Thursday, January 31, 2013

My Mission

First drafted after three days in solitude at a convent in Independence, Missouri in October 1993, my Personal Mission Statement has required only minor revisions since then. It expresses much of who I am, what I'm about. It has guided me in transitions, led me to breakthroughs, and steadied me in anxious places. It still inspires me and points to much I have yet to contribute to life.

With Nancy Stimson, Founder and volunteer
Executive Director of Freewheelin'
Community Bikes, the earn-a-bike initiative
in Indianapolis with which I volunteer.
My mission in life is to be a creative steward of the capacities, relationships, and opportunities with which I have been graced. I am confident that this stewardship is intended to contribute significantly in my generation.

I value my capacity to seek truth and bear vision amid the relationships and opportunities I am given.  In seeking truth, I am grasped by vision to transform both my world and myself.

Confident that reconciliation and hope are realities that draw us all into a brighter future, I seek, in hope, to reconcile persons to God and to one another.

I value my relationships with my gifted spouse and children.  With a sense of privilege and responsibility, I seek to impart to them my love and to nurture each toward spiritual growth.

I value my relationships with persons in community in all kinds of settings.  I seek to encourage genuine community, confident that it is a key to the transformation of relationships and institutions.

I value my opportunities, both negative and positive, for learning and creatively expressing myself.  I will seek to be a student and an effective teacher throughout my life, both as personal fulfillment and in the hope of bearing grace to others.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Surfacing Peace

The hope for peace
or longing for it--
from wherever it arises
to wherever it echoes--
lingers strong in my
heart and mind.

In the depths for a period,
it returns to the surface
again and again,
if but for a moment,
offering a fleeting invitation,
a glimpse of a greater vision,
as if to remind me of
the way it is supposed to be,
the way it was intended to be,
the way it is yet to be,
the way I am called to be.

Elusive it seems,
but ever accessible.
Available but seeking
to be sought,
to be found,
to be embraced,
to be lived.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


With “progress” poisoning so much, might we reconsider creative stewardship?

We must understand that unnecessary articles and goods that a man possesses reduce his power to imbibe happiness from the surroundings. Therefore, Gandhi repeatedly said that productivity should be kept within the limits of wants. Today’s mode of production is such that it finds no limit and goes on increasing uninhibited. All these we have been tolerating so far but the time has come when man must understand that by depending more and more on machines he is moving towards his own suicide." – Ivan Illich in “The Message of Bapu’s Hut”

STARK CONTRAST. Reading Ivan Illich's reflection on Mohandas K. Gandhi's hut in Sevagram, India, I can't get away from the stark differences between the world of "progress" Illich laments and a world in which the priorities Gandhi articulated would be taken with actionable seriousness.

[I frame "progress" within quotation marks in this piece because I want to distinguish authentic progress from poverty-fomenting, planet-sickening “progress” as it is being predominantly assumed and practiced.]

GENERATIONS OF "PROGRESS."  First the West and now the East have embraced--full bore--the suppositions and practices of "progress" in the very terms against which Gandhi and Illich warned.  In the generations since Gandhi presented the world the alternative of creative stewardship, with the non-militaristic liberation of India as a budding example, we've "progressed" at break-neck intensity and speed.  As a result, wonderful things have happened.  As a result, terrible things have happened.  Much has been gained; much has been lost.

UPSIDE, DOWNSIDE.  An honest assessment of the kind of "progress" humanity has made in the past 70 years must include not only technological breakthroughs, but humanitarian setbacks.  It includes economic development for some, but resource exploitation, economic devastation and servitude for many more.  It includes unprecedented wealth generation for some, but the extension of life-crushing poverty for untold millions.  "Progress" has been made in such a way that makes all of us more dependent than ever on non-renewable sources of energy, the consumption of which has sickened our environment and put the future of life as we know it in limbo.

BREAKING DENIAL IS NECESSARY.  Even if one gives Thomas Friedman all the positive points he makes for the wonders of technological progress in his widely-read book The World Is Flat, sadly, Friedman glosses grossly over real downsides of "progress."  Perhaps it is hard for those of us who've embraced the terms and benefits of "progress" to stop and consider the stark price of our it.  Harder still: to consider that we might have bought into a less-than-the-best model for international human and social development.  This is, I am convinced, exactly where we are at this moment in international history.  I hope we can soul-search our way to better models for the sustainability of life and human relations.

GROWING BACKLASH. There are signs of backlash against the rawest expressions of unbridled "progress" on many fronts.  It is couched in social resentment and religious upheavals.  Militant extremist Islamic groups may not so much "hate our freedoms," as American leaders repeatedly told us, as they hate our rapacious pursuit of happiness at their expense.  Religious Fundamentalism is a growing response to "progress" for some at the expense of many.

COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE ACTIONS FOR "SECURITY."  Haven’t we come a point in time where mustering military might in the name of securing protection for valued material resources against people who have nothing else materially to lose has become counter-productive?  I think we are already beyond it, actually.  America has already fought these fronts with futility in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The US military has not won these conflicts because American leadership originally miscast the problem, continues to fail to grapple with the core issues, and has been unready to amend its suppositions, cease or amend its economic and cultural offenses against such people, or change its habits.

THE COMING CENTURY.  Further, I wonder if American leadership has yet begun to realize the levels of pent-up resentment in Africa and areas of Asia and the Middle East.  Has it realized the extent to which China and India have cut into North America and Europe’s corner on "progress" and are vying for the very resources upon which "progress" is so dependent?  We're in for a very interesting century, one in which "progress" will be challenged repeatedly.  Let's hope we can have the wits to hear the anguish with our hearts and respond with the kinds of changes we already implicitly know need to be made.

REASON FOR HOPE.  My reflections here may seem like I am a despairing naysayer.  Not so.  I believe in hope and an authentic progress in human relationships and international economic development.  But if that's what we want, we're currently on a self-defeating track.  Stopping the runaway "progress" train or diverting it while a better model is conceptualized is not a luxury we have.  Developing alternatives and leaning into them with confidence and faith until "progress" is overtaken by creative stewardship is, however, within our reach.  But there is a sense of urgency; "progress" has poisoned much and evidence of social and ecological morbidity is mounting.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Ten community-building initiatives that make a difference.

Here are ten community-building and justice-bearing ideas that work. These may be some of the most cost-effective, quality-of-life enhancing personal and community choices we can make. I have had direct engagement with most of these and have confidence in all of them. They are not "in your face" acts for peace and justice, but they are effective at achieving significant outcomes in the face of isolating urban environments, ineffective efforts for justice, depressed economies, neighborhood demise, lack of community connectivity and unfair wages.

1. NEW URBANISM. This community architectural design approach creatively and comprehensively retrofits urban and suburban areas that have bred neighbor isolation, non-connectivity, fear, and over-commercialization followed by big-box vacancies. Read Howard Kuntzler's Geography of Nowhere and Home from Nowhere to get a handle on the issues at stake for communities at large. Particularly, the principles of mixed-income level dwellings and neighborhoods, walkability, generous green space, and town centers are good hope for communities and neighbors who want to see the promise of urban living fulfilled. Where implemented with all members of a community at heart (and this is critical), this design does a lot to indirectly impact social change in a community.

2. RESTORATIVE JUSTICE. Instead of merely locking up the perpetrator of a crime, restorative justice brings perpetrator and victim together in conferences that confront hard facts and feelings but often bring mutual healing to both--and to the community. Victim and perpetrator agree to consequences and restitution. I’ve seen this work for non-violent crimes and particularly with juvenile offenders. In cooperation with the Community Court, we piloted such a process when I served as Executive Director of the John H. Boner Community Center in Indianapolis.  This is more what “justice” is supposed to look like.

3. PAID TIME FOR SCHOOL INVOLVEMENT. Parental involvement in a child's education is a critical factor in a child's educational development. It is proven fact in completion and future success. Employers who take a broader view of their workplace health and long-term viability of their business in a community will see the value of encouraging their employee-parents to get directly involved in helping make their children’s formal educational experience a success. Businesses and manufacturers have nothing to lose and everything (including positive community image and regard) to gain.

4. LOCAL ECONOMY. Shop local. Buy locally-made and exchanged products when possible. Frequent the farmers’ market and local food co-op. Check out local consignment shops. Ask for more locally-grown and locally-produced products at the stores you like. Let retailers know you’re interested in local products.

5. NEIGHBORHOOD BLOCK PARTIES. When was the last time you attended a block party? Why not host one? If you've lived in your neighborhood or apartment for more than two years, you qualify as one of the establishment! If that’s not your cup of tea, what is? Neighborhood clean-up? Neighborhood garage sale? Neighborhood collection for the food bank? What can you do to get to know your newer and older neighbors? What are you waiting for? What holds you back?

6. CROSS-CULTURAL EXCHANGES. Take the opportunity whenever you can to expose yourself to any other culture than the American suburban consumerist one. No, going to a non-American food eatery is not crossing cultures. What ethnic festivals are held in your community? What restaurants go beyond menu and decor? What communities of faith are available? Take in an exchange student for a semester. Seek to develop relationships across cultures. Know that it will take your time. How sad it would be to come to the end of a lifetime and only to have experienced one’s own culture.

7. LIVING WAGE. Try to live for a month on what the income from a $8.00 per-hour (or less) full-time job. Read Nickeled and Dimed to get a taste of what it's like.  Until we do, how can we dare say another careless word about the minimum wage or how hard it is to get good service at restaurants, retail outlets, or just about any service-industry location? Every worker deserves to be able to actually live on the fruit of their work. Don’t tell me about it being impossible to pay living wages when CEO’s, managers, and stockholders are laughing all the way to the bank. Pay the living wage and see what happens to worker loyalty, productivity, and readiness to support your interests.

8. INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT ACCOUNTS. Michael Sherraden’s work, Assets and the Poor, begot a good thing. He found that the major difference between inter-generational poverty and ending it are assets. Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) are special savings accounts for neighbors living at poverty levels. For every dollar saved, three will be matched by a special savings fund. The catch: the multiplied savings can be used only for asset-building: to pay for higher education, vocational training, purchase of home, equipment for starting one’s own business, or cash to buy into an existing viable business.

9. RESPONSIBLE CONSUMER SPENDING & STOCKHOLDER INVESTING. Wonder why these prices are so low? You KNOW it’s not a wonder. It’s often based on unfair trade practices. It’s usually based on cheap or near-slave labor being pressured by US-based big-box retailers. We are not contributing to a developing economy unless the product we purchase bares a “fair trade” indication. Consumers reinforce bad international capitalist behavior daily. We are complicit. Each of us can buy more responsibly. Stock traders have a much higher level of responsibility and opportunity than consumers. Do the right thing by working neighbors and consumers in other parts of the world!

10. ASSET-BASED COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT. John McNight and Jodi Kretzman started a good thing, helping folks who want to help their neighborhoods and communities overcome dependency on experts and big outside dollars to renew their communities. Instead of counting what you don’t have, start cataloguing the capacities and resources in your neighborhood and community. Then, organize together. See what a difference you can make. (Isn't this what Barack Obama was doing on the south side of Chicago just a few years ago?)

This is a snippet of a much fuller presentation; if you'd like to know more or explore possibilities of just relationships and community-building, please contact me.

John Franklin Hay, D.Min.
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


We claim personal spiritual peace, but do we believe relational and international peace is possible?

UNDERPINNINGS OF PEACE.  I repeatedly recommend four books that are breakthrough resources on practical peacemaking and nonviolence. They have nothing to do with protests, vigils, marches or sit-ins. They are more about the underpinnings of our thinking and processes that either contribute to or prevent peacemaking. The books are: 
The Anatomy of Peace - The Arbinger Institute; Leadership and Self-Deception - The Arbinger Institute; Nonviolent Communication - Marshal Rosenberg; The Different Drum - M. Scott Peck
These books are not particularly Christian. Three are not Christian at all. But neither are these resources anti-Christian or sub-Christian. Rather, they are insightful in their process and proven outcomes regarding how people can better understand conflict, respond to it redemptively, and live beyond age-old terms that tend to recycle past, self-defeating responses.

LIVING WHAT WE EXPERIENCE. Here's why I recommend these books--particularly to earnest Christians: I am convinced that many Christians have had a genuine personal spiritual experience of Christ’s peace (John 14:27; 16:33), but do not have the language, patterns, or principles by which to translate that personal experience into truly nonviolent living, peace-full relationships, and helpful leadership in community and international problem-solving

PEACE INSIDE AND OUT. It seems to me that many Christians claim to experience Christ's peace, but then follow teachers, read books, and give assent to religious teachers and political evangelists who promote sub-Christian perspectives on conflict and its resolution. This reflects an unnecessary dichotomy between "spiritual" peace and lived peace in relationships at all levels.  The resources I've recommend above, if read critically and in a robust dialogue with one's own faith, can significantly contribute to living out more fully the witness to peace which personal faith makes possible.

PARTLY NONVIOLENT? I made a commitment to try to live nonviolently in every possible dimension of my life several years ago--partly out of a response of faith to the words and witness of Jesus that I read in the Bible, partly out of my conviction that Christian theology points toward it, and partly because I am convinced that the way of violence--under whatever justification--is an insane and costly denial of all that is intended for us in life and in relationships near and far. I no longer buy the line that violence, though regrettable, is necessary as a way of resolving conflicts or moving toward peace at any level.

NOT JUST NOT VIOLENT. We may enjoy "peace with God" or "peace in my soul," but the language of violence and anger pervades much of our common conversations and common thinking. It still profoundly impacts the most basic relationships and problem-solving challenges. But it is no longer enough to just not use physical or verbal violence. Something greater is called for and pointed toward. 

CRITICAL CONNECTIONS. I want to bring nonviolence to fully into practice in my relationships to my spouse, children, friends, neighbors, community--especially when differences of opinion, tension and conflicts arise. Understanding and addressing violence and embracing the best practices and creative possibilities of nonviolence, community-building, and peacemaking are critical at this point in my life and, I believe, in the life of the world.  Maybe in yours, too?

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Sunday, January 20, 2013


A reflection on the common ground M. K. Gandhi and M. L. King, Jr. shared...something most contemporary leaders don't.

COMMON GROUND. Over the holidays, I again viewed the movie “Gandhi.”  The movie made a significant impact on me when I first saw it, but I’d forgotten several critical points in his story. For instance, Gandhi’s upbringing assumed the compatibility of diverse religious and ethnic groups with the belief that they all ultimately served the same God. This childhood vision and local reality served Gandhi well in his later years when tensions between Hindu and Muslim factions erupted into violence, nearly turning the dream of independence into a nightmare of chaos. 

COMMON PURPOSE. While much could be said of their differences, in this regard Martin Luther King, Jr. had a similar upbringing as Mohandas K. Gandhi. In contrast to the chaotic background of Malcolm X, King was able to articulate his dream against the backdrop of a childhood in which he was taught that there was one God who willed diverse people to overcome their oppression, prejudices, and sins. King, like Gandhi, believed in such a transcendent and self-evident common ground. As an emerging leader, King appealed to all--oppressed and oppressor alike--to move resolutely and non-violently toward the common ground revealed in one God. Like Gandhi, King held to this vision, formed in childhood, when violence and factions in the civil rights movement threatened to undermine it. 

COMMON GOD? Apparently, neither grass-roots leader succumbed to the “principalities and powers” represented in the authorities and institutions that they so boldly challenged. Instead, they were both killed by out-of-focus people who not only did not share a belief in one God but who were, on the contrary, convinced that the very idea of a common dream in which all shared a part was at the heart of the social problem. It is instructive by association, I think, to consider the backdrop against which our current national and international conflicts are being waged. To the point: do we believe that there is common ground to be found in a Source whom we all, ultimately, believe is One and who wills us to move toward peace?

MISSING LEADERS. One of the critically missing pieces in human rights struggles, so-called “culture wars,” and international conflicts today is the conviction that, behind all the specific names and attributions and aspirations of diverse religious expression, is the one God who wills peace for all and among all.  It's hard to find a religious or political leader these days who believes--and acts in the conviction--that, ultimately, we are all calling upon the same God and that this same God wills us to find and live on the common ground that lies beneath our specifically-defined domains, claims, assertions, suspicions, notions, and/or “rights.”

BELIEVING IS SEEING. Whether or not this common God can be proven or this proposition embraced by any particular religion or political influence group acting the name of a particular religion is not the point. The point is that great progress toward justice and peace in specific culturally-divided, politically-explosive settings was made under Gandhi’s and King’s influence. And at least these two spiritual and social leaders believed that common ground was possible because a common God existed and willed it. By and large,today’s leaders cannot lead toward common ground because they do not believe it exists and they do not believe it exists because they cannot believe or see beyond their own conceptions of God.

FAITH AND INFLAMMATORY ACTIONS. I find it interesting that conceptions of God are closely intertwined with civil, cultural, political, and international conflicts. Denial or ignorance of this is, I am convinced, critical to America's war on terrorism. Since 9/11, American leadership--across the board--has mis-framed the sources and motivations of Islamic terrorism and they have taken an approach to fighting terrorism that continues to fan its flames. I contend that intentional and unintentional religious offenses by the West are fueling resentment and hatred. 

DRYING UP TERRORISM. The West has failed to take Islamic fundamentalism seriously, or refused to accept its claims on its terms (we’re too modern for that!). As we continue to make a secular assessment and take a non-religious approach to address terrorism, we foment it. Today’s most significant conflicts are religiously-based. When American and Western leadership comes to deeply understand, truly respect, and act with high regard for the religion of Islam, Islamic fundamentalist-sourced terrorism will begin to be dried up. Gandhi and King, I believe, would have articulated this.

A CALL TO COMMON GROUND. Please note: I am simply a Christian standing squarely within the Arminian, Wesleyan, and American Holiness traditions. And from this very specific faith, theological orientation, and somewhat paradoxical perspective, I reach out in hope to challenge people of all beliefs and backgrounds to search your hearts deeply to find the common ground upon which we all stand and where we can all meet and dwell as diverse and respectful neighbors upon this fragile earth.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana. USA