Thursday, December 29, 2011

My 2011 Top Ten

Everybody seems to be doing a year-end Top Ten. Okay, I'll chime in. 


These are persons or events that most captured my attention and imagination during 2011.


1. Anna Hazare. This 21-century Gandhi-esque man led a nonviolent protest against government corruption in the autumn that engaged millions of Indians.  His fast and savvy actions led to a major breakthrough on anti-corruption laws in the world's largest democracy. Best low-profile story of the year.


2. Tahrir Square. Nothing captured my imagination like the freedom movement in Egypt this past spring and summer.  The drama and dynamics of this peaceful movement brought about the downfall of US-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak and brought hope for an authentic democracy.


3. Libyan liberation. It started nonviolent, but turned bloody quickly and ultimately relied on limited air support from NATO allies.  The initial impact is that the dictator Gaddafi is gone and there is hope for an emerging democracy in Libya.  Most importantly, Libya's future is in the people's hands.  I think President Obama's handling of this was stellar.


4. Greece in protest.  Partly because Becky and I waded through the middle of one day of the protests in Athens (our eyes burning from tear gas haze), and partly because what happens in Greece impacts much of the rest of the Eurozone.  All of Greece is in angst amid austerity measures and a terrible economy.  The heart of the birthplace of democracy is aching.


5. Occupy Wall Street.  At the beginning of the year, no one could have imagined it: a group of mostly young people decided that since Wall Street influence occupied our government leaders they would occupy Wall Street for the sake of the 99% of Americans. Their extended and ameobic protest would spark a world-wide movement. I participated in the initial Occupy Indianapolis day and spent time with Occupy London protesters in October.


6. Gabby Giffords.  I was on a fundraising bicycle ride in Vietnam when Gabby Giffords and her entourage was attacked with deadly violence--a violence derived directly from politician- and news media-fomented venom.  Condemnation was swift and widespread. For a while, at least, the tone of public discourse changed. I think this episode marks the beginning of the end of the Tea Party's ascendance and credibility.


7. Inept Congress.  House Speaker John Boehner and the conservative bloc of the House of Representatives have demonstrated and symbolized all that is broken in American political process at the moment.  But they aren't alone.  Time for a radical change in Congressional process.


8. Last Shuttle flight.  American space flight has captured and fueled my imagination since I was a young child.  The last shuttle flight in late summer signaled the end of an era for America and for me.  What's next?


9. Penn State sex scandal.  This tragic ordeal reveals so many layers of cover-up, complicity and unreported sexual abuse that are more usual than we want to believe across the nation.  May healing come to the boys (now young men) who were abused. May justice and, after that, mercy come to all who perpetrated or failed act to end these abuses.


10. Out of Iraq.  Over 4,000 American lives, over 100,000 Iraqi lives and over a trillion American taxpayer dollars late.  President Obama kept an important promise by getting US troops out of Iraq.  But the fact that none of the politicians who led America into this fiasco have been held accountable is a travesty.  That, too, is a legacy of President Obama.  But many of us shall not forget who insisted on this greatest and most costly foreign policy blunder in US history.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Four Calling Birds

A Reflection for the Fourth Day of Christmas

[This is from a book I self-published a few years ago.  Twelve Days: A Spiritual Journey offers daily readings and reflections from Christmas to Epiphany using the traditional carol as a framework. This is the reading for the December 28th, the fourth day of Christmas.]

"On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… four calling birds."



Four Calling Birds = the Four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which convey the Good News of God reconciling the world in Jesus.
Read: Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 7:21-23; John 20:30-31

PUTTING AWAY CHRISTMAS ALREADY? Still celebrating Christmas? Still basking in the afterglow of the Word (logos) become flesh? As we start to put away Christmas decorations, and as the gifts we have received merge into our wardrobe or take their place in the household to become part of the fabric of living, keep the candle of Christmas glowing. We have received greater gifts. And we are yet to receive more!

GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD. Open the gifts for the fourth day of Christmas: the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Calling birds, indeed! Good News like no other. It is a story told from four different perspectives that is above all other stories. It is a story--a meta-narrative--in which we can find ourselves and through which we can live our own stories authentically.

JUBILEE BEGUN. Pay close attention to the Scripture readings today. Isaiah 61 describes the year of Jubilee, a comprehensive and radical personal and social reordering of life according to God’s reign. Jesus proclaimed Jubilee fulfilled in his coming. Luke 7:21-23 offers confirmation to the followers of John the Baptist that, in fact, Jesus is the Good News for which generations of people had longed. John 20:30-31 makes clear that the Gospel writers did not--could not--capture it all. It also makes clear the intent of the Gospel writing itself: that we may believe and have life through Jesus Christ.

WIDENING THE IMPACT. What Christmas implies and promises, the Gospels write large by walking us through the life of Jesus with heart-opening lucidity. The Gospels document and detail evidence that the hopes and fears of all the years were, indeed, met in Jesus Christ. The birth narratives in Matthew and Luke conspicuously hint at the broad, troubling, and grace-bearing impact Jesus would have. And John’s eloquent introduction sets the stage for a story in which "as many as received him, to those who believed on his name, he gave the right to become the children of God."

FOUR DISTINCT PERSPECTIVES. The four Gospels make no attempt to reconcile differences in details or to paint a seamless, air-brushed picture of Jesus. Each is written from a different perspective for a different audience at a different time and from a different place. The fact that they are individually so raw and make no pretense at orchestrating events so as to present a united front seems to argue for their authenticity and believability. Though incredibly diverse, the common threads and penetrating message of the Gospels witnesses to something that has forever changed the world.

AWAKENING TO WHAT I KNEW. I grew up saturated with stories from the Gospels. It was a gift unappreciated and taken for granted. I didn’t awaken to the radical nature of the Gospel message and its claims upon my life and the community of faith until I was well into my twenties. I am still waking up to this gift, still being converted by the challenging invitation, still being apprehended by the call. I am still realizing this is, indeed, Good News for all humanity, for every person, even for me.

THEIR TERMS, NOT MINE. The Gospels are Good News on their own terms, not mine. Only as I let go of my flimsy excuses, shallow attachments, grandiose notions, self-serving interpretations, and less-thancertain certitudes, the Gospel finds me and I find my home in the Gospel. Our own stories are significant when they find their place in the Story. Every person takes his or her place in the Gospels; we must to decide, however, how the Gospels tell our stories.

Tomorrow: "Five Gold Rings" - The five books of Torah (the Pentateuch): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Work of Christmas

Howard Thurman suggests "next steps" after Christmas


"When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart."

from The Moods of Christmas

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas is for Adults


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

I wrote the following poem just a few years ago, when our house was full of kiddos--they're now young adults.  I was thinking about the possibility of Christmas making a spiritual change in the hearts of adults, not just children.

It is not enough to say
"Christmas is for children."
So it is, and ever so.
But it is especially for adults,
those routinous creatures

with furrowed brows wrapped
in self-absorbing pursuits.

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

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

Christmas invites children
and adults alike to a place

where room is made for
a Child and that Child

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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Chesterton's Take on Christmas


The rotund English Catholic and prolific journalist pumped up Christmas like few have before or since


"It is in the old Christmas carols, hymns, and traditions--those which date from the Middle Ages--that we find not only what makes Christmas poetic and soothing and stately, but first and foremost what makes Christmas exciting. The exciting quality of Christmas rests on an ancient and admitted paradox. It rests upon the paradox that the power and center of the whole universe may be found in some seemingly small matter, that the stars in their courses may move like a moving wheel around the neglected outhouse of an inn.” — G. K. Chesterton

Monday, December 12, 2011

BROKEN ANY CHAINS LATELY?

If chains shall be broken, we will have a hand in breaking them. Enough hand-wringing. Let's do what we know is right and just.

Luke shares words attributed to a pregnant Mary: "He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty." Luke 1:53

How does that happen?

Has it happened?

Is it yet to occur?

How are we to receive, understand, interpret and apply this and the other radical liberation statements in Mary's Song (Magnificat)?  I reject the notion that this is merely literary flourish, that it is not to be taken literally.  Too much of Old Testament prophecy and the words and actions of Jesus echo it (or it echoes them).

And, while we're at it, how do we get from who Jesus was and what he did to what Jesus makes possible for us and calls us now to be and do?

"Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother," we sing in the stirring Christmas anthem "O Holy Night," "and in his name all oppression shall oppression shall cease."  Amen!  

But, tell me, if Jesus has done this, or made this possible or started the process, what part do you and I have in it?  Is it just hope-so someday?  Is it an eventuality?  Is it "stand back and wait for God to do something?"  I don't think so and most serious Bible scholars don't think so.  But the vast majority of the church has played a some-day, hand-wringing game for two millennia.   Too often the church has invested more of its energies in church empire than in "Thy kingdom come," leaving people victimized by dominating people, institutions and systems to fend for themselves or hope for something better in the world to come.

If chains shall be broken, we shall have a hand in breaking them.  If oppression shall cease, it begins with us to stop oppressing and pretending like we aren't implicated and complicit in oppression on a global scale.  If the hungry are to be filled with good things, it should be through those of us who follow Jesus, who say we take him seriously, who will lay aside our over-the-top wealth and act now to fill the hungry with good things.

Today, there are more people enslaved in our world than ever before.  Millions of people--many of them under age 14--labor in virtual slavery, are trafficked in the sex industry, or are used as pawns in paying off someone else's debts.  Learn about 21st-century slavery and the new abolitionist movement at www.notforsalecampaign.org. Get involved.

Enough games-playing.  Enough excusing.  Enough hand-wringing.  Enough hope-so.  Enough obfuscation.  Enough putting off.  It's way past time to do what Jesus did and instructed his followers to do.  Do that; that's all that's required.


Let's break some chains.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

ADVENT, EMPIRE & SEEING ANGELS

Context is everything. Without it, a basic grasp of Nativity--then and now--is lost. But what happens when we locate the story among undocumented aliens surviving at the margins of empire? 

Dorothee Soelle, in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent & Christmas (Plough Publishing, 2001) writes:

"How and under what conditions had people lived then in Galilee? Political oppression, legal degradation, economic plunder, and religious neutrality in the scope of the religio lictia ('permitted religion') were realities that the writer Luke kept in view in his story, which is so sublime and yet so focused on the center of all conceivable power."

"At last I saw the imperium from the perspective of those dominated by it. I recognized torturers and informers behind the coercive measure, 'All went…to be registered' (v. 3). Finally I comprehended the peace of the angels 'on earth' and not only in the souls of individual people. I understood for the first time the propaganda terms of the Roman writers who spoke of pax and jus when they really meant grain prices and militarization of the earth known at that time (all this can be confirmed by research today)."

"Of course my rereading was politically colored. I too was surrounded by propaganda ('freedom and democracy'). While in the narrative I heard the boot of the empire crush everything in its way from Bethlehem to Golgotha, I saw the carpet bombings in the poor districts of San Salvador right behind the glittering displays on Fifth Avenue in New York..."

"In Paul the causes of misery are called the reign of sin. Without understanding this imperium ('reign') in its economic and ecological power of death, we also cannot see the light of Christmas shine. Living in the pretended social market economy, we do not even seem to need this light!"

"Whoever wants to proclaim something about this light has to free the stifled longing of people. An interpretation of the Bible that takes seriously concrete, everyday human cares and does not make light of the dying of children from hunger and neglect is helpful in this regard. By showing up the incomparable power of violence in our world today, it deepens our yearning for true peace."

"Luke refers to the praxis of transmission and proclamation. The frightened shepherds become God’s messengers. They organize, make haste, find others, and speak with them. Do we not all want to become shepherds and catch sight of the angel? I think so."

"But without the perspective of the poor, we see nothing, not even an angel. Yet, when we approach the poor, our values and goals change. The child appears in many other children. Mary also seeks sanctuary among us. Because the angels sing, the shepherds rise, leave their fears behind, and set out for Bethlehem, wherever it is situated these days."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Seeing the Signs

After it wakes us up, Advent calls for us to see and discern critically

“At every turn in the Christmas story there appears an absurd mismatch: a woman and a dragon, a babe and the kings of this world, a messiah of utter folly and the power of death. But that is precisely the method that God has chosen in the Incarnation. God risks everything on the power of powerlessness.”

The topic of Christmas is whether we have the eyes to see it. And the heart to follow. Many did not recognize God’s coming to them in Jesus. But some did. Christmas has to do with seeing the signs, with recognition, with discerning God’s presence in the world.”

“As William Stringfellow said, ‘Discerning signs does not seek spectacular proofs or await the miraculous, but, rather, it means sensitivity to the Word of God indwelling in all Creation and transfiguring common history, while remaining radically realistic about death’s vitality in all that happens.’ Lord, for such a comprehension in this season and all, grant us the heart!”

— Bill Wylie Kellerman in Seasons of Faith and Conscience

For contemplation:

What do we see?

How do we see?

At how many levels and from which different angles dare we perceive?

I am struck by the widely varied responses to the Occupy movement. Our reactions or responses reveal what we are able or willing to see in our society and ourselves, it seems to me.

God, help me see more fully--both what is sabotaging community and the grace that is reweaving it--and not forget or neglect to act here and now in anticipation of what is possible and shall surely be for all who long for your appearing.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

God's Slow Work

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin challenges my anxiousness and encourages me to embrace the murky middle 


Above all, trust in the slow work of God. 
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown,
something new.
Yet it is the law that all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of instability
and that may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
Let them shape themselves without undue haste.
Do not try to force them on as though
you could be today what time
— that is to say, grace–
and circumstances
acting on your own good will
will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new Spirit
gradually forming in you will be.

Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God,
our loving vine-dresser.
Amen.

-- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. 1881-1955

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sleepwalking Advent

Shifting gears into Advent may take some time...but, please, don't lallygag too long!

Advent begins
In a fog of unreadiness.
As if by dull surprise
Or in a twilight zone,
We groggily hang the greens.

Hardly with awareness
Much less anticipation
God’s people sleepwalk
Through the prophecies
And Annunciation.

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

Is it only children and prophets
Who grasp the urgency,
Sense the passion;
Whose hearts are rended
And readied by the
Promise of Light shining
In the darkness?

Is it only to them that Advent
Becomes no mere repetition
Of myth-laden past events,
But days of embracing
The living Mystery,
The basis of all hope?

By God’s mercy and grace
Children and prophets are
Only the first to hear,
The first to recognize,
To proclaim that
It is indeed Mystery.

The Light ever dawns,
Beaming its rays into the
Eyes of even the groggiest saints,
The hardest sleeper
Among us.

Only those who refuse to rise
Amid many urgent shakings
And light flooding their beds
Sleep through the
Incarnation.

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

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Eyes Wide Open


How my attempt at contemplative praying and living impacts my worldview, faith, and dailiness. 

I enjoyed talking with protesters at St. Paul's
Cathedral at Occupy London last month.
Glenna Thomas, one of my favorite old saints at the church of my childhood, was once looking around during congregational prayer.  After the “Amen” and when everyone else had raised their heads and opened their eyes, her granddaughter, who had spied Glenna’s eyes wide open, blurted out loud: “Grandma, you’re supposed to close your eyes when we pray, but you were looking around.”  Glenna laughed and, without missing a beat, retorted just as openly: “Honey, the Bible says to watch and pray, and I was watching!”

Impressed by the witness, practice and writings of Thomas Merton, I committed to try to become a contemplative a number of years ago.  It’s a spiritual practice deeply rooted in church and spiritual history.  Though most often associated with monasteries (Merton was a Trappist monk), contemplative Christian spirituality is just as well practicable in a fully engaged, work-a-day world.  Who knows?  You may be a contemplative and not even realize it.

The best way I can describe it is this: contemplatives live and pray with eyes wide open.  We pray with the newspaper in one hand and the Scriptures in the other.  We literally pray the news—and not just the news, but life as we experience it.  We try to take it all in—the good, the bad and the ugly—consider it, reflect on it as fully as possible, and then respond to it in light of what we can grasp of God’s story and Spirit of grace.

Contemplative living intentionally heightens awareness and sensitivity to what impacts life both near and far, small and great, personally and systemically, micro and macro.  Instead of narrowing one’s focus to one’s own particular vocational niche, organization, ideological preference, interests, direct responsibilities and assigned tasks, a contemplative dares to set one’s own limited responsibilities and small tasks in the context of all others--of systems, of networks, of powers that be, of relationships with known neighbors nearby and unnamed and not known on the other side of the world.  A contemplative takes the whole world, as it were, into one’s heart, and begins to see otherwise imperceptible connections and relationships across the whole spectrum.

This way of living refuses to pretend that what’s really evil or difficult or inconvenient isn’t really there, isn’t serious, or isn’t “my problem” and dismisses it.  Instead of using religion to label, avoid, or trump what’s difficult or oppositional, contemplatives dare to let the fullness of both light and shadow, both positive and negative, both what is soulfully uplifting and what is soul sabotaging to be revealed, felt, considered, discerned, lifted up, and then continue to be responded to in grace again and again throughout life.

Contemplative prayer doesn’t grant the option of ignoring or caring less about what is troubling or complex in our world.  Instead, it faces it (sometimes with trembling), takes it in, discerns it as fully as possible, and lifts it up to God.  For long periods of time, it sometimes seems, apparently irreconcilable paradoxes can weigh on one’s mind and heart.  One feels something of the impact of profound tensions--real sorrows and the agony of injustices, as well as the joys of breakthroughs and healings.  As the weight of paradox is felt, heaviness is lifted to God.  Contemplative pray-ers turn heartfelt anguish or awe inside out to God in a manner similar to the Psalmists.

So, I approached this Thanksgiving with an acute awareness of the profound paradoxes in our culture and world at the moment.  I hold in tension Thanksgiving and Tahrir Square, Black Friday frivolity and Occupy’s outcry, the desire for personal integrity and the reality of confounding social complexity (and my unavoidable complicity in it).  And I pray for a heart broken enough, a mind broad enough, and a faith buoyant enough to embrace these realities with a forward-looking, creative stewardship.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Litany of Thanksgiving

By Howard Thurman

Howard Thurman--African American, Quaker, pastor, writer, mentor to a generation of developing civil rights leaders--is an inspiration to me in many ways. I read his “Litany of Thanksgiving” each year and marvel at Thurman’s insight and humility. If you have not read him, find his books and take a soulful journey.

Today, I make my Sacrament of Thanksgiving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving from a Hospital Bed

A prayer of my Aunt Willie Mae Sheffield in the last year of her life 


A member of the Sheffield family gave me a prayer which my Aunt Willie Mae Sheffield typed out on portable word processor while in the hospital during the last year of her life. A life-long citizen of New Castle, Indiana, a graduate of Ball State University, a fourth-grade school teacher forever, a musician, a church leader, single, Aunt Mae became the buoyant center of the Sheffield clan--my mom's extended family.  Aunt Mae died immediately following Christmas in 1997, at age 63, of complications due to an extended bout with diabetes. This prayer followed an important eye surgery.


Dear God, 

I just wanted to thank you for letting me be happy. I really need some happy time right now. I do not exactly know why everything has happened the way it has, and I am not sure what kind of message You are sending me, but for some strange reason, I feel a lot smarter today than I did yesterday. And everyday I am getting stronger. Thank You for making me who I am. Thank You for helping me realize I am thankful for who I am. All I want is to be happy in my life, and to be a warm-hearted person. I really do not have a selfish agenda. I am so happy to have my family and my health. I feel so lucky to have ten fingers and ten toes, and a good mind. I am so thankful that when I put my head down on my pillow at night, I am at peace. I love You. And I love knowing that You have surrounded me with people loving me. I do not say or show You my thanks enough, but I really think it a lot. Thank You for allowing us to have beautiful things, and thank You for unclouding my eyes so that I see them. Amen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gratitude

Gratitude comes from some place deeper than mouthing the words “thank you”



I penned this poem thinking of gratitude, which is a grace that runs much deeper than the socially-expected etiquette that surrounds “giving thanks.”  As important as it is to celebrate Thanksgiving and to take up the practice of saying “thank you,” finding gratitude reverberating authentically in one’s heart is the surpassing gift.  I hope you experience and express it this season.

Thanksgiving doesn’t live in a vacuum;
We do not pluck it from thin air.
We cannot be grateful on command,
Genuflecting at the drop of hat.

Talk is cheap when it comes to thanking,
Yet beyond courteous etiquette
Lies a deeper reality that beckons,
Inviting us to reckon with grace.

Native American graciousness
And Pilgrim hospitality,
Turkey and all the trimmings point
Beyond finely folded, praying hands.

Through and beyond these images
We glimpse a sacred connection,
As generations across time
Hail some gracious provision.

It’s not so much a debt we owe
Or tribute for posterity
As it is a virtue we receive
And reflect into eternity.

We deep-down know we are held
By sustaining, life-giving hands.
Not our own or on our own,
We belong and are lovingly known.

We cannot utter such mystery--
Tradition and rite fall short;
But these, and we, can point and say
“Thanks” for life and grace today.

Monday, November 21, 2011

London in our Eyes

Three Americans in London for four fast, full days



It was our first visit to London and we only had four days to try take in much of what have always heard of.  Our daughter Molly (who is in a study abroad program in Athens, Greece and whom we had traveled to Europe to visit) set the pace and we got to see quite a few of the things on our list...and then some.  We found Londoners friendly and helpful, for the most part.  These slides are some glimpses of some what we saw and experienced. I think we need to go back.

For This Curious Day

An attempted Thanksgiving (note his gratitude for country) by Ted Loder

Glorious God,
how curious
and what a confession
that we should set aside one day a year
and call it Thanksgiving.
I smile at the presumption,
and hope you smile, too.
But the truth is, Holy Friend,
that my words can’t carry all the praise
I want them to,
or that they should,
no matter how many trips they make.

So this day,
all is praise and thanks
for all my days.
I breathe and it is your breath that fills me.
I look and it is your light by which I see.
I move and it is your energy moving in me.
I listen and even the stones speak of you.
I think and the thoughts are but sparks
from the fire of your truth.
I love and the throb is your presence.
I laugh and it is the rustle of your passing.
I weep and your Spirit broods over me.
I long and it is the tug of your kingdom.

I praise you, Glorious One,
for what has been, and is and will ever be:
for galaxy upon galaxy, mass and energy,
earth and air, sun and night,
sea and shore, mountain and valley,
root and branch, male and female,
creature upon creature in a thousand ingenious ways,
two-legged, hundred-legged, smooth, furry, and feathery,
bull-frogs and platypuses, peacocks and preachers,
and the giggle of it--
and turkeys (especially, this day, the roasted kind, not the flops)--
and families gathered, and the thanking;
the brave, lonely one, and the asking;
the growling, hungry ones, and the sharing.

I praise you, Glorious One,
for this color splashed, memory haunted,
hope filled, justice seeking,
love grown country
and the labors that birthed it,
the dreams that nurtured it,
the riches that sometimes misguide it,
the sacrifices that await it,
the destiny that summons it
to become a blessing to the whole human family!

O Glorious One,
for this curious day,
for the impulses that have designated it,
for the gifts that grace it,
for the gladness that accompanies it,
for my life,
for those through whom I came to be,
for friends through whom I hear and see
greater worlds that otherwise I would,
for all the doors of words and music and worship
through which I pass to larger worlds,
and for the One who brought a kingdom to me,
I pause to praise and thank you
with this one more trip of words
which leave too much uncarried,
but not unfelt,
unlived,
unloved.
Thank you!

From Guerrillas of Grace

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving

Why we need this holiday - an original poem


This holiday is for all that we
Take for granted,
Assume as a given,
Absent-mindedly overlook,
Claim as our God-given right.


This holiday if for all those we
Unnecessarily criticize,
Agitate with our demands,
Impatiently rush,
Regularly impose upon.


This holiday is for all that we
By-pass in our drivenness,
Go out of our way to avoid,
Carelessly forget,
Thoughtlessly leave out.


This holiday is for all things we
Receive as gracious gifts,
Share as common ground,
Express as transcendent grace,
Return in praise to God.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Time to Face Another Way

A Wendell Berry poem of Autumn 

The summer ends, and it is time
To face another way. Our theme
Reversed, we harvest the last row
To store against the cold, undo
The garden that will be undone.
We grieve under the weakened sun
To see all earth's green fountains dried,
And fallen all the works of light.
You do not speak, and I regret
This downfall of the good we sought
As though the fault were mine. I bring
The plow to turn the shattering
Leaves and bent stems into the dark,
From which they may return. At work,
I see you leaving our bright land,
The last cut flowers in your hand.

From the ongoing series "Sabbaths" that continue through Berry's numerous books of poems.  This segment, written in 1984, is from his collection of poems titled A Timbered Choir (Counterpoint, 1998)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Graduation Reflection: 30 Years later

What I wrote on the back of my college graduation commencement program in 1981

I thumbed through volumes of my personal journals dating back to high school to find the following piece that I'd scribbled on the back of my college graduation commencement program as I sat in the sun-drenched quad in front of Benner Library on May 25, 1981.  Today, I will gather with fellow classmates of Olivet Nazarene University to celebrate our 30-year reunion (I'm really not that old; I was a child prodigy!).  Here's what I wrote that morning, unedited:


As I sit here in the thirty-seventh row
amidst a sea of caps, gowns and tassels,
it all seems a bit hazy now.
I guess, like most things in life,
the anticipation seems greater
than the actually occurrence.


However, the meaning is not in the occasion,
but rather in living out the preparation.
Pomp and circumstance isn't an end in itself,
not the "high"; more, a sending.


I like the idea of commencement.
Commence: start, begin, get going!


These gowns remind me of death itself!
But, I suppose they can also call attention to
hope for life after death, too.


O Lord,
in this hour of my life, I ask you
for your very close, abiding presence.
I have not placed my trust in men and their wisdom,
but have placed it in You, in whom is hidden
the treasures of all knowledge and wisdom.
I don't seek the applause of people,
rather, yours.
I ask for guidance and grace--
that will be sufficient for me.
Thank you, God, for your watch care, love,
and "still, small voice."
You have brought me this far.
Yielded, I continue to listen, to heed.
I ask for strength to serve your Kingdom.
Help me seek truth,
whatever it costs,
whatever it takes.
In you I put my trust.
Psalm 16.
Amen.


Photo: Jared Emmanuel Hay, the second of our four children, graduated from ONU in 2009.  Abby, our oldest child, graduated from ONU in 2007.  Sam, our youngest child, is now a freshman at ONU.  Becky graduated in 1983.  I finished in 1981.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Belfast to Boston (God's Rifle)

I just deciphered the lyrics to this James Taylor tune. Here's to all Vets and to all of us:


There are rifles buried in the countryside by the rising of the moon
May they lie there long forgotten till they rust away into the ground



Who will bend this ancient hatred, will the killing to an end
Who will swallow long injustice, take the devil for a country man
Who will say "this far no further, oh Lord, if I die today"

Send no weapons, no more money. Send no vengeance across the seas
Just the blessing of forgiveness for my new countryman and me

Missing brothers, martyred fellows, silent children in the ground
Could we but hear them would they not tell us
"Time to lay God's rifle down"

Who will say "this far no further, oh Lord, if I die today"





"Belfast to Boston (God's Rifle)" on YouTube

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

To the Person who Stole my Laptop and Moleskine

Dear...,

Hello.

You will likely never read this, but it's important to me to write it.  Bear with me.

You are welcome to return my 5-year-old HP laptop with a pretty cool array of stickers on the lid, my Swiss Army nylon messenger-style carrying case, cords, pin drives, leather notepad, and my little Moleskine notebook full of journal entries and notes from my recent 30th wedding anniversary visit to Greece and England.  I'd be most appreciative if you'd do this.  Soon.

I imagine those items don't mean a thing to you.  Likely, you just grabbed what you figured might be worth something after you broke out my VW's passenger-side door window.  I imagine you threw whatever wasn't considered sellable in the trash somewhere.  Too bad for you that I had my laptop locked and password-protected. And I immediately changed all passwords and deactivated any accounts you might have any remote possibility of accessing.  But what was easy-come, easy-go junk to you meant something to me.

By the way, your petty crime has cost me upwards of $900 (so far) to cover an insurance deductible and the cost of replacing the car window (which did not meet my car insurance deductible).  You are indebted to me for that.  But you also have cost me quite a bit of time, lost work, and emotional energy.  You are indebted to me for these, too.  What took you 15 seconds to steal has taken me days to recover--and I'm still not back to square one.

While I had most of my computer work backed up to an external hard drive, my most recent and open projects were lost. I was thinking about this as I carefully reconstructed a time-sensitive project today at work.  I made the project better than ever just to spite you.  But you don't care about any of that.

Really, of all that you stole, I will be able to recover most of it and your act of vandalism will soon be nothing but a footnote of mild grief.  I'll move on.

And you?  Will you just move on?  Or, will what you've done eventually haunt you?  Whenever I've done something wrong, it bothers my conscience and I usually come clean in confession and, whenever possible, restitution.  I know what it means to feel the weight of guilt, I know what it means to be forgiven, and I know what it means to make things right in restitution.  I hope you find that--sooner than later.

Only one thing of mine you took that I cannot recover.  My little black Moleskine notebook had precious things in it I will not be able to recover.  It had ideas.  It had insights.  It had reflections.  It had simple notes and prompts to myself.  It had four pages on which I wrote about walking through the ancient Agora in Athens, Greece.  It had several pages of reflections from my experience of being on the streets amid the Greek protests in Athens on October 20th and of talking with protesters at St. Paul's Cathedral in London a few days later.  It had three pages in reflection on visiting the home of 18th-century reformer John Wesley on New Road in London.  It had a few drawings.  It contained several poems I was working on (or that were working on me).  Even at that, my notebook wasn't even half full.  All that's stuff I can't reconstruct or recover.

So, again, if you should read this and if, per chance, you still have my little black notebook lying around somewhere, I'd appreciate you returning it.

I don't know what will happen to you.  I filed a police report.  The laptop serial number is in their files.  I suppose if you were careless or sloppy or novice in your thievery, law enforcement authorities will nab you sooner or later.  Though, I'm not sure they take this level of crime very seriously.  If they do find you and if you're interested in talking, I'd like that.  Contact me.

Whatever happens in the days ahead, I have a suggestion for something you can do with your time (assuming you don't work and assuming you can read): Read my stuff--both what's in my Moleskine and whatever you might find on the laptop (should you somehow gain access to its contents).  There's some pretty good stuff in there, if I do say so myself.  Who knows what you might learn and use for your own benefit?

Well, that's about all I have to say for now.  Gotta get back to recovering a bit more of what you stole.  I hope you eventually recover whatever it is you lost that you are trying to get back by taking other people's stuff.

Peace,

John Franklin Hay