Friday, December 20, 2013

A Season of Community Hope

Hope takes on a variety forms in our urban neighborhood

Formerly abandoned houses that the nonprofit I lead --
Indy-east Asset Development -- has lovingly restored
in the St. Clair Place neighborhood.
Clearly, it’s Christmastime in the city and throughout Near Eastside neighborhoods. Today, I enjoyed a walk through the snow in Spades Park along Pogue’s Run. I reflected on this season of hope in our community.

Hope is seeded in a church basement full of neighbors on a cold night for the quarterly Near Eastside Quality of Life Summit--expressing support for promoting early childhood education, making the neighborhood more responsive to folks grappling with reentry, exploring reuse of an industrial brownfield for solar energy to power a neighborhood, and empowering diversity in neighborhood leadership.

Hope is expressed in the passion and planning to redevelop a two-mile section of a major urban corridor. ReEnergize East Washington Street--spearheaded by Joe Bowling and supported by I AD and LISC--maps forward-looking design and economic development strategies that can revitalize this heavily-traveled route.

Hope is traced in the engineering now underway to create the Pogue’s Run Trail, bringing more walkability, green space access, and recreation to Near Eastside neighbors in 2014. Pogue’s Run Trail will start on E. 10th St. at Commerce Ave. and run northeast through Spades Park and Brookside Park. Eventually, it will wind southward through Cottage Home and Holy Cross neighborhoods and connect to downtown.

Hope is felt in the warmth of hospitality offered and conversation shared in Near Eastside eateries like Tin Comet Coffee and Tlaolli Tamale restaurant (both new in 2013), along with Pogue’s Run Grocer, La Parada, and Tick Tock Lounge (rebooted with an upgrade).

Hope is visualized with I AD’s construction on six houses in St. Clair Place--restoration work that paves the way for new home-owning neighbors in the first half of 2014. It’s in the planning underway to continue renewal in St. Clair Place throughout 2014 and in exploration for development in more neighborhoods.

Hope is in the promise of renewal, even during these colder, darker days of winter. Thanks for your part in engaging in acts of hope—engagement, hospitality, care, investment, visioning, planning, and restoration with us. May we together carry this forward to fruitful reality in our Near Eastside community throughout 2014.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Risk of Birth

An Advent poem by Madeleine L’Engle

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honor and truth were trampled by scorn –
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn –
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

from Watch for the Light, an excellent collection of Advent and Christmas essays and poems by Plough Publishing

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Monday, December 16, 2013

Advent, Empire, and Seeing Angels

What happens when we locate Nativity among displaced aliens surviving at the margins of empire?

Context is everything. Without it, a basic grasp of Nativity--then and now--is lost. But what happens when we locate the story among displaced aliens surviving at the margins of empire? That's what Dorothee Soelle notices and comments on in this piece in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (Plough Publishing, 2001). Soelle writes:

"How and under what conditions had people lived then in Galilee? Political oppression, legal degradation, economic plunder, and religious neutrality in the scope of the religio lictia ('permitted religion') were realities that the writer Luke kept in view in his story, which is so sublime and yet so focused on the center of all conceivable power."

"At last I saw the imperium from the perspective of those dominated by it. I recognized torturers and informers behind the coercive measure, 'All went…to be registered' (v. 3). Finally I comprehended the peace of the angels 'on earth' and not only in the souls of individual people. I understood for the first time the propaganda terms of the Roman writers who spoke of pax and jus when they really meant grain prices and militarization of the earth known at that time (all this can be confirmed by research today)."

"Of course my rereading was politically colored. I too was surrounded by propaganda ('freedom and democracy'). While in the narrative I heard the boot of the empire crush everything in its way from Bethlehem to Golgotha, I saw the carpet bombings in the poor districts of San Salvador right behind the glittering displays on Fifth Avenue in New York..."

"In Paul, the causes of misery are called the reign of sin. Without understanding this imperium ('reign') in its economic and ecological power of death, we also cannot see the light of Christmas shine. Living in the pretended social market economy, we do not even seem to need this light!"

"Whoever wants to proclaim something about this light has to free the stifled longing of people. An interpretation of the Bible that takes seriously concrete, everyday human cares and does not make light of the dying of children from hunger and neglect is helpful in this regard. By showing up the incomparable power of violence in our world today, it deepens our yearning for true peace."

"Luke refers to the praxis of transmission and proclamation. The frightened shepherds become God’s messengers. They organize, make haste, find others, and speak with them. Do we not all want to become shepherds and catch sight of the angel? I think so."

"But without the perspective of the poor, we see nothing, not even an angel. Yet, when we approach the poor, our values and goals change. The child appears in many other children. Mary also seeks sanctuary among us. Because the angels sing, the shepherds rise, leave their fears behind, and set out for Bethlehem, wherever it is situated these days."

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Unsettling Advent

Advent is more likely to unsettle and upset before it is embraced as hopeful and transformative
"He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty." - 
Luke 1:51-53 

As we move through the weeks of Advent, I am aware that the news in the Gospels is--or should be received as--unsettling, unnerving, threatening, undermining, dangerous and ultimately unraveling for those invested in the domination system that is America's stock in trade.

It is the good news/bad news that judges the proud,
those who take advantage of others,
who use people,
who exploit "markets" (as if they didn't involve real people),
who enslave via interest-laden debt,
who control via pressure politics and intimidation,
who deny equal opportunities,
who set the rules for advantage of the rich,
who turn the other way when they are aware of injustice,
who measure only by efficiencies,
who act on the misshapen principle "might makes right,"
and who justify any means by the ends they produce.

In this light, it is not so easy to sing Christmas carols blithely, disconnectedly, nostalgically, naively.  Instead, a chill runs through me as I sing "the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ."  Or, "chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother, and in his name all oppression shall cease."

Advent, instead of being a sweet comfort for the American church, is a direct confrontation with its embrace and sanctification of the status quo of domination, of empire--however unwittingly we may do so.  Advent is a most unsettling season.  Buckle your seat belts.  Who knows where this wild ride ends?

Graphic is by Jan Richardson at The Advent Door

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA