Thursday, June 30, 2011

HAPPY INTERDEPENDENCE DAY

Heading into the Independence Day holiday, it's worth reflecting on freedom's fuller intentions

MAKING THE CASE FOR LIBERTY. I love the Independence Day holiday. Anticipating it, I recently read "Common Sense" by Thomas Paine. What a succinct, pointed, powerful statement of the case against monarchy and England's treatment of the American colonies! He lays out the arguments for independence and democracy so well, it is no wonder Paine's tract convinced colonists who had been riding the fence up to that point in time. It's a strong case for the power of the printed word.

DEPENDENCY. Payne got me to thinking about the distinctions between dependency, independence, and interdependence. Most of us don't think of dependency as necessary, but, to a certain extent, it is. Children are dependent and the purpose of this necessarily extended dependency (longer than any other species) is to move them beyond it in a healthy way. But dependency, carried beyond necessity, can breed unhealth. We describe unhealthy relationships or family systems as codependent. I recall the bicycle accident I had four years ago that left me with 17 bone fractures and in a relatively immobile and dependent condition (this photo was snapped at a July 4th Indians baseball game while I still wore my "turtle shell" torso brace).  Immediately after the accident, I was temporarily dependent on a prescription narcotic to help me cope with pain. I was less dependent  a week later. I was independent of that once-necessary aid as quickly as possible.

INDEPENDENCE ISN'T THE GOAL. My goal is not simply to be independent or self-sufficient. Often portrayed as the ultimate goal of freedom, democracy and a capitalist economy, independence is a means to an end, not the end itself. That is the myth of rugged individualism. Those who proclaim they are "self-made" people tend to be short-sighted and arrogant. The most vociferously independent person you know is vastly beholden, whether he or she is able to see or admit it or not. Beware those who claim self-made status and independence; such people may also act as economic and social predators. They tend to live privately and "independently" at everyone else's expense.

RECOVERING INTERDEPENDENCE. We were not created to be independent. We were created to be interdependent. We are at our best when we use our capacities freely to help one another. Freedom's purpose is to enrich the community. I move from dependency to independence to contribute to the common good, to serve others in their move out of mere dependency.  Interdependence is the path toward the shining city. This is a critical and ongoing issue in our society, one that Robert Bellah has so eloquently documented and described in Habits of the Heart and The Good Society.


FULL CIRCLE.  Trumpeting independence--however high the price that's been paid for it--without seeing its purpose in moving from dependency to mutual community interdependence doesn't ring true.  A patriotism that cries "freedom" but seeks to provide insulation or exclusion from other freedom-seeking people (near or far) rings hollow.  As we celebrate this Independence Day holiday, let's keep thinking beyond independence to actions and possibilities that move us toward a more meaningful and freedom-multiplying interdependence.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

MISSION OF A CITY

From where do our would-be leaders get their ideas about the purposes for our city and region?

I challenge Indianapolis mayoral candidates and every would-be municipal leader to begin with the following mission statement for our city and Central Indiana. It holds all accountable to a higher, over-arching purpose when policies tend to devolve into reactionary self-defense and partisan politics threaten to further fragment the polis. Our polis, to be healthy, must be guided by a high enough mission to heal and inspire the whole.

“The mission of a city is to put the highest concerns of human beings at the center of all its activities: to unite the scattered fragments of the human personality, turning artificially dismembered people…into complete human beings, repairing the damage that has been done by vocational separation, by social segregation, by the over-cultivation of a favored function, by tribalisms and nationalisms, by the absence of organic partnerships and ideal purposes.” -- Lewis Mumford in The City in History (1961)
Read it carefully.  It is not idealism. It is neither unrealistic nor unreachable. It is not a business-as-usual mission, however. It is not a business-knows-best perspective. So-called leaders have overlooked the core concerns named in this mission at the expense of our city’s and region’s vitality. And yet there has never been a more opportune time to fulfill its promise.

If we took this as our city’s mission, we would invest to address crime’s personal and inter-cultural sources rather than frantically throw more taxpayer money at covering its symptoms. We would reverse the devolution of public education into private self interest. We would develop our capacities to draw our residents into a rich common life—regardless of income or cultural background--instead of occasional faux expressions of it.

Mumford’s perspective of a city is a soulful—though not religious—one. That is, it places ultimate value on persons as individuals and as participants together in a commonly-felt but pervasively-sabotaged common good. It defies interest groups which, all the while declaring their value to the city, nonetheless act primarily to exploit it for gain.

Based on Mumford’s mission of a city, I offer the following challenges for the current and next generation of our region’s residents and those who would serve them in municipal leadership:

1. Carefully explore where you get your understanding of the city, interpretation of its conditions, and recommendations for shaping its future. Develop a healthy skepticism of so-called expert sources that self-identity as serving our good. I, for one, have not found many local news media outlets, real estate brokers, partisan politicians, pulpit preachers, or entertainment media to be valid reflectors or helpful interpreters of the life and challenges of our city. Unfortunately, these are some of the prime sources by which many people form their perceptions and respond with their actions.

Consider four inadequate views and responses to the city:
• A necessary evil – endure it
• A marketplace – consume it, exploit it, use it, take advantage of it
• A dangerous place – flee it, fight it
• A broken place – work around it

Such inadequate and misleading perceptions of the city and metropolitan area lead to choices, behaviors and values that can become self-fulfilling prophecies of fear, division, segregation, disinvestment, and violence. On the other hand, an understanding of the city as Mumford describes it can lead to barriers being bridged and vibrancy abounding.

2. Strain to see your life and the city's future as bound together in a greater work of vitality.  Are we not here together now in this particular place to listen, learn, contribute, and grow?  Place and what we do with it and in it, Mumford implies, is tied to one’s sense of meaning and fulfillment. So, let’s make a functional connection between our personal wholeness and the vitality of this place in which are together living. In this, I ask myself two questions: (1) In what ways might I be formed to become more mature, more whole? (2) How do this city and region’s past, present and future challenges uniquely connect with this maturation process?  Personally, I am convinced that my salvation is tied up with how I live in and contribute in this place we call Indianapolis and Central Indiana.

3. Cooperate with a bigger dream by investing your life redemptively in our city and region's peace.  A transcendent sense of purpose should be informing our approach to life and development in this metropolitan area. This is not our city to use, exploit, possess, or control. It is a place and a people with a higher value and peaceful purpose. Regardless of its self-deceptions, its worth is inestimable. Regardless of its hurtful ways, it is renewable.  Actions for individual and community redemption are critical to higher purposes for both.

Could Indianapolis and Central Indiana identify and claim Mumford's mission as our own?  Certainly.  Can we develop a clear, unique sense of mission that is shared across the region?   It is possible.  Or, we can continue to be pushed and pulled and quartered by one competing self-interest and passing influence after another.  I'm choosing to live as if Mumford's mission applies.  Will you join me?

Monday, June 20, 2011

HOW TO SOLVE HOMELESSNESS

To address this and quite a few other social "problems," rethink your theology and spiritual practice

“You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” -- Deuteronomy 10:19

I pulled the following selected quotes from an article by Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann. He makes a point that I will echo: homelessness is caused--and will be solved--by the attitude of the heart and the actions of people who live out the most basic personal and community commitments of Biblical faith. That is, we are to reflect the holiness and compassion of God in our common social practice. If we don't get this foundationally right, homelessness--and immigratition, poverty, hunger, etc.-- will always be unsolvable "problems" for societies which "programs" will never adequately address. Read and respond:

CARING = KNOWING. “Caring for the poor and needy is equivalent to knowing Yahweh. That is who Yahweh is and how Yahweh is known. Yahweh is indeed a mode of social practice and a way of social relation.”

LIBERATION & COVENANT, GIFTS & LAND. “The housing crisis among the orphans will not be solved by turning things over to a holy God in heaven, nor by heroic action on our part, but by increasing investment in the social practice wherein Yahweh is present, a social practice that in every generation and every circumstance involves liberation and covenant, gifts and land. This social practice wherein Yahweh is known and visible characteristically and inevitably clashes with the status quo and evokes big-time displacement of present power, money, and housing arrangements.”

REFLECTING GOD. “This imperative asks Israel to do for others what has been done for it. You were displaced and were given a place. Now you give a place to the displaced. Second, and more powerfully, you do what God does. God loves the stranger—you love the stranger. God gives food and clothing—you give food and clothing. You be the social practice whereby God is made visible, available, and effective in the world. You be engaged in God’s own work, as you yourself have experienced God’s work, creating a safe place of dignity and wholeness for those without rights, claims, or leverage."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

SOCIAL HOLINESS

What did John Wesley mean by this term? And what does it look like today?

I invite friends to engage these questions with me as I facilitate a continuing education course offered through the Wabash Institute this autumn.  It's open to everyone.  It's an eight-week, Thursday evening (7-9 pm) exploration/discussion that starts September 15 and concludes November 10.

Here's the "Course Description" I shared with the Wabash Institute:

Social Holiness explores community, compassion, and justice as core practices of living in the Wesleyan/holiness way.

“There is no holiness but social holiness,” said John Wesley. Using the Bible as a guide, Wesley led the early Methodists in eighteenth-century England

(1) to live in accountable, loving community with each other, and

(2) to engage in unprecedented compassion and society-changing expressions of justice and opportunity--particularly in relationship to vulnerable neighbors.

This course (1) integrates Biblical, theological, philosophical, and historical underpinnings of Wesleyan social holiness with (2) recent, current, and potential practices in local congregations and communities. Particular attention is given to historic Free Methodist commitments to social holiness (abolition/freedom for all human beings, inclusion/preference for the poor, freedom in faith and worship, and open societies). The course will include several guest presenters and practitioners. It will include four site visits to Central Indiana compassionate and community justice initiatives.

Core readings include: The Radical Wesley by Howard Snyder and Churches That Make a Difference by Ron Sider. Numerous other book excerpts and articles will be read and discussed. Receive a syllabus from John Franklin Hay – johnhayjr@sbcglobal.net

Course location: Free Methodist World Ministry Center, 770 N. High School Road, Indianapolis, Indiana 46214; course participation will necessitate transportation or ride sharing to four Central Indiana sites.

Course fees: $25 non-ordination students; $20 additional for attending spouse; $90 ordination candidate (extra assignments required for those seeking ordination); additional cost for books and supplies is the responsibility of the student.

Registration: Contact Brian Buterbaugh – revbuterbaugh@comcast.net

The Wabash Institute is a continuing education initiative of the Wabash Annual Conference of the Free Methodist Church USA.  It serves to equip Conference Ministerial Candidates and lay participants for effective servant leadership.  While its primary intent is to be a training track for ministry, courses are open to anyone interested (and I heartily welcome all who consider me a friend and who are interested in the topic and issues of this course!).

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

MY SUMMER READING CHALLENGE

Move your reading and writing from functional and predictable to refreshing, expanding, contemplative with these 5 daily practices

So, here is my summer reading challenge. It's what I'm personally undertaking and bringing into a daily discipline during these months. 

This is the Springdale Tree in the Springdale neighborhood
on Indianapolis' Near Eastside. It is along Brookside Drive
South.  To me, this is the grandest tree in Indiana.
I'm doing this not so much because I'm not reading and writing enough, but because I tend to read and write in a rut. Also, because I tend to read and write mostly related to my work and out of necessity.  These are fine, but they don't register as spiritual formation, soul food, contemplation, or mindfulness (apart from the spirituality of work, that is).  I'm attempting to move from predictable reading and writing to something a bit more expansive and refreshing. 

Care to join me in this summer exercise?

Here are the daily practices:

1. Read four newspaper or news magazine articles daily.  Online editions are fine.  Focus: news.  Op-ed pieces don't count.  Sports pieces don't count.  Celeb stuff doesn't count.  Read the whole article.

2. Read one chapter in a novel or nonfiction book daily.  A whole chapter.  Like it or not.

3. Read in your Scriptures daily.

4. Write at least a page-length of something or to someone daily.  Not work-related.  Not texting.  Not basic emailing.

5. Spend an hour alone and unplugged daily.  No reading.  No electronic media.  No music.  Just you, alone.

At the end of August, let me know your response to this exercise.  I'll blog my experience here, too.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A JOURNEY IN VOCATION

In a vacuum of sound career counsel, I've forged something of a vocational path…or followed a leading unspoken.

MYSTERIOUS WAYS. “God works in mysterious ways God’s wonders to perform.”  That’s a phrase old timers have used to describe the sometimes roundabout ways good things happen in spite of not so clear directions or direct means.  I use it here to describe the vocational journey on which I have thus far been led.  I have not done what I started out to do; instead, I have thus far been engaged in opportunities and avenues beyond my imagination.

COUNSEL NONEXISTENT.  Here’s my take on my early career counsel: It did not exist.  Whatever career counsel I indirectly received during high school and college was heavily couched in spiritual language about doing God’s will, laying down my life for Christ and finding out God’s perfect plan for my life.  Any thoughts about pursuing art, writing, teaching, or political science were eclipsed by the heavy hand of evangelical fervency.

CALLING VS CAREER.  “Career” was not a word that was used.  “Career” was considered a secular word.  I was led to believe it was a word used by faith-less people.  It was used, so I was told, only if one left God out of the equation of one’s future and service.  “Calling” was the preferred phrase.  “Seeking the will of God” was what one did to discern one’s “call” or “vocation.”

PERFECT PLAN? I was also led to believe that there was one mysterious but very certain and “perfect plan” for each person’s life. So the challenge of discovering and doing that became a very heavy thing for an adolescent. Other kids were imagining and exploring careers; I was in inner turmoil about discerning God’s perfect will for my life. I did not want to miss that perfect path, even if it meant choosing to do something entirely out of my range or nature.

WHO’S LISTENING?  For all my inquisitiveness and earnestness about discovering and doing the will of God, I cannot recall anyone sitting down with me and offering to help me discern it.  Or to listen patiently to my certitudes so that they may question my shallow assumptions.  Or to dare to correct or redirect my notions.  Or to suggest that God may well be glorified in my life through a non-church affiliated career.  I was pretty much on my own with my head full of second-hand notions and preachments about my future.

WHAT DID THEY KNOW, ANYWAY?  The flip side of the absence of vocational counsel is that I was probably not very open to it.  Reacting to unrealistic legalisms and entrenched closed-mindedness purveyed by my elders as I was at the time, I don’t think whatever would-be guides might have said or counseled would have impressed me positively.  What did they know, I figured.  Who were they to counsel me about my future’s direction?  While no one approached me, they would likely have been on thin ice if they had.

MY VOCATIONAL HOME.  Given the absence of vocational counsel, the intensity of evangelical influence, and my own need to pry myself away from the plodding mindset of my elders, happening onto urban ministry during college was a win-win at the time.  It still is.  Trying to understand urban dynamics and be creative in service in what amounts to a socially dysfunctional arena complete with conflicting paradigms of service, self-sabotaging urban systems, and a schizophrenic Church—this is my vocational home.

LIVING ON THE EDGE.  This is the arena in which I feel I am presently called to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling,” confident that God’s mercy and grace are functioning actively and persistently in this context.
I am constantly pushed to the limit of my certainties, abilities, and foregone conclusions.  I am frequently challenged to cross social boundaries, explore my theological presumptions, deal positively with diversity, and draw the circle of grace wider and wider.  I couldn’t ask for anything more.

(I wrote this in 2006.  Five years later, though I currently spend much of my time working in international development, it holds).

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I KNEW THIS DAY WAS COMING

Amid celebrating our fourth child's high school graduation, Becky and I also mark a significant passage.

I suppose I knew this day was coming.  For years, I've heard other parents talk about it.  Some refer to it with sadness and longing.  Some think of it as joyous and liberating.  I don't know what I'm supposed to think or feel, but here it is: the day the youngest of our four children graduates from high school.

There's too much going on right now related to Sam's graduation event to think much about it.  I'm doing well to remember what all I'm supposed to prepare (or repair) for the graduation party.  I wouldn't be fair to myself, however, if I didn't stop and note something of the significance of this particular passage to me at this moment.

In a couple of months, Sam will head off to a university and all the kids' rooms will be empty for the first time since Becky and I had fun preparing a room for our first child, Abby.  As odd as that will be, it's not about empty rooms.  It's more about realizing that we will have sent forth four precious lives that we were given as a trust for the past 25 years.  In this, we're grateful for the privileges and responsibilities we've had.

It took a few years, but we eventually adjusted to being full-time parents and living as a family and shaping our lives together.  By the time Sam hit Kindergarten, the Hay household was a well-oiled machine.  We were settled into being routinely on the run.  We were primed to support and celebrate and encourage and guide and respond to whatever the opportunity or crisis of the moment called for.  What a breathtaking journey we've been on!

Becky and I have given much of ourselves to our children through these years.  We've not done so begrudgingly or haltingly, but willingly and gladly.  You will hear no complaints or regrets from us.  But whatever we have spent of ourselves trying to raise four kids, we've received incredibly more.  In the mysterious dynamic of parenting, somehow, we've gained something intangibly precious.

I've heard enough people talk about the empty-nest syndrome to realize there are serious changes ahead that will require careful negotiation.  I'm not so illusory that I think our job as parents is over.  I know that we are not now somehow shifting--or being shifted--into neutral after living in overdrive for years.  I anticipate that Becky and I will approach whatever lies ahead in practical and hopeful ways.  May the grace that has brought us safe thus far, safely lead us on.

There once was a time when we were not parents.  We will ever be parents, and, hopefully, enjoying ever-maturing relationships with our young adult children.  But our time of being parents with children growing up and maturing in our home is almost complete.

Sam's graduation is his celebration and passage; may he launch forward and shine.  It's also something of a much more muted celebration and passage for Becky and me.  Amid our celebration of this last High School graduation of one of our children, there is a celebration of the joy of parenting and a passage toward another part of the journey.