Monday, August 29, 2011

COURAGE TO TEACH

Parker J. Palmer offers insight that challenges the status quo in education 

A GIFT TO WOULD-BE EDUCATORS. Of the many gifts Parker Palmer has given this American generation, The Courage to Teach is one of the strongest. I wish it could be given to and read by every educator, would-be educator, and everyone who has influence in shaping the American educational system (I know of a local church in Indianapolis that honored all teachers in its area and gave them Palmer's book).

PEDAGOGY, RELATIONSHIP, MILIEU. I reflect on this as I've returned to the classroom--both real and virtual--as Associate Faculty teaching graduate students in the School for Public and Environmental Affairs (Indiana University).  It's not course content that is the challenge so much, it seems to me, as the pedagogy, the relationships, the milieu, and the context that can keep me awake at night wondering how much better learning might be.  I'm grateful for Palmer's reflections, along with the excellent work of the Center for Teaching and Learning at IUPUI, for offering resources to me and to those who endeavor to enter this bloody arena.

INTERRUPT ROUTINE PROTOCOLS.  If what Palmer says is even partly right, routine educational protocols need to interrupted for the sake of letting the quest for learning breathe anew. A few excerpts:

CREATING THE CONDITIONS. “Teachers possess the power to create conditions that can help students learn a great deal--or keep them from learning much at all. Teaching is the intentional act of creating those conditions, and good teaching requires that we understand the inner sources of both the intent and the act.”

A SILENCE BORN OF FEAR. “The silence of our students is the same silence we have known in other settings: It is the silence of blacks in the presence of whites, of women in the presence of men, of the powerless in the presence of people with power. It is the silence of marginal people, people who have been told that their voice has no value, people who maintain silence in the presence of the enemy because in silence there is safety. Student silence is normally not the product of ignorance or indifference or cynicism. It is a silence born of fear.”

EXORCISE FEAR. “I should have remembered from my own experience that students, too, are afraid: afraid of failing, of not understanding, of being drawn into issues they would rather avoid, of having their ignorance exposed or their prejudices challenged, of looking foolish in front of their peers. When my students’ fears mix with mine, fear multiplies geometrically -- and education is paralyzed. If we were to turn some of our externalized reformist energies toward exorcising the inner demons of fear, we would take a vital step toward the renewal of teaching and learning.”

BEYOND “OBJECTIVITY” ONLY. "Though the academy claims to value multiple modes of knowing, it honors only one -- an 'objective' way of knowing that takes us into the 'real' world by taking us 'out of ourselves'… In this culture, the self is not a source to be tapped but a danger to be suppressed, not a potential to be fulfilled but an obstacle to be overcome."

APPEAL TO THEIR INNER TRUTH. "We can, and do, make education an exclusively outward enterprise, forcing students to memorize and repeat facts without ever appealing to their inner truth -- and we get predictable results: many students never want to read a challenging book or think a creative thought once they get out of school…. What we teach will never 'take' unless it connects with the inward, living core of our students' lives, with our students' inward teachers."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

CERTAIN AND UNCERTAIN


A prayer, a recognition, a confession, a plea, a commitment

O God,
I have never been more certain and uncertain.

Grounded and tethered in grace,
I am pulled this way and that.

Certain I am Yours and You are mine;
uncertain what all that means or
what to do with it.

Certain my life is in mission;
uncertain how that plays out
from this point forward.

Certain of what I’ve learned and experienced
formally and informally,
by study and serendipity,
by blessing and curse,
readily and hard-headedly;
uncertain how what I’ve learned
and experienced thus far
serves the future.

Certain of my love for family and friends;
uncertain as we now scatter more than
gather amid complexity how I will
convey love’s depths.

Certain of my capacities and gifts
ever developing, still maturing;
uncertain when or how or where
they will yet root, grow and bloom.

Certain the greatest work of my life lies ahead;
uncertain of its nature or acceptability or usefulness
to You, Your people, Your world.

Whatever of my certainties that are misshapen
or vain, o Potter, remold, reframe.
Whatever of my uncertainties that float on fear,
founded or unfounded, untangle, free.

Certain and uncertain, by faith
I stand with You and with my neighbors
in respectful, creative relationships,
ready now to be and do what is responsible
in love’s eyes.

Friday, August 12, 2011

HEAVEN ENOUGH

This poem of Wendell Berry reflects my sentiments or yearnings at the moment

O saints, if I am even eligible for this prayer,
though less than worthy of this dear desire,
and if your prayers have influence in Heaven,
let my place there be lower than your own.
I know how you longed, here where you lived
as exiles, for the presence of the essential
Being and Maker and Knower of all things.
But because of my unruliness, or some erring
virtue in me never rightly schooled,
some error clear and dear, my life
has not taught me your desire for flight:
dismattered, pure and free.  I long
instead for the Heaven of creatures, of seasons,
of day and night.  Heaven enough for me
would be this world as I know it, but redeemed
of our abuse of it and one another.
It would be
the Heaven of knowing again. There is no marrying
in Heaven, and I submit; even so, I would like
to know my wife again, both of us young again,
and remembering always how I loved her
when she was old. I would like to know
my children again, all my family, all my dear ones,
to see, to hear, to hold, more carefully
than before, to study them lingeringly as one
studies old verses, committing them to heart
forever. I would like again to know my friends,
my old companions, men and women, horses
and dogs, in all the ages of our lives, here
in this place that I have watched over all my life
in all its moods and seasons, never enough.
I will be leaving how many beauties overlooked?
A painful Heaven this would be, for I would know
by it how far I have fallen short.  I have not
paid enough attention, I have not been grateful
enough. And yet this pain would be the measure
of my love. In eternity's once and now, pain would
place me surely in the Heaven of my earthly love.


(What is bolded is my emphasis, what focuses my own reflection)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

SAVE US FROM SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS


A prayer of Stanley Hauerwas in his book, Prayers Plainly Spoken

“Holy One of Israel, who called Abraham and Sarah out of Ur, who called us, your church, out of the nations, save us from self-righteousness.  You have made us different so that our difference might save the world.  But too often our differences tempt us to ridicule because the world, after all, is ridiculous.  Never let us forget that we too are the world, and so also ridiculous.  Shape the judgments of our neighbors and our own foolish judgments by your love, so that we might be together saved—that is, be a people that continue the journey out of Ur.  Amen.”

Monday, August 8, 2011

PARSING PUBLIC PRAYER


Next time you're asked to bow your head for public prayer, don't dare close your mind.  Instead, engage in these 5 practices.

Public prayers make me nervous.  An ordained Christian clergy, I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve prayed publicly; likely as many times as I’ve listened to others offer them--whether at the beginning of a NASCAR race or graduation event.  Once, public prayers seemed innocent to me--full of nothing but goodwill.  As I’ve paid closer attention to them, however, I recognize layers of assumptions, mixed motives, and not-so-covert speech-making.

So, I found myself wincing as I observed Texas Governor Rick Perry's prayer event on Saturday, August 6.  On the surface, it appeared as pure and simple as your great-grandmother's patchwork quilt.  Underneath, it was a tangled web of perplexing messages and political motives.  Proclaimed to be a non-political, nonpartisan prayer for the nation and its leaders, it was, in fact, the very thing it was declared not to be.

That's part of the irony of public prayer.  And that's part of its problem for authentic Christianity.  Perhaps that is why Jesus pointedly challenged its practice.  “When you pray,” he said, “do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.”  Instead, “go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6, NIV).

For those who view public prayer as merely a traditional American ritual, it is readily endured and dismissed as meaningless and harmless.  For those who view public prayer as a genuine collective engagement with the divine, it holds ultimate meanings and powers.  Both views need to be challenged.  Public prayer needs to be carefully parsed.

Public prayer is a most interesting genre of speech.  Its practice is a complex social and political experience.  I realize many will want to argue that public prayer has nothing to do with speeches or politics.  "It's just a cry from the heart directed to God and God alone," defenders of public prayer will say.  But personally believing or arguing that its has nothing to do with speech-making--and with social and political ramifications--is at least naïve and possibly self-deceived.

Think about what's happening in public prayer.  One person asks all in a public place to be quiet, bow their heads, and close their eyes--presumably in reverence for God and as standard religious practice.  For some, obliging this is just a respectful gesture.  At the least, the person who is about to lead in public prayer has asked everyone--regardless of their trust or beliefs or faith--to let down their guard.  And most go along.

However, for anyone who prays sincerely in private, this posture is perhaps the most open, vulnerable, trusting moment in religious experience.  For these, it is about bracketing whatever else is going on, setting aside whatever is normal, casual, and routine.  It is a moment when the usual rules of human discourse no longer apply.  It is a moment of attention, focus, and receptivity...to God.

Yet, in reality, our collective attention, focus and receptivity in the moment of public prayer is not primarily to God, but to whoever is the designated pray-er.  We are in the position of listening in and passively, presumptively agreeing with what is being said to God on behalf of ourselves and others.

Whether or not he or she recognizes it, the one who is designated to lead in public prayer is placed in a powerful position.  Hats off.  Heads bowed.  Eyes closed.  For a moment, many voices and conversations are hushed and all become as one.  All anticipate what will be said to God on behalf of all.

Some who lead in public prayer recognize the fragility of this moment and respect it.  Others take privileges, using public prayer to project their own perspectives and prescriptions on all.  Granted, some convey their perspectives naïvely.  Their own unexamined motives and unconsidered prescriptions for social ills spill forth irresponsibly.  Others, however, convey their political perspectives with awareness and intention—convinced that their viewpoint is exactly God’s viewpoint, that their solution is equivalent to God’s solution.  In my hearing, Gov. Perry’s prayer fell into this category.

In response to my increasing discomfort with public prayer, and instead of summarily dismissing it, I’ve developed a short list of practices for use during them.  Try these the next time public prayer is on the agenda:

1. When asked to bow you head and close your eyes to pray, if you oblige, do not close your mind, do not be passive.  In this sacred yet vulnerable moment, critical thinking and engaged discernment is most important.

2. Recall the differences between your private prayer and public prayer.  Private prayer is sharing your own feelings, words and petitions with God as you conceive of God.  Public prayer is listening in on another person’s words and personal perspectives addressed somewhat to God and somewhat to all who are listening with some intended or hoped-for effect.

3. It’s okay to disagree with the presumptions and petitions being offered in public prayers.  Do not excuse what is not excusable or agree just to be agreeable.  Often, I find myself uttering, “God, you know better than that.  Don’t do it!”  When I can’t agree with the prayer, I sometimes end up spending the moments praying for myself and the public pray-er—for mercy for us both!

4. Listen carefully both to what is said and what is implied.  Sometimes what is not said but implied is telling and important.

5. Follow-up public prayers with personal reflection and contemplation, along with discussions with friends and neighbors.  What is said or left unsaid in a public prayer can become a point of raising awareness, making constructive responses, and perhaps helping shape civil discourse.  At least, that’s what Gov. Perry’s prayer did in this case.

Friday, August 5, 2011

ANY FUTURE IN "DOING JUSTICE?"

What if local Free Methodists--and other Christian communities--took "doing justice" seriously?



I posited the following 14 possibilities as the conclusion of a presentation I made before the Free Methodist Historical Society in 2006. The presentation became a chapter in the book, Soul Searching the Church. You can download a PDF version of my presentation, "To Break Every Yoke," at this link.

Reading my treatise five years later, these issues/possibilities go mostly unaddressed and unanswered among Free Methodist pastors and leaders. Still, as long as it is "today," soul searching, change and redemptive action are possible.



For the sake of possibility, let us imagine placing the doing of justice more centrally in our lives as Free Methodist believers, pastors, and congregations. What does one’s weekly devotional life include? As a pastor, what teaching priorities or investments of time do I make? As a congregation, what does our “ministry menu” or thrust of service include? Where do we begin? What are we like? In the spirit of the optimism of grace, consider the shape and indications of a Free Methodism that embraces ‘doing justice’ more centrally:

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 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.”

Thursday, August 4, 2011

LAUNCHING "BIKE KENYA 2012"

With a goal of raising funds to build a new school, I'm looking for 10 participants to pedal Kenya next May

Today, I launched a blog called Bike Kenya 2012 (http://bikekenya2012.blogspot.com) and started a Twitter feed for the project: www.twitter.com/bikekenya2012.  I invite you to follow my tweets and view and follow the blog.  It's going to be a great adventure--even online!

Bike Kenya 2012 is all about a bicycle ride through Kenya, May 7-21, 2012 to raise awareness and funds to build a secondary school in Nyakach, a town in the western part of  Kenya.  The secondary school, to be built and operated in partnership with International Child Care Ministries (ICCM), will make it possible for students to continue their education locally beyond primary school grades.

I'm looking for 10 pedaling/fundraising participants and lots of supporting participants.

Wanna ride?  Think about it.  Pray about it.  Contemplate it. Consider it.

Cycling participants are responsible for (1) their own event costs (approximately $3000 US) and (2) to work together with other participants to raise at least $40,000 US to purchase property and construction for the school.

Cycling participants will pedal approximately 550 miles through sometimes hilly terrain over 11 days. May is part of the dry and cooling season in Kenya.  The event will include several excursions, one to a game park in Nakuru. In Kenya, the cycling tour will begin and end in Nairobi, Kenya's burgeoning capital.

Bike Kenya 2012 is being facilitated through VISA (Volunteers In Service Abroad) and International Child Care Ministries (ICCM).  Both are based in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, and are affiliated with Free Methodist World Missions of the Free Methodist Church USA.

The idea for this ride emerged with an email invitation from Kenya on the eve of my January 2011 cycling ride in Vietnam.  Then, in July, I sat down with the Free Methodist Bishop of Kenya to map out details.  Bishop Nixon not only invites us to cycle through Kenya, he has committed to ride with us!

Like I said, I'm looking for all kinds of participants--cyclists as well as supporters, those who can pedal and help raise funds as well as friends who will pray and help behind the scenes with important logistics.

Wondering if you can handle the biking?  An important consideration.  We plan to ride between 45 to 70 miles per day.  That can mean up to 5 1/2 hours in the saddle.  That's really not hard to do IF you train for it.  This is not a race or a high-speed event.  You don't have to consider yourself an athlete, but you DO need to be healthy and prepared for the rigors of the road.  Those who decide to join the cycling team will have a spring 2012 training discipline to help prepare for the ride in Kenya.

So, we're just beginning. There's lots to learn, lots to figure out, lots to share.  Join in the journey--one way or another.  This time next year, may the adventure have changed us and may a fully paid-for secondary school facility be under construction because of Bike Kenya 2012.

For more information and/or to signal your interest in cycling or supporting, contact me at 
your convenience:

John Franklin Hay
johnfranklinhay@yahoo.com

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

SUNSET, REALLY?

What we say and what we experience on the evening horizon are two different things.  

We say sunset
and our imagination
believes it is so:
the world is still
and the sun and heavens
move over and around us.
We know better,
and yet we embrace
the word image,
so ingrained it is.

If we reframe the scene
with more accurate words
how different we might
experience the event
we reverently observe.

Have we no word
for what we really see:
the earth upon which we
stand still and look westward
rolling ever so steadily,
speedily away from a
relatively fixed sun?
 
Can we not feel our movement,
can we not sense ourselves--
not that solar circle--
being whisked eastward,
sinking, falling away?
 
Is it not we who disappear--
who set--
not the sun?

And can we be comforted
that what goes around,
comes around?