Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Walter Wink relates a friend's breakthrough to a systems-addressing perspective

"My friend Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer once found himself walking through the streets of Kolkata, India, so enraged by the poverty that he wanted to scream at God, 'How can you allow such suffering?'"

"Then he came to a powerful realization: 'In the suffering of the poor God was screaming at me, in fact at all of us and at our institutions and social systems that cause and perpetuate hunger, poverty, and inequality.'"

"That divine cry rings in our ears, exhorting us to engage these mighty powers in the strength of the Holy Spirit, that human life might become more fully human."

- Walter Wink in The Powers That Be

Friday, March 23, 2012


From Ridiculous to Redemptive: William Stringfellow's 1963 reflection beckons in 2012

William Stringfellow's reflections on the church in the city in 1963 are both piercing and potentially redemptive today. I pulled these snippets from this Theology Today link

You may reel from his stinging criticism, but try to work through his spot-on analysis and challenge for prophetic ministry. If you're not used to Stringfellow, brace yourself. Even if you are familiar with the Harlem street lawyer and lay theologian, hang on to your heart. Here are a few excerpts of his piece titled "The Church in the City":

SOLD OUT AND SATELLITES. "Little can be said about the present estate of the churches in the city which does not sound as if the churches are ridiculous. Some churches, for example, have physically quit the city- closed down, sold out, and moved to the suburbs, only to find out that the problem of the mission of the church to the city still plagues them. For suburbs are satellites of the city and commuters spend much, if not most, of their time in the city. Perhaps the churches which have remained physically in the city have eluded the church's mission to the city more effectively-by virtually full-time preoccupation in ecclesiastical housekeeping, in massive indifference to the excitement and conflict of the city, or by plain malingering."
HIDING OUT? "Some churches have fled the city, but the churches that have remained, for the most part, have been hiding out."
ANEMIC IDENTIFICATION. "Consequently, of course, the city pays little attention to the churches, save for some patently absurd or innocuous event in which the churches manage to call attention to themselves. Recently, a clergyman convened a press conference in New York to announce the discontinuance of pew rentals. If that is all that the churches have to report to the city, it is probably shrewder to suppress the news. But that is just the sort of thing by which the churches are normally, albeit not yet exclusively, identified in the city."
IMMERSION AND DISPERSION. "The notorious fact about the churches and the city at the present time is that the churches do not know the city. And yet the rudiment of the mission to the city is the immersion of the churches in the common life of the city and the dispersion of Christians within the turmoil and travail of the city's existence. The rudiment of mission is knowledge of the city because the truth and grace of the Incarnation encompass in God's care all that is the city. Mission for the church, and hence for the churches and for Christians, in the city means a radical intimacy with every corner and every echelon of the city's actual life in order to represent and honor God's concern for each fragment of the city."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Wendell Berry bids us to challenge status quo with a perceptive look followed by redemptive actions in a greed-deformed world  

SAY "YES" BY SAYING "NO." This poem by Wendell Berry, "Look Out," is from Berry's collection of poems, Given (Shoemaker, Hoard, Washington, D.C., 2005). This is what Wendell Berry sees outside his Port Royal, Kentucky farmhouse:

Come to the window, look out, and see
the valley turning green in remembrance
of all springs past and to come, the woods
perfecting with immortal patience
the leaves that are the work of all of time,
the sycamore whose white limbs shed
the history of a man's life with their old bark,
the river quivering under the morning's breath
like the touched skin of a horse, and you will see
also the shadow cast upon it by fire, the war
that lights its way by burning the earth.

Come to your windows, people of the world,
look out at whatever you see wherever you are,
and you will see dancing upon it that shadow.
You will see that your place, wherever it is,
your house, your garden, your shop, your forest, your farm,
bears the shadow of its destruction by war
which is the economy of greed which is plunder
which is the economy of wrath which is fire.

The Lords of War sell the earth to buy fire,
they sell the water and air of life to buy fire.
They are little men grown great by willingness
to drive whatever exists into its perfect absence.
Their intention to destroy any place is solidly founded
upon their willingness to destroy every place.
Every household of the world is at their mercy,
the households of the farmer and the otter and the owl
are at their mercy. They have no mercy.
Having hate, they can have no mercy.
Their greed is the hatred of mercy.
Their pockets jingle with the small change of the poor.
Their power is the willingness to destroy
everything for knowledge which is money
which is power which is victory
which is ashes sown by the wind.

Leave your windows and go out, people of the world,
go into the streets, go into the fields, go into the woods
and along the streams. Go together, go alone.
Say no to the Lords of War which is Money
which is Fire. Say no by saying yes
to the air, to the earth, to the trees,
yes to the grasses, to the rivers, to the birds
and the animals and every living thing, yes
to the small houses, yes to the children. Yes.

WHAT DO I SEE? When I look out my window, do I see far enough--deeply enough, broadly enough--to perceive this? And if or when I perceive such, am I caring or daring enough to leave my window and go out and say "no" to the Lords of War--to Money and Fire--and "yes" to life? Or do I just stand and stare, or turn away and hope someone else will take care of it?

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Patrick's prayer is, frankly, both freaky and intriguing

This prayer is attributed to St. Patrick of Ireland, circa A. D. 377.  To me, it's both freaky and intriguing. Christianity is not wizardry or magic. But Patrick's use of imagination to envision God's presence in all nature and surrounding us--that's powerful stuff.

I read this prayer each year.  Each year, I am impressed with its comprehensiveness. It mentions things I frankly never think of or even believe matter. Even so, that it reminds me of these things is useful.

I also get the sense of how much Patrick and early Christian forebears saw nature itself as being in concert with grace. This reflects the Psalms. "All nature sings." Talk about imagination!  Patrick's sense was that all life is bending toward or expressing Trinity at its very core!

But this thing about "summoning"--I don't get that, I don't think like that, and I do not see that as the manner of prayer or use of spirituality in the New Testament.  Christians are not wizards. Christianity is not magic.  Prayer is not incantations.  Prayer is a conversation in a relationship.  It is a communion.  When it comes to addressing temptations and evil, I think the prayer Jesus taught his disciples is far more simple and direct: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

Interesting that Patrick's (or whoever actually wrote this prayer) imagination envisioned Christ's perpetual, enveloping presence throughout one's day, but did not go so far as to imagine prayer as something just as intimate, simple, and direct. But, maybe this "prayer" wasn't supposed to be prayer at all. Perhaps it is more in the genre of a pronouncement, a preaching, a teaching, a public prayer. Hmm. Just goes to show we can say some pretty weird and awesome things about God and grace and life when heads are bowed, eyes are closed, and we know people are listening attentively.

Here's the prayer:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Soon, more US troops will have died via suicide than in battles in Afghanistan and Iraq. Can citizens help stop the epidemic?

I've been reading overlooked and buried news that bears inconvenient truth for most Americans.

Bluntly, sadly, alarmingly: suicide rates for both veterans and active service members of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars are at record highs.

It is epidemic.

Soon, America will have lost more troops to suicide than in battles in Afghanistan and Iraq.  This is the highest and most hidden of cost of these 21st-century wars begun under the George W. Bush administration.

Here are a few snippets from the news, all easily accessed via an Internet search of reputable mainstream news sources:
  • Each day, 18 veterans commit suicide.
  • An active US military service member commits suicide every 36 hours.
  • Over 3,400 service members have committed suicide since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began (2010 number)
  • 6,365 American service members have died of casualties of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • The suicide rate of US military personnel has increased every year since 2002.
  • 2011 recorded the highest number of suicides for service members yet.
  • Military suicide rates are now referred to as "epidemic."
  • Veterans now represent 20% of the 30,000 suicides committed each year in America.
  • Since it started in 2007, the VA suicide hotline has received over 400,000 calls from veterans who were in the act of suicide.
Let those facts sink in.

This is the ugly underbelly of war in general and of the military policies practiced in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars in particular.

Congress has acted, finally, to insist that US military branches and the Veterans Administration step up suicide prevention and intervention efforts.  And there are some promising initial results to report on the impact of these efforts.

But the financial and personnel resources directed at suicide prevention and intervention is a pittance compared to what is needed.  In fact, US military and veterans groups will continue to be overwhelmed with the numbers and challenge of service member and veteran suicides.

Of all the calculations of the cost of these wars, apparently very little attention was given to war-related suicides or the investment in preventing them and intervening in them.  Even with an epidemic staring us in the face, our national leaders simply do not yet take it seriously enough to invest in ways that could prevent the loss of thousands of veterans'  lives.

What can ordinary citizens do?

I am convinced that local citizens, congregations and communities need to be part of the mix of a helpful response for the hope of healing.  Over the next few weeks, I will make several posts on this issue on Indy Bikehiker to demonstrate both the need and the creative and valuable responses citizens, congregations and community-based groups are making and can mobilize to make.

Even when these wars end, the war will not be over for the troops who have served and the families who love them.  These men and women are and will be living in our communities as our neighbors.  It is here, where we live, that we can help make a difference, redeeming lives ravaged by war's insanities.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Read these at the risk of changing your mind, breaking your heart and challenging your world

A young Dietrich Bonhoeffer
These are books that not only fascinate me but have somehow changed me.  More than other readings or sources of knowledge, these have re-formed or changed the way I approach life--the way I think, what I value and how I view and regard my neighbors, society, systems and world.  These have either challenged my understanding of how things are and how things should be or they've shaped my behaviors--often both. These books have a continuing impact on me. The trajectories they set in motion have not yet reached fulfillment. I'm somehow living the questions or values or approaches to problems they raise. Together, we're a work in progress. I'm grateful to the writers and publishers of these books and all who influenced them. I can only hope my own journey in grace and with their influence will somehow heighten the trajectory of others.

1 Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire

Most dangerous book in a century. Banned in much of South America for decades. I will never accept the way things are in social arrangements at face value again. I will forever critique life from the perspective of the exploited and believe in their power to change their situation and liberate us all.

2 The Powers That Be, Walter Wink

Exposes the domination system, the myth of redemptive violence and the dismissal of nonviolence as "impractical." "Violent revolution fails because it is not revolutionary enough. It changes the rulers but not the rules, the ends but not the means." "Nonviolence is the way God has chosen to overthrow evil in the world." "Nonviolence never fails, because every nonviolent act is a revelation of God's new order breaking into the world." Alternative: Violence Unveiled, Gil Bailie

3 Letter From Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr.

For those who think the church is not fallen and not in need of redemption through the collective repentance and Biblical justice-making of its members. It's not just that racism is called out, but that the prophetic witness of the church is at stake in social injustices wherever they exist.  Alternative: The Journal of John Woolman, John Woolman

4 The Politics of Jesus, John Howard Yoder

The Bible I was too familiar with became a radical critique of the status quo and an invitation to the upside down Kingdom that Jesus articulated and demonstrated.  It awaits our embrace. Alternative: The Upside Down Kingdom, Donald Kraybill.

5 Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We've cheapened grace. Grace is costly. Grace is free.  And it is ever so accessible to all. The backdrop to this reflection elevates its simplicity and eloquence: a young German theologian confronting his homeland's compromising church and totalitarian dictator Adolf Hitler. For perspective read: Costly Grace by Eberhard Bethge.

6 Let Your Life Speak, Parker J. Palmer

Rediscover what you were intended to be and do. Move from superficial career to heartfelt vocation. Quaker sociologist and teacher Parker opens his own indirect, disrupted journey in what amounts to a gracious gift for fellow travelers.  Also read by Palmer: The Active Life, A Hidden Wholeness, and Healing the Heart of Democracy.

7 Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard

A simply fascinating, exasperating look at nature--at life, at mystery--through the eyes and heart of a passionate, inquisitive, creative observer. Also read by Dillard: For the Time Being and Teaching a Stone to Talk.

8 Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann

You'll never look past the Old Testament prophets again.  You might even begin to cultivate a critical, prophetic imagination and see ancient and future wrapped up together in the crucible of today's opportunities and challenges.

9 The Careless Society, John McKnight

Grasp critically what institutionalization and compartmentalization is doing to individuals, families, neighborhoods, communities and American society.  How can we reweave the fabric of our broken, divided, careless society? From the Northwestern University researcher who pioneered asset-based community development (ABCD) strategies.

10 Leadership and Self-Deception, The Arbinger Institute

I hate this book. I love this book.  I hate this book.  I love this book.  It kicks me afresh every time I read it or consider what it says about how I view people, relationships, situations, groups and international problems.  This book will work on me for rest of my life.  Also read: The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute.

And I haven't even gotten to William Stringfellow, Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, Richard Roher, Rob Bell, Dorothy Soelle, John Ruskin, Julian of Norwich, Richard Foster, Rosemary Reuther, Harper Lee, Frank Viola, Miroslav Volf, John Wesley, Howard Snyder, and Henri Nouwen. So many great books, so little time.


I'm a hesitant observer of Lent, nevertheless, I'm on board for the journey

we saunter into
Ash Wednesday's service.
we are marked--
as much a sign of
obligation as mild

Lent launches
as we straggle up
the gangplank.
Though winded,
we're on board--
a bit bewildered about
where this journey ends,
somewhat unsure of
the purpose of this

When inspiration flags
discipline and duty
carry us.
Where vision is obscured,
the immediate horizon a fog,
soundings resonate

Others seem more
certain of this voyage--
sails are trimmed and
crew busy themselves.
But we aren't sure
whether we should
settle in to rest
or keep watch
at the bow.

We're asked to
give up something--
to lighten the load?
Have we not already
given up home and land
for this untethered vessel
churning through
inhospitable seas
to an unheard of

After a few days at sea
we notice atop the mast
flies a flag--are those
cross bones?
What were we thinking
when we bought the ticket
marked "Destination Port: