Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Upside of Urban Living

Ray Bakke invites families to live in urban communities with benefits that far outweigh liabilities

These quotes are by Ray Bakke from an online article. Bakke, author of The Urban Christian and director of Urban Associates, resides in Chicago.

LEARN TO GET ALONG. "Our cities are famous for violence and strife. But I see them as R&D units, where different kinds of people are learning to get along. Whites, Blacks, Muslims, Jews, Arabs, Christians -- people with different languages and cultures are crafting new ways to live and communicate, to work and raise their children. It is possible to construct a life of denial and avoidance. But once you've hidden your kids away in a gated community, how will you educate them to have perspective? Cities expose us to perspectives that are important for the times in which we live."

CHALLENGE: CULTURAL DISTANCE. "The real challenge facing the world is not geographic distance but cultural distance. I think of Jackson, Mississippi as a father to Chicago, because a million and a half black people from Mississippi came here. Poland is our mother, because 840,000 Poles came to Chicago -- 100,000 more Poles than San Francisco has people. We have all kinds of cultures in our cities. How are we going to live together and work together?"

LOOK FOR SOLUTIONS. "Stop looking at the city as if it were just a problem -- with poor, locked-out people. That's seeing only the victim. See the city as an R&D unit. I've done consultations in more than 200 cities. When people in those cities ask for help, I say, 'Most of what you need to know is already in your city.' I bring together the best models of urban ministry, and we all teach each other what we're learning."

NETWORKS MAKE CHANGE. "I used to go to conferences where we'd hear famous experts tell us how to do things. That model brought people together, but the audience was passive. What we do is get people together, connect needs with resources, and build the bridges that make change happen. We link people to each other and turn them into associates. We walk alongside them, encourage and mentor them, and, if possible, secure grants for them."

THE POWER OF OPTIMISM. "Cities today are famous for their violence. But what amazes me is that the city wakes up in the morning, goes to bed at night, and is as quiet as it is. I'm amazed that the subways still run, that so many people still say 'Hi' on the street -- and that... living in the city can shape our children for the better. We get to introduce them to the cultures of the world. Living in the city is a great experience that offers tremendous advantages. We need to reflect on these advantages more often than we do."

Read the full article on Bakke.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Learning in Leading

Warren Bennis' insights on leading focus on the internal work of the leader

I find myself returning every now and then to Warren Bennis’ little book On Becoming a Leader (Addison Wesley, 1989). The following quote is from the chapter “Moving Through Chaos.”

INNOVATION AND INTUITION. “A leader is, by definition, an innovator. He [sic] does things other people haven’t done or don’t do. He does things in advance of other people. He makes new things. He makes old things new. Having learned from the past, he lives in the present, with one eye on the future. And each leader pulls it all together in a different way. To do that…leaders must be right-brain, as well as left-brain thinkers. They must be intuitive, conceptual, synthesizing, and artistic.”

LEARN, LEAD, GROW. “Learning to lead is, on one level, learning to manage change…and that includes changes within the leader. One of a leader’s principal gifts is his ability to use his experiences to grow in office. The leader does it better and better and better, but is never satisfied. The leader knows better than anyone that the fundamental problems of life are insoluble, but he persists anyway, and he continues to learn.”

OUR CURRICULUM: ADVERSITY. “Leaders learn by leading, and they learn best by leading in the face of obstacles. As weather shapes mountains, so problems make leaders. Difficult bosses, lack of vision and virtue in the executive suite, circumstances beyond their control, and their own mistakes have been the leaders’ basic curriculum.”

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

17 Practices for Sustainable Communities and Economies

Wendell Berry's common sense and counterintuitive practices that cultivate community and local economy

Almost twenty years ago, Wendell Berry shared 17 steps to help local communities become healthy and sustainable. I try to take these to heart, put them into practice, encourage them institutionally and systemically. They are:

1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth?

2. Always include local nature - the land, the water, the air, the native creatures - within the membership of the community.

3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.

4. Always supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting products - first to nearby cities, then to others).

5. Understand the ultimate unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of 'labor saving' if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination.

6. Develop properly-scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of national or global economy.

7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy.

8. Strive to supply as much of the community's own energy as possible.

9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community for as long as possible before they are paid out.

10. Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community.

11. Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, and teaching its children.

12. See that the old and young take care of one another. The young must learn from the old, not necessarily and not always in school. There must be no institutionalised childcare and no homes for the aged. The community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young.

13. Account for costs now conventionally hidden or externalized. Whenever possible, these must be debited against monetary income.

14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.

15. Always be aware of the economic value of neighborly acts. In our time, the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, which leaves people to face their calamities alone.

16. A rural community should always be acquainted and interconnected with community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.

17. A sustainable rural economy will depend on urban consumers loyal to local products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.

Read these from their source the Utne Reader online.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Long View

Reinhold Niebuhr's perspective helps me stay focused and faithful when immediate initiatives seem insufficient or partial

I ran across this excerpt of Reinhold Niebuhr, quoted from his book The Irony of American History. The excerpt is in a book on urban ministry titled Redeeming the City and the authors place the statementat the beginning of a chapter that challenges change agents to address systems with principles, patience and persistence over a lifetime.

"Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.

Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love.

No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend and foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness."

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Story Behind the 'What Saved Grace?' Story

Every story has a backstory. Here's the story that sparked my journey toward writing this novel 

Several years ago, I was elected President of the Homeless Network of Indianapolis. HNI was a rather raucous, unfunded consortium of homeless advocates, service providers and government
agency staffers. We came together to raise awareness of the growing issue of homelessness and to try to better address it. The Homeless Network eventually morphed into a fully staffed intermediary organization and was renamed CHIP -- the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention.

I was pretty young and naive when I started participating in the Homeless Network. I joined in because the church and ministry I served was reaching out to homeless folks with a daily lunch program and winter contingency shelter. When I attended my first few Homeless Network meetings, I was deeply impressed by the capacity of the people in the room and the range of compassionate organizations at the table. Granted, we were diverse and our approaches were different, but we were committed.  Given this capacity and commitment, I was sure we could help our city max the issue of homelessness in no time.

But the more I participated in the Homeless Network--the more I watched different service providers operate, the more I listened to different advocates articulate--the more I realized we were not at all on the same page. In fact, our approaches to addressing and ending homelessness were all over the map--even conflicting, competing and counterproductive.

At that time, the leadership of two faith-based shelters would not even talk to each other. Some outreach workers offered help to homeless people in order to preach to them and convert them, convinced that only a spiritual change would end their homelessness. Other outreach workers tangled with the preachers, asserting that that Jesus stuff distracted from the real issues. Some of our Homeless Network participants focused on advocacy--changing bad policies and protesting for fair treatment.

While our Homeless Network agreed on helping homeless neighbors, at times that was about all we could agree on.  Our approaches to compassion, care, healing and change seemed irreconcilably disparate. This realization was initially disillusioning to me. How could people who claimed to care so much be so far apart in the ways we cared? I had been trained by Parker J. Palmer to learn from disillusionment (to be dis-illusioned, to see reality as it is, he says, is a good thing). So I tried to do that.

The more I understood about each advocate, caregiver, outreach worker and organization, the more clearly their particular approaches to compassion emerged. Some tended to approach homelessness as rescuers. They saw the primary issue as internal--as spiritual brokenness or mental illness. They provided shelter, recovery programs, and short-term relief. Others tended to approach homelessness as service providers and advocates. Instead of focusing on personal issues, they focused on what was right or wrong with the system--with policies, the government, institutions, or the community at large. Still others, I noticed, focused on less direct--but still effective--interventions, like transitional, supported and long-term housing, food co-ops and access to healthcare.

As I learned about each homeless advocate or service or housing provider, I reflected on my own understanding of compassion. What did I think constituted a valid, holistic approach to changed lives, a changed system, and a changed community? While I was proud of what I was engaged in and what my church was doing in response to the homelessness of some, I recognized its limits and pitfalls. I was also drawn to other dimensions of care and expressions of hope I observed. So, I eventually realized that I was not only an actor in this range of care, but one who was being challenged and changed by it.

It seemed to me that while there were real downsides, there was a degree of validity in each approach to addressing homelessness. Was there one comprehensive approach? I could imagine that, but others could or would not. What prevented a rescuer from appreciating the work of a service provider--and vice versa? How could profound differences and divisions be bridged, if at all? What more did I need to know to better understand the problem and work toward a common solution?

This was the creative mix that opened my heart and mind to explore the beauty and complexity of compassion. I brought this "problem" into my studies in a doctoral program I entered. The reading, conversations and guidance I enjoyed during that period helped me better understand and frame what I was experiencing. I decided to shine a light on the assumptions and underpinnings of compassion in hopes of becoming more responsible in my own actions. I also decided to lift up my own journey in compassion to others in the hope that others would learn, grow and contribute to ever more responsible and redemptive social actions.

That's the backstory of the fiction narrative I crafted. 'What Saved Grace?' is now available in all ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble online, iTunes and Smashwords. I hope you'll read it. I think it will challenge--if not change--the way you view compassion and act in caring response to others.

  • Get 'What Saved Grace?' via Smashwords - all ebook formats (Kindle, Nook, etc.)
  • Get 'What Saved Grace?' via Amazon - for Kindle and Kindle apps for smartphones, tablets, PCs and MACs
  • Get 'What Saved Grace?' via Barnes & Noble online - for Nook
  • Get 'What Saved Grace?' for iBooks at the iTunes Store
  • Sorry, 'What Saved Grace?' is not available in print (we'll first see how ebook sales go.)

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Hell and Heaven in a Bowl of Soup

A parable of community's possibilities for all

Not sure where I read this illustration, but I've shared it numerous times in a wide range of settings. It's one of my favorite ways to convey the essence of community.

Hell, it is said, it like a big bowl of delicious soup. The bowl is 6 feet in diameter and people are standing elbow to elbow all around it. Each person has a 4-foot long spoon, which they are dipping into the great-looking, great-smelling soup. But each person around the bowl of soup is emaciated, starving, agitated and angry. Why? Because every time they try to serve themselves, awkwardly attempting to manipulate the spoon back to their mouths, most of the spoonful of nutrition spills back into the bowl in the process.

Heaven, it is said, is the same delicious soup in a 6-foot diameter bowl. All the people, standing elbow to elbow around it, each have a 4-foot long spoon. Each person is well-fed and satisfied, because, instead of trying serve themselves, they are dipping their spoons into the soup and lifting it up to the mouths of those standing on the opposite side of the bowl.

There is plenty of soup for everyone; all we need to be satisfied and know abundance is already present in any community. But we will be satisfied and access that abundance only if we stop trying to serve ourselves and begin to use what we have been given to serve our neighbors--and let them serve us. 

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Community-Building Wisdom of J. Irwin Miller

Why and how we build matters -- more for people and community than for impressions

J. Irwin Miller in his Columbus, Indiana, backyard.
Photo by John Loengard, LIFE, 1967
ARCHITECTURAL GIANT.  Indiana lost a great mind and spirit when J. Irwin Miller died in 2004.  Miller used his influence to shape Columbus, Indiana into an “architectural capital."  Miller's influence is not just in buildings, but in ways of seeing and thinking and caring about people and places and organizations.  The following excerpts are from a speech he gave in Indianapolis about twenty years ago.  This is rich food for thought for community builders.

MAKE THE MOST OF SMALL OPPORTUNITIES.  “Your chance is to be found in a continuing succession of small, manageable events - little opportunities as well as the great ones.  Every time any public building is built, that building is a statement to anyone who uses it, anyone who passes by, as to what this city thinks about itself, what standards it sets for itself, what it aims to be.”

WHAT STATEMENTS DO OUR BUILDINGS MAKE?  “It matters not whether the building be a city hall, a museum, a school, a jail, a fire station, a parking garage, a park, or for that matter, new signage laws, exposed power lines, or the design of benches at bus stops.  Each, for good or ill, makes a statement.”

CREATE ENDURING MESSAGES.  “If the design and construction is clearly aimed to be the best it can be, that message is sent out every day, as long as the building or the park, or the ordinance stands.  If the design is ugly or routine and the construction shoddy, the message is that nobody really cares.  Nothing you do or build is too small or too insignificant not to do well.”

AIM FOR THE BEST EVERY DAY.  “The opportunity to aim for the best we know how to do comes up every year, every month.  The cumulative impact of caring enough to seize each opportunity, great and small, year after year, can change any city for the better within a generation.”

EXCELLENCE IS CONTAGIOUS.  “It does something else too.  It generates among others a desire to aim for the best: Churches build better.  Merchants build better.  The sights of builders of private homes are raised.  Interest in fine parks arises.  Streets become more attractive.  People plant more trees.”

INCIPIENT INFLUENCES.  “And in the invisible --  which maybe is more important in the long run -- determination for better education, for the elimination of crime, and drugs, and poverty, and teen pregnancy is nourished.  Young people aim higher in their own education and life goals.”

THE POWER OF EXAMPLE.  “You may, of course, not see convincing proof in your lifetime.  But, if you believe in the power of example, then you must believe that such an example, begun in many small ways, in deprived even more than in affluent areas, steadily pursued, handed on to succeeding generations, will over time make this a most remarkable city indeed.  You will have made a difference.”

AVOID MANYNESS.  “A few cautions now. And this comes out of my own local experience.  Avoid some of today's common reasons given for support of good design, support of the arts, support of humane projects, many of the ‘good things’ Euripides was thinking of.”

PEOPLE COME FIRST.  “Your concern will fail if it arises primarily because you are convinced it will be ‘good for business.’  It will be good for business, but people come first.  Business exists to serve people, not the other way around.  If ‘good for business’ is your reason, then the first down year in the economy will turn your attention away from such things.  They will be treated as ornaments easily foregone in bad times.”

HANG BEING “NUMBER ONE.”  “Your concern will also fail if it arises primarily because ‘We want to be No. 1.’  When the going gets tough, there is always the temptation to proclaim ‘We ARE No. 1.’  And to turn to matters that require less staying power.”

AVOID COMPARISON-MOTIVATED ACTION.  “Your concern will fail if it arises primarily because you want to say ‘We've got culture too.’  This is operating with your eyes enviously focused on some other fellow - not on the job at hand.”

GOOD FOR EVERYONE.  “Finally -- some encouragement.  Don't look over your shoulder at anyone.  Set your eyes on beginning to make your city a good city for all its members, a "home" for the least as well as for the greatest.  Realize that this goal will not be reached in your lifetime.”

LAY FOUNDATIONS.  “Don't try for instant ‘image.’  Instead emulate the cathedral builders of the 12th Century who were content simply to make great plans and to lay in their lifetimes no more than the footings and foundations.”

CONTINUOUSLY IMPROVE EVERYTHING.  “Next -- never miss an opportunity, however small, in respect to something that is going to be done anyway.  Try to see that it is done better than it would have been done, had you not stepped in.”

ATTACK INJUSTICE.  “Finally, never miss an opportunity to correct an obvious evil, an obvious injustice, great or small.  We approach justice in this world by attacking injustice.  We achieve beauty by attacking ugliness.”

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 

Friday, April 5, 2013

High-yield Investment in Urban Neighborhoods

Dwarfed by money thrown at wars and bailouts, investment in urban communities yields real value

Modest investment in the heart of America's cities and its urban neighbors yields real value--real change, real hope, real progress. Public funds directed here are unimaginably dwarfed by expenditures on recent wars, rebuilding in Afghanistan and Iraq, and bailouts for stockbrokers, banks, the housing market and automakers. The relative fraction that is invested in urban infrastructure and community renewal has a high return on investment—even before one factors in positively changed lives.

One can only imagine what human and economic value might blossom from the heart of our cities if strategic private and public investments were taken to the next level. I'm looking for local leaders in the private, public and nonprofit sectors who readily recognize this—and will move boldly in this direction.

In Indianapolis, a combination of resident-driven planning and public and private investment is reviving urban neighborhoods. Mapleton-Fall Creek, Near Eastside, and Fountain Square areas offer three examples. Given the reality of diminishing levels of direct public funding and a sluggish economy, their revival is something of a small miracle.

But emerging urban neighborhood miracles are not magic. They are the result of an ever-precarious and always-fragile balance of positive factors. Isn’t that what most breakthrough investments are about?

Three critical factors make up this fragile but fruitful balancing act: (1) creative public funding opportunities, (2) grassroots neighborhood planning and decision-making and (3) strategic private partnership and investment.

Creative public funding opportunities

The reality of diminishing levels of direct public funding has fostered creative thinking about the use of limited funds. Highly-valued Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) resources have been reduced. But local efforts to leverage other investment and carefully direct resources to low-income and vulnerable neighborhoods have stretched taxpayer dollars significantly.

One cannot underestimate the valuable impacts of Enterprise Zones, Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Districts and other tax incentives on urban neighborhood development. The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) has worked with local government officials and nonprofit leaders to ensure these initiatives brighten the invitation to significant private investment in Indianapolis’ neighborhoods.

Granted, none of these financing tools is perfect, and sequestration may unnecessarily put them at risk. There is always tension between what is most immediately needed in local neighborhoods and policies developed in Washington, D.C., and managed locally by government structures. A healthy give-and-take relationship among all is essential.

Grassroots neighborhood planning and decision-making

A second factor in high-yield neighborhood investment is grassroots neighborhood planning and decision-making. When and where urban neighbors are valued as stakeholders and invited to identify problems and solutions, the investment yield will be significantly higher.

Within the past six years, in cooperation with the Department of Metropolitan Development and LISC, a handful of Community Development Corporations (CDCs) and community centers facilitated the Greater Indianapolis Neighborhood Initiative (GINI). GINI is a grassroots, neighborhood-specific planning effort focused on Indy’s most vulnerable urban communities. The comprehensive quality-of-life strategies that emerged through GINI chart a clear course for revitalization for each neighborhood area. These quality-of-life priorities and strategies are now being implemented by neighbors and community-based organizations.

Initiatives emerging from urban neighborhood problem solving have power to impact and change macro practices, patterns and norms. Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), an idea fostered by Michael Sherradin in Assets of the Poor, were incubated and developed on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis. In time, IDAs became national policy. Hundreds of low-income neighbors have used this tax-sheltered, matched savings account to gain critically-needed assets--purchase their own homes, complete college or vocational training, or start their own businesses.

In her book Common Purpose, Lisbeth Schorr documents how numerous small, local initiatives that have gone to scale. In each, public funding and private partnership came only after initial, grass-roots successes.

Strategic private partnership and investment

The third factor in high-yield neighborhoods is the development of strategic private partnerships and investment. Once looked to primarily for charitable support of nonprofit organizations or crisis relief, for-profit organizations have become vital partners in urban renewal.

Creative tax incentives for individuals and corporations to invest in urban renewal efforts may have been—and still are—a way to get otherwise disinterested folks involved, but initial participation has moved into strategic partnerships. Businesses have recognized that it is not good business to write off sections of the city—and the patrons who live in them. On the contrary, as they have worked with effective local nonprofits, corporations that once redlined urban neighborhoods are now leading in reinvestment.

The tipping point for corporations to make it worth their interest to invest in urban community development was long in coming. After many years of nonprofits and CDCs pioneering strategies in high-risk areas on shoestring budgets, partnerships with the private sector now flourish. The way is clear for private individuals, small businesses and large corporations to explore direct partnerships with neighborhood-focused nonprofits and utilize an array of tax incentives and public policy programs to engage to revitalize the city as never before.

The quality of life for all residents of a city and metropolitan area is integrally linked to the quality of life in its urban neighborhoods. There, investment in affordable housing, youth outreach, education, effective public safety strategies, parks and recreation, and arts, social and cultural opportunities pay big dividends. I hope you will join other leaders in taking a modest investment in Indianapolis neighborhoods to the next level.

John Franklin Hay

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Few Notes from Easter

Notes I wrote to myself while listening to an Easter Sunday sermon

I don't always write notes during church services, but I usually do. What people sing, say and do during these gatherings trigger lots of thoughts, ideas and reflections in me. They may be related or unrelated to what is going on at the moment. One way I keep from being completely distracted is to jot thoughts down while continuing to listen and engage in all that is transpiring. 

So, this Easter Sunday, I scribbled these thoughts down in my little notebook while taking in the sermon, which, I realized before it was half over, had nothing to do with the Resurrection. Here are my notes, more for my benefit than anyone else's:

For whatever personal emotions and experiences it foments, belief in the Resurrection takes the call to do justice and dismantle domination to a whole new level. Break every chain.

What was small, limited and provincial becomes socially explosive, culturally transformative and uncontainable.

The promise of Resurrection to infuse and empower authentic community building, justice doing and peace making is missed, overlooked, or bypassed in most Easter sermons.

It is just half a Gospel that speaks to and calls for personal forgiveness and new life. Taking it out of its fuller community context and limiting the application of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus to personal salvation misshapes, misspeaks and cheapens the Gospel.

Beyond personal applications, explore the collective power and promise of the Resurrection in the shared life of the followers of Jesus: how does it change how they understand themselves, their understanding of who Jesus was/is, their way of being, their grasp of their mission, their anticipation of the future?

The promise of Resurrection is not as much about personal hope for eternal life as it is about empowerment to challenge death’s living manifestations and do the loving justice Jesus demonstrated--here and now.

Death is manifested in life largely in fallen principalities and powers—idols, ideologies and institutions (Stringfellow)—that pretend to hold ultimate power and demand ultimate allegiances.  Resurrection empowers a frontal challenge to these pretensions.

Resurrection faith offers life and hope in the face of death's assertions, pretensions and raw power. It makes it possible to live in a way that is truly liberating and empowering and that denies death its desperate victories.

Dear pastor friends: The focus of Easter is not about sin and the cross, it is primarily about the empty tomb and risen Jesus.

There is way too much trumped-up sentimentality by church leaders and worship planners regarding Easter. Over-dramatization and hyperbole cheapens the story’s organic power. Let the story speak without embellishment.

Please publicly read the Resurrection narratives in the Gospels. And perhaps at least one Pauline interpretive passage regarding the Resurrection. Don’t assume everyone knows the story—or that you do.

Resurrection is not natural, not part of the ‘cycle of life,’ not comparable to anything we find in the natural order of things. It is not metamorphosis. It is not the Phoenix rising out the ashes. Stop trying to compare it to these. If anything, contrast it to these.

The Resurrection is not something you have to try to prove to anyone. Simply read the story, recognize its power reflected in the lives of the first generation who testified to it, and share stories of its promise in changing lives--and communities--ever since.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA