Tuesday, September 29, 2009

ETERNAL NOW AND SOCIAL CONCERN


Quaker Thomas R. Kelly offers insightful perspective for social activists and compassionate caregivers



TIME IN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE.  I wish every one—particularly Christians—engaged in social work or compassionate care could read Thomas R. Kelly’s chapter “The Eternal Now and Social Concern” in his book A Testament of Devotion.  It resets the context, purpose, content, and manner of our work.  Here are a few poignant snippets:

NOT FOR GOD, BUT GOD THROUGH YOU.  “Too many well-intentioned people are so preoccupied with the clatter of effort to do something FOR God that they don’t hear God asking that God might do something THROUGH them…  For the Eternal is urgently, actively breaking into time, working through those who are willing to be laid hold upon, to surrender self-confidence and self-centered effort, that is, self-originated effort, and let the Eternal be the dynamic guide in recreating, through us, our time-world.

THE TENDERED SOUL.  Kelly describes an essential “tendering of the soul”: “There is a tendering of the soul toward everything in creation, from the sparrow’s fall to the slave under the lash.  The hard-lined face of a money-bitten financier is as deeply touching to the tendered soul as are the burned-out eyes of miners’ children, remote and unseen victims of his so-called success.  There is a sense in which, in this terrible tenderness, we become one with God and bear in our quivering souls the sins and burdens, the benightedness and the tragedy of the creatures of the whole world, and suffer in their suffering and die in their death.”

A FEW CENTRAL TASKS.  Thus, concern is born.  Of it, Kelly writes: “The loving Presence does not burden us equally with all things, but considerately puts upon each of us just a few central tasks, as emphatic responsibilities.  For each of us these special undertakings are our share in the joyous burdens of love.”

FOREGROUND & BACKGROUND OF CONCERN.  “The state of having concern has a foreground and a background.  In the foreground is the special task, uniquely illuminated, toward which we feel a special yearning and care…  In the background is a second level of universal concern for all the multitude of good things that need doing.  Toward them we all feel kindly, but we are dismissed from active service in most of them…We cannot die on every cross, nor are we expected to.”

ORDERED AND ORGANIZED FROM WITHIN.  Kelly stresses the challenge of being focused in our social concern: “Too many of us have too many irons in the fire… I am persuaded that this fevered life of church workers is not wholesome.  Acceptance of service should really depend on an answering imperative within us…  The concern-oriented life is ordered and organized from within.  And we learn to say No as well as Yes by attending to the guidance of inner responsibility.”

BREAKING THROUGH INTO THE WORLD.  Finally, Kelly describes the relationship of the Eternal Now to social concern: “Social concern is the dynamic Life of God at work in the world, made special and emphatic and unique, particularized in each individual or group who is sensitive and tender in the leading-strings of love.  A concern is God-initiated, often surprising, always holy, for the Life of God is breaking through into the world.  Its execution is in peace and power and astounding faith and joy, for in unhurried serenity the Eternal is at work in the midst of time, triumphantly bringing all things up unto Himself.”

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, September 27, 2009

A FEW DAYS IN THE L A AREA

My first journey to So Cal in more than a decade

I've been in the Los Angeles area for a few days in planning meetings and speaking at a church.  On Saturday, a friend treated me to a driving tour of some of the best surfing beaches on the continent.  It was my top choice among other more popular tourist attractions in this vast area.

So, down Highway 1 to Sunset Beach, Huntington Beach, Crystal Bay State Beach, and Laguna Beach we went.  Especially enjoyed standing on the Huntington Beach Pier and watching hundreds of surfers line up north and south--as far as the eye could see--to catch robust waves.

Lots of youth were throwing themselves into a powerful surf.  But I was more impressed that so many gray-haired geezers--older than me--were catching waves and riding them with grace.  I surmise they've been doing this since childhood or teen years.  I envy them and hope to get the hang of it before I die.


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, September 22, 2009

ON THE BRINK OF AUTUMN

Autumnal equinox is upon us...and the golden season begins

LEAF CHANGE TO COME. I love autumn. With school beginning in the first weeks of August (join me in a campaign to change that?), it seems like summer ends much sooner than at the autumnal equinox on September 23rd. After six weeks of our children in school-related activities, late September feels like we are deep into the season instead of at its beginning. But here we are—at the onset of autumn. That’s what I tried to describe in the following poem. After all is said and written, however, descriptions of autumn pale in comparison to the lived experience.

On the brink of autumn,
A hint of chill in the air,
The sun’s setting sooner,
In a few days we’ll be there

Where green turns to golden
And reapers harvest the yield,
Where dry leaves are falling
And flocking fowl arc the fields.

Then we’ll don our jackets
And brace ourselves for the wind
That rustles through branches
And billows our souls again.

Do not shrink back from fall;
Embrace this gilded season
As a grace that descends;
A gift to all from heaven.

It’s time for returning,
For in-bringing and burning,
For heart walks in deep woods,
For distilling, discerning.

What’s muddled becomes clear
And all chaff is left exposed
As autumn’s sun glows bright
And a harvest moon shines cold.

We may shed pretenses
And travel a lighter way
Our hearts as crisp as leaves
That lift and then sail away.

As we are being turned,
Turn—facing all the changes,
The falling, the cooling,
And the encroaching darkness.

Lean into the season
Lest it overtake your way.
Let your soul be opened;
Relish its gift this fall day.

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

Monday, September 21, 2009

BEING JESUS, SEEING JESUS

In "God in the Alley," Toronto's Greg Paul describes the two sides of incarnational ministry


CRITICAL BREAKTHROUGH.  Greg Paul ministers among the toughest neighborhoods and neighbors of Toronto.  There, he encountered a difficult man named Neil.  Working with Neil over time, Greg experienced a critical breakthrough in his perception of ministry.  Greg knew that he was supposed to “be Jesus” to Neil, but he discovered that Neil was Jesus to him, too.  He was not only to “be Jesus” to Neil, but “see Jesus” in and through Neil.  Greg talks about this two-way perception of grace bearing in God in the Alley, a book my Wednesday morning small group at Unleavened Bread Café is currently discussing together.  I’ve lifted a quote from one page to highlight the distinction of “being Jesus” and “seeing Jesus” for further reflection.  Let me know how you see this at work in your service or ministry.

BEING AND SEEING JESUS.  "Being Jesus is a discipline of action.  If I truly want to be present as Jesus was and is, I must choose to act in very specific ways.  Theory, or doctrinal correctness, is not enough.  Seeing Jesus is a discipline of stillness. If I really want to see him, I'll need to avoid being consumed by trying always to do things in his name, and I'll need to learn to be motionless, intent on beholding what is in front of me.

TENSION AND BENEFIT.  "These two disciplines are often in tension with each other; it's difficult to be still and active at the same time.  But they strengthen different sets of spiritual muscles, and each discipline ultimately benefits the other.

BEING PRESENT BUT HIDDEN.  "Being Jesus requires that I choose to be actively present.  Seeing him means that, paradoxically, in my being present, I must choose the stillness of being hidden--that is, rather than being focused on what I am doing, and seeking attention for it, I must be actively looking to see how Jesus is presenting himself in and through others.

POWER OF ABANDONMENT. "Being present the way Jesus was means that I have to abandon my own power.  And seeing him in others teaches me the power of abandonment.  Being Jesus is a call to give my life, as he himself indicated when he called us to pick up our crosses.  But seeing Jesus opens me up to a new way to live, to a resurrected life.

INTRINSICALLY CONNECTED.  "Being and seeing Jesus is intrinsically connected.  In fact, they're often happening at the same time."

From God in the Alley: Being and Seeing Jesus in a Broken World,  WaterBrook Press, 2004

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, September 17, 2009

BEYOND CHARITY IN MEDICAL CARE


Comprehensive health care reform should not rely on charity medical initiatives

I am convinced that charitable efforts, while graciously compassionate and sometimes heroic, have not, do not, and will not adequately address the health care needs of uninsured citizens.  The limits of charity is one reason I advocate for reforms that offer fair, affordable health insurance and quality, accessible health care for all American citizens.

As an urban pastor and social service director in Indianapolis for over twenty years, I have witnessed incredible charity in medical care.  From community health fairs and free clinics to street medical teams and physicians who sometimes wave fees for uninsured neighbors, inspiring charitable efforts abound.  There is no way to underestimate the value of these often-overlooked initiatives.

Many charitable medical efforts have developed to respond to uninsured and under-served neighbors—individuals and households the current health care system is neglecting.  Without them, the health conditions of our region’s uninsured working poor and the measure of our collective response to these neighbors would be vastly diminished, if not disastrous.

I believe the heart of most Hoosiers is compassionate.  Folks frequently give freely of their time and financial resources to relieve the needs of people they don’t even know.  Time and again, we’ve demonstrated our readiness to respond and make a difference for our neighbors in crises.  And many are responding again as more Central Indiana households are facing the unpayable bills and mounting debt that occurs when health insurance is canceled or unaffordable.

I profoundly disagree, however, with those who are suggesting or inferring that charity should be a significant part of a permanent solution to the current health care and insurance crisis.  The impression that charitable health initiatives can adequately respond to the estimated 46 million citizens without insurance is both naïve and unrealistic.

Most free clinics are already underfunded, understaffed and overwhelmed.  Charitable health initiatives are often narrowly focused.  Many are disconnected from professional networks that provide a continuity of care leading to stability and wellness.  Some charitable health care initiatives may be models worthy of moving to scale in national health care reform, but few, if any, are prepared to vastly expand their capacity.  Taken together, charitable medical efforts are no match for the need.

National research recently estimated that if every church, synagogue and mosque in the nation were together to pay for the costs of our nation’s uninsured citizens, every local religious body would be bankrupt within two months.  While many faith communities are already responding compassionately to their constituencies and are ready to be part of a long-term solution, they are in no way prepared to responsibly accept the burden some opinion leaders would place on them.

When it comes to comprehensive health care for our nation’s citizens, charity is not the answer.  I pray we will always be able to count on our friends, neighbors, and charitable organizations to help us through occasional crises.  I count it a privilege to be part of that dimension of a community-wide response.  But instead of hoping for charitable interventions, every American deserves to know that the best possible medical care is readily available, accessible and affordable.

I call on the fellow citizens who have been elected to represent and lead us to do their best to ensure that this fundamental of security is addressed in a manner that reflects the best practices and comprehensive care capacity of America’s healing community.

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, September 13, 2009

TO BE SANE IN A MAD TIME

Wendell Berry's Mad Farmer Manifesto: 1st Amendment seems apropos today

"...it is not too soon to provide by every
possible means that as few as possible shall
be without a little portion of land. The small
landholders are the most precious part of a state."

-Thomas Jefferson, to Reverend James Madison,
October 28, 1785


1.
That is the glimmering vein
of our sanity, dividing from us
from the start: land under us
to steady us when we stood,
free men in the great communion
of the free. The vision keeps
lighting in my mind, a window
on the horizon in the dark.

2.
To be sane in a mad time
is bad for the brain, worse
for the heart. The world
is a holy vision, had we clarity
to see it--clarity that men
depend on men to make.

3.
It is ignorant money I declare
myself free from, money fat
and dreaming in its sums, driving
us into the streets of absence,
stranding the pasture trees
in the deserted language of banks.

4.
And I declare myself free
from ignorant love. You easy lovers
and forgivers of mankind, stand back!
I will love you at a distance,
and not because you deserve it.
My love must be discriminate
or fail to bear its weight

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, September 12, 2009

RELIGION IS NOT OUR CONCERN

"Our only task is to call people to 'be still and know,' listen..."

"Religion is not our concern; it is God's concern. The sooner we stop thinking we are the energetic operators of religion and discover that God is at work, as the Aggressor, the Invader, the Initiator, so much the sooner we discover that our task is to call people to be still and know, listen, harken in quiet invitation to the subtle promptings of the Divine. Our task is to encourage others first to let go, to cease striving...to please an external deity. God is the Seeker, and not we alone; God is anxious to swell out our time-nows into an Eternal Now by filling them with a sense of Presence." -- Thomas R. Kelly in A Testament of Devotion
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, September 10, 2009

KNOWLEDGE THAT BEGINS IN LOVE

What if our thinking, seeking, and problem-solving started with compassion?


“KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.”  I’ve been thinking lately about all the facts and theories and perspectives my university-immersed children are taking in and processing these days.  Jared is a senior, Molly is a Freshman and Abby is a grad student.  I am so proud of them and looking forward to the contributions they—along with Sam, who is a junior in high school—will make to life.  “Knowledge is power,” someone said.  Ah, yes, but what kind of power?  What kind of knowledge and how is that knowledge used?  If knowledge is sought and received coldly and mostly for gaining control/acquisition of things and/or people, that seems sad, even sick, to me.  But is it possible to learn and know and exercise the power of knowledge out of love and in a loving way?  This is what I desire and pray for my children.  And so I point them and all to Parker Palmer.

AT-A-DISTANCE MENTOR. Parker Palmer is one of my mentors-at-a-distance.  Over the years of my adult life, no one's thinking and writing has so challenged and inspired me to move beyond my typical ways of thinking, relating to others, and relating to God.  The Company of Strangers became a watershed for my work at the intersection of public life and faith.  The Active Life offered an "engaged monasticism" for those of us not called to withdraw from the world's problems and possibilities.  Let Your Life Speak helped me find guidance and courage to navigate gracefully amid vocational questions and transitions.  But Palmer's contributions to the arena education are perhaps his greatest.  Of his books on the educational process, I most recommend To Know as We are Known and The Courage to Teach.


THE PROBLEM WITH EDUCATION FOR CONTROL.  In his 1983 book To Know As We Are Known (reissued in paperback in 1993 by Harper San Francisco), Palmer challenges the core of mainstream educational process and institutional goals.  He points out that education applied exclusively for curiosity or control are leading us down a self-destructive path. “If curiosity and control (which is power tending toward corruption) are the primary motives for our knowing, we will generate a knowledge that eventually carries us not toward life but death.” He cites nuclear physicists’ laments in the documentary "The Day After Trinity" and others.

KNOWLEDGE ARISING FROM COMPASSION. Palmer believes that a knowledge that originates in compassion, or love, needs to be explored and integrated into our teaching and learning processes at every level. This knowledge base is not a soft, sentimental virtue, not a fuzzy feeling of romance, but “tough love, the connective tissue of reality.” Unlike curiosity and control that distance us from each other and the world, “a knowledge that springs from love will implicate us in the web of life, it will wrap the knower and the known in compassion, in a bond of awesome responsibility as well as transforming joy, it will call us to involvement, mutuality, accountability.”

RECONCILING THE WORLD TO ITSELF. Palmer writes: “The goal of a knowledge arising from love is the reunification and reconstruction of broken selves and worlds. A knowledge born of compassion aims not at exploiting and manipulating creation but at reconciling the world to itself. The mind motivated by compassion reaches out to know as the heart reaches out to love. Here, the act of knowing IS an act of love… In such knowing we know and are known as members of one community, and our knowing becomes a way of reweaving that community’s bonds.”

PRAYER AS A GATEWAY TO SUCH KNOWLEDGE. In developing this capacity, or beginning to go to the core of this way of knowing, of seeing, of interacting, Palmer challenges us to pray. That’s right, prayer is an essential component in transforming our knowledge base from fragmenting and divisive applications of knowledge. Palmer writes “The mind immersed in prayer no longer thinks in order to divide and conquer, to manipulate and control. Now, thinking becomes an act of love, a way of acknowledging our common bonds and assuming our rightful role in the created community.”

BEYOND FACTS INTO TRUTH. He continues: “As long as we stay locked in a closed logic, allowing self and world to circle each other in an endless quest for power, we have little choice but to dominate or be dominated. But when we know self and world from the vital center touched in prayer, and when our prayer allows us to be known, then we are free from the cycle of dominance, free to love the world, each other, and ourselves. And education in transcendence prepares us to see beyond appearances into the hidden realities of life, beyond facts into truth, beyond self interest into compassion, beyond our flagging energies and nagging despairs into the love required to renew the community of creation.” 

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, September 9, 2009

SAME OL' OR EVER NEW?

Amid our carrying on we may be made new and make new


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


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

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

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

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

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, September 7, 2009

LABOR DAY, HOMELESSNESS & COMMUNITY

For many, homelessness begins in the workplace.  It doesn't have to be this way. 

[This is an update of my Letter to the Editor that appeared in the Indianapolis Star on Labor Day 2007.]


INSUFFICIENT WAGES FOR HOUSING. I can't help but connect Labor Day and labor issues to the challenge of homelessness. For many, homelessness begins in the workplace. Simply put: many workers can’t afford to live on the wages they receive. Does the community consider it an injustice when a minimum-wage laborer must work 82 hours a week to afford the average apartment in Indianapolis? Is the community concerned that many full-time workers cannot access affordable housing? Is it an acceptable ethical practice to build a business plan that counts on hiring most of one’s workforce only part-time to avoid paying benefits and fulfilling obligations required by law for full-time laborers, forcing workers into second and third jobs to try to get a roof over their heads?

ARE THESE OUR "HOOSIER VALUES?" These not-talked-about practices are “Hoosier values” that daily impact many homeless and near-homeless neighbors in Central Indiana. They fly in the face of a national survey that indicates 97% of Americans agree that every worker deserves a livable wage. Not high pay, not even union-leveraged incomes, just enough to afford housing and enjoy stability. But to listen to some local influence groups (like the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce), you’d think the idea of a livable wage was a sinister communist plot.

WHAT WE CAN DO. All of us cannot work directly on the issue of homelessness. But all of us can advocate for and make available livable wage incomes for laborers wherever possible. We can begin by ensuring that workers have a right to form a union and engage in collective bargaining. That's one reason I am advocating for the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act that is now before Congress.  Its passage will reverse a generation of bullying, intimidation, illegal firings, and manipulation of workers who try to exercise their right to form a union in their workplace.

TOOLS FOR LIVING WAGES.  In addition to collective bargaining, there are various tools and approaches that can bring worker wages--particularly in the unskilled and service industries--into a range in which a person can afford to live on the income for which they labor. One tool is free or low-cost trades and technology education available to every worker or unemployed person desiring it. Another is a living wage covenant supported by communities for all companies doing business within their jurisdictions. Another is to upgrade the earned income or housing tax credit for folks whose incomes amount to less than 200% of poverty. These are just a few possibilities.

LOSING SOLIDARITY. Labor practices and livable wages--or a careless disregard for them--impacts the entire community and society. It has to do with our very sense of community. Robert Bellah, author of Habits of the Heart and The Good Society writes:

"We are facing trends, particularly downsizing and downgrading the work force, that threaten our basic sense of solidarity with others, solidarity with those near to us (loyalty to neighborhood, colleagues at work, fellow residents of our town or city), but also solidarity with those who live far from us, those who are economically in situations very different from our own, those of other nations."
Isn't it time to reverse this ugly, disintegrtaing spiral and begin to restore what is fair, what is right, what is just for all who live as neigbors in a common endeavor?

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, September 6, 2009

THE SANE MYSTIC

G. K. Chesterton's playful observation is so interesting to me. I think it rings true.

WHAT LEADS TO INSANITY.  In his chapter "The Maniac" in the classic Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton challenges the modern assertion that anything not scientifically provable cannot be real.  Chesterton demonstrates that such assumptions lead not to open minds, possibilities, and truth, but to closed-mindedness, denial, and fatalism.  Such thinking leads ultimately to madness, to insanity, he asserts.  He makes this point in his uniquely playful, cutting, and winning manner.

FIRST POST-MODERNIST?  But what is it that makes us sane?  In his answer I find a number of compelling observations and gems that shine light across the years from Chesterton into contemporary living and my own personal experiences.  I wonder if perhaps Chesterton was the first post-modernist?:

ALLOWING MYSTERY.  "Mysticism keeps people sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary person has always been sane because the ordinary person is a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. She has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland.  He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them.

TRUTH MORE THAN CONSISTENCY.  "She has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. Her spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like her physical sight; she sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.  Thus he has always believed that there was such a think as fate, but such a thing as free will also.  Thus she has believed that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not.  It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy person.

MYSTERY AND LUCIDITY.  "The whole secret of mysticism is this: that people can understand everything by the help of what they do not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid...

THE CIRCLE VS THE CROSS.  "As we have taken the circle as the symbol of reason and madness, we may very well take the cross as the symbol of mystery and of health.  Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out.  For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed forever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller.  But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms forever without altering its shape.  Because it has a paradox in its center, it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers."

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, September 5, 2009

FAITH FACTOR KIDS

For the past six years, I've worked with 5th and 6th graders from the heart of the city

Every Wednesday night of the school year is "Faith Factor" night at West Morris Street Free Methodist Church, located in the first urban neighborhood southwest of downtown Indianapolis.  The hour consists of outdoor and indoor games and relay races, music videos, Bible stories, life-issue discussions, crafts, excursions, snacks, and a Fear Factor challenge to conclude the evening.  It's been a great privilege to work with six different sets of 5th and 6th graders.  This fall, I'm just a monthly guest presenter, but my compatriots Dawn Archer Miles and Marti Reeser are facilitating each week.  Please offer intercession for these children and those who work with them.

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, September 3, 2009

DRAW GOD INTO THE WORLD

"God wants to be won by humanity...God wants to come to the world through men and women."

INTO HUMAN HANDS.  “Once they told Rabbi Pinhas of the great misery among the needy.  He listened, sunk in grief.  Then he raised his head.  ‘Let us draw God into the world,’ he cried, ‘and all need will be quenched.’  God’s grace consists precisely in this, that he wants to let himself be won by humanity, that he places himself, so to speak, into human hands.  God wants to come to his world, but he wants to come to it through men and women.  This is the mystery of our existence, the superhuman chance of humankind.” – Martin Buber in The Way of Man.
 
WE ARE CHRIST’S HANDS.  In regard to responding to human misery, a Christian saint puts Buber’s point succinctly: “Christ has no body now but yours, no hand on earth but yours, yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on the world.”
 
KEEP PERSPECTIVE.  I think most of us accept these two statements without morphing them into either works righteousness or deification of human endeavor.  We are not God; and no action, however compassionate, will ever erase one sin or bring about anyone’s salvation.  Our caring actions are a response to God’s first and primary actions.  Our efforts to relieve misery are, at best, limited in wisdom and incomplete in scope.
 
THE VISION TRANSFORMS.  Still, if we have had an authentic encounter with God, we will act.  The vision transforms (Isaiah 6).  Worship engages us and lays claims upon us.  Authentic worship draws us into life’s fray with specific and hopeful actions in the face over overwhelming circumstances and apparently impossible odds.
 
WORSHIP LEADS TO ACTION.  We draw God into the world by acting in a manner that reflects what we have experienced in worship of God, in response to God’s invitation: “Whom shall I send?  Who will go for us?”  Worship that does not lead to transformative, sustained, sacrificial and prophetic witness and compassionate action is not authentic.

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, September 1, 2009

STEPS IN REDEMPTIVE LOVE

Resisting evil nonviolently is not for cowards or vengeance seekers

REDIRECTING ANGER.  Observing all the back-and-forth in the current health care reform dialog (if that’s what we’re calling it; personally, I don’t think we’ve yet gotten to the point of civil dialog.), I’ve been thinking about something Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about.  More than 40 years ago, King challenged civil rights activists to focus their anger away from destructive means and ends.  He reflected on the transformation of anger into redemptive love after he committed to the way of nonviolent resistance in response to the evil of racism.  The steps in redemptive love, he concluded, are:

1. First, “It is not a method for cowards, for it resists evil; it is not passive.”

2. Second, “it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his or her friendship and understanding.”

3. Third, it directs its attack “against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing the evil.”

4. Fourth, “it entails a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation…to accept violence if necessary, but never to inflict it.”

5. Fifth, it “avoids not only external physical violence but also the internal violence of spirit.”


HEART CHECK.  I wonder if I am engaging these principles in my writing and speaking on behalf of health care reform, a movement I am convinced is every bit as important as the civil rights movement of a generation ago?  I challenge myself to speak and act in such a way as to seek not only to overcome the wrongs in our health insurance and health care system that deny 46 million Americans and put more at economic and personal risk, but--if at all possible--to win the minds and hearts of those who defend the status quo.

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