Friday, January 30, 2009


"Find your own Calcutta." -- Mother Teresa

Young people will go
around the world
to be in mission,
and yet mission is
around the corner.

Is there not a cry
for love here?
Is there not a plea
for a shining witness here?
Is there not injustice and poverty
amid privilege and wealth?
Is there not a dearth of urban
advocates and bearers of grace?
Is there not enough heartache
on this block to move us
to our knees?

Then why seek to
the ends of the earth?
Look near!
Hear the call of the city,
the cry in these urban neighborhoods.

Go! Cross the street!
Find Christ.
Find mission.
Find life
in this city.

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

Thursday, January 29, 2009


I bear my soul in a plea to "stay" in the city when a sense to "go" in mission emerges

NO SMALL THING. It is no small thing when persons, younger or older, take seriously their life’s calling, when they sense that their lives are meant to make a contribution or to be used in some way for a purpose greater than their own self-satisfaction or to be mere cog in the wheel, and when they open themselves up for divine guidance regarding their vocation. To explore vocation with a heart for God puts us on sacred ground, though the journey be difficult and direction at times hard to perceive.

THE RIGHT QUESTION. Who dares to ask, “God, what do you want to do with my life?” This is a very different than saying, “God, here’s what I want to do with my life; please bless it.” Or, “God bless me in my vocational endeavors (a la, ‘expand my boundaries,’) and I will support your work.” Or, “God, let me do what I want to do now, and I will give you my later years.” Or other variations, all of which begin with a person telling God what one is going to do, regardless.

READY TO LIVE THE QUESTION. It is never too late or too early, even if we have for a lifetime told God what we are--and are not--going to do, to stop and put it simply and squarely: “God, what do you want to do with my life?” When this question is asked, with all sincerity and with the sense that it is incredibly risky and that the answer may even blow our carefully-crafted cocoon of a world away, the real adventure of life begins. Do not ask this question flippantly. Be ready to live the question into a lifetime of heartbreaking service and unparalleled joy.

WHY I RAISE THE ISSUE. I raise this issue because I know of young people who take divine guidance for vocation very seriously. I raise it because I know of young people who do not factor calling at all in their vocational considerations. I raise it because of older people who begin to grapple with the question of divine vocation only in later years. I raise this issue because I believe, sooner or later, we all will see that our lives are to be in mission, in service to a purpose greater than ourselves.

A SENSE OF MISSION. I believe young people, in particular, sense that they are to be in mission. They sense that the world needs to be healed, that their lives are a gift, that there is a difference they are to make, and, for all their limited range of perspective and the clutter of adolescent culture, they will be one of the ones to make it. The world is not short on young people who strive for high ideals, not short on children who dream great dreams, on mission-minded leaders-in-the-making, on nurturing young people to give themselves to a high calling.

MARKETPLACE SABOTAGE. But it is hard--extremely difficult--for young people to see a world-changing trajectory in entry-level labor or work, family, educational, and community environments that all but squelch their sense of hope and transcendence. The marketplace can eat a soul alive and sabotage the best-intended. By age twenty-five, most have either abandoned any sense of calling and idealism or pushed it so far down the ladder of important things that it no longer seems reasonable or relevant.

HOW MISSIONARIES ARE FORMED. Others hold tenaciously to a sense of calling and mission, but do not see it likely, possible or rewarding in their hometowns or immediate community settings. They will go to the ends of the world in order to be in mission. These young people want to make a difference and to have an opportunity to see their gifts, talents, and skills make a direct impact through self-giving service. This is why young people continue to sign up to be missionaries, to go with the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, or other culture-crossing, life-changing programs.

WHO WILL DARE TO STAY? And this where, as an urban advocate, I want to stake my challenge. To my way of seeing, there is no greater culture-crossing spiritual challenge than the American city. The swirl of conflicting and competing marketplace, cultural, and ideological influences and complexities mixed in with crushing poverty juxtaposed to unbridled wealth, incredible pain medicated by addicting pleasures, unprecedented media satiation in the face of disintegrating relationships, and an overabundance of irony and cynicism--could there be a more challenging arena of mission? Many world mission fields pale in comparison. The American city cries out for love and grace. Who will dare to stay?

FRAMING MISSION. My challenge as an urban advocate is to frame the context of cosmopolitan ministry in such a way that no foreign mission field is opted for simply because the crying need, the possibility for changed lives, for authentic community, and the opportunity for creative service in one’s own city is not clearly perceived. My challenge is to so articulate mission that every participant in our community of faith sees themselves in a critical culture-crossing mission capacity in this city, and that only those who engage that challenge and, through active urban service, sense and confirm that they are called to immerse in another urban culture would ever be sent afar. This I hope to do, by the grace of 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. Shalom!


Relatedness or distinction: at which point do you begin?

WHERE I BEGIN. Not long ago, I realized that I start with a search for relatedness. As I listen to someone talk, or to a speech or sermon, I am almost imperceptibly doing a mental background scan to identify likenesses, common ground, similar heritage, relational linkages, philosophical touch points, family lineage, etc. I begin with an assumption of relatedness. I don't know who else comes to a conversation or situation with this anticipation and search. I wonder. Do you?

DISTINCTIONS SECOND. I also wonder how many people or what approximate percentage of us begin at the opposite end, enumerating differences and distinctions? How many of us imperceptibly initially note the many identifiable differences between ourselves and another person, or group, or organization, or system?

LEAD FROM WHICH? I suppose we all do both – look for relatedness and distinctions, scan for similarities and differences. But with which does one lead? Do we begin with relatedness or distinctions? And what different relational trajectories might this set up? I can imagine the value of each for different challenges and situations; both are essential for contemplative leadership.

LEAD FROM WHICH? I suppose we all do both – look for relatedness and distinctions, scan for similarities and differences. But with which does one lead? Do we begin with relatedness or distinctions? And what different relational trajectories might this set up? I can imagine the value of each for different challenges and situations; both are essential for contemplative leadership.

OBAMA VS BUSH ON RELATEDNESS. I am freshly intrigued by how such beginning points shape leaders and the manner in which they lead. I see a stark contrast between the relatedness factor of President Barack Obama and the distinction factor for past-President George W. Bush. Their beginning points, I believe, shape their approach to governing and addressing national and international issues.

FINE-LINE LINKS. I suppose those of us who assume relatedness and then look for it may find ourselves frequently disappointed. We may perceive or assume what others do not perceive or assume. We may see fine linkages worth testing and exploring, while others see unbridgeable chasms or rather quaint but useless commonness. I see incredible commonness among the many disparate people I am privileged to get to know; but I have come to realize that some of these people can’t seem to appreciate each other and so do not make an effort to connect.

COMMON GROUND IN GRACE. I wonder if this leading/leaning toward relating and connecting is a source of my enduring idealism even in the face of some occurrences across a lifetime that would surely have turned me into a sour cynic? Optimism continues to focus my horizon, my sense of the future. It is an optimism borne of grace. And perhaps it is confidence in grace itself--grace that originally connected us all and that can, if recognized and embraced, still connect us all--that is the deeper source of my readiness and persistence to search for relatedness.

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis' Pike Township offers great trails

WOODED GRANDEUR IN MARION COUNTY. This afternoon, I drove all of half a mile to get into Eagle Creek Park. I strapped on my cross-country skis, hit the trails, and glided through the serene woods. The snow glistened in the sunshine. Trails along the reservoir provided great vistas. I encountered about 20 other skiers this afternoon, including my next-door neighbors Jamie and Sarah (in photo). I also passed several deer and came upon a few raccoon. The deer just stared at me, as if to say: "Dude, that looks so awkward." Yeah, well, you have four legs!

HEAD TO THE PARK WHILE IT LASTS. The 12 inches of snow looks like it's going to be around a while, so Eagle Creek Park could be fun while it lasts. The roads in the park are already clear enough for running and mountian biking (on the roads only; bikes are prohibited on the park trails). One neighbor had ridden his mountain bike through the park and told me it was perfect.
TRY XC SKIING. Cross-country Skis, poles and boots can be rented at the Marina. If you haven't cross-country skied, it's worth a try. It's like a vigorous hike. It doesn't take long to get the hang of it. The beauty of the woods in the snow is worth the effort. Or, you could just hike the trails. The outdoors await.

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

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


This is the big snow I've been hoping for in Indianapolis this season

WINTER WONDERLAND. I've been hoping for this kind of snowfall in Indianapolis this season. Everything to this point has missed us to the north or south. This storm is likely to leave more than 10 inches of powder on the ground before it moves off to the east by midday Wednesday. My cross-country skis are ready. So are our sleds. It's a winter wonderland. Enjoy the days if you can.

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

Monday, January 26, 2009


This is the third of seven "gifts that keep on giving" in a mid-winter spiritual formation project I'm developing

REASON TO CELEBRATE. I feel like the guy in the Verizon TV commercial who ever-so-sadly pulls the plug on his bright outdoor Christmas decorations. As he does, a neighbor, seeing his gloom, reminds him that there is still something to celebrate. Heartened, the guy smiles and plugs the light display back in. Not ready to let go of the Christmas glow, I conceived of a mid-winter faith exploration series called “7 Gifts that Keep on Giving.”

GIVE AND GIVE AGAIN. Here are the 7: Sacrifice, solitude, hospitality, peace, acceptance, friendship and fellowship. These aren’t gifts that are given to be consumed, or received to be singularly possessed. These are gifts that enrich us even as we give them. Receiving them, we are inspired to offer them to others. And as we practice them, we receive through them more than we ever put into the gift. Such gifts are distinctively Biblical. They are central to Christian life and witness. I’m sure there are more than the seven I’ve chosen to focus on, but these are, to me, striking.

HOSPITALITY IS MAKING ROOM. Offer hospitality and it keeps on giving. When we make room for others with our time, care, space, and faith, we receive more than we give. We are enriched when we include so-called outsiders. A bridge and bond of belonging develops. In the Bible, strangers can be, when welcomed, bearers of God’s gifts for his followers. Hospitality is what God has offered us in Jesus Christ and it is what we are called upon to offer others in reflection of God’s love.

TRANSFORMED BY HOSPITALITY The story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) is, at its core, a story of hospitality. Jesus goes to the house of one of the most despised people in Jericho. The tax collector Zacchaeus is considered a sinner. But Jesus’ very act of hospitality—going to his home and breaking bread with him—brings out the best in Zacchaeus. Jesus never preaches to him or condemns him. But in response to Jesus’ presence in his home, Zacchaeus gives half his possessions to the poor and promises to pay back four times whatever he has taken unjustly from his brethren. I draw five applications for the practice of hospitality from this story:

1. Hospitality helps us overcome barriers of hostility and indifference. Luke 19:1-6 Some barriers will only be overcome when we decide to offer hospitality to someone in spite of the wrong that’s been done or the indifference we or they feel.

2. Hospitality takes us at our worst and brings out our best. Luke 19:7-8 Is there a Zacchaeus that is just waiting to be overwhelmed by a simple act of graciousness and inclusion?

3. Hospitality precedes salvation. Luke 19:5-9 Salvation is not a formula to be agreed to or proposition to be accepted. It is a relationship to be demonstrated, embraced, and developed. Hospitality is the first act of salvation. It is an important sign of the Kingdom to those seduced by the world and lost in its conflicts and pay-to-play “rules.”

4. Hospitality makes restitution and restoration possible. Luke 19:8 Look what happens after Jesus’ act of hospitality with Zacchaeus. He opens his heart…and his wallet! He GETS what the Kingdom is about and does whatever it takes to be part of the future Jesus is bringing near.

5. In hospitality, we share Jesus and welcome Jesus. Luke 5-6; Matthew 25:31-46; Hebrews 13:2-3 This is the mystical part of hospitality: Jesus is present in it. “You did it to me,” he says. Practicing hospitality is being like Jesus and welcoming Jesus at the same time. So, what are we waiting for?

10 STEPS INTO HOSPITALITY. Here are 10 Steps into a More Hospitable Life:
(1) Make room—time, space, budget.
(2) Look up, look out, look beyond, look again.
(3) Develop and “invitational outlook.”
(4) Counter excuses with prayer and courage.
(5) Don’t be so selective, exclusive, or private.
(6) Offer an unexpected gift.
(7) Keep it simple, basic.
(8) Don’t sweat it.
(9) Anticipate God’s presence, God’s grace.
(10) Repeat frequently.

(1) Home, apartment.
(2) Restaurant or coffee shop.
(3) Hospital, assisted-living, prison, etc.
(4) An athletic event, concert, public gathering.
(5) In transit – driving, riding.
(6) Phone, text, e-mail.
(7) Share a walk, prayer walk.
(8) Church gatherings, activities – Coffeehouse, The Underground, SCAMPS opportunities, small groups, etc.
(9) Watching, caring for children.
(10) 5 extra minutes every day.

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

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Revisiting 10 community-building ideas that work

WHILE WE'RE TALKING "CHANGE." Since everyone's simultaneously talking change and cut-backs, I decided to revisit 10 community-building and justice-bearing ideas that work. These may be some of the most cost-effective, quality-of-life enahancing personal and community choices we can make. I have had direct engagement with most of these and have confidence in all of them. They are not "in your face" acts for peace and justice, but they are effective at achieving significant outcomes in the face of isolating urban environments, ineffective outcomes for justice, depressed economies, neighborhood demise, lack of community connectivity and unfair wages.

1. NEW URBANISM. This community architectural design approach creatively and comprehensively retrofits urban and suburban areas that don’t work in terms of neighbor isolation, non-connectivity, fear, and over-commercialization followed by big-box vacancies. Read Howard Kuntzler's Geography of Nowhere and Home from Nowhere to get a handle on the issues at stake for communities at large. Particularly, the principles of mixed-income level dwellings and neighborhoods, walkability, green space, and town centers are good hope for communities and neighbors who want to see the promise of urban living fulfilled. Where implemented with all members of a community at heart, this design does a lot to indirectly impact social change in a community.

2. RESTORATIVE JUSTICE. Instead of merely locking up the perpetrator of a crime, restorative justice brings perpetrator and victim together in conferences that confront hard facts and feelings but often bring mutual healing to both--and to the community. Victim and perpetrator agree to consequences and restitution. I’ve seen this work for non-violent crimes and particularly with juvenile offenders. This is more what “justice” is supposed to look like.

3. PAID TIME FOR SCHOOL INVOLVEMENT. Parental involvement in a child's education is a critical factor in a child's educational development. It is proven fact in completion and future success. Employers who take a broader view of their workplace health and long-term viability of their business in a community will see the value of encouraging their employee-parents to get directly involved in helping make their children’s formal educational experience a success. Businesses and manufacturers have nothing to lose and everything (including positive community image and regard) to gain.

4. LOCAL ECONOMY. Shop local. Buy locally-made and exchanged products when possible. Frequent the farmers’ market. Check out the consignment shops. Ask for more locally-grown and locally-produced products at the stores you like. Let retailers know you’re interested in local products.

5. NEIGHBORHOOD BLOCK PARTIES. When’s the last time you attended a block party? Why not host one? If that’s not your cup of tea, what is? Neighborhood clean-up? Neighborhood garage sale? Neighborhood collection for the food bank? What can you do to get to know your newer and older neighbors? What are you waiting for? What holds you back?

6. CROSS-CULTURAL EXCHANGES. Take the opportunity whenever you can to expose yourself to any other culture than the American suburban consumerist one. No, going to Taco Bell is not crossing cultures. What ethnic festivals are held in your community? What restaurants are authentic? What communities of faith are available? Take in a student for a semester. Seek to develop relationships across cultures. Know that it will take your time. How sad to come to the end of a lifetime and only to have experienced one’s own culture.

7. LIVING WAGE. Try to live for a month on what the income from a $8.00 per hour (or less) full-time job. Until you do, how can you dare say another careless word about the minimum wage or how hard it is to get good service at restaurants, retail outlets, or just about any service-industry location? Every worker deserves to be able to actually live on the fruit of their work. Don’t tell me about it being impossible to pay living wages when CEO’s, managers, and stockholders are laughing all the way to the bank. Pay the living wage and see what happens to worker loyalty, productivity, and readiness to support your interests.

8. INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT ACCOUNTS. Michael Sherraden’s work, Assets and the Poor, begot a good thing. He found that the major difference between inter-generational poverty and ending it are assets. Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) are special savings accounts for neighbors living at poverty levels. For every dollar saved, three will be matched by a special fund. The catch: the multiplied savings can be used only for asset-building: to pay for higher education, vocational training, purchase of home, equipment for starting one’s own business, or cash to buy into an existing viable business.

9. RESPONSIBLE CONSUMER SPENDING & STOCKHOLDER INVESTING. Wonder why these prices are so low? You KNOW it’s not a wonder. It’s often based on unfair trade practices. It’s usually based on cheap or near-slave labor being pressured by US-based big-box retailers. You are not contributing to a developing economy unless your product bares a “fair trade” indication. Consumers reinforce bad international capitalist behavior daily. We are complicit. Each of us can buy more responsibly. Stock traders have a much higher level of responsibility and opportunity than consumers. Do the right thing by working neighbors and consumers in other parts of the world!

10. ASSET-BASED COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT. John McNight and Jodi Kretzman started a good thing, helping folks who want to help their neighborhoods and communities overcome dependency on experts and big outside dollars to renew their communities. Instead of counting what you don’t have, start cataloguing the capacities and resources in your neighborhood and community. Then, organize together. See what a difference you can make. Let's see, I think this is what Barack Obama was doing just a few years ago...

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

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Second of seven gifts that keep on giving -- a mid-winter spiritual deepening project

FOLLOW JESUS TO A SOLITARY PLACE. Take a minute to read Mark 1:29-39. Consider what you're reading. Jesus rises early in the day and goes out to a solitary place to pray. This was a basic practice for Jesus. It's also a source of guidance and empowerment for Jesus being with people effectively. So it is in our lives. Solitude is one of the gifts that keep on giving. I put forward the following principles regarding solitude:

1. Solitude is the spiritual discipline that counters loneliness, noise, and a crowded consciousness. It is a discipline to be practiced and developed. It is necessary to develop a personal relationship and growth. Dr. Morris Weigelt says: “If you have no time for solitude, you must change your lifestyle. If you do not find yourself alone, you will not find yourself at all.”

2. Solitude tunes us into God’s healing presence and wise counsel. Read: Psalm 8, 46. We aren’t talking about being alone by ourselves. This is about getting alone with God. God is with you. Anticipate your time with Him. Open your heart to His love, His counsel, His comfort, His direction.

3. Solitude re-focuses our understanding of who we are and how we can care well for others. Read: Matthew 6:5-6; 26:36-46. Instead of being defined and driven by what people think of us or expect of us, in solitude we refocus on who we are in Christ and God’s best for us. Henri Nouwen says: "In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared.” Out of that, we see others differently.

4. Out of solitude emerges insight, compassion, and power to address the most pressing challenges in our lives and world. Read: Mark 1:38, Matthew 9:35-38. Here’s where solitude becomes a gift that keeps on giving. Out of solitude, we go with strength, purpose, and capacity to be with others effectively, offering grace and care beyond ourselves. Thomas Merton shares his experience of solitude this way: “It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them…. Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say.”

5 STEPS INTO SOLITUDE. Richard Foster offers the following steps into the spiritual discipline of solitude. See if you do not find this a gift that keeps on giving throughout your life:

1. Take advantage of the “mini-solitudes” that fill your day.

2. Develop a “quiet place” for silence and solitude.

3. Train yourself to limit and focus your talking to maintain plain, helpful speech.

4. Try to live one day without words at all.

5. Withdraw 4 times a year for 3-4 hours for the purpose of reorienting your life goals.

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

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


My impressions of the Inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States

INAUGURAL TRADITION. It’s a long-standing tradition for me to take in Presidential Inaugurations. I’ve never attended one in person (should’ve been at this one!), but I’ve not missed viewing the proceedings on TV and reading all I can about them since Jimmy Carter’s Inauguration in 1976 (the first Presidential Election I was eligible to vote in and the first President I voted for). Watching George W. Bush's Inauguration in 2000 inspired me to write him letters frequently.

DOWN BUT INSPIRED. This year, I hadn’t planned to watch it all, but a head/throat/chest crud kept me at home and I took in most of the events on CNN and C-SPAN through the fog of antihistamines while on the couch. But no crud could keep me down at moments during the proceedings. I sang (hoarsely), stood, prayed, and wept with the throng on the National Mall, as if I were there. I drew inspiration and encouragement from the day…and perhaps a bit of healing. I pray others did, as well. Here are a few impressions I come away with. Feel free to share some of yours with me.

1. THE MOMENT. Nothing Barack Obama said could match the profound reality of the day—an African-American (albeit via a Kenyan father and white American mother) man was being sworn in as President of the United States 46 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. stood at the other end of the National Mall to declare a profound hope and a Dream.

2. THE THRONG. That sea of 1.5 million+ people on the National Mall, their spirited responses to reporters, and their willingness to endure freezing temps for many hours to be a part of the history-making moment: awesome!

3. SUBDUED SPEECH. Obama’s speech will be memorable for its subdued tone, call to personal responsibility, and pointed break with Bush policies. Obama did not “preach” as he might have (and has done inspiringly on occasion). Instead, he challenged--level-headedly and forthrightly and measuredly. He spoke to a humbled and economically-vulnerable nation that has lost integrity in the eyes of many people around the world. It wasn’t a time to gloat.

4. OLD VALUES. Let’s see: “Hard work, honesty, courage, fair play, tolerance, curiosity, loyalty, and patriotism.” Hmmm. Doesn’t sound like a quick slide into moral bankruptcy to me.

5. CALL TO RESPONSIBILITY. “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.”

6. UNCLENCH YOUR FIST. “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West: Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

7. SIMPLE GIFTS. Loved the instrumental quartet playing “Simple Gifts.” Exquisite. “‘Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free, ‘tis a gift to come down where we ought to be. And when we find ourselves in the place just right, t‘will be in the valley of love and delight. When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed. To turn, turn, will be our delight, ‘til by turning, turning, we come, ‘round right.”

8. COLORFUL BENEDICTION. I enjoyed the Rev. Lowery’s benediction. Quite a bit more than a prayer, I thought he stole the show. From words of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to his rhyming quip and responsive triple “Amen” at the end, it surpassed in poignancy and inspiration the earlier prayer/speech of the Rev. Rick Warren (though I thought Warren handled himself relatively well).

9. INAUGURAL POEM. I will have to listen and read Elizabeth Alexander’s poem a few more times to appreciate its fullness. That’s the way it is with most weighty and non-rhyming poems. Can you remember one phrase from Robert Frost’s poem at John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration? Ten points if you can. But we remember and appreciate Robert Frost’s other poetry. We’ll see if Alexander becomes more familiar to us. Here’s one line I really liked: “Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.”

10. OBAMAS WALK. I held my breath for the entire 7 and a half minutes that President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walked in the street during the parade. I learned today that our new President was wearing bullet-deterring Kevlar underclothing. See, he IS like Superman!

11. LONG PARADE. I enjoyed the Inaugural parade into the night to its very end on C-SPAN. You know me and parades—I love ‘em. Bands great to not so good strutted before the President’s bullet-proof viewing stand. Military units of every sort marched with pride and precision. The large international flag-waving Peace Corps group, though rag-tag, was heartening. It’s a long parade, but it only happens every four years. Worth the watch.

12. INAUGURAL GALAS. I stayed awake to see the President and First Lady speak and dance at a few of the Inaugural Balls. I like the name of one: “The Neighborhood Ball.” I’d like to attend that one sometime (though I can’t dance!). Hey, why wait? Let's have a neighborhood gala of our own! Celebrate the city and the neighbors who make it great!

I welcome your responses and/or questions. Click on "responses" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


ON THE ROAD AGAIN. No way any of us would have noticed it in the bright light of the Inauguration of Barack Obama. But it happened, just the same. Lance Armstrong rode the first stage of the Tour Down Under today, making his professional cycling debut after a three-year retirement.

PREP FOR TOUR DE FRANCE. Armstrong, riding for Kazakh team Astana, will pedal across Australia throughout the week. He's not expected to win the race, but his presence in it and his intention to compete again in the Tour de France come July has significantly raised levels of interest and attention. Does the "old guy" still have a win in him?

Track the progress of the Tour Down Under.

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


Change is in the air and my prayer is for a heart great enough for the challenge

On the brink of this day of
togetherness for the world,
on this day of Inauguration,
I pause in solitude to
consider who I am and what
these momentous days call forth
from the fullness of my life.

Change and renewal are everywhere
anticipated and talked about.
I consider the nature of change
and the mix of motives that
stir in the depths of our souls.

From whence shall change most come—
from stirring external challenges or
heart-renewing wisdom?
From new political directions
or unchanging spiritual inspiration?

If the nation shall truly change
we must each be changed in heart.
Our challenges cannot be met
with yesterday’s presumptions.
The people we want to be,
we must become with heaven’s help.

So, God, work a change in me today.
Tune my heart to You and your Dream,
a Dream so great it would take us all in
and renew us from the inside out that we
may live the Shalom You make possible.

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

Photo: Farrington James, a homeless man, cries as he watches President Barack Obama's inauguration from the Lord's Place homeless shelter in West Palm Beach, Fla. Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009. (AP Photo/J. Pat Carter)

Friday, January 16, 2009


Amid the glory is the gory and this is worth examining for the truth on which it sheds light

ON THE HAPPY SIDE. Wouldn't it be nice to read and write only of pleasant things, of ideals realized, of harmony among friends and peace as an absence of differences? Wouldn't it be nice to write only of what is positive, what inspires? Wouldn't it be nice to speak only of uplifting examples and avoid or eclipse by sheer dint of will all that is hurtful, false, and foreboding?

GRACE BETWEEN THE LINES. Yeah, me too. This I attempt on Bikehiker blog and elsewhere in my writing, in my reading, in my preaching, teaching and conversations. And, looking for this, I often find and try to articulate not only what is obviously good, ideal, and inspiring, but the more subtle "grace between the lines" amid the the warp and woof of so-called non-spiritual matters and situations.

GORY AMID THE GLORY. At the same time, amid the glory is the gory. Amid pleasantries are poverties. Just beyond the walls of the Taj Mahal are huts. Truth-seeking often takes place in a spiritual minefield. Fallenness is embedded in ideologies, images, and institutions. Behind some best-foot-forward facades are pathological contradictions that twist, hurt, and destroy without apparent awareness or overt intention. Even in the name of holiness, self-deception and ego-protection are at work. Beware the leader who hedges the truth and sacrifices a friend for the sake of appearances and preservation of position. To not speak of this other side or write of the fuller picture would be a denial of the truth.

BEYOND THE TAJ MAHAL. It's not that I cannot simply enjoy what I see, accept what is given. It is that I see more in context, see through, perceive at more than one level at the same time. At one level, I enjoyed being at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. It is magnificent. I explored it fully with as full an appreciation as possible. At another level, I read of the forced labor that built it, of the many lives it cost, of the resources it required. I am aware of both the groveling servitude and absolute privileged power it reinforced. I notice the poverty and pathology that today surrounds the walls of this "wonder of the world." Here, take a picture of us!

SEEING MULTI-DIMENSIONALLY. I am aware that I see paradox and contradiction in situations which many people blithely accept. I know that I readily see justice denied when others wouldn't notice anything out of the ordinary. I wrestle with my truth receptors that acknowledge complexity in would-be pat answers, that cannot reduce virtue to sound-byte religion, that perceive ultimate trajectories and potentially life-denying or life-giving outcomes in in-the-moment activities. What's more, I recognize my participation--direct or indirect, for good or ill--from this point forward. Others see a good thing; I often see a good thing that sacrifices a readily accessible better or best.

GRACE IS GREATER. I suppose this is the burden of both critical thinking and contemplative prayer. It is the weight of reading between the lines, of asking questions not so welcomed, of not settling to accept appearances only. This necessarily complicates what might otherwise be taken as simple. But whatever burden this might be, it is transcended in the reality that grace remains at work in even in the downsides, that there is an intended wholeness and restoration still to be realized, that there is a sustaining presence and depth beneath the shallows in which we paddle, and that "you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."

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


On Monday: an Inter-faith Worship Service followed by justice organizing

SINGING AND PREACHING. Here is the kind of faith and community gathering I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would have liked to see on his birthday. On MLK Day each year, I make it a point to get together with other Christians and friends of other faiths to focus on the Biblical themes in the American civil rights movement and continuing civil rights challenges. But rarely have we done anything beyond singing and preaching--though these are very important and I enjoy them fully. Parenthetically: I've been thoroughly disappointed over the years at the near-total absence of white evangelical church congregations, leaders and laity at MLK gatherings. Why is that?

BUT NOT JUST A CHURCH SERVICE. But I like what has started to happen in Indianapolis. After last year's interfaith MLK Day service at Christ Church Cathedral, we marched to Key Bank and protested its refusal to offer living wages and benefits to the custodial workers who service its downtown Indianapolis building. This year, it looks like we will engage in a justice action planning session.

CONNECTING FAITH WITH ACTIO. Folks, this is Isaiah 58 stuff--basic connection between worship of God and justice in life. This is where I plan to be during this time on Monday, January 19, 2009 (For my Methodist, Wesleyan, Nazarene and Free Methodist friends: I think this is where the likes of John Wesley, Phineas Bresee, and B. T. Roberts would be, too!):

11:00 AM TO 3:00 PM ON MONDAY. Central Indiana Jobs with Justice will be celebrating the grassroots community on Monday, January 19th in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. From 11:00 - 3:00 p.m. there will be an interfaith worship service, all natural lunch ($8 suggested donation) and a planning session to ignite the social justice movement in Indianapolis. Location: Lockerbie United Methodist Church at 237 N East Street, downtown Indianapolis. Sponsors: Central Indiana Jobs with Justice, Earth House Collective, Indianapolis Clergy Committee, Concerned Clergy, Unite Here, SEIU and others. Call (317) 917-0723 x 33 for more info. Learn more about/get involved with Central Indiana Jobs With Justice.

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

Thursday, January 15, 2009


The downside of what happened when a Christian biologist put his best intelligence and faith on the line

BREAKTHROUGH BOOK. Dr. Richard Colling, Ph.D., is an evangelical Christian (Wesleyan/holiness, to be more specific) who has been teaching biology at Olivet Nazarene University (his alma mater and mine) for many years. Until recently, he was head of the Department of Biology at ONU. In 2002, Dr. Colling published Random Designer: Created from Chaos to Connect with the Creator, in which he put his profound faith and biology acumen together to postulate a theistic evolutionary process that is intended to bridge some of the typical barriers between Biblical faith and science.

A BETTER WAY FORWARD. In Random Designer, Colling challenges the faulty underpinnings of scientific creationism and intelligent design on the basis of good, fundamental science. He offers a more scientifically-defensible and faith-authenticating line of thinking. If taken seriously, Random Designer offers evangelical Christianity a way forward amid the current us-vs-them, creation-vs-science morass. While Fundamentalists will likely never budge from their white-knuckled positions, evangelicals should consider Colling's work in Random Designer a gift with which to engage our culture and the scientific/academic community unapologetically with our Christian story.

REACTIONARY BACKLASH. Some influential church and university leaders have not regarded Random Designer as a gift, however. On the contrary, enough of those who hold Dr. Colling's career at ONU in their hands, have reacted against it and him. As a result, his book has been banned from being assigned in ONU classes. Dr. Colling has also been prevented from teaching General Biology for the past two years. He has been made to run a horrendous gauntlet of suspicion, contradiction, innuendo, accusations, misstatements, and outright deception. Reading the documents reminds me of nothing short of an Inquisition in which, for all his efforts to speak the truth and get at the truth, Dr. Colling has been vilified and made to be the scapegoat for the university leadership's gross mishandling of the situation.

INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION RESULTS. After an independent investigation, the American Association of University Professors recently released a report charging that ONU has, in fact, violated the academic freedom of Dr. Colling. "Inside Higher Ed" posted this story on its website. The story quotes from the AAUP's report:
“The administration of Olivet Nazarene University curtailed the academic freedom
of Professor Colling in order to dampen controversy that had arisen among
anti-evolutionist elements of the university’s church constituency. In thus
acting, the administration placed a higher value on what the president called
‘constituent relations’ than on the principles of academic freedom to which the
university itself claims to subscribe.”
READ "BETRAYED BY FAITH" FOR YOURSELF. But don't take it from me or the AAUP. Read the documents for yourself. I have provided links to the PDF documents below. See if you do not agree that "Betrayed By Faith" is a sad commentary on reactionary church and university leadership. If you believe Dr. Rick Colling should be vindicated by virtue of these documents, perhaps you could take the simple but important step to let university and the church officials named and addressed in the documents know. To me, these documents have enough substance to indict some church and university leadership on some very basic ethics violations.

TRACE THE PROCESS. Read the Table of Contents of the many documents Dr. Richard Colling was required to submit to Olivet Nazarene University leadership in Fall 2008. This Table of Contents shows a toxic descent from a Christian university professor's breakthrough publication to backlash, prohibition, irrational behavior, and outright deception by church and university leaders. (Note on accessing the "Betrayed By Faith" table of contents and documents: they are hosted on a small-capacity free site. There is an hourly mbyte limit. When it is exceeded by downloading, it temporarily shuts down. Try again in an hour if this occurs for you. If you need these documents immediately, e-mail me.)

READ THE DOCUMENTS. Read all the documents--419+ pages of correspondence--that Dr. Richard Colling was required to submit to ONU leadership in Fall 2008. The content is important because it upholds the integrity of Dr. Rick Colling in his pursuit of the truth and fair treatment throughout the course of this debacle created by church and university leadership.

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Three snow poems

I love snow. I’m praying for snow in Indiana--enough snow to sled and ski in Eagle Creek Park, enough to change gray winter days into heart-jogging experiences of delight. Here are three snow poems. The first is mine. The second two are by some two-bit New England poet by the name of Robert Frost (hey, even his last name points to his love for winter!).


I’m waiting on the snow
A hope to fulfill;
I’ll prepare my skis,
Anticipate the thrill.

A Midwestern winter
With its bleak, dark days
Needs a good snow storm
To hearten the soul’s way.

Mere cold stiffens the heart
And drives us inside,
But warmth and four walls
Alone cannot abide.

I’m like a child praying
The snow will be deep
Enough for sledding,
And, tired from it, to sleep.


Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.


The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

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

Monday, January 12, 2009


The dance of American civil religion uses gullible or ego-driven clergy

WHO IS HELPING WHOM? I wonder why preachers continue to think they can influence policies or sway political leaders by offering prayers at public events? Whether it's Billy Graham, Rick Warren or Eugene Robinson--they're all being used. Graham confessed that he regrets responding to all those calls to the Oval Office just before a President declared war or needed "spiritual counsel" when the decisions had already been made. It's part of the dance of American civil religion. Some priest from among the people has to sanctify the self-serving justifications. When politicians call, preachers, spare yourselves and us--run the other way!

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

Sunday, January 11, 2009


It's one of the most overlooked but common graces we receive and give throughout our lives

GIFTS THAT KEEP ON GIVING. I conceived of a mid-winter faith exploration series called “Seven Gifts that Keep on Giving.” These aren’t gifts that are given to be consumed, or received to be singularly possessed. These are gifts that enrich us even as we give them; and receiving them, we are inspired to offer them to others. Such gifts are distinctively Biblical and central to Christian life and witness. Consider these gifts that keep on giving: sacrifice, solitude, peace, acceptance, hospitality, friendship, and fellowship. I’m sure there are more than the seven I’ve chosen to focus on, but these are, to me, striking.

GIVING IT AWAY FOR LOVE. Sacrifice is one such gift that keeps on giving. Though hardly ever described as a gift, sacrifice is nonetheless one of the most common expressions of grace exchanged throughout our lives. Here I am not referring at all to the deathly excesses that have involved animal and human sacrifice--whether in ancient religious rites or contemporary battlefields (a Google search of images for "sacrifice" is ugly). On a more common scale, whether it’s taking time out to read to a child or foregoing one’s own goals for the sake of a greater outcome for others, sacrifice is part of a rhythm that makes life sacred. I like the way Frederick Buechner puts it: “To sacrifice something is to make it holy by giving it away for love.”

FOUR OBSERVATIONS ABOUT SACRIFICE. Here are four basic observations I’m developing about sacrifice as a gift to be given and received. Each has robust testimony in the Bible and a plethora of life applications.

1. Sacrifice is a voluntary choice to yield one’s own immediate desires for the sake of another’s greater, long-term good.

2. Sacrifice is powerful because it is risky, costly, and has no guaranteed outcomes.

3. Joyful sacrifice is possible only when we are confident that, beyond visible evidence, we are infinitely loved.

4. Sacrifice, worship, and daily living are bound up together in a way that sanctifies life, transforms people, and blesses communities.

LAYING DOWN OUR LIVES. Common Purpose is, to me, the most profound book on the power and promise of good social work in America. In it, Lizbeth Schorr delineates what works and what does not work in efforts to change lives and turnaround communities in some of the nation’s toughest arenas. Schorr describes a “new spiritual practice” for social work. She doesn’t describe initiatives that necessarily preach Jesus or call for conversion. She notes that the only initiatives that are transforming people’s lives are ones in which people recognize that someone is laying down his or her life for them. In other words, sacrifice is central.

ENTER INTO THE JOYFUL MYSTERY. “Life without sacrifice is an abomination,” writes Annie Dillard in Holy the Firm. I think she’s right. But sacrifice that is demanded or forced is not sacrifice. We sacrifice volunarily and for love or not at all. And the sooner we stop thinking of sacrifice as religious thing, stop thinking of worship as a Sunday thing, and stop thinking of daily living as my thing, the sooner we’ll enter whole-heartedly into the joyful mystery of giving and receiving that sanctifies common life.

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

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Today, I celebrate the birth and life of my oldest son Jared

You've reached a significant threshold today, Jared. At age 21, you're legal. Technically, you can do anything you want. You are as free as you ever will be. Our hope and prayer is that you will continue to use your freedom caringly and hopefully.

You are a unique joy to Becky and me--this will always be so. We love you. We are proud of you. We believe you possess profound depth of character, conviction and commitment. This has been cultivated and demonstrated in our home, in school and college, on the soccer pitch, and among your peers. We hope you challenge everything that would seek to sabotage your trajectory of promise. Give yourself to the simple disciplines that help you dream well and fulfill your dreams.

Adult life stretches out before you full of promise and potential, challenge and struggle, love and laughter, heartache and sacrifice, fulfillment and reward. Embrace each challenge and opportunity with consideration, prayer and wisdom.

May you experience what Thoreau proclaimed: "If one advances confidently in the direction of his own dreams and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."

Monday, January 5, 2009


Things will never again "get back to normal" since the Advent of Christ

WELL, ENOUGH OF THAT! I am unusually wistful about taking down the Christmas tree and putting away Christmas decorations this year. I want to linger in its glow a while longer. I am never ready for Christmas to end, or at least for it to end abruptly, unceremoniously. As if someone somewhere decides, “well, enough of that!” and pulls the plug. Who dares to put away Christmas?

IT’S NOT TOO LATE. I always hope that Christmas will have changed me and, somehow, brought about change in the relationships and groups of which I am a part. I feel like I should not dare take a step beyond Christmas without hope having been heightened, faith having been extended, love having been broadened, peace having been deepened, and light having been intensified. It is not too late--though it be the twelfth day of Christmas--to receive Christmas grace.

HE "THOWN EVER’THING OFF." The notion that things will soon be back to “normal” is scandalous in light of Christmas. Yes, children are back in school. Yes, festivities of the holidays are ending. Decorations are being packed away. But can anything ever be normal again since the Advent of Jesus Christ? In the blunt words of a Flannery O’Connor character: “Jesus done thown ever’thing off.” The upside down kingdom has begun. Rulers are being brought low. The proud are being scattered. The hungry shall be satisfied; the lowly lifted up. The Child causes “the rising and falling” of many. And we thought things were going to settle down? Welcome the “new norm!”

Read my reflection for the Twelfth Day of 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. Shalom!

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Change will happen, but will allow ourselves to be reshaped by grace?

CHANGE & NEW BEGINNINGS. Happy New Year! The turn of the year offers an opportunity for newness. Change will happen. New beginnings will be attempted. Apart from grace, however, the past will likely be repeated. Apart from grace, tomorrow will be more of today's same ol', same ol'. Apart from grace, our efforts to improve ourselves, do better, be different, to change amount to little in the long run.

BORNE BY GRACE. Discipline and hard work may go a long way to acquire some external securities, but do little to produce the only security in which we can really thrive. Whatever is new, whatever is reconciled, whatever is restored, whatever changes from the inside out, is borne and sustained by grace.

BEGIN WITH GRACE. Do we really want to be made new and to see a world made new? Begin with grace.

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