Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Nicholas Wolterstorff's biblical perspective shapes the underpinnings of my activism and politics more than any other.

"It is against God's will that there be a kingdom in which some are poor; in God's perfected Kingdom there will be none at all. It is even more against God's will that there be a society in which some are poor while others are rich.  When this happens, God is on the side of the poor..."

"We must work patiently and persistently to show people the causes of mass poverty, and we must do what we can to convince them that the fundamental criteria by which all political and economic institutions and practices must be tested is just this: 'What do they do to the poor?' If they perpetuate poverty, they fail the most important test of legitimacy, and in that case we must struggle to alter them. We must work for the day when practices which perpetuate poverty have lost their legitimacy in the eyes of people."

Nicholas Wolterstorff in Until Justice and Peace Embrace

Thursday, February 23, 2012


What's the meaning of work? What might it express of ourselves and our faith? This includes some of my favorite quotes on work. First of a two-part post.

Pierre Teilard de Chardin was a Jesuit whose ground-
breaking work in anthropology and archeology
earned him a life-long banishment by the Catholic
hierarchy. Only after his death were his insights
and reflections published and embraced. I share
a quote from "The Divine Milieu" in this post.
WHY WORK?  For some reason, work and workplaces have been on my mind.  Why do we work?  Do we work to work, work to gain an income, work to provide for our families, work to express ourselves, work to learn, work to grow, work to serve, work to welcome God’s future, work as co-laboring with God?  Why do you work?  Why do I work?  Perhaps it is one or mix of these motivations.

WORK AS INSTRUMENTAL.  Listen to Parker Palmer mull over the question:  “Our capacity to take risks and learn from them depends heavily on whether we understand action as instrumental or expressive. The instrumental image portrays action as a means to predetermined ends, as an instrument or tool of our intentions.  The only possible measure of such action is whether it achieves the ends at which it is aimed.   Instrumental action always wants to win, but win or lose, it inhibits our learning.  When the standards of instrumentalism dominate, our action is impoverished and our lives are diminished.” 

WORK AS EXPRESSIVE.  “Only when we act expressively do we move toward full aliveness and authentic power.  An expressive act is one that I take not to achieve a goal outside myself but to express a conviction, a leading, a truth that is within me. An expressive act is one taken because if I did not take it I would be denying my own insight, nature, gift.  By taking an expressive act, an act not obsessed with outcomes, I come closer to making the contribution that is mine to make in the scheme of things.” (from The Active Life, p. 24)

GOOD, WORLDLY WORK.  I remember the fear I had when, based on my freshly developed personal mission statement, I dared in 1994 to come from behind the pulpit and beyond the walls of the church to step into the so-called “common world of work.”  I did so not in denial of my calling or ordination, but in a sense of leaning into it more fully.  At that point, for me to remain as a parish pastor would have been hiding or shrinking back from things I needed to learn, explore, and, perhaps, contribute.  My training for ministry prepared me to see ministerial and church activity as sacred work, but I have since discovered that “common, ordinary work” is also--and perhaps especially--the arena of sacredness.  But I have discovered that many ministers and “lay people” do not realize or seem to express this.

GERARD MANLY HOPKINS ON WORK.   I like this reflection by Gerard Manly Hopkins: “It is not only prayer that gives God glory but work.  Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, painting a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring, everything gives God some glory if being in his grace you do it as your duty.  To go to communion worthily gives God great glory, but a man with a dungfork in his hand, a woman with a slop-pail, give him glory too.  He is so great that all things give him glory if you mean they should.  So then, my brethren, live."

PRAYER FOR THE UNEMPLOYED.  “Heavenly Father, we remember before you those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work.  Guide the people of this community so to use our public and private wealth that all may find suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment for their labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”  from The Book of Common Prayer

PIERRE TEILHARD DE CHARDIN ON WORK.  "The closeness of our union with Him is in fact determined by the exact fulfillment of the least of our tasks.  God, in all that is most living and incarnate in Him, is not far away from us, altogether apart from the world we see, touch, hear, smell, and taste about us. Rather, He awaits us every instant in our action, in the work of the moment. There is a sense in which He is at the tip of my pen, my spade, my brush, my needle-of my heart and of my thought.  By pressing the stroke, the line, or the stitch, on which I am engaged, to its ultimate natural finish, I shall lay hold of that last end toward which my innermost will tends." from The Divine Milieu

WORKING SONG. Hear 18th-century London laborers sing this Charles Wesley song as they walk to work:

Son of the carpenter, receive
     This humble work of mine;
Worth to my meanest labor give
     By joining it to Thine.

End of my ev’ry action Thou,
     In all things Thee I see.
Accept my hallowed labor now;
     I do it unto Thee.

Thy bright example I pursue,
     To Thee in all things rise;
And all I think or speak or do
     Is one great sacrifice.

Servant of all, to toil for man
     Thou didst not, Lord, refuse;
Thy majesty did not disdain
     To be employed for us.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


 Parker J. Palmer says winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them. 

WINTER GIFTS.  “Winter in the Upper Midwest is a demanding season—and not everyone appreciates the discipline.  It is a season when death’s victory can seem supreme: few creatures stir, plants do not visibly grow, and nature feels like our enemy.  And yet the rigors of winter, like the diminishments of autumn, are accompanied by amazing gifts.”

DEEP REST.  “One gift is beauty.  I am not sure that any sight or sound on earth is as exquisite as the hushed descent of a sky full of snow.  Another gift is the reminder that times of dormancy and deep rest are essential to all living things.”

UTTER CLARITY.  “But for me, winter has an even greater gift to give.  It is the gift of utter clarity.  In winter, one can walk into the woods that had been opaque with summer growth only a few months earlier and see the trees clearly, singly and together, and see the ground they are rooted in.  Winter clears the landscape, however brutally, giving us a chance to see ourselves and each other more clearly, to see the very ground of our being.”

GET OUT MORE.  “Our outward winters take many forms—failure, betrayal, depression, death.  But every one of them…yields to the same advice: ‘The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them.’  Until we enter boldly into the fears we most want to avoid, those fears will dominate our lives.”

TRUSTWORTHY.  “But when we walk directly into them—protected from frostbite by the warm garb of friendship and inner discipline or spiritual guidance—we can learn what they have to teach us.  Then we discover once again that the cycle of the seasons is trustworthy and life-giving, even in the most dismaying season of all.”

From Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer, Jossey-Bass, 2000.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Man with the Hoe

Edwin Markham's poem begs the question: how dare we live at the expense of the poor?

In 1899, American schoolteacher and poet Edwin Markham, inspired by this 1863 painting by French artist Jean-Francois Millet, wrote the following poem, "The Man with the Hoe":

Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back, the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?
Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?

Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave
To have dominion over sea and land;
To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;
To feel the passion of Eternity?
Is this the dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
And marked their ways upon the ancient deep?
Down all the caverns of Hell to their last gulf
There is no shape more terrible than this--
More tongued with cries against the world's blind greed--
More filled with signs and portents for the soul--
More packed with danger to the universe.

What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
Slave of the wheel of labor, what to him
Are Plato and the swing of the Pleiades?
What the long reaches of the peaks of song,
The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?
Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;
Time's tragedy is in that aching stoop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Powers that made the world,
A protest that is also prophecy.

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream;
Make right the immemorial infamies,
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
How will the future reckon with this Man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings--
With those who shaped him to the thing he is--
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world,
After the silence of the centuries?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Don't Exclude Any Who Should Be Included

My story reflects my conviction that we err when we exclude others because of our provincial religious thinking

Wesley's Chapel in London -- a place of inclusion
for many whom the Church of England excluded
by institutional intention and/or neglect.
When I was installed as Senior Pastor at West Morris Street Free Methodist Church in December, 2003, I invited several of my friends and fellow ordained clergy who were not Free Methodist.  I wanted those who had tracked with me through years of my Indianapolis-based journey in church and community service to share in this special occasion.

Several of my clergy friends attended. There was the Rev. Richard Hamilton, Pastor Emeritus of North United Methodist Church.  There was Father Larry Voelker, Pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church and my spiritual director.  There was the Reverend Darren Cushman-Wood, Senior Pastor at Speedway United Methodist Church--a good friend.  There were others with whom I had developed rich fellowship.

All went well in the installation service until the presiding Free Methodist Conference Superintendent invited only Free Methodist ordained clergy to come forward to lay hands on me in a prayer of blessing.  I had no prior knowledge that he would do that.  I was shocked.  I was angry.  But I was in an awkward position as I moved out of the pew and into the aisle to kneel at the front altar rail.  I was not in charge of the ritual.  But if I had known earlier that my denominational representative would make that exclusion, I would have not consented to it.  I would have, in fact, insisted that non-Free Methodist clergy be included, if for no other reason than it is symbolic of the church being one and of my sense of Christ's inclusive grace.

I can't remember a thing of the Conference Superintendent's prayer.  I certainly couldn't pray.  All I could think about were my fellow ordained clergy and friends who had been summarily dismissed and disregarded.  It ruined the installation for me.  After the benediction, I made a bee-line for my excluded pastoral friends and apologized profusely.  I told them that I didn't think the Superintendent's statement and actions reflected anything of the spirit of Free Methodists.

To this day, I do not know why that Conference Superintendent did that.  Maybe it's how he sees things.  Maybe it reflects his worldview.  Maybe it reflects his sense of ecclesiology.  Maybe he sees clergy from other denominations as secondary.  Maybe he felt like only Free Methodists should be the ones welcoming and blessing me for that particular assignment.  Whatever his thinking, his words and actions made this indelible impression on me: that was not right.

That was the first of numerous red flags regarding statements and decisions that would follow in subsequent years that diminished my confidence in that Superintendent in particular and in ecclesiastical leadership in general.  While my sense of confidence in ecclesiastical leadership in general has waned, my sense of confidence in some specific Christians and those the Superintendent excluded that day has continued to grow.

Nine years later, I muse about this.  I have forgiven him for his unwisdom even as I have rejected expressions of Christian leadership and Christendom that reflect such smallness, however justified.  I have continued to try to express and reflect in my own relationships with people of other Christian communions and of other faiths my confidence that, whatever our differences and distinctions, we meet on common ground in our love of God and care for a hoping, hurting humanity and world.

I challenge those who have been designated or elected leaders in the church, or those who desire to be so, to lay aside their own notions or preferences regarding clergy or members of other denominations or communions and act in the largest, most magnanimous sense of grace on all occasions. May we all find that grace has, does, and will include more than our own little grasp on grace can right now fathom.