Wednesday, March 31, 2010

DEATH MARCH?

Is Jesus' trek to Jerusalem and Calvary a dismal denial of life or passage of hope?

CROSS WALK.  Lent tracks with Jesus as he sets out resolutely for Jerusalem and the cross.  But even after he began to walk and talk disturbingly about his and his followers' crosses, everywhere he went life broke through.  The way to the cross is filled with paradox--hope intersects despair, understanding intersects confusion, promise intersects pain, life intersects death.  It would be a mistake to walk through Lent--or any other season of life--with a somber heaviness, as if on a death march.

TWISTED IMAGERY.  How does one march to death?  How does one march carrying daily a cross?  Marching, after all, is imagery robust with triumph and pageantry; with music of the band and prancing of the horses and regimented rows of rhythm-stepping soldiers.  Most often a march celebrates a victory, graces a holiday, or highlights heroic efforts.

ANOTHER'S AGONY.  Some marches truly do have the stench of death.  One group's triumph is another's agony.  Our family lived for a few years in Oklahoma where Native Americans were marched from their homelands in what is now called the Trail of Tears.  Many died along the way.  I ponder 70-year-old photos of French spectators weeping despairingly as Nazi tanks and troops rolled into a Paris pounded into submission.  History is full of prisoner-of-war and ethnic-purging marches that served to grind oppressed people into oblivion.

BREATHTAKING JOURNEY.  But Jesus' march toward Jerusalem was neither morbid nor despairing.  Though one of his disciples resignedly said "Let us also go with him that we may die with him," they misunderstood both the spirit in which Jesus journeyed and the redemptive mission he resolved to fulfill.  His trek was no denial of life; nor is ours.  The journey will be as breathtaking as heart-rending, as life-giving as disturbing.  It is important for us to grapple with the specter of the cross in light of the hope and life and grace that loom larger on the horizon.

IN CHRIST’S TRIUMPHAL PROCESSION.  The Apostle Paul writes in terms of a marching procession: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.  For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.  And who is equal to such a task?" (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).

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, March 25, 2010

GOOD CONVERSATIONS


Occasionally being a part of good conversations is one of life's grace-filled privileges

I am privileged to be a part of some good conversations on a regular basis.  Nothing so monumental, just the stuff of daily encounters, meetings, meals and visits:

In the course of a lunch with a friend I hadn't seen in a few years, I recognize his journey beyond the walls of the church is still one of grace.

In table fellowship, my frustration with one who has criticized and misunderstood me melts away.

A meeting discussion reveals a depth of need of children and families living in poverty in our community I had not before grasped.

During a walk with a friend, I recognize a depth of his commitment to his work and passion for being an instrument of grace in it.

A brief discussion with urban ministers leaves me awestruck by the way God's love is making a difference in others' lives through them.

I talk with a new father and mother and share in their joy.

I read a chapter of a book in which the writer bears his soul for the sake of my growth ("being dead, still they speak").

I feel the concern of a husband for his just-diagnosed wife.

I engage in an extended Facebook back-and-forth discussion with the friend of a friend over a controversial social issue and it concludes with a respectful agreement to disagree agreeably (some don’t, most do).

I participate in a weekly roundtable conversation in the heart of the city that has been running for over nine years and recognize how much I appreciate its disparate members (that’s not the same as “desperate,” guys and gals).

None of these conversations are related, and yet the common thread running through them all is grace.  This is the "grace between the lines" that I pick up on and try to write about.  Grace is not the subject; it is the emergent reality.  Grace is not obvious, but it is discernable to the one who watches for it.

Grace does not wait for a Sunday or only flow out of an experience of public worship or private devotion or act of service.  Grace does not wait to be officially intoned.  Grace is present, in the in-between, in the very warp and woof of the fabric of life, if we are willing to tune into it.  This is an awakening to grace that I am privileged from time to time to see and hear and experience.  And I'm grateful for the fresh reminder that God is a work and doing all things well.


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, March 24, 2010

SINS OF COMMUNITY

They’re as grave and deadly as personal sins of commission or omission

Talking with a friend this week whose journey has been impacted significantly by really unhealthy communities of faith, I began to think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little book titled Life Together.  You’ve got to get it and read it.  Bonhoeffer names essential practices and disciplines that make for authentic community, along with things that violate the tender conscience of community and destroy its viability.  In that spirit, I think of “sins of community” are as grave and deadly as personal sins of commission or omission.  It seems to me that sins of community are pressing today particularly because they are not typically recognized as morally corrupting and destructive to individuals and groups.

Here are 13 sins of community that I can readily name and briefly describe.  I’m pretty sure I can root each in both Old and New Testament precedents and practices.  I have observed these in some settings of which I have been a part.  The flipside of each are corrective, reconciling, healing, connecting choices and actions that “cover over a multitude of sins.”  May contemplation of these during the last week of Lent offer an opportunity for repentance and readiness to walk--ever via grace--the way of the cross in Holy Week and beyond.

1. Taking for granted.  Community is given but it is not a given.  I love this statement: “we believe that in the church there exists a fellowship that cannot otherwise be known.”  This can easily be reduced to a clique or club.  Community requires recognition and personal energy.  When community is assumed it will likely be short-lived.

2. Treating community as commodity, thing or tool.  Beware those who think of community in terms of markets, affinity groups, outlets, numbers, blocs, polls, voters.  If community is a tool to be used or a means to an end, then its participants are merely objects to be influenced or manipulated or set aside.  Preachers and politicians are often guilty of this sin.

3. Disregarding another’s needs.  “Mourn with those who mourn.”  If we enjoy the benefits of life together, if we dare sing God’s praises side by side and give ourselves to the Word together, then the sufferings of our neighbor become like our own.  Ignoring or disregarding or not responding in some way to the known plight of one in our community undercuts it and devalues one’s own spirituality.

4. Failure to celebrate.  “Rejoice with those who rejoice.”  Don’t disregard invitations to weddings, graduations, birthdays, and other celebratory occasions of those with whom we are in community.  Encouragement, connection and breakthrough are frequently the fruit of rather low-grade occasions of celebration.  When you participate in a celebration, discipline yourself to go in an anticipatory and celebratory frame of mind.

5. Drawing the circle too narrowly.  Exclusivity and rot begins when we define our community’s boundaries too firmly or closely.  Apathy, prejudice, fear and hatred is borne of drawing the circle too narrowly.

6. Self-preoccupation.  Graciously grafted into a community, we learn to balance attending to its life and to our own.  Community is different than joining an organization.  Community invites us to lay aside our preoccupation with our own needs in order to find ourselves more fully alive than ever before as we serve alongside of others toward transcendent purposes.  It also calls upon us to “not think too highly of ourselves.”  The ground at the cross and in community is level.

7. Absence.  When you aren’t present when a community agrees to gather in common life, all are reduced in some way.  “They can do without me” or “I don’t need them” or “I can get what I need via TV” or other rationalizations simply fly in the face of the truth about authentic community and personal spiritual development.  Community is not about joining and paying dues and only showing up whenever you feel like it.  Some organizations can function like that.  Community dies that way.

8. Not listening.  Communities, small or large, formal and informal, are full of people with hurts and hopes.  The extent to which these are shared, listened to, acknowledged and sincerely responded to is an indicator of the health of a community.  Listening is the number one discipline and offering of all who would seek and engage in community.

9. Choice to not yield.  “To turn, turn will be our delight, till by turning, turning we come round right.”  Relationships that are alive and growing call for continuous mutual yielding.  Bit by bit, more usually in smaller things than greater, we learn to tune into each other and so, while remaining distinct and separate, we learn also to pull together strongly toward common purposes.  We miss this possibility when we choose not to yield.

10. Unforgiveness.  Forgiveness is the most basic discipline and grace of community, whether it is a friendship, a partnership, a marriage, a congregation, etc.  Hidden hurts, grudges and resentments create thinly-veiled landmines which routinely decimate communities and maim people emotionally and spiritually.  Where unforgiveness holds, community folds.

11. The choice not to reconcile.  Forgiveness precedes any hope for reconciliation.  Without freely offered and received forgiveness, reconciliation is impossible.  With it, reconciliation—bringing estranged people together, one of the most profound manifestations of God’s future toward which we are called—can become a hallmark of community.

12. The choice to not be compassionate.  Sometimes compassion is just neglected or those with tangible needs are not seen.  Authentic communities revive themselves by frequently “calling the question” on compassion.  Sometimes, however, compassion is specifically resisted or turned into an organization-serving carrot-and-stick response to persons in need: “You do what we want and we will give you what you need to survive.”  God is not glorified in such schemes.

13. The choice to assert law over spirit.  Maybe it is appropriate that this is the last “sin” to be listed here.  Communities suffocate themselves and their participants when they stridently codify and then slavishly enforce their “rules.”  Community is a dynamic that degenerates into mere organizational or institutional life when rules trump spirit.  Breathe life into your community by reversing this trend.

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, March 23, 2010

WHAT'S LEFT OF LENT


It's not too late to get in on what's left of Lent, redeeming its remaining days

COUNTING DOWN THE DAYS.  Many of us start Lent.  I wonder how many of us keep it to its conclusion?  My guess is that most folks, myself included, rarely stay focused for forty days.  It might have been different in days in which the pace was slower and information processing was not so complex and the things that push and pull us were fewer.  Who can even remember forty days ago?

LOST AMID MANYNESS & MUCHNESS.  Lent gets lost in the backwash as we speed through the weeks.  Lent is a victim of what Richard Foster calls “manyness and muchness.”  Lent is not blaring at us, is not selling us, not phoning us, not e-mailing or instant-messaging or sending us reminders by post.  Did it even have a chance?

DAYS OF KAIROS.  Nonetheless, here we are, turning onto the down stretch of Lent.  Maybe we've lost focus, given up on what it was we gave up for Lent, but we have opportunity to refocus ourselves and rejoin the journey.  Palm Sunday is 6 days away; Easter is fully 13 days off.  So it's not 40 days of preparation.  Still, one could commit to a pretty intensive and intentional spiritual discipline for the next two weeks.  Two weeks: it's enough time for a life's trajectory to be reset.  Two weeks in kairos time is an eternity.

NOT TOO LATE.  It's not too late to get in on Lent.  So what if others have been more faithful; it's not a contest.  And it's not about them; it's about grace.  Just don't waste this day.  Now's a good time.  Why not take this opportunity?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

POLITICS OF THE CROSS

John Howard Yoder points out that cultural and political implications of the cross

Here are a few quotes from one chapter in John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus:

NOT MERELY MYSTICAL. “As long as [we] could stay unaware of the political/social dimension of Jesus’ ministry (which most of Christendom seems to have done quite successfully), then it was also possible to perceive the ‘in Christ’ language of the Epistles as mystical or the ‘dying with Christ’ as psychologically morbid. But if we may posit…that the apostles had and taught at least a core memory of their Lord’s earthly ministry in its blunt historicity, then centering the apostolic ethic upon the disciple’s cross evidences a substantial, binding, costly social stance.”

CONSCIOUS OF THE COST. “The cross of Christ was not an inexplicable or chance event, which happened to strike him, like illness or accident. To accept the cross as his destiny, to move toward it and even to provoke it, when he could well have done otherwise, was Jesus’ constantly reiterated free choice; and he warns his disciples lest their embarking on the same path be less conscious of its costs.”

NO LESSER CAUSE OR CLASH. “The cross of Calvary was not a difficult family situation, not a frustration of visions of personal fulfillment, a crushing debt or nagging in-law; it was the political, legally to be expected result of a moral clash with the powers ruling his society.”

IMITATION OF CHRIST. “There is but one realm in which the concept of imitation [of Christ] holds—but there it holds in every strand of the New Testament literature and all the more strikingly by virtue of the absence of parallels in other realms: this is at the point of the concrete social meaning of the cross in relation to enmity and power. Servanthood replaces dominion, forgiveness absorbs hostility. Thus—and only thus—are we bound by New Testament thought to ‘be like Jesus.’”

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, March 17, 2010

FLY OVER

We fly over all these farms
these houses, these towns
these cities stretching for miles,
these trucks inching along
at 60 miles an hour.

Hard to imagine so many people.
So many unique stories,
it could take lifetimes
to celebrate and grieve.

Instead, we're all watching
The Bachelor.

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, March 16, 2010

GARY, INDIANA

Gary,
ye shall be gray
and polluted so
Chicago
may shine.
Thus it hath been deemed
so it hath
become.

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, March 12, 2010

COUSIN KEITH

A  poem in tribute the oldest of my Sheffield cousins. Keith showed us how to live through severe disabilities.

His twisted body lurched forward
in a determined jerking motion,
a rhythm of step, drag, step, drag,
one braced leg following the other,
arms swinging widely
as part of an effortful and
delicate balancing act.

Face taut,
mouth drawn up,
eyes concentrating,
he determinedly focused
on the act of moving forward--
it cannot be called walking--
on his own two feet.

One got the sense that
everything others do easily,
mindlessly, has been
a major challenge for Keith
for sixty-four years.

Deliberately
he fed himself.
Painstakingly
he shaved his face.
Haltingly
he dressed each day.
With furrow-browed attention
Keith negotiated all actions of which
Most think nothing.

And so he talked slowly,
wide-mouthed,
syllables forming ever so gradually
that one anticipated where
the sentence was going
and was impatiently tempted
to finish it for him.

But one learned to let Keith
finish his own sentences,
to complete his queries when possible.
It made a difference
in his eyes—whether
they shined into you
or turned greyly away.

Encased in this twisted body
was a sharp mind
and a sensitive heart.
Though halting,
his words were piercingly perceptive,
honed more pointedly by their
necessary economy.

No one could joke and laugh
with more abandon than Keith.
No one could be more frustrated
with his pervasive condition than Keith.
At times he would convey
mild embarrassment,
at others, sheer agony would

cloud his eyes.
Through it all,
he personified a dignity far beyond
the grip of cerebral palsy.

Keith lived beyond
the expectations of us all.
And now he rests
from the work of living,
from the labored effort
to speak,

to move,
to give,

to be,
preceding his cousins in
crossing from life to death,
or from death to life.

My cousin, Keith Sheffield (farthest right in the photo above), died in March 2001.  Keith, who lived with cerebral palsy, was the oldest of thirteen grandchildren of Willie Robert and Laura Mae Sheffield and the first to die.  He lived for 64 years.  I was privileged to join other Sheffield family cousins to bear his pall to a Cincinnati, Ohio grave site.  I wrote this piece in an attempt to memorialize him and to pay tribute to all who show the world how to live through severe disabilities.

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, March 10, 2010

A FREE METHODIST IMAGINES "DOING JUSTICE"

In light of Glenn Beck's attack on churches that preach "social justice," I draw from a presentation I made in 2006

The following 14 bullet points are the conclusion of a research-based presentation I made at "In Search of the Free Methodist Soul III," a symposium hosted by the Free Methodist Historical Society in Indianapolis. The theme of the event was a phrase often used by John Wesley to describe the applied or outward life of inward holiness - "justice, mercy and truth." I was honored to present the essay on "justice." After reviewing ways John Wesley and the early Methodists (mid-1700's in England) and B. T. Roberts and the early Free Methodists (mid-1800's in America) went about "doing justice" out of their similar faith orientations, I concluded by reflecting what I imagine sincere justice-making that is incorporated centrally into the life of a Free Methodist member and congregation today might look like, be like. I suppose this could describe Nazarenes and more than a few other brands/branches of our common faith.

1. We stop convincing ourselves that justice issues are too messy and complicated to get involved in. We seek to fully understand the nature of particular injustices. We begin to trace their sources in irresponsible or sinful values, actions, approaches, alliances, or habits at personal, corporate, social, and/or national levels.

2. We no longer just hope somebody else is doing something about poverty or human trafficking. We identify how Free Methodists and others are engaging in both relief and redemptive counter to these injustices. We support this work financially and prayerfully. We identify corrupting activities and also commend best practices to our representative church, government, corporate, and community leaders at all levels.

3. We incorporate "doing justice" into the center of our descriptions and proclamations of salvation and discipleship. We reclaim Biblical guidance regarding "doing justice" and forge a fresh Free Methodist spiritual formation with this mandate and heritage at heart. We both preach grace and do justice in our evangelism and discipleship. We incorporate 'justice, mercy, and truth" into our Christian education, discipleship, leadership development, worship, and group life curriculum. Justice is not something talked about one Sunday of the year; it is woven into the texture of our life together.


4. We do not accept at face-value any politically-motivated or fear-based description or solution to social problems or injustices. We exercise a deeper sense of spiritual discernment and broader sense of social responsibility than can be reduced to sound-bytes, slogans, campaigns, and election-cycle political interest action.

5. We are educated and engaged regarding what is being accomplished within the Body of Christ and others regarding historically-core Free Methodist concerns--poverty, human slavery, and women's issues (for starters). We encourage involvement in local and international initiatives like the Christian Community Development Association, the Blueprint to End Homelessness, and the International Justice Mission.

6. We take a global outlook and approach to "doing justice." We move beyond Americanism for the sake of authentic Christianity and our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. While we address specifically American justice challenges like homelessness, affordable housing, livable wages, affordable health care, and access to quality public education at all levels, we do so within a global perspective. North American and Western lifestyles and choices are linked with the prevention or propagation of global poverty, human trafficking, fair labor, women's rights, and economic domination.

7. We openly commit to solidarity with the poor and the plight of the poorest of the poor in our society and around the world. As best we can, we look at the world through the eyes and experiences of marginalized people and groups. We no longer insulate ourselves from contact with the poor; instead we look for ways to engage the poor with meaning, linking our own lives inseparably with theirs. We visit, develop relationships, and become increasingly aware of the immediate struggles of neighbors. We give more weight to their testimonies and experiences than to politicians and news media sources. We work with neighbors to understand and address poverty.

8. As we act for relief of the poor and vulnerable, we link relief with reform and establish just structures, policies, and opportunities whenever possible. As we give ourselves to salvage lives that have been swept over the proverbial waterfall, just as readily we move expediently to address what has caused people and groups to be swept downstream in the first place. We treat symptoms and we address sources of harm. To modify a well-worn adage: give people fish, teach them how to fish, guarantee their right to fish, and do all in your power to insure that the water upstream is not being polluted so that they can actually eat and sell the fish they catch.

9. We are as redemptively involved in our communities for social reform as we are in our congregations for spiritual formation and revival. Free Methodist spiritual formation encourages active neighboring as well as service to support congregational life. Volunteers serve local justice concerns in balance with congregational outreach ministries. We see the two as complementary, not competitive or exclusionary.

10. We act as responsible investors in global market dynamics. If we invest in the stock market or benefit from stock market investments (such as through tax-sheltered retirement accounts), we do so, as much as possible, without blindly contributing to or benefiting from unjust labor or unethical business practices. We refrain from investments that promote violence, war-making, addictions, or unfair trade and labor practices. We examine local labor and market practices of companies in which we invest and call for social responsibility. When stock-market and multi-national corporate activity is identified as rapacious, it is called to accountability and change.

11. We act as responsible consumers of global products, resources, and services. We see a higher value than the lowest possible retail price tag. We challenge our habits of purchasing and consuming whenever it is known to directly or indirectly feed injustices for laborers and the poor around the world.

12. We refute violence against human beings in all its forms. We speak prophetically to militarism and the violence of unjust war, to be sure. We also reject of the language and norms of violence in our society and world. Alternatively, we engage in, pursue, and encourage methods of conflict resolution and shalom-bearing that are a positive testimony to the power of a holy God whose way is love.

13. We address justice issues in the Spirit and manner of perfect love. Even as we identify injustice, seek to relieve the oppressed, call perpetrators of injustice to accountability, and work for reform, we do so with the redemption of the perpetrating individual or organization in focus. Our very approach and spirit is the key to transformative outcomes. As one early Free Methodist put it: "to find the remedy is easy; successfully to apply it involves the principle of holiness."

14. We show by example and precedent what is possible when people of heart-felt faith and vision creatively engage the call to "do justice." We demonstrate the promise of restorative justice initiatives. We model best practices in socially redemptive ministries and volunteer services. We are proactive instead of reactive. We exemplify to the best of our ability, acting with all the light that we currently, collectively have, the principles of the kingdom of God. We live earnestly the petition we constantly make: "Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

I will send a fully copy of my paper via e-mail to anyone who requests it.



This is as about as close to a Biblical social justice "manifesto" as I get. Just sayin,' Glenn...

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, March 7, 2010

BEYOND TOLERANCE

There's got to be a better word and approach than "tolerance" to describe what we're called to

Looking for a better word than "tolerance" to describe a response that offers dignity, civility, grace and, if need be, life-giving sacrifice for an individual or group whose beliefs, behaviors or values one doesn't share.

I am thinking of this because I heard a conservative evangelical pastor this morning seem to draw a line for his congregation about "tolerance." I think he meant well, but if you follow his logic out, it doesn't lead in anywhere I think the Bible or Christian witness goes with much validity. And, it may lead in a reactionary and virulent direction.

Tolerance may be good in some settings.  But it seems to be that Jesus called for something bigger, broader than mere tolerance.  I'm thinking, for instance, of the witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in regard to being more than "tolerant" of others. While many in the church "tolerated" Hitler while Jews they disagreed with perished (some thought justifiably so), Bonhoeffer risked his life to save Jewish neighbors.

I am convinced "tolerance" is something less than what Jesus described as our normative response to others. In his way of looking at things, enemies are to be loved. What response--what relationship--then, with non-enemies or friends who think, believe, or behave differently?

The very word "tolerance," to me, sets the wrong image and tone for our relationship and Christian witness to others in our very diverse world. Now, those know know me, know that I am no compromiser. But neither do I any longer accept false choices, either/ors, when a more valid and robust way of conveying the light and life of Christian faith and witness is possible. Why talk "tolerance" when something more dynamic is possible?

What's beyond "tolerance" that better expresses the heart of Christian faith and experience in relationship to others?

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, March 4, 2010

WONDER OF OUR LOVED ONES

I wrote the following poem several years ago. It still calls to me to live into its reality. This is an ever-present challenge to me. For it, I pray daily for the grace of perception, compassion and wisdom.


Loved ones deserve our effort
to nurture their wonder.
Against the tide of sameness
and routine familiarity,
against presumption of predictability,
strive to discern and celebrate
what is unique to each
and evidently a gift to all.

Though all the world may see merely
a name, a number, a commodity,
we must strain to see originality –
and life and hope and promise –
in those to whom we have been given
and who have been given to us.

Even and especially after years
of common life and companionship,
when it might seem there are few surprises
and little new to be known of others,
when change is no longer a harbored expectation,
our loved ones deserve earnest contemplation –
as if we have yet to discover the
source of their shining light.

The world may or may not discover
the wonder of our children,
the glory of our spouse,
or the peculiar delight of a friend,
but will we have fully lived
if we have not perceived and guarded
and fueled their unique graces?

Highlight the wonder in loved ones
when they cannot see it for themselves,
or do not believe in themselves,
or sell themselves short.
Perhaps the reminder will
turn the tide and hold them fast
in dark and disillusioning days.

Fan the flame of their distinct wonder--
not what you wish they would become
or desire for your own gratification.
And as they shine as a light
to those whose ways they are intended to brighten,
let your blessing flow unbridled,
trusting to wonder the glory
that will come through 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.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

HOMELESSNESS, NEIGHBORS & INDIANAPOLIS

A few responses after the Davidson Street bridge "clean up"
 
I have submitted the following as a Letter to the Editor of the Indianapolis Star (Update: it was published on Monday, March 8, 2010) 


Grappling with homelessness in our communities is gut-wrenching.  The angst felt by many in the recent Davidson Street bridge ordeal isn’t isolated.  Homeless issues are complex and answers aren’t one-dimensional, easy, or final.  As a long-time resident of Indianapolis, as well as having served as an urban pastor, Executive Director of the John H. Boner Community Center and Horizon House homeless day center, I’ve felt the full range of concerns.

Here are a few things I hope our city’s current decision makers take to heart as they continue to address homelessness in our city:

1. Housed or homeless, we are all neighbors.  Labeling people without addresses as “the homeless,” “homeless people,” or worse is neither accurate nor helpful.  A person without a permanent dwelling (for whatever reason) is still our neighbor.  Neighbors without houses are usually taxpaying, law-abiding, and desire to contribute to the common good.  How we conceive of the other is decisive for where we go in our responses.

2. As a city, we have not yet filled critical gaps in the Indianapolis “Blueprint to End Homelessness.”  Most glaringly missing is an engagement center.  The most vulnerable of our homeless neighbors do not stay in rescue missions because of chronic alcoholism or drug addictions.  Every year, many of these neighbors die unnecessarily on our streets.  Homeless neighbors who are publicly intoxicated, chronically addicted, and without other recourse can find life-preserving shelter and first-response professional care at an engagement center.  City after city has saved taxpayer dollars in public safety, jail, and emergency room expenditures--not to mention saving many lives--by robustly supporting this.  It’s time for Indianapolis leadership to step up and make an engagement center a local reality.

3. Individuals and families who are homeless deserve and require our best resources because their future and the region’s are tied together. The vast majority of the homeless neighbors residing in Indianapolis and across Central Indiana are not single adult males, but women and children.  But single adult males cannot be relegated as less significant or worthy of our caring, thoughtful responses.  Difficulties and complexity notwithstanding, our commitment to help our neighbors end their homelessness is part of what will make this the shining city that our forebears envisioned so long 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.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

MEANDERING THROUGH LENT?

I told you I’d have trouble keeping focus for 40 days.  But I’m back on the bandwagon...for now.


Before it began this year, way back in the middle of February, I confessed that I had focus issues with Lent.  Whether it’s something I’d give up or something extra I’d do during this 40-day journey, I know myself well enough to know I’d have trouble staying focused.  Well, I’m there.  I’m not meandering through Lent, but I’m apparently not as holy as those who are making sacrifices.  Seriously: keep your commitment and may God bless your spiritual exercise.  Honestly, I’m doing well to remember to go to www.d356.org/journeytothecross for the daily readings, reflections and response opportunities (which, when I remember to do so, are awesome!).

At least I’m remembering that it is Lent, that there is a journeying aspect to these days and that this thing is headed toward an intentional self-giving act of solidarity bringing about awful reactions from dominators, loving, pointed but nonviolent responses from Jesus and puzzled empathy from bewildered followers.  I’m down with that.  None of the ancient story is lost on me.  In fact, it lives in me.  The gospel story has shaped my life and thinking and trajectory in ways I can’t even begin to articulate.  I can’t get away from it.  I’m gospel saturated.  For me, it’s Advent and Christmas and Lent and Holy Week and Easter and Pentecost all the time.

Maybe it’s the idea of taking up a limited 4-chapter portion of the gospel for a little while that disqualifies me from being a very good Lenten companion for others.  Or maybe that’s just an excuse.  I don’t know.  All I know is that this journey Jesus made to Jerusalem is the game changer for life and eternity.  Whether we want to focus on the humanly heroic self-giving, self-emptying of Jesus and his costly solidarity with us--with our shame, our brokenness, our struggles, our pain--or whether we want to focus on the transcendently breathtaking Savior who cooperated fully in a sin-destroying mission to redeem, release, and restore the human race, this part of the journey-story is crucial.

Maybe there’s hope yet for me to get on the Lenten road.  Focus, focus, John!  It’s not about what you give up, Hay.  It’s not about what you can do, silly.  It’s not about tending to ritual superficialities while the world continues going to hell in a hand basket.  It’s continuing to let the story that’s in you be lived through you in a way that glorifies God—whatever that means, wherever that leads, whatever it takes.  Argh!  I knew it would come down to this.  So, be it.  Let it be.

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, March 1, 2010

NONVIOLENCE IS NOT "DOING NOTHING"

André Trocmé challenges shallow notions of nonviolence and casual compassion.

POWER OF A DIFFERENT KIND.  Listen to André Trocmé: “People tend to think of nonviolence as a choice between using force and doing nothing.  But for Jesus, the real choice takes place at another level.  Nonviolence is less a matter of ‘not killing’ and more a matter of showing compassion, of saving and redeeming, of being a healing community.”

HARM IN A LITTLE CHARITY.  “One must choose between doing good to the person placed in one’s path, or the evil which one might be doing by mere abstention.  For Jesus, there is no no-man’s-land, enabling us to portion our attitudes, to do a little good to our neighbor without taking the risk of becoming involved for his sake, or to do him a little harm while still remaining charitable.”

INACTION NOT AN OPTION.  “To do good is to save a person; not to do him good is to kill him.  To save someone is to restore that person physically, socially, and spiritually.  To neglect and postpone this restoration is already to kill.”

FREE E-BOOK.  This is from Jesus and the Nonviolent Revolution by André Trocmé.  Trocmé’s hallmark book, first published in English in 1974, can be downloaded for free in PDF e-book format from the folks at Plough Publishing.  Access it at this link: http://www.plough.com/ebooks/nonviolentrevolution.html

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