by Edward Connery Lathem, 1969, Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

When is it prudent, helpful, wise to just take a step back?

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

Sunday, September 28, 2008

PURITY'S TIME IS ALWAYS NOW
Annie Dillard celebrates the present moment as the day of salvation

NOW AND AGAIN. I recommend For the Time Being by Annie Dillard for thoughtful reading and reflection. Over the past several years, I've read or listened to portions of it now and again. It's a book to grapple with, full of paradox and mystery. It always leaves me both discomfitted and with a touch of wonder. I was listening to this portion while driving across the city one morning and it struck me with fresh profundity:

NO ONE HERE BUT US CHICKENS. "There were no formerly heroic times, and there was no formerly pure generation. There is no one here but us chickens, and so it has always been: a people busy and powerful, knowledgeable, ambivalent, important, fearful and self-aware; a people who scheme, promote, deceive and conquer; who pray for their loved ones, and long to flee misery and skip death. It is a weakening and discoloring idea that rustic people knew God personally once upon a time -- or even knew selflessness or courage or literature -- but that it is too late for us. In fact, the absolute is available to everyone in every age."

NO MORE HOLY TIME THAN NOW. "There never was a more holy age than ours, and never a less. There is no less holiness at this time -- as you are reading this --than there was the day the Red Sea parted, or that day in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as Ezekiel was a captive by the river Chebar, when the heavens opened and he saw visions of God. There is no whit less enlightenment under the tree by your street than there was under the Buddha's bo tree. There is no whit less might in heaven or on earth than there was the day Jesus said 'Maid, arise' to the centurion's daughter, or the day Peter walked on water, or the night Mohammed flew to heaven on a horse."

IN ANY INSTANT. "In any instant the sacred may wipe you with its finger. In any instant the bush may flare, your feet may rise, or you may see a bunch of souls in a tree. In any instant you may avail yourself of the power to love your enemies; to accept failure, slander, or the grief of loss; or to endure torture."

THE PRESENT, OR NOT AT ALL. "Purity's time is always now. Purity is no social phenomenon, a cultural thing whose time we have missed, whose generations are dead, so we can only buy Shaker furniture. 'Each and every day the Divine Voice issues from Sinai,' says the Talmud. Of eternal fulfillment, Tillich said, 'If it is not seen in the present, it cannot be seen at all.'"

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, September 27, 2008

“The Creator goes off
on one wild, specific tangent
after another, or
millions simultaneously,
with an exuberance that would
seem to be unwarranted,
and with an abandoned energy
sprung from an unfathomable
font. What is going on here?”

- Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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, September 26, 2008

THOSE DAYS, THESE DAYS
Fearing the present, folks too readily impose an illusory past that short-circuits a promising future

HOW BAD IT IS. These days. I've been hearing how bad these days are since I was a small child. It's a recurrent mantra of fear. I was led to believe that the mid-1960's were the worst days, giving every sign that Jesus Christ's second coming (preceded by the rapture of the church, I was told) was imminent. Then I kept hearing how much worse things had become in the 1970's. It was time to flee the godless city to the safe suburbs and pull your children out of public schools. The 1980's and 90's, it has been said, produced the corrupt fruit of the wanton 60's and 70's, and voices from within the community of faith continued to grouse about what had become of the world these days. More and more, however, they talked about what had become of the church "these days."

THE GOOD OL' DAYS? Those of us who complain about how bad it's gotten almost invariably and simultaneously hark back to a better time. There was a time, they say, when things were better. When people were truer. When things were simpler. When they were safer. When they were fairer. Whenever it was, it is always in the past. Always inaccessible. Never reproducible. Out of reach. We're too far gone these days, it is concluded. But when we examine "those days" we begin to see that they were troubling times, no less than these days. The 1950's, for instance, were golden only if you turned a blind eye to rampant racism, outright bigotry, sexism, the wholesale subjection of women, McCarthyism, repression, Cold War politics, etc.

FEARING THE PRESENT. I feel sad when I hear folks protest these days and pine for the past. Present-day events may produce fear in them. I wonder if the present seems so overwhelming that they just opt out of it's challenges as well as its promises. I wonder why many do not want to try to understand its complexity. Do they not see it as directly connected to our past choices, behaviors, and patterns? Isn't it clear that how we address our challenges today is a key to the kind of future we live in? No doubt, these days are difficult. They call for the best we have in us. In the face of today's challenges, it doesn't help to check out emotionally, become intellectually careless, spiritually irresponsible, and hark back to the good ol' days. When we do, we distort reality and begin to atrophy spiritually, mentally, and physically. And our acted-out fears become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

ARROGANCE ABOUT "THESE DAYS." At the other end of the spectrum are people who are so full of themselves, who have such a misplaced confidence in science and technology that they believe that this is the most important and unprecedented time of all. They believe the importance of these days eclipses and outshines the significance of every other generation. This perspective leads them to think and act as if little in history either matters or applies to the uniqueness of these days. It gives them permission to act as if they will not make the same mistakes. It provides an illusory covering for what appears to be new frontiers, unprecedented circumstances, exceptional situations, bold moves. This pride and arrogance is as deadly as those who have succumbed to fear and live in the past.

DID THE WORLD REALLY CHANGE THAT DAY? A corollary to these days is the term "a post-9/11 world." As if what occurred on September 11, 2001 scrambled history and humanity. So, whatever history occurred before 9/11--patterns of relating to one another, outlook on our neighbors, outlook on those of other faiths or ethnic groups, foreign policies, international decision-making, principles of engagement for war, principles for the fair treatment of prisoners, common sense, the interpretation of the Bible--is out the window. These days we are free-- compelled, charged, challenged--to recreate the world to insulate ourselves from would-be terrorists as the overriding value. These days we justify whatever we want to do with the statement: "it's a post-9/11 world." 9/11 is the trump card, the ace in the hole, for the misuse of power, for the retreat from reality, for the relegation of humans to "devils" and "evil-doers," and for continuing and even extending "man's in humanity to man," as one "pre-9/11" theologian put it.

LOSING SANITY AND CONSCIENCE. I don't buy it. 9/11 is no legitimate dividing line for anything. Reality did not change that day. Sin did not become more evil. Grace did not become more sparse or fragile. Humans did not become monsters. Preemptive war-making was not now justifiable. Torture was not now legitimated. Time was not shortened. History--its lessons, precedents and principles--was not nullified. Common sense was not to be shelved in exchange for a routine hysteria and fear-rooted social behavior. The two principles and values that would have served us well after 9/11--sanity and conscience--have been swept aside in the public and policy arena.

TODAY IS THE DAY OF SALVATION. I am convinced that spiritual and community and political leaders the world over need to reassess their initially reactionary assessments of what really changed on 9/11. These days--however you view them--are days for repentance. These days are for turning again and turning around. These days are no less or more dangerous or opportunity-filled than any past days. These days can be approached with the sanity and conscience necessary only as we repent of our fear and arrogance, sin and pride. Unless we do, these days are nothing compared to the self-fulfilling prophecy of the fears, violence and jaded perspective of our neighbors, our dilemmas and our world that we will leave as our legacy for the next generation.

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, September 24, 2008

DOWNSIDE OF THE BIG MONOPOLY GAME
I liked this particular expression of the mess that's put ordinary citizens in jeopardy

UNREAL AND REALITY. I've been trying to pay close attention to what's going on with the financial markets collapse, the initial bailouts, and now the monstrous bailout on the backs of American taxpayers that the Bush Administration has proposed. I'm hearing people in power and with unimaginable wealth throwing mind-boggling numbers around like its inconsequential. But I'm also hearing real people in the community expressing disbelief, skepticism and outright anger over what's going on. Staying tuned.

SPENT POLITICAL CAPITAL. It's rather sad that at the moment in which trust in the American Presidency from the American public is most needed, it is completely lacking. Whatever "political capital" our President bragged about having shortly after being reelected in 2004 has been spent. It was spent in much misleading about Iraq. It is telling that his own party's representatives in Congress are the most reticent to agree to the given terms of the $700 billion bailout plan proposed by the Administration.

ALTERNATIVES? I would like to hear about alternatives to putting $700 billion on taxpayers and running up our nation's already spiraling debt and deficit that much further.

Graphic by Lisa Benson at http://www.slate.com/

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, September 22, 2008

BEYOND PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE
Even if the next generation product is on the horizon, why change what works?

HAND-ME-DOWN CELLPHONE. I'm using a two-year-old cellphone. My kids get all the upgrades and sport the latest AT&T has to offer. By comparison, my phone is ancient, even though it can do things I've never even thought about...or can remember or figure out. My kids look at me pathetically, as if I were using a can with string.

BLACKBERRY ENVY. Lately, however, I've been experiencing some Blackberry and iPhone envy. I'm sure my life would be complete if I just had a Blackberry or iPhone. I can imagine how much more connected and efficient I could be. I might even be able to text message my sermons from the pulpit as I preached, if only...

PROGRESS ON MY BEHALF, AT MY EXPENSE. Cellphones are but one example of an accelerated expression of planned obsolescence. Think of razors, audio players, video players, cameras, video game systems, TVs, computers, vehicles, and myriad appliances. The product on today's discount shelf/online store is already out of date. Surpassing replacements are now in production and shipping tomorrow. "Progress" is being made on our behalf at our expense. "Hurry, hurry, step right up..." "There's a sucker born every minute." -- P. T. Barnum.

TWIN LAWS OF THE MARKETPLACE. Shadowing the thrill of ingenuity, communication technology, and breakthrough systems is a marketplace keyed to an age-old mantra. Planned obsolescence and limited durability are twin laws of the marketplace. If we can't be convinced that the functional product we currently use is out-of-date, out-of-touch, or limiting our true potential, then surely breakdown and irreplaceable components will convince us to buy anew.

IF IT WORKS, DON'T... I accept this scenario, this marketplace reality, this backbone of economic vitality. I dutifully act the part of an obedient American consumer, for the most part. But I tend to hang on to things that work longer than the average Joe. No, I'm not anal retentive. I just find it ludicrous to trash a functional product because something better is available. Besides, I spent no small amount of money on all those audio cassette tapes!

MY OLD CANNONDALE. I'm riding a 15-year-old aluminum-frame Cannondale road bicycle. That's ancient, by bicycle industry standards. I've upgraded most components on it over the years as they've worn out. But the core bike is fine. It's nimble, lightweight, fast, and it fits me. At 49, I can keep pace with cyclists half my age sporting the latest in cyclery technology. Do I occasionally envy their steeds? Sure. Could I justify some of the newer technology? Yes. But it's not likely I'll get a new bike based on such cheap temptations. I prefer to ride this bike for all it's worth...and then some.

"I'LL SHOW THEM." I suppose part of my resistance to planned obsolescence is an "I'll show them" shoulder chip. In the good creation/fallen humanity equation, I tend to see the fallen humanity side in spades when it comes to observing the American economic system. I know we are capable of honorable craftsmanship and reciprocally beneficial market transactions (good creation, image of God, redeemed purpose). But I don't see most consumer products as holistically crafted or marketplace transactions as authentically responsive. I see it as a calculating game of deceit and leverage (fallen humanity, greed, ends justifies the means). The game of baiting consumers with "necessary" products which will, of course, "need" to be replaced in short order, is less than honorable. But it's a two-way street. We get what we pay for. Who expects something that we purchased at such a "bargain" to actually endure?

A BETTER WAY. So, using a functional product well beyond it's planned obsolescence or limit of expected durability feels like a "win" for me as a consumer. It's a feeling of beating the system at it's own game. At best, such a "win" is short-lived and occasional. In reality, producers/marketers are making a killing on us ever-gullible consumers. I believe there is a better way than gaming the current system (from any angle). The better way is to bring producers and consumers together to create and recalibrate products that are produced in a manner and for purposes that bring life-giving energy, satisfaction, and residual benefit in a reciprocal circle of exchange.

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, September 21, 2008

HOW TO VANQUISH AN ENEMY
E. Stanley Jones, a contemporary of Gandhi in India, points a better way to enemy change

“The method of getting rid of your enemies by loving them—how unsubstantial it seems alongside the quick, solid way of getting rid of them by force! But the method of force turns out to be a great illusion, for if you conquer the body of a man you do not touch the real man. He is still an enemy and now a worse enemy than ever. You have conquered his body but not his soul. Only love and good will are strong enough to reach down to the inner life and turn one from enmity to good will.”

– E. Stanley Jones in Christ of the Mount

Listen to a bit of E. Stanley Jones as he spoke in chapel at Asbury College in 1969

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, September 20, 2008

A LEGACY IN PUBLIC EDUCATION
Joe Black taught thousands of 6th-grade students in West Indianapolis

36 YEARS IN THE 6th GRADE. Joe Black, 85, was a public school teacher in the heart of this city for a lifetime. Joe taught 6th grade at Indianapolis Public School #49 for 36 years. 36 years...in the same classroom, in the same school, in the same neighborhood! He died on Wednesday after a long bout with Parkinson's, leaving a legacy of inspiration in urban public education.

OTHERS SPEAK FOR HIM. Because of the debilitating impact of the disease he suffered, he was unable to talk during the past four years that I have served as pastor of the city church in which he married, attended and served for so many years. In the many times that I visited him in the hospital, rehab and nursing home, he managed only a few words. But many people I have visited and talked to in West Indianapolis and the broader community have testified abundantly to Joe's witness in life as a teacher.

PRAYER IN THE CLASSROOM. A local preacher's kid (his dad pastored this same congregation many years ago), he not only never left West Indianapolis, he continued to serve its children and youth as a teacher and mentor until his retirement. Many of his former students paid tribute to Joe during a 6-hour visitation at the church on Friday. Some spoke with fondness of the daily Scripture and Bible story readings, along with prayer, that were part of his daily public classroom practice. Several said his life and witness changed their lives.

LOOKING FORWARD. I look forward to the memorial service later today, as family, friends, congregation, and students gather in tribute and thanksgiving for his life and service among us.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

SENIOR NIGHT
Molly and the Ben Davis girls soccer team celebrate Seniordom

QUEENS OF THE FIELD. Wednesday evening was clear and crisp as the Ben Davis girls soccer team celebrated their seniors, including Molly. All seniors started the game and were honored at halftime with tributes and gifts and escorted for a walk across the field. Cake and cookies were served after the game. Ben Davis sweetened the evening by defeating Warren Central, 2-0.

FOUR YEARS A LADY GIANT. Molly has started for the Lady Giants all but one game since she was a freshman. The only game she missed was due to sitting out for a red card the previous game. Yeah, she's can be a bit rough at times. She's a captain this year and the team is doing well, dropping only two games so far--both to top-five teams in the state. It's just past mid-season, with the Marion County tourney in a week followed by a few more games. Then, the IHSAA state tourney that begins with sectional play.


SPLITTING TIME. Molly's going to be splitting time between soccer practices and musical rehearsals, as she's been given a leading role in the Ben Davis High School music and drama department's presentation of "Little Women" on the weekend of November 21.

IT COMES DOWN TO THIS. Hard to believe all those years of soccer are coming down to a few more high school games. What a joy it has been for us as parents to watch our children play the game, be part of the team, and thrive amid the competition.

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!
A SABBATH MOOD
While I'm on a Wendell Berry kick...here's a poem on Sabbath

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day;
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.
And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.
When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.

from Sabbaths

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, September 17, 2008

WENDELL BERRY WISDOM
A few morsels from the Kentucky farmer, essayist, poet, philosopher

WITHERSPOON SOCIETY INSIGHTS. I’ve found considerable insight and down-home wisdom in the writings and reflections of Kentucky farmer and poet Wendell Berry over the past ten years, more so in the past five. Berry spoke to the Witherspoon Society in March 2003. The following pithy snippets from his talk were posted on their website (http://www.witherspoonsociety.org/).

ON SHOPPING AT SUPERMARKET CHAINS: "We live in an age of divorce, and not just of husbands and wives. We're divorced from our groceries. If you buy your food from Kroger, you don't know where it came from and at what human cost. We're willing to go into this intimate situation in which we eat creatures we don't know."

ON DEVELOPING LOCAL FOOD SUPPLY SYSTEMS: "We've got to reassume economic responsibility. Quit living by proxy. Ask a neighbor, 'What can I do for you?' Ask a farmer, 'Can I get food from you?' Begin to replace abstract services with actual people. Replace unknown substances that we eat with known substances."

ON THE DIVORCE OF UTILITY AND BEAUTY: "We are a society that thinks if a thing is useful, it has a right to be ugly. In this hotel we have picture windows so we can look out on a scene of rather startling ugliness."

ON TECHNOLOGY THAT DOMINATES CONTEMPORARY LIFE: "It's inescapable. It's like original sin; we're in it. The best we can do is hope for grace and forgiveness." Berry, who lives on a farm in eastern Kentucky, admitted that he and his wife each have a vehicle, "because everything we want is far away. We have to drive 20 to 30 miles to get a haircut. ... You're always going to be involved in compromises."

ON TELEVISION: "If you would welcome a seducer, a known swindler, a liar, and a person convicted of violent crimes into your living room, then you'll be completely comfortable having a television" (Berry doesn't).

ON THE NEED FOR FORGIVENESS: "I'm a man who enjoys animosity. I like the high you get from feeling wronged and above somebody else. But it's a hole you get into and when you get to the bottom, there's nobody there."

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY: "You can't have community among people who don't need each other for anything. If you believe it's better not to be known, for people not to know your business, you will suffer the consequences. Nobody will know if you're sick or hungry."

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, September 16, 2008

RELEASING RESENTMENT
Henri Nouwen offers a way from resentment to gratitude

LINGERING RESENTMENT. Yesterday, I felt resentment toward someone. The resentful feelings surprised me. I thought I was over it, beyond it, above it. But there were its tell tale feelings--real, raw, reactive, rude. Even though I did not act upon my feelings, the fact that they emerged in regard to a certain person bothered me. I've been graced to forgive so much, make significant strides, learned to live compassionately on many fronts. But there was no mistaking it: resentment for at least one person lingers. So, I choose to address it, grapple with it, and, with God's grace, cooperate to see this, too, transformed into compassion.

A PRAYER. God, help me continue to forgive, to see resentment transformed into compassion, and to try to respond in a healing, compassionate way to any who live with resentment or who direct their resentment at me. Amen.

HENRI NOUWEN ON RESENTMENT. Henri Nouwen, whose writings are often a source of spiritual insight and grace for me, helps me with the following reflection about resentment:

HOW HEALING HAPPENS. "Healing ministry can be expressed in two words: gratitude and compassion. Healing happens often by leading people to gratitude, for the world is full of resentment. What is resentment? Cold anger. 'I'm angry at him. I'm angry at this. This is not the way I want it.' Gradually, there are more and more things I am negative about, and soon I become a resentful person."

HARDENED HEART. "Resentment makes you cling to your failures or disappointments and complain about the losses in your life. Our life is full of losses— losses of dreams and losses of friends and losses of family and losses of hopes. There is always the lurking danger we will respond to these incredible pains in resentment. Resentment gives us a hardened heart."

PAIN AND JOY, LOSSES AND GAINS. "Jesus calls us to gratitude. He calls to us, 'You foolish people. Didn't you know that the Son of Man—that you, that we—have to suffer and thus enter into the glory? Didn't you know that these pains were labor pains that lead you to the joy? Didn't you know that all we are experiencing as losses are gains in God's eyes? Those who lose their lives will gain it. And if the grain doesn't die, it stays a small grain; but if it dies, then it will be fruitful.'"

GRATEFUL FOR EVERYTHING? "Can you be grateful for everything that has happened in your life—not just the good things but for all that brought you to today? It was the pain of a Son that created a family of people known as Christians. That's the mystery of God."

BLESSING AMID PAIN. "Our ministry is to help people to gradually let go of the resentment, to discover that right in the middle of pain there is a blessing. Right in the middle of your tears—that's where the dance starts and joy is first felt. In this crazy world, there's an enormous distinction between good times and bad, between sorrow and joy. But in the eyes of God, they're never separated. Where there is pain, there is healing. Where there is mourning, there is dancing. Where there is poverty, there is the kingdom."

IN OUR WEAKNESS, JESUS' PRESENCE. "Jesus says, 'Cry over your pains, and you will discover that I'm right there in your tears, and you will be grateful for my presence in your weakness.' Ministry means to help people become grateful for life even with pain. That gratitude can send into the world precisely to the places where people are in pain. The minister, the disciple of Jesus, goes where there is pain not because he is a masochist or she is a sadist, but because God is hidden in the pain."

Resentment is serious stuff. It can thoroughly sabotage and disorient the best people. Learn more about resentment and how to overcome resentment -- click here.

Learn more about Henri Nouwen at the Henri Nouwen Society.
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, September 15, 2008

SAME OL’ WORLD?
Seeing sacredness in the ancient earth and commonness of life is cause for celebration and hope

SAME OL’, SAME OL’. One weary evening the world looks old and the same. And that is cause for lament. In such a state of mind the normal things of the day seem tedious, rut-like, monotonous. I momentarily despair of there being anything new in life under the sun. Have I experienced all of life already? Am I now just repeating the same cycles thinly veiled in different venues and minor variables?

ONE SHINING MOMENT. Then, one evening I see a sunset in breathtaking relief of a rare cloud formation. For a few moments—and a few moments only—the horizon reflects a flaming red hue on the underside of nearer, higher clouds. Just as quickly, the sun disappears and night falls. And I recall Annie Dillard’s words: “The Creator goes off on one wild, specific tangent after another, or millions simultaneously, with an exuberance that would seem to be unwarranted, and with an abandoned energy sprung from an unfathomable font. What is going on here?” (from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek).

THE OPPORTUNITY OF TODAY. The world looks old and the same. And that is cause for awe, for celebration. In such a state of heart the normal things of the day seem profound, unique, and renewing. In this moment I begin to believe again that anything is possible and that when it happens it will be occurring for the very first time. For all that has gone before, this moment is new, this day is unfortold. The opportunity to live forwardly is now.

RESIDUAL HOLINESS. The world is old and the same. And ever new. The Creator is active. And the children of creation, endowed with imagination and heart and intellect from the One who formed the first matter, echo and mimic the creative fiat in infinitely expressive ways. In each generation, for all its brokenness and fallenness, there is residual holiness and a renewing of the original intent. We do not merely carry on, all the while slowly winding down as entropy proclaims. Amid our carrying on, we may be made new and make new.

SUNRISE, SUNSET. Is the world winding down or winding up? Are things deteriorating from an organized beginning? Some things appear so. Are things reaching new thresholds of development? Are fresh discoveries of inner and outer space contributing to deeper understanding? In some cases, yes! Both occur simultaneously, whatever my passing outlook. It is a paradox. Where do I choose to dwell? On what do I choose to focus? Which will be the horizon toward which I face—sunset or sunrise?


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, September 14, 2008

AN AFFIRMING FLAME
W. H. Auden wrote of "ironic points of light" we may shine amid darkness

Here's an excerpt from Another Time by W. H. Auden (Random House, 1940):

….All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

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, September 13, 2008

IKE TO WHIRL THRU INDY
Rarely does Indy get a chance to feel the residual effects of a hurricane

GOES AROUND, COMES AROUND. A hurricane's coming! A hurricane's coming! Or, what was a hurricane. Ike's remnants are whirling their way toward Indy. Weather forecasters tell us to expect its winds and rain on Sunday afternoon. No 100-mph winds, we'll be lucky to see much over 3o mph. Still, we'll be part of an epic. I started watching Ike before it was named, right after it started spinning just off the west African coast. I looked at satellite photos each day as it built steam in the western Atlantic, clawed it's way across Cuba, ripped into Galveston, and howled through Houston. No longer a cloud formation on satellite views or clips on CNN, Ike will actually pass over us. I like the connection.

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!
LANCE IS COMING BACK
Cancer survivor and Tour de France legend Armstrong plans a comeback

DRAMA DEVELOPING. You've likely heard one of leading stories in sporting news this week: Lance Armstrong is planning to make a comeback as a professional cyclist, hoping to ride and win the Tour de France in 2009. This will be a dramatic story to follow as it develops. Is he crazy? At age 37, will he be too old? Can he actually win? I will post developing story lines and comments here and on my blog titled The Tour de France for the Rest of Us.

COMEBACK FROM CANCER. Armstrong is already a phenomenon. The Texan came back from a devastating range of cancer, surgery and chemotherapy to win the grueling three-week, 2,000-mile Tour de France an unprecedented seven consecutive times. His efforts and achievements have won worldwide recognition. He is an inspiration for many.

BACK ON THE BIKE. After his 2006 win at age 34, Armstrong retired to focus on his Live Strong Foundation work for cancer research. He's run the New York Marathon twice and recently placed second in a major mountain bike race in Leadville, Colorado. But, apparently, he still feels like he's got a Tour de France win in him. Certainly, he's got a cause burning within him. He's dedicating his effort to raising further awareness, policy focus, and funds for cancer research.

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, September 12, 2008

CHANGING A "POST 9/11 WORLD" VIEW
Wendell Berry, again, challenges us to see and enact a different way forward

This poem by Wendell Berry challenges me on a day like today--the day after the 7th anniversary of 9/11. We have been bombarded with the illusion that we are living in a "Post-9/11 world" that changes all the rules of ethics, rights, neighborliness, and international relations. I, for one, don't buy that line. It's an age-old ruse to justify entrenching fear and grabbing power. Berry doesn't by the line, either. The world did not change on 9/11. Neither did the sinfulness or grace-full possibilities of humans. "Look Out" is from Berry's most recent collection of poems, Given (Shoemaker, Hoard, Washington, D.C., 2005). This is what Wendell Berry sees outside his Port Royal, Kentucky farmhouse:

Come to the window, look out, and see
the valley turning green in remembrance
of all springs past and to come, the woods
perfecting with immortal patience
the leaves that are the work of all of time,
the sycamore whose white limbs shed
the history of a man's life with their old bark,
the river quivering under the morning's breath
like the touched skin of a horse, and you will see
also the shadow cast upon it by fire, the war
that lights its way by burning the earth.

Come to your windows, people of the world,
look out at whatever you see wherever you are,
and you will see dancing upon it that shadow.
You will see that your place, wherever it is,
your house, your garden, your shop, your forest, your farm,
bears the shadow of its destruction by war
which is the economy of greed which is plunder
which is the economy of wrath which is fire.

The Lords of War sell the earth to buy fire,
they sell the water and air of life to buy fire.
They are little men grown great by willingness
to drive whatever exists into its perfect absence.
Their intention to destroy any place is solidly founded
upon their willingness to destroy every place.
Every household of the world is at their mercy,
the households of the farmer and the otter and the owl
are at their mercy. They have no mercy.
Having hate, they can have no mercy.
Their greed is the hatred of mercy.
Their pockets jingle with the small change of the poor.
Their power is the willingness to destroy
everything for knowledge which is money
which is power which is victory
which is ashes sown by the wind.

Leave your windows and go out, people of the world,
go into the streets, go into the fields, go into the woods
and along the streams. Go together, go alone.
Say no to the Lords of War which is Money
which is Fire. Say no by saying yes
to the air, to the earth, to the trees,
yes to the grasses, to the rivers, to the birds
and the animals and every living thing, yes
to the small houses, yes to the children. Yes.


WHAT DO I SEE? When I look out my window, do I see far enough--deeply enough, broadly enough--to perceive this? And if or when I perceive such, am I caring or daring enough to leave my window and go out and say "no" to the Lords of War--to Money and Fire--and "yes" to life? Or do I just stand and stare, or turn away and hope someone else will take care of it?

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!
Photo: People look out at a crane used to construct the new Freedom Tower on the site of the World Trade Center on the day before the 7th anniversary of 9/11. Photo by Time.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

IN THE PRESENCE OF FEAR
Wendell Berry's reflections following 9/11 continue to challenge seven years later

Here are some excerpts from In The Presence of Fear by Wendell Berry, a piece written after the fall of the World Trade Center towers in 2001.

XIII. One of the gravest dangers to us now, second only to further terrorist attacks against our people, is that we will attempt to go on as before with the corporate program of global "free trade", whatever the cost in freedom and civil rights, without self-questioning or self-criticism or public debate.

XIV. This is why the substitution of rhetoric for thought, always a temptation in a national crisis, must be resisted by officials and citizens alike. It is hard for ordinary citizens to know what is actually happening in Washington in a time of such great trouble; for all we know, serious and difficult thought may be taking place there. But the talk that we are hearing from politicians, bureaucrats, and commentators has so far tended to reduce the complex problems now facing us to issues of unity, security, normality, and retaliation.

XV. National self-righteousness, like personal self-righteousness, is a mistake. It is misleading. It is a sign of weakness. Any war that we may make now against terrorism will come as a new installment in a history of war in which we have fully participated. We are not innocent of making war against civilian populations. The modern doctrine of such warfare was set forth and enacted by General William Tecumseh Sherman, who held that a civilian population could be declared guilty and rightly subjected to military punishment. We have never repudiated that doctrine.

XVI. It is a mistake also - as events since September 11 have shown - to suppose that a government can promote and participate in a global economy and at the same time act exclusively in its own interest by abrogating its international treaties and standing apart from international cooperation on moral issues.

XVII. And surely, in our country, under our Constitution, it is a fundamental error to suppose that any crisis or emergency can justify any form of political oppression. Since September 11, far too many public voices have presumed to "speak for us" in saying that Americans will gladly accept a reduction of freedom in exchange for greater "security". Some would, maybe. But some others would accept a reduction in security (and in global trade) far more willingly than they would accept any abridgement of our Constitutional rights.

XVIII. In a time such as this, when we have been seriously and most cruelly hurt by those who hate us, and when we must consider ourselves to be gravely threatened by those same people, it is hard to speak of the ways of peace and to remember that Christ enjoined us to love our enemies, but this is no less necessary for being difficult.

XIX. Even now we dare not forget that since the attack of Pearl Harbor - to which the present attack has been often and not usefully compared - we humans have suffered an almost uninterrupted sequence of wars, none of which has brought peace or made us more peaceable.

XX. The aim and result of war necessarily is not peace but victory, and any victory won by violence necessarily justifies the violence that won it and leads to further violence. If we are serious about innovation, must we not conclude that we need something new to replace our perpetual "war to end war?"

XXI. What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of being. We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness. We have, for example, several national military academies, but not one peace academy. We have ignored the teachings and the examples of Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other peaceable leaders. And here we have an inescapable duty to notice also that war is profitable, whereas the means of peaceableness, being cheap or free, make no money.

XXII. The key to peaceableness is continuous practice. It is wrong to suppose that we can exploit and impoverish the poorer countries, while arming them and instructing them in the newest means of war, and then reasonably expect them to be peaceable.

XXIII. We must not again allow public emotion or the public media to caricature our enemies. If our enemies are now to be some nations of Islam, then we should undertake to know those enemies. Our schools should begin to teach the histories, cultures, arts, and language of the Islamic nations. And our leaders should have the humility and the wisdom to ask the reasons some of those people have for hating 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!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

SEVEN YEARS LATER
America's opportunity to rally the world was squandered on preemptive and misguided warring

INCREDIBLE AND BIZARRE. I still grieve over what happened on September 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks, devastation, loss of nearly 3,000 lives, and heroic responses by volunteers still seems incredible. Just as incredible has been the unfathomable manner in which our governmental leaders have ever since reacted to it. These past seven years have got to be the most bizarre chapter in U.S. history.

JUSTIFICATIONS AND RATIONALIZATIONS. Instead of thoughtfully considering the range of reasons for the attacks and weighing various plausibly effective responses to it, our President immediately declared war and insisted the attacks occurred because "they are evil" and "hate our freedom." From that point on, we've been on a wild ride. The attacks of September 11, 2001 have been used to:
(1) wage one of the most nebulous wars in world history,
(2) create a national and international environment of secrecy and suspicion,
(3) focus and solidify unprecedented power in the Presidency,
(4) justify the use of a "preemptive war" policy (unprecedented and ethically untenable),
(5) justify taking unilateral action in the face of international opposition to American assertions and reactions,
(6) justify war on Afghanistan,
(7) justify war on Iraq,
(8) justify renewal and extension of the Patriot Act with wholesale rollbacks of civil liberties,
(9) justify radical increases in defense and homeland security expenditures,
(10) justify the use of torture on detainees and suspects,
(11) justify an alarming and growing federal budget deficit,
(12) justify radical reduction in local safety-net and self-help initiatives for the poorest of poor Americans,
(13) re-elect a President who was perceived as winning the "war on terror" (overwhelming evidence to the contrary),
(14) justify the promotion of continued and increased levels violence as the way to end violence and bring about peace, or at least "security."

FALLACIOUS AND MISLEADING. Seven years later, the Bush Administration still uses the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 to to justify or rationalize much of its conduct and misconduct. But terrorism has increased during the past seven years; some would say that terrorist recruits have multiplied because of our leaders' chosen responses to terrorism. America and the world is not a safer place seven years later. The "evidence" the Administration used to connect 9/11 to Iraq and WMDs has proven fallacious and misleading. On it goes...

HONESTY CALLS FOR CHANGE. Does not honesty and integrity (so vocally asserted by the Bush Administration) call for a thorough reevaluation and refocusing of America's response to terrorism? Violence and war has had its "fair" chance. In honor of all who died on 9/11 and in the hope of ending the unnecessary loss of life in the terrorist wars, it is time and past time for change.

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, September 9, 2008

RIDE TO LIVE, LIVE TO RIDE
A cliche, perhaps, but cycling as a way of life isn't a bad option

I picked up this sticker at a Hilly Hundred a few years ago and stuck it on the outside rails of my Beetle-top bike rack. "Ride to Live, Live to Ride." Not sure all that might mean, but it signals, at least, that cycling is a good physical exercise.
Bicycling is aerobic, so you don't get the stress on joints experienced in running that keep so many people I talk to away from meaningful, needed exercise. Cycling's also a way to conserve energy and save money. Use your bike for short trips to the store in the evening or commute to work one or two days a week. The benefits are multiple.


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, September 8, 2008

LESSONS LEARNED FROM URBAN NEIGHBORHOODS
Seven observations that emerge from 18 years in the heart of the city

NEAR EASTSIDE & WEST INDY. I have invested most of my adult life working in Indianapolis urban neighborhoods. I first served as Pastor of Shepherd Community and director of its then-fledgling, now-bustling compassionate ministry. I then succeeded the beloved John H. Boner at the Near Eastside community center now named in his honor. I was then asked to guide Horizon House to rebuild and reboot its day services to homeless neighbors. Now, coming full circle, I serve as Pastor of West Morris Street Free Methodist Church, a 95-year old congregation in the southwest shadow of downtown.

NEVER MORE ALIVE AND HOPEFUL. Eighteen of the past 21 years, I’ve been privileged to serve in the heart of the city. During this time I have felt welcomed, invited, drawn forward, empowered, and blessed. I’ve been scolded, doubted, intimidated, stretched, and provoked. I’ve never felt more alive, more on a learning curve, more opened up to changing realities, more overwhelmed by immensities, or more hopeful of possibilities. The gift and challenge of community has taken hold in me. You might say that I am ruined for any other way of life or vocation because of these community organizing experiences.

MY TEACHERS AND TRAINERS. Caring neighbors, faithful congregations, committed activists, and supporting partners have shaped the way I view the city, the region, and the world. Out of this, I will forever be seeking to encourage community and foster the circumstances in which interdependence, trust, faith, hospitality, sacrifice, and neighborliness are the norm, not the occasional exception. I jotted down the following reflections on some of what I have learned from serving in Indy’s urban neighborhoods, and for these I am grateful:

1. THERE IS NO GREATER CHALLENGE OR DEEPER CALLING THAN BECOMING AND BEING A NEIGHBOR. Whether across the street, region, or world, we never max this most basic, humanizing challenge. It's far easier to say "neighbor" than be one. But with every neighborly action, we realize more of that for which we exist.

2. IT IS ONE THING TO MOVE INTO, LIVE OR WORK IN A COMMUNITY; IT IS ANOTHER MATTER TO MOVE TOWARD COMMUNITY. Proximity is of little value if it is not combined with opening one’s heart to one’s neighbors and getting involved. Community is, first of all, a movement of the heart.

3. THOUGHTFUL LOCAL ACTIONS HAVE GREATER POWER TO SHAPE COMMUNITIES FOR THE GOOD THAN WELL-INTENTIONED POLICIES PLANNED AND IMPLEMENTED FROM AFAR. Our world is more likely to be changed for the better from a strategic urban neighborhood initiative than it is from Washington, D.C. or the United Nations building.

4. AS A COROLLARY, I CONFIRM THE ADAGE THAT A FEW THOUGHTFUL PEOPLE ACTING TOGETHER MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE. Effective neighborhood actions and social service interventions are fueled by a few who believe it can be done, and they do it. Who knows what can happen if more get involved and act more strategically for the common good at local levels?

5. IN OFFERING HOSPITALITY TO STRANGERS, WE WIDEN THE CIRCLE OF COMMUNITY AND ANTICIPATE TRANSFORMATION UNIQUE TO SUCH OPEN-HEARTEDNESS. Some of the greatest gifts I have received have come from people who appeared to have little to give, no one to commend them, and whose stake in the community is generally overlooked. Within safe boundaries, learning to recognize and receive the contributions of otherwise disregarded citizens can be one of our city’s most valuable assets.

6. WHERE AGREEMENT ON AN ISSUE IS NOT POSSIBLE, THERE CAN STILL BE RESPECT FOR DIVERSITY OF PATHS AND EXPLORATION OF NEW COMMON GROUND. I have learned to reject most either/or, win/lose, good guy/bad guy framing of conflicts and community issues. Common ground is there, but it must be sought for and cultivated with a persevering passion, as if everything depended on it.

7. DEVELOPING EMERGING LEADERSHIP MUST BE A PRIORITY FOR EACH CONGREGATION AND COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION. The value of being “community based” is always just a generation of leadership away from extinction. Some non-profits have lost or seriously distorted this component of their mission and leadership without even realizing it. Every organization in the community owes it to itself, the community, and the future to grant the time and resources needed to help emerging leaders develop community networks and explore the challenges and opportunities of formal and informal neighborhood and community-based leadership.


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, September 6, 2008

WHY ATTACK COMMUNITY ORGANIZING?
Sarah Palin/Bush's ghost's jab was a cynical, mean sucker punch

SUCKER PUNCH. I am still mulling over Sarah Palin's coarse comments about community organizing. I hope to make a fuller response later. The words Palin read from the teleprompter were written by George W. Bush's top speech writer. How's that for the promise of change, reform, and a new day in Washington, folks? The speech prepared for Palin was shot through with cynicism, inaccuracy, negative innuendo, and carefully-calculated misleading. That's par for the Bush Administration course. But Palin/Bush's ghost went off the below-the-belt chart when she/he attacked Barack Obama's work in community organizing as inconsequential. Where did that come from? Why did she/he feel like that would score cheap political points?

CLUELESS ABOUT COMMUNITY ORGANIZING. I am a community organizer. I have invested my adult life as a Christian minister in struggling urban neighborhoods. I've worked with folks who have been dumped on, downsized, abused, blamed, violated, written off, left behind, abandoned and, now, mocked. It's the kind of work most politicos can't stomach. It's the kind of milieu that would eat the likes of a Sarah Palin alive (even if she brought her moose-hunting gun). It is clear Palin and her speech writer are clueless about the nature and power of community organizing.

RENEWING A FOCUS. I've already forgiven Palin/Bush's ghost for the low blow. But the comment has indicated to me a need to lift up the critical role community organizing has had--and will have in the future--in engaging people and transforming communities. If communities are going to be saved, it's not going to be from would-be leaders who mock the tide-turning efforts of ordinary citizens in all-but hidden urban neighborhoods. They will be changed when these folks find a heart in broader levels of leadership that resonates with their grassroots struggles. Check back on Bikehiker in coming weeks for follow-up posts.

Here's an interesting response to Palin's attack.

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, September 5, 2008

OUR DOCILITY, OUR DOOM
French novelist Georges Bernanos speaks a truth we ignore at the world's peril

"I have thought for a long time now that if, some day, the increasing efficiency for the technique of destruction finally causes our species to disappear from the earth, it will not be cruelty that will be responsible for our extinction and still less, of course, the indignation that cruelty awakens and the reprisals and vengeance it brings upon itself ... but the docility, the lack of responsibility of the modern man, his base subservient acceptance of every common decree...

"The horrors that we have seen, the still greater horrors we shall presently see, are not signs that rebels, insubordinate, untameable men are increasing in number throughout the world, but rather that there is a constant increase in the number of obedient, docile men."

-- Georges Bernanos
(1888-1948)

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, September 4, 2008

IF WE DO NOT PROTEST
Thomas Merton challenges us to act upon the convictions of democracy, or lose it

EACH ONE ACTS. "It is no exaggeration to say that democratic society is founded on a kind of faith: on the conviction that each citizen is capable of, and assumes, complete political responsibility. Each one not only broadly understands the problems of government but is willing and ready to take part in their solution. In a word, democracy assumes that the citizen knows what is going on, understands the difficulties of the situation, and has worked out for himself an answer that will help him to contribute, intelligently and constructively, to the common work (or liturgy) of running his society."

MINORITY REPORT. "For this to be true, there must be a considerable amount of solid educational preparation. A real training of the mind. A genuine formation in those intellectual and spiritual disciplines without which freedom is impossible. There must be a completely free exchange of ideas. Minority opinions, even opinions which may appear to be dangerous, must be given a hearing, clearly understood and seriously evaluated on their own merits, not merely suppressed. Religious beliefs and disciplines must be respected. The rights of the individual conscience must be protected against every kind of open or occult encroachment."

LEARN FOR YOURSELF. "Democracy cannot exist when men prefer ideas and opinions that are fabricated for them. The actions and statements of the citizen must not be mere automatic reactions--mere mechanical salutes, gesticulations signifying passive conformity with the dictates of those in power. To be truthful, we will have to admit that one cannot expect this to be realized in all the citizens of a democracy. But if it is not realized in a significant proportion of them, democracy ceases to be an objective fact and becomes nothing but an emotionally loaded word."

from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton, New York: Doubleday & Co, Inc., 1968 edition, p. 100-101

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!
IF I WERE STARTING MY FAMILY AGAIN
A few discoveries well into the process that offer course corrections

ADVENTURE AHEAD. I visited a couple in the hospital yesterday and held and blessed their newborn. So tiny! So awesome! On such occasions, I momentarily envy young families. Becky and I were once there. What an adventure raising children is! Now, we're closer to seeing all four of our children launch into the world beyond our household. Abby's married, Jared's university junior, Molly's in her senior year of high school, and Sam's two years behind.

WHAT WOULD I CHANGE? Holding that infant, I had a passing wish to start our family all over again. It was just a PASSING thought. But if we did, if we could, what would we do differently? What would you do differently? My mother-in-law gave me a book several years ago by that title: If I Were Starting My Family Again... It was an insightful little volume, though I can't recall much of its contents at this time. I journaled that thought, however, and came up with a short list of things I'd do differently. I realize, of course, that these have become critical course corrections for me along the way.

If I were starting my family again, I would…

1. Empty myself of as many of my forgone conclusions, certainties about roles, notions of family norms, peer-driven behavior, selfish ambition, and other self-defeating baggage as soon as I could. What we impose on our loved ones may well limit what grace makes possible.

2. Seek to be continuously filled to the measure of all the fullness of God, getting my heart needs met this way rather than trying to make loved ones' performance the source of my satisfaction or meaning.

3. Learn to be a resource to my loved ones in their unique fight of faith, pointing them to what I've found helpful and being a support to them in their struggles.

4. Think about my family as part of the larger household of faith and Good News mission in the world, instead of self-servingly making our own household the primary focus of family meaning.

5. Cross more socio-economic and cultural boundaries more often with my family, until we become effective world Christians.


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, September 3, 2008

THE LEAST OF OUR TASKS
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin connects our daily work to communion with God

"The closeness of our union with God is in fact determined by the exact fulfillment of the least of our tasks. God, in all that is most living and incarnate in Him, is not far away from us, altogether apart from the world we see, touch, hear, smell, and taste about us. Rather, He awaits us every instant in our action, in the work of the moment. There is a sense in which He is at the tip of my pen, my spade, my brush, my needle--of my heart and of my thought. By pressing the stroke, the line, or the stitch, on which I am engaged, to its ultimate natural finish, I shall lay hold of that last end toward which my innermost will tends."

-- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in Divine Milieu


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, September 2, 2008

BREAKTHROUGH READING ON NONVIOLENCE AND PEACE
Three outstanding books have my full attention at this time

GREAT FINDS. Over the past few months, I've been recommended or come across three books that I've either purchased or checked out of the public library. All three deal with nonviolence and peace, but not in ways most might consider "typical." They have nothing to do with a protest, march, or sit-in. Each is dealing with the underpinnings of thinking and communication at personal, interpersonal, family, professional and, only then, community and international arenas in the face of conflicts.

ANATOMY OF PEACE. The first book to come to my attention is The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute. Told as a story, the principles challenge perceptions of enemy formation and dealing with conflicts within and without. I'm glad Chris Province, an urban activist and founder of Rebuilding the Wall, Inc., recommended it. I can't imagine anyone this book would not help as it is helping me to pay close attention to how I look at conflicts small and large--and how I can respond to them differently than I have in the past.

BREAKING SELF-DECEPTION. The second book, mentioned on the cover of the first, is Leadership and Self-Deception, also by The Arbinger Institute. Also told in story that connects to the first book, this volume opens up awareness to the power of unexamined emotions, reactions, and judgments in relationships at home, school, work, and community. It is equally as important to read, I think, as The Anatomy of Peace if you are searching for breakthrough to better understanding and higher levels of competency in living nonviolently and in witness to grace.

COMMUNICATING NONVIOLENTLY. I happened on to the third book at the public library's audio books section. I have been listening to Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, by Marshall Rosenberg as I drive around town in my Beetle or on my bike for the past two weeks. Listening to Rosenberg offer alternative ways to receive and bear information in situations charged with conflict is insightful. His work in conflict resolution around the world commends him. I am listening to this volume repeatedly, it is so important to me. His approach is reasonable and practical, it seems to me.

PARTLY NONVIOLENT? I made a commitment to try to live nonviolently in every possible dimension of my life several years ago, partly out of a response of faith to the words and witness of Jesus in the Bible, partly out of my conviction that Christian theology points toward it, and partly because I am convinced that the way of violence, under whatever justification, is an insane and costly denial of all that is intended for us in life and in relationships near and far. I no longer buy the line that violence, though regrettable, is necessary as a way of resolving conflicts or moving toward peace.

TO LIVE NONVIOLENTLY. Yet the language of violence and anger, I have found, pervades our conversations and common thinking as much as ever. It still profoundly impacts the most basic relationships and problem-solving challenges. It is not enough simply not to not use physical or verbal violence; something greater is pointed toward. I want to bring nonviolence to fully into practice in my relationship to my spouse, children, friends, neighbors, community--especially when differences of opinion, tension and conflicts arise. Understanding and addressing violence and embracing the best practices and creative possibilities of nonviolence, community-building and peacemaking are critical at this point in my life and, I believe, in the life of the world.


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, September 1, 2008

READY OR NOT, HERE COMES GUSTAV
Gustav pays a call just to see how recovery from Katrina's going

HERE COMES ANOTHER ONE. Earlier this summer, I worked for a week in New Orleans with a team to rehab a home that Katrina ravaged. Rebuilding efforts, much of it carried out by church-based volunteers, have been steady. Now, three years later nearly to the day, comes Gustav, as if paying a visit just to test how the recovery from Katrina is going.

RECOVER TO CONTINUE TO REBUILD. It was eerie seeing the city evacuate. Watching CNN, I recognized many of the places we'd visited--the lower 9th Ward, Industrial Canal, French Quarter, Mississippi River levee... I pray that the city is spared the devastation Katrina wrought. If need be, I can return to the city to help folks recover from Gustav so they can continue to rebuild from Katrina.

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!