Saturday, March 30, 2013

Silent Saturday

Maybe the best thing we could do on this in-between day is just shut up

I don’t know what to do with the Saturday before Easter.
Not even sure what to call it.
Holy Saturday? Dark Saturday? Black Saturday?
Or, should I take a more post-resurrection approach:
Joyous Saturday or Saturday of the Light (as the Copts).
How about Silent Saturday?

It’s that odd day in between Good Friday and Easter.
We tend to put all our eggs in those two baskets,
engaging in somber services on Good Friday and
jubilant--even braggadocios--outbursts on Easter.
But this day?
We’ve got nothing.

Maybe that’s how it should be.
Completely wrung out and undone by Friday’s
procession of confusion, denial, pain and death,
and with no realistic hope of anything beyond,
his followers scattered--speechless, witless,
utterly alone.

The more silent this day, the better.
What do deniers and deserters have to say, anyway?
People who’ve mistaken his ministry--be quiet.
Those who think hope is based on coercion and might
in Jesus’ name were dead wrong--
and still are.

Silence, especially, thoughts of resurrection.
That wasn't on the radar screen of the dismayed
when the heavy stone was rolled into place.
Don't take comfort in what you think you know.
Don't count your chickens when you
don't have chickens to count.

Wouldn't it help us all to just shut up for a few hours
and let whatever God wants to say or do
sink in
or rise up?

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday: Six Brief Reflections

Good Friday calls forth our own life responses

“Christmas and Easter can be subjects for poetry, but Good Friday, like Auschwitz, cannot. The reality is so horrible, it is not surprising that people should have found it a stumbling block to faith". -- W.H. Auden

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy Blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon--
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock. -- Christina Rossetti

Given is the word. Given publicly, on the first Good Friday, on a hill, in the sight of all, was the visible demonstration of the only permanent way to overcome evil. Human nature demands something more enduring than the unquiet equilibrium of rival powers.” – Muriel Lester

“The symbol of the cross in the church points to the God who was crucified not between two candles on an altar, but between two thieves in the place of the skull, where the outcasts belong, outside the gates of the city. It does not invite thought but a change of mind. It is a symbol which therefore leads out of the church and out of religious longing into the fellowship of the oppressed and abandoned. On the other hand, it is a symbol which calls the oppressed and godless into the church and through the church into the fellowship of the crucified God.”  -- J├╝rgen Moltmann, The Crucified God

 One of the paradoxes of what Christians call Holy Week is that what is being taken is being given. "No one takes my life from me; I lay it down."

"...Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all." - Isaac Watts

Monday, March 25, 2013

New King

The King of Palm Sunday ascends via the cross on Good Friday

Hail, king Jesus!
Come to set us free
Riding on a colt
Bearer of peace

Hail, King Jesus!
Come to set us free
Going to the cross
Bearer of grief

New kind of king
Kinder and gentler
Lead on to Zion
Young crown wearer

New kind of king
Servant and giver
He lays down his life
Young cross bearer

Swept on he goes
To Jerusalem
Bring down corruption
Let right begin

Swept on he goes
To Calvary hill
Bring down oppression
Let love flow still

Copyright 2013 John Franklin Hay
Download 'What Saved Grace?' ebook - explore the beauty & complexity of compassion

Sunday, March 24, 2013

'What Saved Grace?' A Novel of Compassion

My short novel about compassion's beauty and complexity is now available in ebook formats

"What Saved Grace?" cover by Andrea Anibal
I'm excited about the publication of my novel for two reasons.

First, it's done! I've had this brewing for a few years. In February, I decided to publish it. Then, with the help of some honest friends and critical readers, I extensively revised and edited it. I am oriented to urban activism, teaching and theological reflection--not literary styles. So, my friends have helped me be a little more faithful to the novel genre. I think I could have edited this thing to death. No more. It's done! "What Saved Grace?" is available online now in various ebook formats via Smashwords, the world's largest publisher of ebooks. I hope it will ship to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online outlets soon. Hope you will explore it and buy it.

Here's the Smashwords link to "What Saved Grace?"

Second, my fiction story conveys a message that will change the way you view compassion. The texture, depth and breadth of compassion is the real focus of this story. I look at compassion through the eyes, experiences and impacts of a struggling young family who moves into an urban neighborhood and seeks  help. The compassion they encounter from various well-intended churches, organizations and neighbors is both endearing and bewildering. Through the story, readers are exposed to the underside of compassion. They also experience its incredible beauty. So will you. One of my hopes is that my story will generate some reflection and discussion about compassion. Another hope is that it will move readers to examine their own expressions of compassion and encourage growth.

So, here it is. I hope you will explore and enjoy my novel.

Here's the Smashwords link to "What Saved Grace?"

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Thursday, March 21, 2013

"What Saved Grace?" Explores Expressions of Compassion

Nancy, Pastor Rick and Sister Mary spar over how best to offer compassion in "What Saved Grace?"

"What Saved Grace?" will be published as an
ebook via Smashwords in March 2013.
This is an excerpt of a chapter of "What Saved Grace?" It's a short novel about the beauty and complexity of compassion. I published it as an ebook  via Smashwords on March 23, 2013.

View excerpts and purchase "What Saved Grace?" here.

     Pastor Rick raised his hand to speak and was recognized by the Interfaith Food Pantry Committee chair.

He reasoned with the Committee. “It looks like we've all been taken advantage of again. I know that seems frustrating. But it doesn’t sound like this woman was trying to milk the system or circumvent our intended policy. It sounds like she just needed food for her family and presented the same story at each pantry. Each of us felt right about giving it to her. I'll tell you, the folks at First Wesleyan aren’t too concerned about a person or family slipping through our policy a time or two.”

A few agreeable murmurs filtered through the room.

He continued. “We started our food pantry, frankly, to help folks like the one just described. It’s not very likely we’ll turn anybody away the first time or two they come to us seeking food. Giving some groceries is one way for us to share the Gospel and try to connect folks to the ministries of the church. We’ll certainly begin to raise some questions if someone perpetually works the food pantries without getting involved in our congregation or programs. But it seems we need to make some allowance for the difference between what this woman has done and those who are just working the system.”

Nancy responded tartly. “I'm not sure we have the luxury of picking and choosing whom we let take advantage of us. If all the pantries start making exceptions and letting folks slide through, as you suggest, we may all be overwhelmed. On the other hand, if we all do a proper intake and explain the food pantry policy the first time at the first pantry, theoretically, we will be able to assist more people without incurring more cost.”

Sister Mary, taking in all she silently could, interrupted. “I'm not interested in what we might be able theoretically to do.”

She rose to her feet and the chair recognized her.

Sister Mary launched a pointed response. “Assisting the poor people of this neighborhood is not about doing proper intakes and tightening policies and theorizing about how many we can assist. The fact is, when a person shows up at our doors for food there’s more at stake than whether or not a policy is going to be upheld or ignored, or,” she said, turning to Pastor Rick with a wink, “whether or not the person gets a good dose of the Gospel on the side.”

Pastor Rick smiled and nodded nervously.

“We've got to consider the person at the door is Jesus in disguise,” she declared. “And we've got to ask ourselves in our hearts, how we should best respond to this particular person and help change their situation. I'm not sure this policy of ‘one family, one pantry, once a month’ helps us do that. And I'm not sure we've really helped a family by just giving a half a week’s supply of groceries and an earful of the Gospel.”

Sister Mary’s comments lingered in the air with a biting sting, even if they also had the ring of truth. No one had an immediate response to her little diatribe, which seemed to be directed at the Third Presbyterian volunteer as well as Pastor Rick.

As she sat down, Sister Mary tried to moderate what she’d said. “I'm not saying I know what to do, or that what each of us is trying to do is not good or not important. Lord knows, we’re all trying to be faithful to our neighbors and to our God. But once you’ve come close enough and spent time to know the hell on earth some of our neighbors routinely endure—as I'm sure most of us have—it just seems like we can make a more careful response.”

Seated now, she paused and then turned in her chair to look into the eyes of the Committee members. She spoke more reflectively. “Compassion’s not as simple as it seems, is it? Sometimes it feels good to offer what you have. Other times it seems like you can’t do enough. And then there are times folks just baffle you with their ability to work the system and manipulate. Compassion can be complicated. It’s not cut and dried. Sometimes it's hard.”

She sighed and then added in a falling voice, “I just try to keep in mind that most folks we see are victims of poverty and caught in a hurtful system as much as anything else. I hope this group keeps that in mind. And I hope, someday, we’ll work together to try to make a bigger impact together on the nutrition and food issues our neighbors face.”

Copyright John Franklin Hay 2013

"What Saved Grace?" walks with a struggling young family as they navigate the crosscurrents of compassion in their new urban neighborhood. It explores the heart-warming and gut-wrenching impacts of varieties of well-intentioned help in the lives of Theo and Grace. This story will change the way you view compassion. I will announce its publication as an ebook here, via twitter (@indybikehiker), on Facebook, and at my Smashwords author page.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Eight Challenges Facing Community Leaders

Acknowledging and effectively addressing each is critical for better outcomes for all

Part of the iron sculptures of Martin Luther King, Jr.
and Robert F. Kennedy in Kennedy-King Park in
Indianapolis. It's the site where Kennedy consoled a
grieving crowd on the night MLK was assassinated.
I came across this pithy list in a little essay by Milan Wall (link below). I think he's put a finger on core issues for leaders and managers in both the nonprofit and public sectors. Acknowledging and effectively addressing each is critical for better outcomes for all. I'm just going to list the eight points and direct you to his fuller online article.

Doing more with less.

Mandates from above.

Rapidity of change.

Complexity of issues.

Economic realities.

Social and cultural issues.

Loss of confidence in institutions.

Fear of "assassination."

These challenges have faced me at different points and places in my nonprofit leadership journey. Sometimes, I have acknowledged and grappled with them well, leading organizations through the particular gauntlet to better organizational life and outcomes. Sometimes, I've taken the challenge and had breakthroughs in my own ways of leading. But sometimes, one or more of these have taken me for a ride. Sometimes, I've pretended a challenge wasn't as menacing as it really was. Bad response. In subsequent posts--and in the nonprofit leadership and management course I teach at the university--I may share some stories and strategies for facing and breaking through with these challenges.

Here's the link to Milan Wall's article. Wherever you are, Milan, thanks!

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

John Ruskin, Walmart and Minimum Wage

John Ruskin's insight on consumerism is worth revisiting today as we rethink economic equity

The little book On Art and Life by John Ruskin (1819-1900) was one of my companions during my six-week bicycling sojourn in India in 2007. This Victorian-era architect and social critic turned a sharp eye and tongue to his English brethren, but it sounds as if he might be speaking directly to a consumer-driven society today. Consider the following quotes by Ruskin the next time we go to Walmart or consider the minimum-wage debate:

VIRTUAL STEALING. “Whenever we buy, or try to buy, cheap goods – goods offered at a price we know cannot be remunerative for the labor involved in them, we pillage the poor. Whenever we buy such goods, remember we are stealing somebody’s labor. Don’t let us mince the matter. I say, in plain Saxon, STEALING – taking from him the proper reward of his work, and putting it into our own pocket.”

TAKING ADVANTAGE. “You know well enough that the thing could not have been offered you at that price, unless distress of some kind had forced the producer to part with it. You take advantage of this distress, and you force as much out of him as you can under the circumstances.”

MARKETPLACE MURDER. “The definite result of all our modern haste to be rich is assuredly, and constantly, the murder of a certain number of persons by our hands every year.”

LUXURY AND WASTE. “On the whole, the broadest and most terrible way in which we cause the destruction of the poor is, namely, the way of luxury and waste, destroying, in improvidence, what might have been the support of thousands…”

CAUSE AND EFFECT. “You will find that whenever and wherever men are endeavoring to make money hastily, and to avoid the labor which Providence has appointed to be the only source of honorable profit; - and also wherever and whenever they permit themselves to spend it luxuriously, without reflecting how far they are misguiding the labor of others; - there and then, in either case, they are literally and infallibly causing, for their own benefit or their own pleasure, a certain annual number of human deaths…”

LABORER OR ASSASSIN. “Therefore, the choice given to every man born into this world is, simply, whether he will be a laborer or an assassin; and that whosoever has not his hand on the Stilt of the plough, has it on the Hilt of the dagger.”

The following related excerpt is from Unto this Last (thanks for the addition, David Craig, Ph.D., a Ruskin scholar:

"The present rage for cheapness is either, therefore, simply and literally, a rage for badness of all commodities, or it is an attempt to find persons whose necessities will force them to let you have more than you should for your money. It is quite easy to produce such persons, and in large numbers; for the more distress there is in a nation, the more cheapness of this sort you can obtain, and your boasted cheapness is thus merely a measure of the extent of your national distress."

Here's an example of our current dilemma: "Haitian Sweatshops: Made in the USA" (In These Times)

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bonhoeffer on Facing Death and Living Life

For all he said of death and heaven, Bonhoeffer found that "being there for others" is the ultimate transcendence

Later today, at the written request of a friend my age who succumbed to ovarian cancer after a five-year struggle, I will read words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at her memorial service. I consider this an honor and privilege. Kathy read Bonhoeffer's biography last year and was struck by the shining witness of his life...and death.

The passage she chose for me to read is about death and life, hell and heaven.  It is an excerpt from a sermon Bonhoeffer preached in 1933, twelve years before his death by hanging in a Nazi prison at the end of World War II. What he said of life, death, hell and heaven at that time--prior to the full emergence of Hitler, the agonies of war, the holocaust of millions of Jews and his own part in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler--are insightful and prophetic. His perspective and words would be tested in the cauldron of suffering, loss and his own execution.

Experiences of life and time teach us--and the experiences of Bonhoeffer from 1933 to 1945 certainly instructed, changed, developed and matured the young theologian caught in the crossfire of gut-wrenching internal and international struggles. 

Wanting to get a sense of how Bonhoeffer's perspective changed with time, this morning I read his letters and notes from the middle of 1944 up to his last correspondence in 1945. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters & Papers from Prison reflects the last, fullest, maturest perspectives we have of this profound Christian.

This morning, two brief passages strike me as quite memorable and useful. In them, he does not speak of boldness in the face of death or the glories heaven--though it is certain he continued to believe unswervingly in both. But, in the face of an almost-certain death, Bonhoeffer speaks of living fully in this world as a responsible neighbor.

This is from a letter, written on July 21, 1944, to his brother-in-law Eberhard Bethge:

"I discovered later, and I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In doing so we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world--watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia [conversion, repentance]; that is how one becomes a man and a Christian..."

And this is from notes for Chapter 2 of a book--never finished--that he outlined in August, 1944:

“Encounter with Jesus Christ. The experience that a transformation of all human life is given in the fact that 'Jesus is there only for others.' His 'being there for others' is the experience of transcendence. It is only this 'being there for others,' maintained till death, that is the ground of his omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. Faith is participation in this being of Jesus (incarnation, cross, resurrection). Our relation to God is not a 'religious' relationship to the highest, most powerful, and best Being imaginable--that is not authentic transcendence--but our relation to God is a new life in 'existence for others,' through participation in the being of Jesus. The transcendental is not infinite and unattainable tasks, but the neighbor who is within reach in any given situation. God in human form...”

Whatever the future holds, we cannot know. But faith invites us to live fully this-worldly as we possibly can in responsible care for neighbors near and far. Let us learn, more and more, as Jesus Christ, to live eternity in being there for others. 

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA