Friday, October 31, 2008

JIM WALLIS' RESPONSE TO JAMES DOBSON'S "LETTER FROM 2012 IN OBAMA'S AMERICA"
This is worth reading...particularly if you're a self-identified "values voter"

SPEAKING TRUTH TO A BROTHER. Jim Wallis of Sojourners (http://www.sojo.net/) makes a pointed response to Focus On The Family leader James Dobson's heavily partisan political letter currently being widely circulated among evangelicals. I post Wallis' response here because (1) I agree with Wallis, (2) he says it better than I can, (3) it may be helpful for folks to see another perspective--not all evangelicals think, act, or vote in Republican partisan terms. Here's Wallis' response, posted on "God's Politics" blog:

James Dobson, you owe America an apology. The fictional letter released through your Focus on the Family Action organization, titled “Letter From 2012 in Obama’s America”, crosses all lines of decent public discourse. In a time of utter political incivility, it shows the kind of negative Christian leadership that has become so embarrassing to so many of your fellow Christians in America. We are weary of this kind of Christian leadership, and that is why so many are forsaking the Religious Right in this election.

This letter offers nothing but fear. It apocalyptically depicts terrorist attacks in American cities, churches losing their tax exempt status for not allowing gay marriages, pornography pushed in front of our children, doctors and nurses forced to perform abortions, euthanasia as commonplace, inner-city crime gone wild because of lack of gun ownership, home schooling banned, restricted religious speech, liberal censorship shutting down conservative talk shows, Christian publishers forced out of business, Israel nuked, power blackouts because of environmental restrictions, brave Christian resisters jailed by a liberal Supreme court, and finally, good Christian families emigrating to Australia and New Zealand.

It is shocking how thoroughly biblical teachings against slander—misrepresentations that damage another’s reputation—are ignored (Ephesians 4:29-31, Colossians 3:8, Titus 3:2). Such outrageous predictions not only damage your credibility, they slander Barack Obama who, you should remember, is a brother in Christ, and they insult any Christian who might choose to vote for him.

Let me make this clear: Christians will be voting both ways in this election, informed by their good faith, and based on their
views of what are the best public policies and direction for America. But in utter disrespect for the prayerful discernment of your fellow Christians, this letter stirs their ugliest fears, appealing to their worst impulses instead of their best.

Fear is the clear motivator in the letter; especially fear that evangelical Christians might vote for Barack Obama. The letter was very revealing when it suggested that “younger Evangelicals” became the “swing vote” that elected Obama and the results were catastrophic.

You make a mistake when you assume that younger Christians don’t care as much as you about the sanctity of life. They do care—very much—but they have a more consistent ethic of life. Both broader and deeper, it is inclusive of abortion, but also of the many other assaults on human life and dignity. For the new generation, poverty, hunger, and disease are also life issues; creation care is a life issue; genocide, torture, the death penalty, and human rights are life issues; war is a life issue. What happens to poor children after they are born is also a life issue.

The America you helped vote into power has lost its moral standing in the world, and even here at home. The America you told Christians to vote for in past elections is now an embarrassment to Christians around the globe, and to the children of your generation of evangelicals. And the vision of America that you still tell Christians to vote for is not the one that many in a new generation of Christians believes expresses their best values and convictions.

Christians should be committed to the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of America, and the church is to live an alternative existence of love and justice, offering a prophetic witness to politics. Elections are full of imperfect choices where we all seek to what is best for the “common good” by applying the values of our faith as best we can.

Dr. Dobson, you of course have the same right as every Christian and every American to vote your own convictions on the issues you most care about, but you have chosen to insult the convictions of millions of other Christians, whose own deeply held faith convictions might motivate them to vote differently than you. This epistle of fear is perhaps the dying gasp of a discredited heterodoxy of conservative religion and conservative politics. But out of that death, a resurrection of biblical politics more faithful to the whole gospel—one that is truly good news—might indeed be coming to life.


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, October 30, 2008

HOW WE ARE SAVED
Reinhold Niebuhr's statement invites reflection heading into a national election

OUT OF THE RUBBLE. Both campaign camps are making and spreading a lot of "ultimate" statements. Dire do-or-die, now-or-never scenarios are being cast. Ominous innuendos weight the airwaves and poison common conversations. It's throw-the-kitchen-sink-at-'em time. Destructive flames of divisiveness are being fanned for the sake of a win in Tuesday's election. Most of this is hyperbole. One can hope it will be swallowed up in a surpassing sense of the common good in a few weeks and months--whoever wins or loses. Out of the rubble of embarrassing campaign rhetoric, silly accusations, distortions and outright hate speech, pray that something of the perspective of Reinhold Neibuhr's vision emerges. Better yet, pray that his vision is lifted up before Americans take to the polls.

"Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime;
therefore we must be saved by hope.

Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense
in any immediate context of history;
therefore we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone;
therefore we are saved by love.

No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of
our friend and foe as it is from our standpoint.
Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love which is
forgiveness."


- Reinhold Niebuhr

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, October 29, 2008

WHOSE VALUES ARE WE VOTING FOR?

Both the Old and New Testaments make clear that some of God's primary concerns do not make the Top Ten list of religious group voter guides. Those who presume to speak for "values voters" and seek power in American politics don't mention the following Word of God challenges: Poverty. Violence. Militarism. War. Hunger. Absence of peace. Injustice for the innocent. Abuse of power and privilege. Life crushing debt. Wrongful imprisonment and torture. Ignoring/stereotyping the stranger. Blocked access to health care and healing possibilities. The list goes on.

If these are unmistakable primary concerns in the Bible, I must ask the question: why are they not primary concerns for people who say we read and live by the Bible? If a voter guide identifies anti-abortion as pro-life, why does it not address other equally moral and Biblical pro-life issues: militarism, war, weaponry, capital punishment, domestic violence, human trafficking, preemptive war policy, etc.?

It seems to me that those of us who claim to know Jesus better than others would do well to get to know the Bible better ourselves. As we do, more of us will discover that we are being unmistakably called to realign our personal and political priorities and passions. As we do, more of us will be called upon to recant our unholy alignments with political wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. As we get to know what concerns God most repeatedly and thoroughly throughout a multi-millennial cosmic recovery effort, more of us will be challenged to break with both the dominant culture and the pseudo-evangelical subculture and to live with radical abandon the Kingdom that is within us, among us, and still yet to come.

Read Five Considerations I Make When I Vote

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, October 28, 2008

LAST GAME, FINAL SEASON
A poem for Molly (or for me) after her Senior soccer season abruptly ended

Molly's the third of our four children to play their last high school soccer game. For some reason, her final game last week hit me harder than previous "last games." I've had some grief-like feelings. Years of coaching, transporting, and cheering for our kids are nearing an end (Sam's a sophomore). This piece captures a bit of it. "Hopper" is my nickname of Molly.

Molly’s last season ended
unspectacularly
and the crowd
and we parents
left the stands
and hugged our girls
by the waiting bus.

Lamenting unfulfilled hopes
of a strong run to state,
Seniors sobbed.
All we could do
was respond in kind—
console them
to comfort ourselves.

Grief sets in without much of
a warning, taking us
by rude surprise.
Years of joy turn
into yearning
when the whistle
blows a final time.

There’s gratitude in the grief,
however, and real pride
in Molly’s play.
Tenacious,
spirited,
and adaptive—
traits that serve life’s field.

I will miss watching Hopper
romp up and down the pitch.
But know, my child,
we eagerly
anticipate
a victory
no season can end.

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, October 27, 2008

UNPRECEDENTED DAYS
The candidacy of Barack Obama and the global economic crisis--a combination we've never before experienced

INSPIRED AND CHALLENGED. On one hand, I’ve been paying relatively close attention to the Presidential contest and, on another, to the national and global economic crisis. To me, both these evolving current events are historic and compelling—something never experienced in my lifetime. The potential for visionary, progressive national leadership embodied, incredibly, in the son of a white American woman and a Kenyan man inspires me. The challenge of responding to this economic crisis with significant course-correcting lifestyle and marketplace principles and practices challenges me.

SURPRISED BY HIS CHOICE TO RUN. Whether one is Democrat, Republican, or independent, the candidacy of Barack Obama is recognizably phenomenal. I’ve followed his story and efforts since he addressed the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Here was a fresh perspective seeking new, high ground amid worn-out slogans and bitter divisions, I thought. His Call to Renewal address at Sojourners in 2006 revealed Obama’s authentic Christian commitment and reconciliation-focused perspective. I've researched enough to be confident that his faith and integrity goes well beyond his words. Hear Obama's conversion testimony in his own words here. His decision to run for President was a bit of a surprise to me, however. I thought he had what it takes to be a great President, but would the political system ruthlessly tarnish him, and were Americans ready to vote for him?

BREAKING NEW GROUND. Obama’s campaign has been fascinating to observe. It has broken new ground, demonstrated unrivaled ground-level and online organizational savvy, and drawn hundreds of thousands of disenchanted citizens into a hopeful engagement for the possibility of good government. Obama has certainly inspired from the podium. But he has also gained a good measure of respect and confidence with a steadiness and level-headed manner in interviews, debates, and in response to outlandish attacks. Twenty-one months of campaigning seems not to have tarnished him, but rather seasoned, disciplined and prepared him. And perhaps a majority of Americans who will go to the polls will cast their vote for who he is, what he represents, and what he promises. We’ll see.

PICKING A WAY THROUGH THE ECONOMIC DEBRIS. Interesting that the housing market collapse and subsequent and ongoing financial markets crisis would coincide with the last two months of the Presidential campaigns. It seems that economics is neither John McCain nor Barack Obama’s forte--McCain’s admittedly and Obama’s from sheer lack of experience. So, both have had to rely on economic advisers, daily pick their way through the falling market debris, and postulate a measured way forward that makes sense to citizens. Those who’ve paid attention to this part of the saga observe two strikingly different responses, both in substance and in manner.

IS IT JUST THE ECONOMY? Polls show that the economic challenge is the biggest concern for voters right now. They also indicate, across the board, substantially more people have confidence in Obama’s response to the economic challenges. I don’t know whether that’s based on gut-level perceptions or rational responses to real proposals. It will be interesting to see if that translates into how people vote next Tuesday. I’d like to think that folks won’t vote just on their perception of McCain or Obama’s economic proposals (or on the basis of 'what's in it just for me'), but on a wider range of personal assessments and leadership perceptions. Whoever wins the election, his campaign challenges pale in comparison to the travails that lie before him as President of the United States at a decisive moment in our nation’s history.

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, October 24, 2008

TURNING WITH GOD
M. Scott Peck's take on conversion--turning with God--is refreshing, profound

WHAT RETURN? When psychiatrist and best-selling author (The Road Less Traveled) M. Scott Peck became a Christian, he published a wonderful but little-read book called What Return Can I Make (1985, Simon and Schuster). It is his confession of faith and quite an evangelistic piece, at that. It combines his writing, the art of Patricia Kay and original music by Carmelite Marilyn von Waldner. His take on conversion is simple, refreshing and profound:

GOING IT ALONE. "Conversion means 'turning with.' Turning with what? With God. When we are converted, we turn and begin walking with God. But what about before conversion? With whom were we walking then? The answer is, no one. We were walking alone. We were walking alone because we preferred it that way."

WANTING TO BE IN CHARGE. "Those of us who have been converted know now that God was walking with us all the time. Only we didn't know it then. Because we were not ready to acknowledge His presence with us. Because we still thought we could go it alone. We wanted to go it alone. We wanted to be in charge, and because we wanted to be in charge so much, we actually believed we were. And because we believed we were in charge we could not see God--except sometimes perhaps at very great distance and never close enough to actually experience Him as real."

THE LIMITS OF SELF-DETERMINATION. "It is good that we should take responsibility for ourselves and have what psychiatrists call a 'sense of autonomy.' It is, in fact, an essential foundation for spiritual growth. But there is a subtle yet crucial point beyond which a sense of self-determination not only becomes prideful and begins to interfere with further spiritual growth but also denies reality."

A SORT OF EGO DEATH IS REQUIRED. "The essential turning point of the conversion process, then, is the new understanding that the individual human ego--important though it its--is not King. The King is the Lord God. But the ego is not easily dethroned. A very real sort of ego death is required. In order that this death may occur, the individual must first in some way be broken..."

DROWNING IN BAPTISM. "This breaking--this ego death symbolized by the drowning of baptism--the death of which Christ spoke when he said, 'Whosoever shall lose his life shall save it"--occurs in many different ways. For myself it was mercifully slow, taking place in gentle stages over a dozen years. For others it may come through weeks or months of illness or other agonizing suffering. For still others it may come almost like a searing flash or pure blazing pain. If it comes at all. Many will never be broken--at least not until death..."

WHY NOT GET ON WITH IT? "A wise priest said to me when I was dragging my feet over becoming baptized: 'We all have to die sooner or later; why not get on with it?'" Why not, indeed!

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, October 23, 2008

THE END IS NEAR
Less than two weeks until the end of the beginning...

WILL NOVEMBER 4 EVER COME? November 4 seems an eternity away. For some, it's 12 more days of being bombarded with attack and distortion-fomenting ads on TV and radio, heavy-handed spin by candidates and their surrogates, and uncomfortable conversations between politically opposite friends and neighbors. For those who are in a campaign, the media, or who might happen to be intimately interested in the election and future of the nation, it's 12 more days of nail-biting anxiety and anticipation. For TV and radio execs, it's called "makin' hay while the sun shines!"

WRINGS ME OUT. This Presidential campaign seems like the longest in history. How many years ago did it crank up? It's wrung me out. Yeah, I'm one of those who happens to be intimately interested in the election and the future of the nation. I'm into it. Can't get enough information. Checking behind the headlines. Hoping for real change. Still, it's wearing on me. If we can just get past these next 12 days...

YOU'RE THE LUCK WINNER! Kevin Kallaugher's op-ed comic depicts a bit of the reality. Whoever wins, they--and we--have got lots of problems to address. They're rounding the corner for the final stretch. The finish line is in sight. And, just beyond it, looming economic crises and national security challenges of unprecedented magnitude. "Congratulations! Look what you've inherited!" How different America's situation is today than it was in 2000.

PRAYING THE ELECTION. I am shaping my anxieties in this election into prayer--prayer for myself, prayer for the candidates and campaigns, prayer for my neighbors, prayer for the nation, and prayer for the world. I may post such a prayer in a few days. Even as I pray, I am aware of the potential of great harm and distortion in the remaining days of the election campaigns. As a pastor, I am concerned that the church and evangelical people will be severely pressured and incited, as in 2004, to vote on a single-issue basis. As a citizen voter, I am concerned about voter suppression tactics and intimidation of voters at the polls.

PRAYER LEADS TO ACTION. So, prayer has led me to decide to vote early and offer my time to serve at a polling place on November 4--hoping to be part of a peaceful solution instead of either a passive or anxious bystander. As I serve, I will be praying for all who participate. I encourage other Christian pastors to join me in this simple but perhaps profound action in behalf of the healing of our communities and nation.

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, October 22, 2008

ARE GOD’S CONCERNS MY CONCERNS?
So-called Christian voter guides often reflect partisanship more than Biblical breadth and transformational intention

REDEEMING CREATION. A writing assignment began with the question: Are the things that concern God a core part of my concern? My response shapes up this way: The story of the Bible involves a cosmic recovery effort--catalyzed in the incarnation, testimony, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth--of the whole of creation. God’s care to save persons includes a care to form them together into redemptive, prophetic communities that co-labor with God’s future in focus. The "big picture" of the Bible demonstrates a God who cares to salvage literally everyone and everything--material and spiritual--sparing no expense.

PARADOX OF ONE AND ALL. I’m also impressed that there are paradoxes in the recovery mission of which we are a part. The call of shalom is as sweeping as a global movement and as intimate as peace between two people. Justice denied one is enough to bring down a whole nation. Breaking chains of oppression and releasing the oppressed is the hinge on which swings authentic personal faith. As we do it unto the least we have done it unto Jesus. The power of the witness of one may well trigger the faith of multitudes.

BEYOND PERSONAL SALVATION. From this perspective, I find lots of room for growth in my vision and practical concerns. My evangelical heritage places near total focus on personal salvation. But we will not be Biblical people or Biblical communities if we care only about helping people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “Getting right with God” coincides with getting right with one another, getting right with our community, with our enemies, with creation, with the universe. Being “born again” brings not only spiritual rebirth, but new eyes and energy with which to refocus and reshape a fallen creation.

GOD’S “TOP TEN” CONCERNS. Both the Old and New Testaments make clear that God is primarily concerned with some things that do not make the “top ten” list of religious groups seeking to influence American politics: Poverty. Violence. War. Hunger. Absence of peace. Injustice for the innocent. Abuse of power and privilege. Life crushing debt. Wrongful imprisonment and torture. Ignoring the stranger. Blocked access to health care and healing possibilities. The list could go on (Specific Biblical references supplied upon request, or simply read the scriptural references in Bread for the World). If these are unmistakable primary concerns in the Bible, I must ask the question: why are they not primary concerns for people who say we read and live by the Bible?

READ IT FOR YOURSELF, FOR THE WORLD. It seems to me that those of us who claim to know Jesus “better” than others would do well to get to know the Bible better ourselves. As we do, more of us will discover that we are being unmistakably called to realign our personal and political priorities and passions. As we do, more of us will be called upon to recant our unholy alignments with political wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. As we get to know what concerns God most repeatedly and thoroughly throughout the multi-millennial cosmic recovery effort, more of us will be challenged to break with both the dominant culture and pseudo-evangelical subculture and to live with radical abandon the Kingdom that is within us, among us, and still yet to come.

DANGEROUS READING RESULTS. Reading the Bible for oneself has produced the most radical breaks with culture and religious subcultures in history. Augustine was radicalized as he read the Bible for himself. Francis of Assisi read it, abandoned convention, and lived joyfully in poverty. Martin Luther brought scandal upon himself and reformation for the church after he read the Bible for himself. Hand-me-down, run-of-the-mill religion is always safe…this side of heaven. But let us dare to read the Bible for ourselves, observe God’s concerns, and align our lives with God’s passion for people, for creation, and for the future...whatever the cost.

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, October 21, 2008

LET THE CHURCH BE A "PARTISAN-FREE ZONE"
The Gospel and church is unmistakably political, but it must not become partisan

NOT-SO-UNBIASED VOTER GUIDES. I turned away a campaign volunteer trying to deliver Christian voter guides at our church facility earlier today. "We try to keep this a partisan-free zone," I explained. The worker tried to insist that his organization was not partisan. "Are you trying to tell me that Eric Miller is not a right-wing Republican? Is there any Democrat or Independent recommended on his notorious voter guide?" I queried. The man was quickly out the door.

PRESSURE TACTICS. So, with the Presidential and state elections just two weeks away, the pressure and tactics from all sides is being ratcheted up. Evangelical churches will be inundated with calls and pressure to help congregants vote "God's way." I suppose many pastors and congregation leaders will dutifully or unwittingly succumb to this age-old strategy of getting out the conservative vote. Is the evangelical church that predictable? Does being Christian mean voting Republican?

GOD DOESN'T HAVE A POLITICAL PARTY. I don't think God has a political party. I can't imagine Jesus smiling upon the distortions, misleadings, innuendos, and sleight-of-hand tactics that are being circulated both by political parties as well as special interest groups--even so-called Christian interest groups. Therefore, there will be no overt partisan politicking within our fellowship. I have been careful not to be partisan in my preaching, writing, and conversations in the context of our church (though I have certainly tipped my hand here on Bikehiker as to my progressive sympathies).

POLITICAL VS PARTISAN. This is not to say that the Bible, the Gospel and the church are not political. The church cannot help but be political. The Gospel is thoroughly political. The Bible makes strident declarations of values and commitments and intentions for individuals and communities and nations in relationship to God and one another. But the politics of the Kingdom cannot be reduced to the politics of a political party. God's politics transcend human ideologies. In fact, human-contrived ideologies masquerading as "God's party" lure many into idolatry. The church has come to be "used" by political parties in America over the past 30 years or so. Political parties have benefited with power but left the values and issues that the church really cared about unaddressed and unresolved. More clearly, as former White House faith-based operative David Kuo pointed out in 2004, partisans mockingly took the evangelical church for a ride.

BE THE CHURCH. It's time for the church to reclaim our identity and mission. The church is not a slave or beholden to right or left. When we become synonymous with a political party, we have lost our way. But let us live in such a way that the community and its fallen institutions, images and ideologies will see something of the redeeming intention of God in the world through our lives, fellowship, and service. May, indeed, "Your kingdom come, Your will be done in earth as it is in heaven."

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

Monday, October 20, 2008

IN TIMES OF GREAT DECISION
Carolyn Winfrey Gillette pens words that bear singing as another national election approaches

IN TIMES OF GREAT DECISION. Right before the 2004 Presidential election, a friend sent me the following contemporary hymn by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. It is sung to the tune of "The Church's One Foundation." It bears singing as another national election approaches.

In times of great decision,
Be with us, God, we pray!
Give each of us a vision
Of Jesus' loving way.
When louder words seem endless
And other voices sure,
Remind us of your promise:
Your love and truth endure.

0 God, whose gifts are countless,
You send us bearing peace.
You fill our dreams with justice
For all communities.
You give us global neighbors
That all may justly live.
May those we choose as leaders
Reflect the life you give.

0 God, you bridged the distance;
You opened wide your door.
You call us by our presence
To reach to serve the poor.
You teach us: Welcome strangers!
Seek justice on the earth!
May those we choose as leaders
See every person's worth.

You call on every nation
To put aside all greed,
To care for your creation
And for Your ones in need,
To care for those in prison,
For children, for the ill.
In times of great decision,
may we choose leaders well.

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, October 19, 2008

"WE HAVE TO STOP POLARIZING OURSELVES IN THIS WAY"
General Colin Powell offers a word of wisdom to Americans caught up in hateful talk

In his "Meet The Press" interview this morning, former Secretary of State General Colin Powell offered a word of wisdom and challenge to all Americans caught up in name-calling and religiously-polarizing stereotypes. Here's a snippet of what Powell said as he reflected on a magazine photo essay of American troops in Iraq:

"It was a photo essay about troops who are serving
in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail
end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington
Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone
of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in,
you could see the writing on the headstone. And it
gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--
showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth,
date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the
very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian
cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent
and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was
Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an
American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14
years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until
he could go serve his country, and he gave his life.
Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourselves in this way."

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, October 18, 2008

CHILLY HILLY
Today's ride through southern Indiana's hills was chilly but bright

A 49-MILE JAUNT. Alex Butler and I drove down to Ellettsville, just south and east of Bloomington, for the Saturday leg of Central Indiana Bicycle Association's (CIBA) 41st Annual Hilly Hundred. The morning started c-c-cold but made it to chilly by midday. It never made it to warm, but the sun was bright in the afternoon, which made for a great ride. I don't remember the hills being so steep and long. Their names are still fresh in my mind and aching legs: Heartbreak Hill. The Three Sisters. Water Tower Hill. Those are Saturday's features. Sunday features Mount Tabor. Good luck, all. As usual, about 5,000 cyclists of all ages, sizes, styles, and states gathered for the Hilly. It's one of the fun cycling events in Central Indiana each year.

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, October 17, 2008

BIKING TO BEASLEY'S ORCHARD
A 40-mile warm-up ride for the Hilly Hundred

HILLY WEEKEND. Tomorrow and Sunday comprise the Hilly Hundred, a two-day 100-mile ride through the beautiful hills around Bloomington, Bedford and Nashville. I've lost count of the number of times I've ridden the Hilly. I keep going back for various reasons. It's autumn at its best. It's about 5,000 cyclists and bicycles of all shapes, sizes, and styles. It's a challenge, yielding a sense of accomplishment. There's live music and good food at every stop. And it's a group thing; I've made some friends through the Hilly.

TO DANVILLE AND BACK. This year, Alex Butler, my son-in-law, will ride the Hilly with me. Today, we fitted him on my blue road Cannondale and took off for Danville. We met Becky and Abby at Beasley's Orchard at the eastern edge of Danville and then rode to the town square and had lunch at the Mayberry Cafe (first time I've been there). After lunch, we pedaled back home. A good warm-up for the 50- or 63-mile circuit we'll make tomorrow from Ellettsville to Bedford and back.

ORCHARDS IN AUTUMN. This was my first visit to Beasley's Orchard, too. Getting to some orchard in October seems like a rite of passage each autumn. Just like going to Brown County, hiking the state park, and eating lunch at the Hob Nob has been a tradition in our family since the kids were much younger. I admired the variety of homemade jellies, jams and preserves at Beasley's. We came away with some cider and a peck or two of apples. Perhaps they'll been turned into pie before the weekend's out. One can hope!

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

Thursday, October 16, 2008

THE BLAME GAME
Once again, the poor are being accused of causing the current economic meltdown

Here's one more op/ed comic that caught my eye and goaded my conscience. I've heard a variation of this line several times over the past two weeks. Who caused this crisis? The poor! Why, they should have never been allowed into the home ownership class. You offer them a piece of the pie, and they can't pay their mortgage like they promised. Not our fault, say the lenders. They overextended themselves--probably lied about their income and assets! Predatory lenders and investors clamoring for ever-bigger dividend checks get a pass. They were just doing their jobs. Better yet, they were being noble and patriotic by "helping" their "less fortunate" fellow citizens get a piece of the real estate pie with a no-questions-asked, adjustable-rate sub-prime mortgage. It's not predatory lenders and greedy investors' fault that those pitiable fools bit off more than any sane person in the finance industry knew they could ever chew. Tsk, tsk.


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, October 15, 2008

NO GOING BACK
Joel Pett's comic speaks volumes to a passing era of economic carelessness

SUCCINCT SUMMARY. Occasionally, I scroll through the myriad culture and political comics available online at Slate.com or the New Yorker. I find many of these artists/commentators can succinctly summarize a whole lot of reality--or cast a canopy of distortion--regarding current cultural and/or political happenings in ways news articles, TV news, or op/ed writers can't.

CASTING SCENARIOS. A cartoonist has to grasp the depth and breadth of a situation well enough to see its fullness and then cast it as a scenario that connects with our lived experiences. These graphic artists hang their perspectives and opinions out there with no possibility for cover, retreat or retraction. I'd admire their efforts...at least the efforts of those who are not too biased (for instance, I do not like most of the work of Gary Varvel of the Indianapolis Star; to me, his right-wing bias is too blatant, closed and predictable to be humorous or insightful).

ECONOMIC COURSE-CORRECTING. Anyway, seeing this comic by Joel Pett made me simultaneously laugh out loud and wince inside. I get the feeling many people are having to come to grips with the end of a relative degree of "expendable income." National and household economic course-correcting and belt-tightening doesn't necessarily spell the end of light-heartedness, humor, entertainment, and generosity. It might, however, call for new levels of awareness, prudence and at least some modicum of carefulness.

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, October 13, 2008

OCTOBER GLORY
The trees along Hidden Lake on Indy's northwest side are aglow right now

IN THE HEART OF INDIANAPOLIS. You probably haven't seen it. You can't get to it with a car or SUV. There are no paved or unpaved roads to it. You can only hike or bike to it. No need to drive a long distance, it's right in the heart of Indianapolis! It's nestled between White River and the Canal just north of 38th Street near the Indianapolis Museum of Art. A path to it leads off of the Canal Tow Path. It's Hidden Lake. Get there if you can.

GET THERE IF YOU CAN. If you can get there in the next week, you might get to see what I saw this morning: trees aglow all around the fifteen-acre Hidden Lake, reflecting into the water. It's one of Indy's secret treasures. A single-track mountain bike trail circles the lake. At one point, the river and the lake are separated by less than 20 feet. It's a rather intriguing scene. Worth the time out taken to get there.

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, October 11, 2008

THE WAY OF THE POOR
Peculiar blessings when we choose poverty, powerlessness, and humble service

“Every time we choose poverty over wealth, powerlessness over power, humble service over popularity, quiet fruitfulness over loud acclaim, we prepare for our rebirth in the Holy Spirit. This might sound gloomy, unnatural, and even impossible. But once we have embarked on the journey of faith, our eyes will be opened to the way of the poor without any coercion or force. We will discover, first of all, our own poverty, fears, doubts, vulnerabilities, and weaknesses. In faith, we will no longer ignore or avoid these things, but embrace them as the place where Jesus walks with us and sends us his Spirit. Then also we will see clearly the poor around us, and we will realize that they reveal to us God’s presence in ways nobody else could. We will feel drawn to them, not because of their poverty, but because of the Holy Spirit shining through their poverty.”

– Henri Nouwen in Reborn from Above

Friday, October 10, 2008

COLOR CHANGE
Eagle Creek Park eases from green to yellow, crimson, and gold in early October

WOODLAND SANCTUARY. Over 5,200 acres of woodland between 56th and 71st Streets on Indy's northwest side provide a day-by-day snapshot progression of autumn's color change from green to golden. Eagle Creek Park, encompassing Eagle Creek Reservoir, is bright in this weekend's sunshine. I ride there just about every day, even if for a few minutes. Good for the soul. The deer actually move out of the way if you can get their attention.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

SO NOT READY FOR THIS
As an economic downturn tumbles toward a new global depression, how shall we then live?

SURREAL IS REALITY. What a difference a year makes in our national financial outlook and global economic realities. I watched an investment company ad on TV last night. Its pitch and promises seemed incredibly surreal. All that a few months ago seemed rock-solid and reliable, as the ad projected, is now a slippery slope. The company that bought the ad-time on CNN is in jeopardy of bankruptcy for unsound practices that had become the industry standard.

HOUSE OF CARDS. There may have been warning signs of trouble ahead, like former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan speaking of the markets’ “irrational exuberance” (interestingly, though Greenspan was in a position to reign in the freeloading financial markets, he did nothing but sanctify it). But flashing indicators of an impending crisis went unheeded and, ultimately, no-turning-back thresholds were crossed. Now Wall Street’s house of cards is falling in upon itself with an impact the reaches far and wide.

ONE MORE DIVERSION FROM AMERICA’S DREAM. Whether the $700 billion appropriated by Congress last week is seen as a Wall Street bailout or a financial markets rescue, the bottom line is that it, along with previous bailouts for AIG and others, is on the backs of taxpayers. This is one more disturbing diversion of resources from essential services, investment in education and research, elimination of poverty, economic stimulus, and international leadership in compassion and development. It is one more major hit on a spiraling federal budget deficit and debt. Look how far we’ve come in eight years. Who’d have thought we’d be pining for the Clinton days?

REAPING WHAT WAS SEWN? I can’t help but notice that $700 billion appropriated for the Wall Street bailout is roughly the amount of money spent in Iraq to this point in time. I find that very interesting. America’s leadership has wasted $700 billion in a misguided war it misled our Congressional representatives into supporting. Now, in its waning days, the Bush Administration asks for $700 billion to bailout a market sector whose rampant greed and irresponsibility it championed with every possible deregulation policy advantage. Are we all beginning to reap what a relative few chose to sew?

COMPLICITY IN FOOLISHNESS. Blame for the financial crisis and its impending economic fallout is flying in many directions. Of course “blame” and “responsibility” don't quite match up. It seems to me that we are all complicit in this. Still, a relatively small number of people exacerbated the situation with unchecked greed and unethical behavior. The crisis erupted primarily from two opposite directions that fed each other’s desires and which were without the bridle of reasonable regulation.

ANATOMY OF A COLLAPSE. The desire of the financial sector to make more money more easily and more quickly in “creative” ways morphed into bundling housing mortgages into stocks to be speculated upon. The need for getting higher dividends on this stock pressed lenders to make ever riskier loans to clearly unqualified home-buyers. People desiring to have a piece of the American dream (to own their own home or a bigger and better home) were more than ready to sign on the dotted line--even if they had to misrepresent their real income and assets and knew it was all a crap shoot. The rest of us knew most of this was going on, but only shook our heads in mild disbelief or benign approval.

DOMINOES FALLING. It didn’t take too long for folks who had purchased homes well beyond their means—and beyond the traditional boundaries and wisdom of banking and mortgage institutions—to fall behind in their often ballooning variable-rate mortgage payments. Foreclosures mounted and then mushroomed. Returns on investment for the sub-prime housing stocks held by greedy investors plummeted. Fear and panic set in. One institution after another had to admit the obvious. One domino began to fall against another. And the rest is history as it happens day by day.

HERE WE ARE. So, here we are. Stock markets are tumbling nationally and globally. “Downturn” talk has yield to “recession” talk, which has turned to “depression” talk. I wonder, if the problem had been named and faced even 12 months ago by prudent leadership, might we not be talking “depression?” But here we are. Are we ready for this? Not even. Right now, it seems to me, we are not ready even to fathom the potential changes to our lifestyles and impacts on our lives and the world that are on the horizon.

DIGGING IN OR DIGGING DEEP? Will Americans dig in--circle the wagons, withdraw, turn inward, try to protect "our stuff" over against others? Or will we dig deep to rediscover something deeper--more noble, more human, more compassionate, more restorative, more sane, more hopeful--within us? I agree with Barack Obama’s statement that this not a time for “irrational panic.” However, given the economic challenges on the horizon, we might begin to consider ways we can take what is best in our faith, in our sense of community, and in the American dream we share and begin to ready ourselves to move together into a changed future with sanity and conscience, realism and hope.

Print in orange was printed as a Letter to the Editor in the Indianapolis Star on October 14, 2008

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, October 8, 2008

TWO ECONOMIES
The astute Kentuckian speaks prophetically of the difference between industrial economics and the Great Economy

PROPHETIC VOICE. Listen to the prophetic voice of Wendell Berry in The Art of the Commonplace. The following is from the essay titled “Two Economies.” Berry contrasts little human economies with the Great Economy. He reasons for an economy as big as the Kingdom of God. Hear Berry’s always interesting, provoking reflections pierce the fragile underpinnings of our [once] “prosperous” economy.

COMPREHENSIVE AND COMPREHENDING. “The whole thing that troubles me about the industrial economy is exactly that it is not comprehensive enough, that, moreover, it tends to destroy what it does not comprehend and that it is dependent upon much that it does not comprehend. In attempting to criticize such an economy, we naturally pose against it an economy that does not leave anything out, and we say without presuming too much that the first principle of the Kingdom of God is that it includes everything; in it, the fall of the sparrow is a significant event.”

MYSTERIOUSLY CONNECTED. “Another principle, both ecological and traditional, is that everything in the Kingdom of God is joined both to it and to everything else that is in it; that is to say, the Kingdom of God is orderly. A third principle is that humans do not and can never know either all the creatures that the Kingdom of God contains or the whole pattern or order by which it contains them.”

SEVERE PENALTIES. “To say that we live in the Kingdom of God is both to suggest the difficulty of our condition and to imply a fairly complete set of culture-borne instructions for living in it. The difficulty of our predicament, then, is made clear if we add a fourth principle: Though we cannot produce a complete or even adequate description of this order, severe penalties are in store for us if we presume upon it or violate it.”

ORIGINATING VALUE. “We participate in our little human economy by factual knowledge, calculation, and manipulation; our participation in the Great Economy also requires those things, but requires as well humility, sympathy, forbearance, generosity, imagination. Another critical difference is that, though a human economy can evaluate, distribute, use, and preserve things of value, it cannot make value. Value can originate only in the Great Economy.”

WHEN WINNERS LOSE. Berry envisions our small human economies as a smaller wheel turning in sympathy (even synergy) with the larger wheel (the Great Economy). “Then, because in the Great Economy ALL transactions count and the account is never closed, the ideal changes. We see that we cannot AFFORD maximum profit or power with minimum responsibility because, in the Great Economy, the loser’s losses finally afflict the winner.”

MAXIMUM WELL-BEING, MINIMUM CONSUMPTION. “Now the ideal must be ‘the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption,’ which both defines and requires neighborly love. Competitiveness cannot be the ruling principle, for the Great Economy is not a ‘side’ that we can join nor are there such ‘sides’ within it. Thus, it is not the ‘sum of its parts’ but a MEMBERSHIP of parts inextricably joined to each other, indebted to each other, receiving significance and worth from each other and from the whole.”

MINUTE PARTICULARS MATTER. “It is the Great Economy, not any little economy, that invests minute particulars with high and final importance. In the Great Economy, each part stands for the whole and is joined to it; the whole is present in the part and is its health. The industrial economy, by contrast, is always striving and failing to make fragments (pieces that IT has broken) ADD UP to an ever-fugitive wholeness.”

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, October 7, 2008

MEASURE OF A LIFE
To what are we giving our energies? What is our passion?

"At the end of life we will
not be judged by how many
diplomas we have received.
How much money we have made.
How many great things we have done.
We will be judged by - 'I was hungry
and you gave me to eat. I was naked
and you clothed me. I was homeless
and you took me in.'"

-- Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Monday, October 6, 2008

EARTH DISCOVERY CENTER
Indy adds another great resource at Eagle Creek Park

ONE MORE GOOD REASON. Home to a small but thriving nature center, the Peace Learning Center, marinas, beach, and rowing center, Eagle Creek Park now hosts the Earth Discovery Center. Students and visitors can explore the environment with the 5,200-acre park as a living laboratory. The old nature center now focuses on ornithology, with broader nature exploration shifted to the EDC. The large and well-equipped center, which overlooks Eagle Creek Reservoir, features a strong science orientation--a first for municipal parks. The Earth Discovery Center is one more good reason to embrace Indianapolis and explore its resources.

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, October 5, 2008

SATURDAY AT THE MARION COUNTY SOCCER TOURNEY
Yielded an "Indy's Best" Championship for Molly and Runner-up for Sam

WEEK-LONG TOURNEY. The week-long Marion County High School Soccer Tournament came to a rousing conclusion on Saturday, yielding an "Indy's best" championship for Molly and runner-up for Sam (#16 in the center of the photo).

ROAD TO THE FINALS. We attended Monday and Wednesday games for Molly and the Ben Davis Lady Giants and Tuesday and Thursday games for Sam and the Pike Red Devils. Molly and Sam's teams made it to the semi-final games at North Central High School on Saturday morning. There, Molly's team beat Brebeuf Jesuit girls, 1-0, and Sam's team defeated Brebeuf's boys, 1-0, to advance to the championship games Saturday evening.

CONCUSSION, COMING UP SHORT. The boys' championship game pitted Pike against top-five state-ranked North Central. The Panthers took advantage of a few Red Devils mistakes and won the game handily, 4-1. Sam didn't get to play because he suffered a concussion in an earlier game. We'll see if he can pass the next impact test on Monday or Tuesday. He's hoping to be ready for first game of the Sectionals of the Indiana High School Athletic Association's State Soccer Tournament that begins for the boys on Thursday. Best wishes!

COUNTY CHAMPS...AGAIN! The girls' championship game put Ben Davis against North Central. The teams had tied in an earlier regular-season game. Molly, a captain, played as spirited as ever in the match. The Lady Giants scored midway through the first half and held the Lady Panthers without a goal (overcoming 9 corner kicks) the rest of the match, thanks to great goalkeeping by Danielle Bennet. Ben Davis girls are county champs for the second year in a row! Unprecedented for BD, it's a feat they were unable to accomplish during the four years Olympian Lauren Cheney played for the Lady Giants. Congratulations!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

MORNINGS LIKE THIS
Nature's beauty is always on display, we just have to show up

EARLY BIRD. This glorious vista opened up before our eyes as we emerged from the heavily wooded Hidden Lake trail on Monday morning. White River to our left, Hidden Lake to our right, fog hovering on the water, the sun rising in the east... Monet couldn't have painted it better. Chris Province and I were glad we chose to start the ride before dawn and while it was cold. This moment, this view in the silence was worth it.

ALWAYS ON DISPLAY. Annie Dillard notes that the Creator seems always to be going out of the way to fling out breathtaking artistry in multple ways all at once, most of which goes completely unnoticed by us. And even when we happen by in a kairos moment, we rarely actually make the transcendent connections. Nature's beauty as well as nature's shocking manifestations are always on display. We just have to show up...and open our eyes.

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, October 1, 2008

ELECTION SILENCE ON FIVE MORAL ISSUES
Conservative Christian voices, once again, omit major Biblical imperatives


THE X-FACTOR. Pundits tell us George W. Bush was re-elected President in 2004 because of moral issues. This was the X-factor which many credit Karl Rove for masterminding. Informed and enflamed by religious voices in the news media, those who opposed abortion and gay marriage turned out in larger numbers than those who opposed Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq and pandering to greed.

FAILURE OF RELIGIOUS LEADERSHIP. What disturbed me in 2004 was that the same Christian groups that made the election a referendum on abortion and gay marriage failed to emphasize--or even mention--broader moral challenges at stake for the nation and world. In not doing so, I believe those leaders and groups failed to lead Christianly.

A GROSSLY NARROWED FIELD OF MORAL ISSUES. Here we are, four years later. In another election season, conservative Christian leaders have again grossly narrowed the field of moral issues that they consider “in play.” It is not so much what is included as moral issues when they challenge their constituencies as much as what is excluded that unsettles me. One must intentionally ignore core concerns of Jesus and the New Testament to come up with voter’s guides that do not mention poverty, war and violence, a mammon spirit, honesty, or prideful use of power.

SILENT ON POVERTY. I have not heard any moral-issue candidate or Evangelical leader mention concern for the poor, the specter of structural poverty in America and the world, or the devastating personal and household impact of the lack of basic health insurance for millions of Americans. The bealeagured and belittled people who Jesus invested the majority of his life in are again bypassed on the righteous road to Washington.
SUB-CHRISTIAN AGENDA. Any political agenda is crudely sub-Christian if it does not give priority to the poor and challenge structural poverty at home and abroad. Moreover, given the socio-economic construct of America, to ignore, diminish, or marginalize this moral issue is to foment poverty, demean the poor, and fuel a culture that is systematically forcing millions more of its own citizens into desperation and despair with every passing year.

SILENT ON WAR AND VIOLENCE. I have not heard any moral-issue candidate or evangelical leader even second-guess the Bush Doctrine of “pre-emptive war.” No conservative Christian voter’s guide challenge this historically unprecedented “strike first” policy that was immediately used to justify the American-led attack on Iraq. I have not seen morally-bold Evangelicals in any official capacity denounce war or violence in the past eight years. And yet Jesus’ witness and instructions could not be more clear regarding the rejection of such violence and militarism for his followers and church.
SILENT ON A MAMMON SPIRIT IN THE LAND. Candidates of all stripes continue to play flagrantly to the mammon spirit that is a pervasive scourge on our land and now threatens financial stability at multiple levels. So consumed are Americans by consumerism and self-advancement that we think better of any candidate who--at whatever cost to others, the fabric of society, the workplace, or the stability of the world--promises to relieve our tax share and increase personal wealth. A care-less, bullying aggression in the local and world marketplace has been raised to the level of patriotism and a religious duty. The god that is now served most dutifully in America is Free Market (financial crisis notwithstanding). Yet the “morally bold” remain mute.
SILENT ON PURPOSEFUL MISINFORMATION ABOUT IRAQ. Over the past five years, it has become clear that governmental leaders deliberately used discredited intelligence and questionable sources, and employed pressure tactics on its own agencies, to concoct a distorted scenario regarding Iraq to justify war to the United Nations, Congress, and the American public. It is has become increasingly clear that the major rationales used to attack Iraq were illegitimate and misleading at best and deceptive half-truths and lies at worst.

TRUTHFULNESS MARGINALIZED. There are no links between the attack on the World Trade Center and Iraq. There is no evidence terrorists were being trained in Iraq. Not only has no evidence of weapons of mass destruction been found in Iraq, it is now clear the regime did not even have the capacity to develop them. Have there been any calls from the morally bold for accountability? For full disclosure? Any calls to basic honesty? Any calls for a corrected course based on truth?
SILENT ON AMERICAN ARROGANCE. Those who are morally bold during the election campaign have been curiously silent about the growing world-wide concern for American arrogance. It isn’t just the “go it alone” approach to combating terrorism, it’s the “we’re right and you’re wrong,” “we’ll define the reality you will live with,” “we can, so we will,” and “who needs them?” words, actions, and policies that have been perpetrated around the world by our government. “Empire” is a word now frequently used by both allies and enemies. Our President said he had “political capital” to spend at home, but American actions over the past eight years have placed our nation in major “international diplomatic deficit” and “goodwill liability.”

CHRISTIAN WITNESS AT STAKE. My lament and concern here is threefold.


First, by advancing too narrow a set of moral issues, Evangelicals are undermining their own moral leadership in the larger world.

Second, folks who do not even give assent to Christian morality still have moral sensitivity enough to know that issues like poverty, war, greed, and domination are moral and are important--even if the religious right has abandoned them for narrower political agendas.

Third, the Christian gospel and witness of the church to a sinful and hurting world is diminished when it succumbs to ideological persuasions or political parties that in turn use its trumpet voice to sway governmental election outcomes. No Christian or Christian group has the privilege of selling the gospel piecemeal or choosing which parts of the Christian witness and mission are crucial and which are marginal.


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!