Thursday, December 31, 2009


A few things come to mind as reflect briefly on the last twelve months.  I'm thinking in terms of forgiveness and gratitude.  Some things and people I forgive--including myself.  Some things I am particularly grateful for at this moment.

I recognize that I let small things and small-minded people really get to me in 2009. I permitted these to seriously unsettle me. I regret that. Forgiving them. Forgiving myself. Learning lessons.

Forgiveness, also...
  • for missed opportunities for reconciliation or investing time in someone's future;
  • for lowering my expectations of myself and others;
  • for all who are truly either incompetent or aggressively reckless drivers on the highways (including me, sometimes);
  • for all "Christians" who sent me hate-e-mail in my advocacy for health care reform;
  • for those who mistreated my kids and spouse;
  • for mean people;
  • for thinking or saying "mean people suck";
  • for not seeking to understand
Regarding gratitude...

I continue to be grateful for a solid sense of place in this city. I found myself expressing my love for Indianapolis in a conversation just this morning. So many people, aspects and relationships make this, for me, an endearing, challenging, and hopeful milieu of living and forward-looking.

Also, I followed through on my promise to advocate vociferously for health care reform on behalf of the many uninsured neighbors I've personally encountered since I said/did nothing the last time access to affordable health care for all was on the national table. Not pleased with what the Senate has done to the legislation, but grateful that near-universal access and reform are moving forward.

More later...

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


An International Child Care Ministries representative in India sent this photo of sponsored boys at ICCM's Bethel Children's Home in Umri, India this week.  I've visited the facility and met the children.  This is on the same campus of Umri Christian Hospital for which I rode 2,000 miles through India to raise funds for its rebuilding.  I love the expressions on the kids' faces.  Miles of smiles.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


7 qualities are reflected in the people who populate the birth narratives of Jesus

ORDINARY PEOPLE.  It is not just quaint that ordinary people like Mary and Joseph find a central place in the story of salvation.  I think it’s because they are ordinary that they can perceive both the need for salvation and live in hope of it.  Along with Zechariah, the shepherds, the Magi, Simeon, and Anna, Mary and Joseph convey qualities that make them salvation-ready.

SEVEN ASPECTS OF READINESS.  The kind of people who populate the birth and early life narratives of Jesus are not perfect people.  Not well-bred people.  Not influential people.  Not highly-educated people.  The following seven aspects do not “qualify” them--or us--for salvation.  They are, however, qualities prominent in the people who fill the Christmas story.  I wonder to what extent today our readiness to enter into salvation history hinges on the same?

1. People who can bear the shame of scandal without giving up.

2. People who are willing to accept simple, humbling instructions…and follow through.

3. People who are acquainted with suffering and know the limits of self-righteousness and self-effortfulness.

4. People who are earnestly curious about the ways of God. They are sincere seekers.

5. People who don’t have things figured out so much as they steadfastly trust God will make a difference.

6. People who are willing to be led and to lead out based on clear, if incomplete, commands.

7. People who fear but who refuse to become--or be defined by--their fears.

THE ARC OF HUMAN LIFE.  Salvation, as I refer to it here, is not a mere spiritual transaction.  It’s not some kind of individual mental assent and emotional consent to a gospel syllogism, the result of which promises to secure one's personal soul for eternity.  Salvation does have profound personal dimensions and makes intimate claims on each of us.  But the salvation described in the stories of the birth and life of Jesus of Nazareth has just as much to do with salvaging, reshaping and redirecting the arc of human life and history away from destruction and despair and toward ultimate meaning and purpose.  Salvation is transformational at both personal and systemic levels, both for today and was we move--day by day, decision by decision--into the future God’s Christ has opened before us.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Monday, December 28, 2009


This is a unique Christmas for several reasons and it seems to be calling me to flex gracefully

For all that endures and is constant with the celebration of Christmas, this Christmas was different from all others I've experienced.  These differences seem to be inviting me to be gracious in flexing as once-permanent traditions and practices continue change over time.

This was the first Christmas in my 50 years that I haven't been with my parents and sister.  Typically, mom and dad drive or fly up from Florida.  My dad, now 75, is convinced that spending a few days in December over the last three years has left him sick for weeks upon returning to Florida, so he decided not to come north this year. As much as mom seemed to want to be in Indiana for Christmas, she wasn't about to leave dad behind in Florida for the holiday.

So, instead of Christmas Eve with a houseful of Hays, we had relatively quiet Christmas Eve.  I actually got in a nice bike ride through Eagle Creek Park.  In the pm, we opened gifts sent by relatives, participated in Christmas Eve communion at Trader's Point Church, and welcomed our daughter's in-laws, Steve and Deana Butler, into our home for the holiday.  Christmas morning gift-giving was shared with the Butlers in our home--another first.

I introduced a new aspect of Christmas morning with "Santa's grab bag."  I dumped a bunch of $1 items from Dollar Tree, along with old, unused CDs, DVDs, cassette tapes, records, etc. into a yard leaf bag.  Each person could reach into the bag, without looking, an pick out one gift.  The next person could either take their gift or reach into the bag for another.  It would continue this way until the bag was empty.  Our daughter Abby called it "getting rid of dad's junk." Hey, work with me here...

This was the first Christmas in many years that I have not prepared for and led a Christmas Eve service as a pastor. That felt weird.  I have lots of energy for planning and facilitating and preaching in worship.  I'm still dealing with being in a different role and rhythm of work at this point.  I'm still transitioning.

I seem to have moved through these and other changes unique to this Christmas without too much apparent stress.  Changing my notions about "the way things should be" and giving "the way things might be" a chance is helping.  I can't change the things that have led other people to disruptively impact my sense of tradition, place, and permanence.  I can either be upset and frustrated or let go of the old and give something new a chance to be born--even shape it's beginning and trajectory, to some extent.  That's an encouraging thought.  I'll work with that as I move deeper into the heart of the Christmas season.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.


Are we still celebrating Christmas?  Are we continuing to revel in the afterglow of the Word become flesh?  As we put away Christmas decorations, and as the gifts we have received merge into our wardrobe or take their place in the household to become part of the fabric of living, let's keep the candle of Christmas glowing

A few years ago, I began to try to observe Christmas as the season that begins on Christmas Day and extends twelve days to Ephiphany on January 6.  I realized that Kulture Krismas that begins on Thanksgiving Day and ends on December 25, is a relatively recent fabrication for commercial purposes.  With it, we literally work ourselves into a frenzy and crash into Christmas.  I wonder, by January 31, will there be any evidence in our lives and communities that Christmas ever occurred?  Instead, Advent leads us--pointedly prepares us, gently guides us--to the brink of Christmas. Christmas Day, then, begins a season of joy and celebration.

Four days past Christmas Day, the realization of this journey to Epiphany begins to set in.  It is such a different rhythm than the usual post-holiday let down.  At the same time we are usually beginning to put away Christmas decorations, this way of living Christmastime keeps the gifts coming and the joy flowing.  If you put everything into the Big Day, you may find yourself letting down emotionally or spiritually this week as you get back to routine matters.  May this simple spiritual journey and the gifts it offers sustain and steady you as you walk into the heart of winter.

I have prepared daily reflections for Living the Twelve Days of Christmas.  If you're up for a change of pace or ready to explore a new practice of Christian faith formation, I invite you into this journey to Epiphany.

By the way, it's still okay to say "Merry Christmas!"

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


“O God, my Father,
I thank You that
all other ways were inadequate

You opened the way to us.
When we couldn’t come to You,

You came to us, came to us in
lowly form, human form.
And now we can come to You

through the Way.

-- E. Stanley Jones in The Word Became Flesh

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Friday, December 25, 2009


Augustine of Hippo tried to convey--or at least point to--the mystery of Incarnation

“Maker of the sun, He is made under the sun.
In the Father He remains, from His mother He goes forth.
Creator of heaven and earth, He was born on earth under heaven.
Unspeakably wise, He is wisely speechless.
Filling the world, He lies in a manger.
Ruler of the stars, He nurses at His mother’s bosom.
He is both great in the nature of God, and small in the form of a servant.”

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Join me for a twelve-day spiritual journey into the heart of winter
Instead of crashing and meandering after “the big day,” why not keep watch through these weeks that lead us from festive days into the heart of winter?

I invite you to join me for a twelve-day journey over the Twelve Days of Christmas. I’ve prepared readings and reflections for each day from Christmas to Epiphany, concluding on January 6.  Use this link to my blog - Living the Twelve Days of Christmas.

I must tell you that observing the Twelve Days of Christmas is relatively new to me. I attempted to observe Christmas this way for the first time just a few years ago. But the more I am learning about this tradition, the more I am beginning to appreciate this way of celebrating Yuletide.

Why not try to enter into this long-standing tradition as a spiritual exercise? Join me here each day, beginning Christmas Day, December 25, and we'll walk hopefully together.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


This has become one of my favorite Christmas insights.  Thanks, Evelyn Underhill

"Human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice; animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet.  And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid – and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him.  Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God." 

-- Evelyn Underhill 

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Thinking about holiday music and silence during these remaining days before Christmas

TURN YOUR RADIO ON, ER, OFF.  On an errand one evening, I turned on the radio in my VW Beetle.  Christmas music--sacred and secular, sophisticated and sappy--played on many stations as I searched the dial.  Everything from "Silent Night" sung a cappella by a large choir to "Dominic the Italian Christmas Donkey" sung by Lou Monte.  "Dominic" still rings in my head.  I can't get away from it.  “Hee-haw, hee-haw…”

WHAT IS ITS IMPACT ON US?  Serious question: What is the impact of listening endlessly to Christmas music for over a month?  How much of our understanding and expectation of the season comes from the incredible mix of Christmas music, instead of our own experience?  How do we experience or encounter the unique gift of Christmas joy when we've been saturated with a thousand versions of how, when, and where it's going to happen?  How much are we shaped by Christmas music?  Is it merely elevator music or does it reach us?  Should it?

MEASURE OF SPIRITUALITY.  A person who's calling and witness I look up to once said that he could measure the temperature of his spirituality by how quickly he reached for the radio "on" button as he traveled around the city in his vehicle.  The idea is that noise prevents silence and masks the "still small voice" of God.  Am I ready and/or willing to let God speak to me?

BETTER THAN RUSH.  Some of the spiritual masters, like Henri Nouwen, write about "mini-solitudes" in our transitions from one place, occasion, or appointment to another.  One women who attended a church I served decided not to get her car CD and tape player fixed because she had been able to pray so effectively during the time she used to listen to Rush Limbaugh.  Amen, sister!

GREATNESS OR NOISE?  Granted, Advent and Christmas have inspired the greatest music.  And it should be celebrated with singing!  But can we really experience its depth if the season’s music becomes mere background noise in our hustle and bustle up to the day "you know who" comes to town?  Give yourself a break.  Let silence bring the music of Christmas to you.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


These four pieces help me get over gift anxiety

GIFT ANXIETY  What shall I give?  Will it be enough?  Will it be right?  Will it be what my loved ones desire?  Will they be pleased?  Such thoughts go through my mind as I think about gift-giving.  I scroll through online items and walk the aisles of stores with questions circling.  Do you do this?  We're not alone.  Some of my favorite Christmas stories and songs revolve around gift anxiety--and its resolution.  You know these stories, but I recall them here and set them in context of this question: what is an adequate gift?

THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY  The most popular of the songs I have in mind is "The Little Drummer Boy."  It sings first-person of a little boy who has nothing he thinks is fit to bring to the baby who is born to be the King.  "I have no gift to bring," he sighs.  He decides—innocently, naively, hopefully—to offer the only thing he has or can do: he will play his drum the very best he can for Jesus.  In the song, the baby Jesus smiles at him as he plays.

THE LITTLEST ANGEL  "The Littlest Angel" is a familiar childhood story about a troublesome little angel who, learning that God's Son is to be born on earth, manages to hide away such common things as a butterfly, a bird’s egg, stones, his favorite dog’s collar in a rough-hewn box--things that he loved as a little boy on earth—to offer the Christ child.  His items, however, pale grossly in comparison to the other angels' magnificent, shining gifts.  He feels humiliated and runs to hide.  But, to his surprise, his gift became the greatest of all, for his choices were things the little boy Jesus related to and loved.

THE GIFT OF THE OF MAGI  "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry is the touching story of a young couple with very limited resources trying to offer each other a significant gift at Christmas.  Unbeknown to each other, she sells her beautiful long hair to she can purchase a golden chain for her lover's valuable watch. He, in turn, pawns his cherished time piece to buy a golden comb for her beautiful hair.

IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER  Christina Rossetti’s carol "In the Bleak Midwinter" concludes with a verse that compellingly underscores the only adequate gift we really bring to Christ is the gift of our heart:

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man,
I would do my part.
Yet what I can I give Him--
Give my heart.

THE GIFT WE RECEIVE  Christmas is really not about what you can give to Jesus or to others. It is about what God, in Christ, has given to us. All our gift giving is a simply response to this Gift. Whatever it is you choose to give others, let it be joyfully and from a grace-gifted heart.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


What does it take to draw people together at Christmastime?

CHRISTMAS EVE OPPOSITES.  Childhood Christmases with my extended Hay and Sheffield clans were dramatically different.  Christmas Eve would be spent in New Castle, Indiana. home to both family groups. First, my dad, mom, sister and I would go to Grandpa and Grandma Hay’s for dinner and a gift exchange.  Then, we would drive across town to Aunt Willie Mae’s for the Sheffield gathering.  The Sheffields--my mother’s side--were warm, affectionate and readily endearing.  The Hays--my dad’s side--were guarded, stand-offish and halting in their familial exchanges.  I would experience both on the same evening each year. 

WISHING THE EVENING WOULD NEVER END.  I loved the Sheffield Christmas.  There were hugs and  laughter and joviality and a great sense of belonging from the moment we walked in Aunt Mae's door.  It was like picking up on an engaging, ongoing conversation, no matter how long we had been apart. The Sheffields were easy to be with, even with 40 aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws crammed into a little house. I remember wishing the Sheffield Christmas evening would never end.

CHRISTMAS-EVE STAND-OFF.  As much as I enjoyed the Sheffield Christmas, I endured the Hay gathering.  The Hay event was made all the more awkward by the opposite poles at which different households lived.  At one end were the religiously ultra-conservative households.  Each year, I would be freshly surprised and relieved that there were people more restrictive than my dad. These reserved folk carried an air of spiritual pride and judgment.  The women and girls wore long dresses and no make-up or jewelry.  These families kept their distance from Hays who lived at the other end of the spiritual spectrum.  Suffice it to say that two of my fifty-ish uncles ran marijuana grown in Kentucky caves to New Castle and exhibited most common forms of carelessness and irresponsibility.  In the middle  of this was our bewildered family.  All these people crammed into a little house for several hours each Christmas Eve.  Talk about awkward! 

WRAPPING PAPER MELEE.  One year, we realized the terms of endearment.  Amid long faces and feigned smiles and strained laughter, my dad wadded up the wrapping paper of the gift he’d just opened and playfully threw it at his alcoholic brother across the room.  His brother picked it up and sailed it back.  But dad ducked and the wrapping paper wad hit Grandma Hay in the side of the head.  She, in turn heaved the wad at another family member.  Within minutes, the room was snowing wrapping paper wads.  And, along with them, genuine laughter.  Heaviness dissipated, suspicion ebbed, judgment was temporarily suspended, and the evening ended in hugs and kind words. 

DON’T STOP THE CHAOS.  In the years that followed, the evening at Grandma and Grandpa Hay’s would begin with typical awkwardness.  There would have been little, if any, contact with each other between Christmases.  I would try to figure out the increasingly complex puzzle of who were my real cousins and who was related via divorce, remarriage, cohabitation, etc.  But during the gift exchange, the wrapping paper would eventually fly.  Even though it might have irritated her, Grandma Hay made little attempt to curb the chaos.  Perhaps she knew that it was one thing--perhaps the only thing--that this disparate group of people with a common tie to her and Grandpa Hay would ever enjoy together. 

GRACE IN A PAPER WAD.  I hope it doesn’t take a wrapping-paper-wad battle to bring your household or extended family together--however momentarily.  I pray it doesn’t come down to that.  But if it does, so be it.  I only wish I could have followed up that evening with some more frequent contact with my Hay relatives.  That little opening, that endearing moment, might have led to real relationship, might have led to understanding, might have provided an opening to a future of grace.  Grandma and Grandpa Hay are gone and the Hays no longer gather as family at Christmas.  It’s been years since I’ve seen any of them.  And yet I pray that, somehow, those moments of delightful Hay melee will not be completely lost for the grace they conveyed.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Pierre Teilhard de Chardin puts Advent and Incarnation into incredible perspective

“From the historical point of view, expectation of the parousia has never ceased to guide the progress of our faith like a torch.  The Israelites were constantly on the watch for the Lord’s coming; so too were the first Christians.  Christmas, which one might think would have turned our minds toward the past, has actually carried them further forward into the future.  For one moment the Messiah appeared in our midst, allowing himself to be seen and touched; then he vanished again, more luminous and mysterious than before, into the impenetrable depths of the future.  He has come.  Yet now, once again, we must go on expecting him more than ever.  This time it is no longer a small chosen group that awaits his coming; it is the whole of humanity.  The Lord Jesus will only come soon if we ardently long for him.  The breakthrough of the parousia will be the result of a mounting flood of desire … No matter what the price, we must rekindle in ourselves the desire and hope for the great future coming.” -- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Howard Thurman names some situations that are a prayer for Christmas grace

Where refugees seek deliverance that never comes,
And the heart consumes itself, if it would live,
Where little children age before their time,
And life wears down the edges of the mind,
Where the old man sits with mind grown cold
While bones and sinew, blood and cell, go slowly down to death,
Where fear companions each day's life,
And Perfect Love seems long delayed,
Christmas is waiting to be born:
In you, in me, in all humankind.

from The Moods of Christmas by Howard Thurman (Harper & Row, 1973)

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


My poem reminds the adults among us to let the season change us

I wrote the following poem a couple of years back, when our house was full of kiddos.  I was thinking about the possibility of Christmas making a spiritual change in the hearts of adults, not just children.

It is not enough to say
"Christmas is for children."
So it is, and ever so.
But it is especially for adults,
those routinous creatures
with furrowed brows wrapped
in self-absorbing pursuits.

These lamentable beings need
Christmas if they are ever
to be whole again.
They are so forgetful of
things that matter
and so clamorous for
things that don't.

Christmas, if it can pierce
their thick facade and
deflate their oversized egos,
may touch a forgotten place--
an abandoned but still
life-giving place--
in adult souls.

Christmas invites children
and adults alike to a place

where room is made for
a Child and that Child

is adored and honored
as a gift, a hope--even salvation
for one and all.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Friday, December 11, 2009


You know I'm going to want everyone to view this video...and then start urban bicycle commuting!

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


A few thoughts after 14 years of posting and sharing reflections online and via e-mail.

I was thinking of my online journaling the other day in terms of George Jones' standard "I was country when country wasn't cool."  I was blogging when blogging wasn't only not cool, it wasn't even a word.  I started putting together reflections on current events and personal intersections in 1995.  I called them "Grace Notes," posted them on a free Geocities website (Geocities is now defunct) and sent them (inflicted them. ha!) via e-mail to everyone on my e-mail list.  I did this every week for years.  Correction: I've continued to do this just about every week for 14 years.

Interesting how e-mail and the Internet have evolved during these years.  I got left in the dust for a while on some of the developments.  I invested a lot of time and effort doing things one way, only to find the platform and center had changed.  Some of them I shunned in caution, like chat and chat rooms.  Some of them I just never quite figured out, like user groups.  I've lurked and contributed on some listservs.  After working with my Geocities site for years, I finally started this Indy Bikehiker blog site in 2002 and started using it daily in 2004.  I've developed a few related blogs, but find I'm spread too thin to keep them all current all the time.  Most everything catches here.

I changed the name of my weekly e-mailed e-journal from "Grace Notes" to "Grace Between the Lines" a few years ago. Seemed like lots of folks were starting to  use "Grace Notes" and it was hard to keep above the water on search engines.  "Grace Between the Lines" seems to capture more of what I observe and write about.  I still put a weekly edition of "Grace Between the Lines" together and send it via "blind copy" to a growing list.  Maybe 400 are on it.  Most of what's in GBTL is also first posted here on Indy Bikehiker.

Lately, I've been fascinated with the social networking platforms Twitter and Facebook.  They're fun and interesting to me.  And they seem to integrate well with what I'm doing with my journaling here.  However, I find that I'm writing less here since starting to use FB and Twitter.  I feel the need to take more time just to write, recollect, reflect, sift, and keep on writing.  Someday, I hope I'll develop into a decent writer.  Until then, I'll just enjoy keyboarding or writing things that strike me as interesting, creative, challenging, profound, agitating, and/or of grace.  Thanks for reading and responding every now and then.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.


Nazi resistor Alfred Delp saw in Advent a call for radical awakening from self-sabotage

WAKE UP, O SLEEPER.  Father Alfred Delp was condemned as a traitor for his resistance to the regime of Adolf Hitler and hanged in a Nazi prison in 1945.  Shortly before his execution, the Jesuit priest wrote a piece now titled "The Shaking Reality of Advent" (in Watch for the Light). To one who was going through such fire, Advent was no serene welcoming.  It was a radical shaking to awake out of a self-sabotaging, illusory sleep.  At the same time, Delp points out that awakened ones should not now act anxiously or rashly.  Instead, live and act in anticipation of the next Advent and the surpassing value and new order it brings.  Here are a few excerpts:

TIME TO GO TO WORK. "If we want to transform life again, if Advent is truly to come again -- the Advent of home and of hearts, the Advent of the people and the nations, a coming of the Lord in all this -- then the great Advent question for us is whether we come out of these convulsions with this determination: yes, arise! It is time to awaken from sleep. It is time for the waking up to begin somewhere. It is time to put things back where God the Lord put them. It is time for each of us to go to work, with the same unshakable sureness that the Lord will come, to set our life in God's order wherever we can. Where God's word is heard, he will not cheat our life of the message; where our life rebels before our own eyes he will reprimand it."

THOSE WHO LOOK TO THE LORD.  "The world today needs people who have been shaken by ultimate calamities and emerged from them with the knowledge and awareness that those who look to the Lord will still be preserved by him, even if they are hounded from the earth."

A TIME FOR RENUNCIATION.  "Advent is a time when we ought to be shaken and brought to a realization of ourselves.  The necessary condition for the fulfillment of Advent is the renunciation of presumptuous attitudes and alluring dreams in which and by means of which we always build ourselves imaginary worlds.  In this way we force reality to take us to itself by force -- by force, in much pain and suffering."

A TIME OF PROMISE.  "At the same time, there is much more that belongs to Advent.  Advent is blessed with God's promises, which constitute the hidden happiness of this time.  These promises kindle the inner light in our hearts.  Being shattered, being awakened -- only with these is life made capable of Advent.  In the bitterness of awakening...the golden threads that pass between heaven and earth in these times reach us."

WE HAVE RECEIVED A MESSAGE.  Delp describes three promises we receive in Advent: (1) the angels annunciation, "speaking their message of blessing into the midst of anguish, scattering their seed of blessing that will one day spring up amid the night, call us to hope...  Advent is a time of inner security because it has received a message."  Delp challenges each of us to be such an angel of annunciation wherever possible.

DO WE HAVE A READY HEART?  The second promise of Advent is (2) the blessed woman: "Advent's holiest consolation is that the angel's annunciation met with a ready heart.  The Word became flesh in a motherly heart and grew out far beyond itself into the world of God-humanity."  Delp compares Mary's readiness and bearing of a great truth, a great liberation, to our own lives: "We must remember today with courage that Mary foreshadows the light in our midst.  Deeper down in our being, our days and our destinies, too, bear the blessing and mystery of God.  The blessed woman waits, and we must wait too until her hour has come."

WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY.  The third promise of Advent is found (3) in the voice and message of John the Baptist: "These John the Baptist characters...cry for blessing and salvation.  They summon us to our last chance, while already they feel the ground quaking and the rafters creaking and see the firmest of mountains tottering inwardly... They summon us to the opportunity of warding off, by the greater power of the converted heart, the shifting desert that will pounce upon us and bury us."

JUST BEYOND THE HORIZON.  "Space is still filled with the noise of destruction and annihilation, the shouts of self-assurance and arrogance, the weeping of despair and helplessness.  But just beyond the horizon the eternal realities stand silent in their age-old longing.  There shines on us the first mild light of the radiant fulfillment to come... It is all far off still, and only just announced and foretold.  But it is happening..."

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Just a couple of years ago, I was part of a little campaign to raise $35,000 (US) to purchase 750 bicycles for village outreach workers in India.  Gracious friends and church folk helped us meet the challenge.  During our 2,000-mile bike ride from Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu to Delhi, a number of outreach workers joined us on their brand-new bikes for brief sections of our journey.  Here, local boys gather 'round one of the 50-lb, single-speed, $50 Atlas bicycles that are the standard style throughout India.  Note the steel break lever and "cables."  These bikes are virtually indestructible.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


William Stringfellow reminds us the theme of Advent is repentance—personally and collectively

FROLICKING IS NOT REJOICING.  William Stringfellow writes of Advent: “There is, I notice, a lot of holiday frolicking, but that is not the same as rejoicing.  In any case, maybe outbursts of either frolicking or rejoicing are premature, if John the Baptist has credibility.  He identifies repentance as the message and sentiment of Advent."

NOT JUST PERSONAL REPENTANCE.  "In context, in the biblical accounts, the repentance of which John the Baptist preaches is no private or individualistic effort, but the disposition of a person is related to the reconciliation of the whole of creation.  'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" (Matthew 3 and Luke 3)

PRODUCE THE FRUIT OF REPENTANCE.  "The pioneer Christians...knew that the message of both Advents is political.  That message is that in the coming of Jesus Christ, the nations and the principalities and the rulers of the world are judged in the Word of God.  In the lordship of Christ they are rendered accountable to human life and, indeed, to all created life.  Hence, the response of John the Baptist when he is pressed to show the meaning of the repentance he preaches is, 'Bear fruits that befit repentance.'"

INVITATION TO REPENTANCE.  Let not William Stringfellow's words douse what mild lightheartedness we may muster in anticipation of Christmas.  Instead, may his effort to point to the Word of God overwhelm us.  Let's not allow ourselves to waltz through Advent and into Christmas without falling before God in true repentance.  And then, ever repentant and cleaving to the living Word of God, bear joyfully the burden of an unrepentant church, nation, and world in our hearts and through our prayers, words, and actions.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Advent stirs us from our slumber and bids us “wake up!” to ever-dawning Light

Advent begins
in a fog of unreadiness.
as if by dull surprise
or in a twilight zone,
we groggily hang the greens.

Hardly with awareness
much less anticipation
God’s people sleepwalk
through the prophecies
and Annunciation.

We may finally stir
by the time children sing
“Away in a Manger”
the Sunday before Christmas,
their raised voices spark
a light in our slumbering souls.

Is it only children and prophets
who grasp the urgency,
sense the passion;
whose hearts are rended
and readied by the
promise of Light shining
in the darkness?

Is it only to them that Advent
becomes no mere repetition
of myth-laden past events,
but days of embracing
the living Mystery,
the basis of all hope?

By God’s mercy and grace
children and prophets are
only the first to hear,
the first to recognize,
to proclaim that
it is indeed Mystery.

The Light ever dawns,
beaming its rays into the
eyes of even the groggiest saints,
the hardest sleeper
among us.

Only those who refuse to rise
amid many urgent shakings
and light flooding their beds
sleep through the

“Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


We're just into the season of Advent, but acting as if the Christmas season was already in full bloom
"'Tis the season to be jolly." That would be the Christmas season, technically. And that season has not yet arrived. Technically, we're in the season of Advent for three more weeks--right up through Christmas Eve. We're carefully preparing our hearts, making room for the "arrival." That's what we're doing if we care to observe ancient church and a deeper cultural tradition. Commercially, however, it's already "Christmastime in the city." In the stores. With the ads. On TV.  Over the radio waves...

THE RHYTHM OF KULTURE KRISMAS. We know there are two primary rhythms for celebrating Christmas, right?  One is what I call Kulture Krismas.  This is the rhythm most of us in America know and practice.  It begins with Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and finishes on Christmas Day.  It's full of frolicking and purchasing and caroling for the month leading up to December 25.  But after the "big day, we're partied out.  We're spent.  Christmas is pretty much over.

THE RHYTHM OF ADVENT PREPARATION.  The rhythm fewer know--and still fewer observe--begins with four weeks of soul-searching preparation in Advent, highlights with Christmas Day communion (the Mass of Christ, i.e., Christ-mas), and extends through Epiphany on January 6th (celebrating the arrival of the Magi at Bethlehem). This rhythm gives us the tradition of giving a gift on each of the 12 days of Christmas.

TWO MOODS, TWO JOYS.  The feeling and mood of Advent is like a home that is anticipating a child to be born to a family.  It's wonderful, hopeful and joyful.  But it's primarily a time to prepare, to make room for the child.  But the gift, the child being born, the birth day, is the beginning of the real celebration.  That's what brings surpassing joy and cause for real revelry.

CHRISTMAS RUSH. Most of us who know of the more ancient tradition accommodate the more secular/commercial Christmas, but we do so with mixed feelings. We cross this border daily during the weeks of December. We try to live in the rhythm of Advent, attempting to hold off untimely outbursts of "Joy to the World" until Christmas Eve, only to find ourselves indulging the crowd that can't wait for Santa Claus to come to town.

ADVENT SIMMER.  So, if I seem a bit reticent to dive whole hog into Christmas frolicking in these weeks, please indulge me this small eccentricity.  I'm trying to prepare my heart to make room to fully experience the grace of Incarnation--as if the Child were suddenly, upendingly born in my heart and to our world on Christmas Eve.  Then, I'll sing--and keep on singing--with gusto: "Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King!"

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Born by our birth
Here on earth
Our flesh to wear

Our death to bear

-- Wendell Berry in Leavings (Counterpoint, 2009)

Monday, November 30, 2009


Am I virgin enough to respond to Mystery with a "yes" from my deepest, truest self?

Reading the day's piece by Kathleen Norris in Watch for the Light - Readings for Advent and Christmas, I appreciate the poet's perspective Norris brings to the Annunciation. Against the popular demystifying and demythologizing trends of our era, Norris suggests Christians accept the mystery and embrace a greater sense of what it means to be virgin.

Norris points to Thomas Merton's description of a "point vierge" at the center of his being, "a point untouched by illusion, a point of pure truth...which belongs entirely to God , which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point...of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us."  This, Norris suggests, is the virginity out of which we can all respond to God's invitation to cooperate in the divine conspiracy.

Norris: "I treasure [the Annunciation] story because it forces me to ask: When the mystery of God's love breaks through into my consciousness, do I run from it? Do I ask of it what it cannot answer? Shrugging, do I retreat into facile cliches, the popular but false wisdom of what 'we all know?' Or am I virgin enough to respond from my deepest, truest self, and say something new, a 'yes' that will change me forever?"

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


With Advent's onset, we turn toward the New Year--and beyond--with tangible hope

NEW YEAR NOW.  I think of Advent as the beginning of the Christian year.  The calendar year is waning. Even now, its possibilities and disappointments, highlights and tragedies are being analyzed by pundits.  It's been an awesome year, but its unfulfillments yield to an already-emerging hope for the future. Christians are the first to look to the horizon for what is promised and yet to come. Even as we live in the present challenges, we're anticipating something that will redeem and renew all that has been downtrodden, devalued, and distorted. For us, the future begins today, on this first Sunday of Advent.

SOMETHING TO PARTY ABOUT. No doubt, we will observe the official New Year on January 1.  But we will do so as ones who have prepared for it with soul-searching, Word-guiding, promise-bearing, Incarnation-proclaiming anticipation.  By the time the world's New Year rolls around, we will be several days into our celebration of the Word made flesh, the Advent conspiracy commenced, hope alive, the future drawing near. While New Year's Eve revelers drink emptily to the New Year, we will have already embraced its challenges with imagination and courage.  We will celebrate, but not like ones who have no hope.

BEYOND THE NEW YEAR.  With Advent, we turn toward the New Year, to be sure, but toward something beyond it.  Our hopes are not in the New Year.  Our hope is in the One who holds our time and all time in His hands.  During these four weeks, we remind ourselves of preparation and anticipation of the ancient story that reaches into the future and gives purpose in the present.  We recall that our lives are rooted in something deeper than mere culture and tradition, that we are not alone in our struggles for justice and a better world, and that love has come to us right where are--a love the invites belief, faith, perseverance, and a confident hope in a yet-to-be-fulfilled future.  

EMBRACE THE STORY, LIVE ITS PROMISE.  I embrace these weeks with gratitude for the opportunity to look forward with meaning and purpose.  Perhaps I am unusually moved by the shaping of these days in terms of hope, but I accept that as a grace and share it as one of a handful of enthusiasms I possess and pass along.  I challenge you to begin to contemplate anew the age-old story of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.  In this multi-faceted story is enough tangible hope to charge our present days, empower us to let go of yesterday's disappointments, and bring the future near.  Let's begin to celebrate the New Year together even now. 

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Friday, November 27, 2009


I wrote this piece a four days after Thanksgiving a few years ago, relating Thanksgiving to worship and daily living.

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

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

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

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


African-American Quaker pastor Howard Thurman's Thanksgiving Day reflection speaks for me

Today, I make my Sacrament of Thanksgiving.
I begin with the simple things of my days:
Fresh air to breath,
Cool water to drink,
The taste of food,
The protection of houses and clothes,
The comforts of home.
For these, I make an act of Thanksgiving this day!

I bring to mind all the warmth of humankind that I have known:
My mother’s arms,
The strength of my father,
The playmates of my childhood,
The wonderful stories brought to me from the
lives of many who talked of days gone by
when fairies and giants and all kinds of
magic held sway;
The tears I have shed, the tears I have seen;
The excitement of laughter and the twinkle
in the eye with its reminder that life is good.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

I finger one of the messages of hope that
awaited me at the crossroads:
The smile of approval from those who held in their hands
the reins of my security;
The tightening of the grip in a single handshake
when I feared the step before me in the darkness;
The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest
and the claims of appetite were not to be denied;
The crucial word said,
the simple sentence from an open page
when my decision hung in the balance.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

I pass before me the mainsprings of my heritage:
The fruits of the labors of countless generations
who lived before me, without whom my own life
would have no meaning;
The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;
The prophets who sense a truth greater than the mind
could grasp and whose words could only find fulfillment
in the years which they would never see;
The workers whose sweat has watered the trees,
the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;
The pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons,
whose courage made paths into new worlds and far-off places;
The Savior whose blood was shed with a recklessness
that only a dream could inspire and God could command.
For all this I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

I linger over the meanings of my own life and the commitment
to which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind:
The little purposes in which I have shared with my loves,
my desires, my gifts;
The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence
that I have never done my best, I have never reached for the highest;
The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind
will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the
inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of
the children of God as the waters cover the sea.
All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,
I make as my Sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee, Our Father,
in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.

From For the Inward Journey, selected writings by Howard Thurman, 1984, Richmond, Indiana: Friends United Press

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.