Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Prayer on the 50th Anniversary of the Dream

I prepared and shared this prayer at Indianapolis' "March for the American Dream" event on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

A dad shares the story of Bobby Kennedy and Martin
Luther King, Jr. at the Kennedy-King Memorial in
King Park, 600 E. 17th Street in Indianapolis.
O God, has it really been 50 years?
Many of us were mere children when Martin shared the Dream.
We weren’t there. But You were.
Clearly, You were there!

Many heard You in Martin’s words.
In his voice was the cry of untold millions who have suffered injustices and longed for freedom.
That day, Martin gave voice to what so many felt in their souls.

We are grateful for his voice for reason, for equality, for unity.
It has shaped our lives and lifetimes in powerful ways.

All of us have been affected by Martin’s Dream.
All of us enter its promise.
All of us share in its story.
All of us see its vision.
All of us respond to its challenges.

We’ve got to confess that we’ve too easily, too frequently wandered from the Dream.
We’ve been distracted and absorbed in self-gratifying pursuits.
We’ve joined in mantras of self-sufficiency instead of recognizing our interdependence and call to community.
We’ve sought our own good at others’ expense.
We’ve looked out for our group when we could have included all.
We’ve clamored in competition when cooperation was needed.
We’ve doubted and blamed and acted destructively toward others and ourselves.
We’ve occasionally despaired of the Dream’s lofty aspirations and settled for smaller, more controllable, more manageable bits of it.
We’ve even pretended that equality has already been achieved and that there’s little more to do.

God, help us.

Forgive us. Help us to forgive one another and move into the reconciliation and solidarity we all share as seekers of freedom.

In spite of our faltering, here we are, still drawn to the Dream.
Still inspired by it.
Still hopeful for it.
Still pressing toward it.
Still ready to sacrifice for it.
Still standing to strive for it together as friend and foe, neighbor and stranger, housed and homeless, straight and gay, progressive and conservative, citizen and resident alien.

As you were with Martin and those hundreds of thousands gathered in Washington on this day 50 years ago, we believe You are with us here today.
Spirit of light and life, as we stand together, we ask You: through our guest speakers, help us make a fresh connection to that historic day.
Spirit of truth and justice, as we listen together, open our ears: help us hear and grasp our local challenges and possibilities.
Spirit of grace and peace, as we labor together, help us work in harmony and common purpose.

As we celebrate a great moment in our history,
Inspire us anew with the Dream.
Help us lend our voices to it.
Help us move it forward.
And instill in us grace and courage to see it through to an enduring future.

Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer. Amen.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Labor Day, Homelessness, and Neighborliness

For many, homelessness begins in the workplace.  It doesn't have to be this way. 

I can't help but connect Labor Day and labor issues to the challenge of poverty and homelessness. For many, poverty and homelessness begins in the workplace. Simply put: many workers can’t afford to live on the wages they receive.

Does the community consider it an injustice when a minimum-wage laborer must work 82 hours a week to afford the average apartment in Indianapolis? Are Hoosier neighbors concerned that many full-time workers cannot afford  market-rate housing? Is it an acceptable ethical practice to build a business plan that counts on hiring most of one’s workforce only part-time to avoid paying benefits and fulfilling obligations required by law for full-time laborers, forcing workers into second and third jobs to try to keep a roof over their heads?

These not-talked-about practices are “Hoosier values” that daily impact many neighbors in Central Indiana. They fly in the face of a national survey that indicates 97% of Americans agree that every worker deserves a livable wage. Not high pay, mind you; not even union-leveraged incomes. But just enough to afford housing and stability. Listening to some local influence groups, however, you’d think the idea of a livable wage was a sinister socialist plot.

A generation ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. observed that "there is nothing except shortsightedness to prevent us from guaranteeing an annual minimum and livable income for every American family."  Shortsightedness--or something a bit more selfish or cynical--apparently continues to determine wage practices and policies today.  Many in the business sector resist paying livable wages and benefits to workers because of the cost and potential loss of jobs.  Yet, few businesses and government policy-makers dare to honestly factor the high economic and human cost of unlivable wages and denial of basic benefits for millions of Americans.

All of us cannot work directly on the issues of poverty and homelessness.  But all of us can advocate for and make available livable wage incomes for laborers wherever possible.  

We can begin by ensuring that workers have a right to form a union and engage in collective bargaining. That's one reason I advocated for the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.  Its passage would have reversed a generation of bullying, intimidation, illegal firings, and manipulation of workers who try to exercise their right to form a union in their workplace.

Aside from collective bargaining, there are various tools and approaches that can bring worker wages--particularly in the unskilled and service industries--into a range in which a person can afford to live on the income for which they labor. One tool is free or low-cost trades and technology education available to every worker or unemployed person desiring it. Another is a living wage covenant supported by communities for all companies doing business within their jurisdictions. Another is to upgrade the earned income or housing tax credit for folks whose incomes amount to less than 200% of poverty. These are just a few possibilities.

Labor practices and livable wages--or a careless disregard for them--impacts the entire community and society. Beyond the very hard impacts on homelessness, health, and survival, labor practices have to do with our very sense of community--with neighbors both near and far. Robert Bellah, leading author of Habits of the Heart and The Good Society writes:

"We are facing trends, particularly downsizing and downgrading the work force, that threaten our basic sense of solidarity with others, solidarity with those near to us (loyalty to neighborhood, colleagues at work, fellow residents of our town or city), but also solidarity with those who live far from us, those who are economically in situations very different from our own, those of other nations."
Isn't it time to reverse this ugly, disintegrating spiral and begin to restore what is fair, what is right, what is just for all who live as neighbors in a common endeavor?  What can you do in your sphere of influence to upgrade hourly workers' wages and make a an important dent in the specter of homelessness and disintegration of community?

Thursday, August 8, 2013


August is less about doing and more about being 

Unlike June and July, August is the least intentional of summer months. Looking forward so much to summer, we schedule vacation, sign up for camps and mark outdoor events on our June and July calendars.  June and July are planned and structured.  We're determined not let summer be wasted.  We go and attend and spend and return.  We pack up and line up and take in and wade in.  Come August, we've accomplished most everything on our summer checklist.

Maybe we're tired enough from doing summer by the time August rolls around that we're actually ready for being summer.  Earnestness fades and we finally relax.  Or, it may be August's heat that saps our strength and will to get up and go. Whatever, it just seems like by mid-August we're in a summer state of mind.

It may last just a few days, this balance between 'been there, done that' and get ready for next and gotta get going.  We're between what's over and what's to come.  Returns to school and the energy of September will quickly impinge upon whatever is left of summer.  But the end of Dog Days offers a short stretch or window of some kind of grace.

The middle of August is less about intending and doing and more about being and observing.  We watch surprise lilies sprout.  We pull ripening tomatoes and pick green beans.  We listen to cicadas in the trees.  We savor a glass of iced tea.  A novel reads itself to us.  We sit in the shade and watch sprinklers water what's left of heat-scorched lawns.

We don’t leave summer completely in August, or at least it doesn’t leave us. It is in August, when the unique experiences and moments of summer begin to be numbered, that we realize that we have been blessed by it. This is the month when we savor summer, linger with its graces. Though September is on the horizon, perhaps the best days of summer are still to come.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA