Thursday, January 30, 2014

City Call

"Find your own Calcutta." -- Mother Teresa

Young people go
around the world
to be in mission,
and yet it is 

around the corner.

Is there not a cry
for love here?
Is there not a plea
for real relationship here?

Is there not injustice and poverty
amid privilege and wealth?
Is there not a dearth of advocates 

and bearers of grace?
Is there not enough heartache
on this block to move us
to our knees?

Then why seek to
the ends of the earth?
Look near!
Hear the call of the city,
the beckon to these 

urban neighborhoods.

Go! Cross the street!
Find Christ.

Find mission.
Find life
in this city.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Monday, January 20, 2014


Inspiring, admired pulpit orator or street-level change agent?

OUT OF THE PULPIT. Most images of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday the nation observes today, depict the pastor/civil rights leader behind a pulpit or before a great throng of adoring people. The monument to him in Washington, D.C., depicts him in a suit with his arms folded. But I prefer the more rare pictures of this Christian minister being manhandled, hand-cuffed, or intimidated by local government authorities serving vested, bigoted white interests.

POWER IN THE STREETS. King's witness and power come as much from his stand in the streets with unnamed people with whom he identified and for whom he gave his life as from his pen and pulpit. My favorite photo of King was taken in 1958 in Montgomery, Alabama. In it, sheriffs are twisting the minister’s arm behind his back and forcing his head down onto a counter while his wife, Coretta, looks on. He was arrested for "loitering"; the charge was later changed to "failure to obey an officer."

PASTOR [GASP!] ARRESTED. This image of King and others like it were intended to scandalize him, to discredit him in the eyes of most people who do not think a pastor should stoop to disobeying governmental authorities. Instead, such photos called attention to unjust authority and corruption. Question: when was the last time we read of a Christian minister being arrested for any issue of peace and justice? Plenty of ministers have been arrested for fraud or other immoral behavior. But help me recall those who have so irked the powers that be regarding peace and justice that the fallen principality we call "government" has had the audacity to lay hands on them? I know of only one: Darren Cushman-Wood, a United Methodist Pastor in Indianapolis who works with labor initiatives in Indianapolis. I applaud his efforts. He has inspired me to lay aside my own reticence for the sake of justice for all.

STATE OF THE DREAM. King’s dream of a nation of races reconciled, diversity embraced, and poverty rolled back gets mixed reviews today, at best. True, Americans who voted in 2008 elected Barack Obama as President. Still, fear, hatred and "tolerable" levels of oppression fester beneath a relatively smoother social surface. Civil rights and equal opportunity still do not come voluntarily. They must be articulated, demonstrated, and enforced--particularly in the face of a conservative Supreme Court that continues to bleed away their power. Those who voted for George W. Bush, who promised to install judges to uphold “conservative moral values,” unwittingly voted to install jurists who have proven records of rolling back civil rights and civil liberties for people of color. As if that is not a moral value?

VIETNAM AND IRAQ. Each MLK Day since George W. Bush attacked Iraq under false pretenses, the thought occurred to me that King would have not been silent about or acquiesced to the Iraq War. Based on his outspoken perspective on the Vietnam War (a perspective largely based on that war’s impact on poverty and economics), I doubt many would want to hear what Martin Luther King, Jr. would have had to say about the Iraq War. King’s stand against Vietnam was very unpopular. Some of his close associates felt he should not speak out against it. But his last speech on April 3, 1968 was a vow to stand solo, if need be, as a black civil rights leader against war. I know of only handful of pastors who have spoken against the Iraq War or any other. Fewer still who take it to the streets.

WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR? The image of a pastor--white, black, Latino, etc.--in American society is too closely associated with a suit in the pulpit. Let us not mistake our call to interpret and articulate prophesies as being prophetic. Let us not think we have delivered our soul when we have delivered our sermons. Let us not accept a generous paycheck from a congregation that buys clergy silence and keeps pastors on the sidelines of unjust and pressing local, national and world events. Let us put our words into action. Let our calling be expressed fully--in action, in solidarity, in the messiness of community conflict, in speaking truth to power (and not just from behind the pulpit). Jesus points the way. Martin contemporized Jesus' precedent. What are we waiting for?

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How My Cycling Has Evolved

I ride three bicycles, but now ride one much more than the others. What's happening to me?

Three bikes hang in my garage. I use all of them. But I use one more than the other two these days. It’s not the one I imagined riding the most. Five years ago, I would have been embarrassed to be seen riding a bike like it, much less own one.

First, there’s my road bike. It used to be an aluminum Cannondale--a classic beauty from 1989. I rode several wheelsets off that thing. I suppose that blue Cannondale represents my entrance into serious bicycling. I’ll call it my Lycra-wearing, wanna-be-racer stage. Or, my Tour de France mania stage. I’m not completely over it.

In what now appears to be the waning years of my road cycling enthusiasm, I gave my Cannondale to a relative and purchased a carbon fiber frame. My Orbea Orca is light as feather, stiff as a board (beats me to death), and flies up hills. It’s a thrill to ride, but I just don’t ride it much anymore.

Second, there’s my mountain bike. Right in the middle of my road bike romance, mountain bikes emerged. At first, I scoffed at them; they were beneath me. Then, I rode one. On a dirt trail. In the woods. Up steep hills. Over small drop-offs. On the edge of cliffs. Into and out of places a road bike would never go. I was in love. After I bought a Raleigh M-80 in 1997, I didn’t get back to my road bike for nearly a year. It was on my Raleigh that I took a big tumble and ended up with 19 fractures…but was back on the same bike and trail within four months!

For about fifteen years, I switched back and forth between road cycling and mountain biking. Annually, I strapped both road bike and MTB to the top of my VW and headed to West Virginia for a week. Half the time, I’d seek out curvy, hilly roads for my road bike. The other half of my days in the Mountain State, I’d wrestle my mountain bike through some of the most challenging and breathtaking trails I’ve ever encountered. I was a happy camper.

Then, in 2007, I got the opportunity to join small group on a cross-country ride through India. For the 2,000-mile trek, I picked up a used Cannondale touring bike. It was my first experience of riding at anything other than breakneck speeds on the open road. With my traveling companions, we loaded our bikes down with fenders, racks, and panniers. International riding called for a bell and a mirror. And Lycra was just too hot for India (and, later, Vietnam and Kenya).

In India, it took me three weeks and 1000 miles before I got used to riding slower—and not wanting to curse it. My internal road-biking engine was set for riding at 18-24 mph, but the day-long, 70-100 miles-a-day touring pace was closer to 12-16 mph. I still wince at my rude protestations to my traveling companions about their turtle-like pace. My companions included several Indian riders who all seemed locked into a 12 mph cadence, no matter what the terrain or which way the wind was blowing.

I finally let go of my need to ride fast. And, when I did, I began to enjoy other aspects of riding my bicycle. I noticed more about the country, the people, my companions, and what was going on inside me. I relaxed a bit and stopped being such an intense nutcase (or less of one). I started to enjoy the ride for the ride. That was my breakthrough. I still can and do ride fast on my road bike. But, more frequently, I ride a bit slower and with a different mindset and heart-set on another kind of bike.

Enter my touring bike stage. That’s the third bike that hangs in my garage—though it hangs less and is ridden more.  After I returned from my third international bike ride, my local bike shop guru, Chris Wiggins, suggested I might want to try a Surly Trucker Deluxe for my next chapter of cycling.

I took his advice. I was less interested in the Surly culture (yes, there IS a distinctive Surly culture!) and more interested in the fact that the Deluxe frame unbolts in half and the whole bike can be carried in a suitcase to be checked as baggage—the end of exorbitant fees for bike cases on flights. Chris also talked me into a leather Brooks saddle, which, at the time, seemed like an unnecessary luxury, but has become the best component decision I ever made.

My Trucker, for its extra weight, is a smooth, comfortable ride. I commute with it as often as possible—a 30-mile round-trip ride. I commuted 86 days in 2013. I've also taken the Surly with me on flights to California and Florida. I’ve added fenders, racks, panniers, a bell, lights, and—God forbid—a kickstand. I’ve shed tight Lycra for more common clothing. I care less now whether or not I’m wearing technically correct or brand-flashing gear. I’m going for functional. Is it warm enough? Is it comfortable? Is it suitable for transitioning at work?

What’s happened to me? My biking preferences and habits are evolving. Maybe I’m just getting older. Maybe my values are changing. Maybe I’m looking for a different experience or outcome in cycling. Maybe all of the above. All I know is, I still enjoy riding my road bike fast, still like galloping my mountain bike through wooded trails, but I love cranking my touring bike along an urban bike lane or on a cross-country excursion.

Above all, I can’t wait to get on one of these bikes again tomorrow.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Reengaged Blogger

Not sure if this is a warning or promise, but I intend to write more in 2014

I confess to having become a lazy or preoccupied or distracted blogger/writer (or all of the above) over the past few years. More than I feel good about, I’ve edited and reposted previously posted original work. When I search my soul on this, it seems okay, but just okay. Like coasting or half-powering along on my bicycle; not idle, but not digging new wells or plumbing the depths of what’s going on internally and externally.

I’ve decided to try to reengage with blogging, posting a bit less of what others are thinking and writing that I find fascinating. I will try to post a bit more of my own processing of life and grace between the lines and in the margins--what happens while life happens. That’s what I set out to do years ago, anyway. A decade of Indy Bikehiker posts have been logged (wear yourself out with the archives; there's enough there to condemn me of whatever) with some years leaner or fuller than others. I intend to write more in 2014.

In defense of leaning out my posts, to be honest, I almost completely stopped writing here. A lot of bloggers went strident, partisan, and populist. I got drawn into that a few times. It felt shallow. Also, I got embarrassed by the raw, unfinished nature of much of what I’ve posted. Most of what I post is embryonic—just an idea in early development, a notion, a hunch, a feeling being explored, poems in process. I feel exposed here. So, I stopped posting what didn't seem complete or more fully developed. That was a mistake, I see now. Writing is a bit like grace: you can’t orchestrate or control it or make it fit your sense of readiness or perfect timing; you can’t mete it out for maximum effect.

An odd thing about grace is that it is also a bit raw. That’s why we miss it much of the time. We’re looking for it as a finished product, a packaged deal, an attractive thing with well-turned phrasing or thorough documentation or unassailable assertions or sacred sanction. More often than not, grace defies all these. It erupts in a moment, it serendipitously infiltrates a conversation, it whisks us in a different direction than we expected an encounter to go, it undermines our if-only and here’s-why justifications and self talk. Grace happens right when needed and refuses to be captured into a program or regimentation. It's usually already passed us when we realize it for what it is.

So, once again hanging appearances and checking my petty fears, I intend to begin again to jot down on the fly when, where, and how I am graced by grace or see others graced by grace—particularly grace between the lines. That seems to be a knack for me: getting the opportunity to recognize grace at work where officialdom either doesn’t acknowledge its possibility or isn’t actively looking.

I'm sure I will continue my occasional rants (these, too, I’ve squelched for embarrassment at their one-sided or narrow-minded perspective), but what I intend more than anything else is to reflect on the grace I see in the routine, ordinary stuff of my life in the unique mix of places, people, community, and opportunities I’m privileged to continuously enjoy.

Not sure if this seems more like a warning or promise to Indy Bikehiker readers. Maybe both. For me, it’s promising, for it reflects a bit more authentically the shared journey.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Beatitudes for the New Year

They may not qualify as resolutions, but the Beatitudes invite us to radical living in the New Year

Thinking about New Year's resolutions, I somehow leapt to the Beatitudes, that list of eight striking "blessings" or "attitudes" (or whatever they are) that Jesus shares (Matthew 5:1-12).  I am mulling over whether or not the Beatitudes qualify as resolutions.  I don't think they do, per se, but the New Year certainly offers an opportunity to consider embracing their challenges as an invitation to radical living today.

Here are the Beatitudes:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

A few reflections as I think about the Beatitudes in light of New Year's resolutions:

1. They go to the heart of what Jesus said and lived.

2. A Beatitude is likely to be considered a "blessing" only when we have lived through the tough circumstances to which it is a gracious response.  When we respond in Beatitude responses, we will know we have embraced them.

3. The Beatitudes are radical. They go to the heart of our deepest passions and life circumstances.  They point to gut-wrenching realities of life: poverty and emptiness, loss and grieving, powerlessness and social contempt, spiritual hunger and yearning for right to prevail, seeing needy persons being treated unjustly and neglected, bitter division and violence, religious persecution, insults, gossip, and false accusations.  It seems to me that only heaven-borne grace can conceive of and make possible the radical outlook and actions described in the Beatitudes.

4. It’s one thing to learn the Beatitudes, to have memorized them and to be able to quote them.  This is often as far as it goes in Christian catechism or Sunday School.  But, like the Ten Commandments or the Lord’s Prayer, familiarity does not mean we understand them or joyfully cultivate them as a heart and life orientation beyond a merely formal and legal application.  Compliant and eager to be an ideal Christian as I was as a child, I remember inwardly revolting at most of the Beatitudes.  It was easier to just recite them and keep them as stained glass phrases.  As I have continued to revisit them, my understanding and appreciation has increased, but they are no less challenging five decades later. 

5. The Beatitudes run counter to American machismo and status quo.  They unsettle presumptions of consumer Christianity.  On the surface, the Beatitudes seem to be a set-up for certain failure in a society that apparently rewards rugged individualism, conformity to sameness, upward mobility, the appearance of mental or physical toughness, and a thoroughly materialistic and self-indulging orientation to value and action.  Dig deeper in the Beatitudes and it gets increasingly difficult to straddle kingdoms.  What emerges is that Jesus actually declares people blessed whom Western civilization has over the millennia come to despise or disparage.  The rest of Jesus’ ministry is, in one way or another, verification that his is an upside down kingdom, an invitation to downward mobility, and an lifting up of all who sorrow, who are relegated to the margins.

6. Above all, the Beatitudes call for what Brennan Manning calls “ruthless trust.” Because the blessedness or results described in the Beatitudes seem so far-fetched or distant, they call for ruthless trust in the invitation, worldview, Kingdom order, and certain future Jesus describes.  As Manning puts it: “Faith in the person of Jesus and hope in his promise means that his voice, echoing and alive in the Gospels, has supreme and sovereign authority over our lives.”  Does it get any more radical than that?

It seems appropriate to consider the Beatitudes on the first day of the New Year.  While we wish each other a Happy New Year, we might do better by offering each other a prayer for Beatitude grace.  May we receive the ruthless trust to see them come to fruition in our hearts, lives, and world.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA