Thursday, June 26, 2014

Community Lovers

I wrote this in 1996. It's just as valid today.

I started the following poem in 1996. It flows out of my observations of volunteers and community advocates as I worked and served on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis. It reflects some of the urban neighborhood folk—like Ruth Shaw, Jerry King, Merri Anderson, and John Kanouse—who have modeled for me what it means to seek and love community. 

Returning to this poem and the Near Eastside 18 years later, the sprit and truth of this reflection is just as valid. 

Community lovers:
neighbors falling in love
with a hard-to-describe sense of community.

Each expresses it diversely:
one restores a house,
another canvasses door to door,
another finds herself mildly enduring
long meetings to represent her block’s concerns,
another keeps the grapevine fresh with
friendly half-truths about other neighbors,
another braves wind and cold to
help children cross the street.

Sometimes these like-hearted neighbors connect,
but usually they don’t.
The efforts of community lovers are neither
programmed nor orchestrated.
Still, their impact is not lost.

From the four corners of the community
unseen efforts speak for themselves and
buoy fragile neighborhoods,
drive back fear,
instigate change,
engender education,
reduce would-be tragedies,
symbolize hope.

Community lovers do not often get loved back.
Pet programs do not get funded,
ideas get unduly criticized,
surefire solutions die on the vine,
hours of labor get overlooked.

But community lovers are hooked on community;
they love it anyway.
They will find a way
to love,
to serve,
to invest,
to make a difference.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Slipping into Summer

The gear shifts subtly but noticeably and welcomingly

We’re slipping into summer. Can you feel it? Life shifts from overdrive to a lower gear. Though the engine may rev on for a while, everything around us is beckoning: slower, slower, slower.

A DIFFERENT RHYTHM. We’re being coaxed into a season that invites a different rhythm. Instead of pre-dawn rushes to get out to the school bus or off to the clinic and then bracing for a full range of evening activities every weeknight, folks in the Hay household are gradually easing off the accelerator. Mad dashes aren't demanded...for a while, at least.

SUMMER STATE OF MIND. It’s not that there aren’t things to do (thank goodness we haven’t yet heard “I’m bored), it’s that there aren’t so many things scheduled so tightly, so early, so conflictingly. It’s a welcome break, even if it’s still a pressing pace that would leave most folks weary by midweek. Becky's able to spend the time she'd like working around the yard. The kids sit around the glow coming from the backyard fire pit at dusk. We talk as we kick a soccer ball around a circle. The kitchen is a gathering place of friends and, with it, necessary clutter. The grill, unused for the past eight months, is getting a workout. And even our summer-long family project—getting ready for Abby’s August wedding—seems more manageable in a summer state of mind.

WALK IN STEP WITH SUMMER. We’re slipping into summer. I perceive this as a good thing. It’s a state of being. It’s a condition of the mind and heart. Not a carelessness, it is more an intentional deliberateness and spacing. It is not taking it easy, but taking time for re-creation, re-formation, restoration, renewal, and relationships. Ignored or resisted in some cultures or by some households, I’m convinced that accepting and embracing summer is as important to relationships and health as it is to economies and spirituality. I hope you will recognize summer’s unique graces during these months. Perhaps the breakthroughs long-worked for will emerge serendipitously, surprisingly, graciously as you walk in step with summer.

[I wrote this in 2008]

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Keep Holy Cross Open

My letter to Indianapolis Archbishop Tobin

Dear Archbishop Tobin,

Greetings. I am writing in hopes that you will consider the positive community impact of the Holy Cross Parish and the loss of this, should you follow through on your decision to close it.

Both as a Protestant pastor and as a community leader, I have served Near Eastside neighbors and neighborhoods since 1987. My encounters with and work alongside Holy Cross Parish members and church leaders in compassion and social change efforts has been a constant testimony to Christ’s visible presence in our community. It is as if the congregation’s unique spirit has faithfully, extraordinarily produced fruit in neighbors loving mercy and doing justice in this particular place.

I now serve as Executive Director of Near East Area Renewal (NEAR), a nonprofit community development corporation (CDC) that develops community as we create great places for neighbors. After many years of decline in households and population, the Near Eastside—and particularly the near-downtown, west end of it—is beginning to increase in a diverse income and cultural mix of households. Properties have stabilized and new investments are being made. NEAR has restored or built 60 houses in the past three years in St. Clair Place neighborhood, just north of Holy Cross. We are currently working on 16 more houses for homeownership. There is every indication that renewal of the Near Eastside will be a developing urban story over the next decade. Please consider this as part of your strategic thinking about whether or not to dissolve the faith community that is in the heart of this.

The Near Eastside community is blessed by the diversity and uniqueness of both Holy Cross and St. Philip Neri Parishes. Those of us who serve in the community readily recognize their distinct separate contributions. Though less than two miles apart, in a dense matrix of urban neighborhoods, they stand like two pillars of faith in our community—anchors, as it were, of community life. The Near Eastside is enriched by each in very different ways. We hope they will both continue to serve and flourish in the years ahead.

As you are faced with difficult decisions for the sake of administrative efficiency, please consider again options other than closing Holy Cross Parish. Perhaps this period of consideration will spark enough soul-searching and surface enough expressed value in and for Holy Cross that it may become a catalyst for the congregation’s own renewal. I hope so.

Grace and peace,

John Franklin Hay, D. Min.
Executive Director

Near East Area Renewal

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Sunday, June 1, 2014


I'm learning to sail in the self-taught school of sailing. It is exhilarating.

I'm learning to sail. This is something I've always wanted to do, something children who live on lakes or by an ocean learn before puberty, and something, as a 55-year-old novice, I am taking on as a later-life challenge.

I feel a bit foolish out there--this greying pilot plowing a 14-foot Sunfish--an entry-level trainer--across nearby Eagle Creek Reservoir, trying to work the angles, feel the wind, adjust the sail, practice smooth turns, and generally avoid capsizing too often. Others in my age range sail by on 25-foot cruisers trimmed perfectly to catch the wind. No matter: I'm determined first to become safe, then good, then very good at sailing.

There appears to be no sailing school around these parts at this time. So, I checked sailing books out of the public library and watch instructional videos on YouTube. I'm teaching myself how to sail, hoping I don't pick up too many bad habits before some seasoned sailor can properly show me the ropes.  At this point, I'm going by the book, but already understanding that part of sailing relies on feeling, sensing, and being nimble to respond to the wind, sail, land, and other boats.

This all started while riding bikes with my friend Rabbi Aaron Spiegel. Somehow, we got to talking about the wind as we rode along and I said I'd like to learn to sail. "I have a Sunfish and I will give it to you, " he said. "I have a bigger sailboat I keep at Eagle Creek and I never use the Sunfish. You can have it." So, I gratefully received it and have been spending a few hours out on it whenever I get a chance.

Aaron showed me his sailboat. It is named "Ruach." "That's Hebrew for 'Wind,' 'Spirit of God,'" I said. "Yep," he affirmed. "You're one of only a few who knows what that means."

"What do you suggest I call the Sunfish?" I asked him. "Call it 'John's Folly,'" Aaron quipped. Sounds good. John's Folly it is.

I lean back against the wind, holding the tiller in one hand and the mainsail rope in the other, feeling the wind tug at the sail and listening to the bow of the boat cut through the water. It's an incredible feeling. No gasoline-powered engine is propelling me; the wind is silently drawing me forward across the lake.

At this point, I'm most fascinated by sailing into the wind. Upwind sailing relies on the same principle that airplane wings use for lift. But instead of a horizontal lift, a sailboat uses vertical lift. Sailing into the wind at either 10 o'clock or 2 o'clock at the maximum possible speed requires sailing on an invisible edge. If I head too directly into the wind, the sail luffs and I lose power. If I head too far away from it, the boat slows. I'm learning to find the immediate wind direction by sensing its pressure on my ears and then guiding the boat to the best 10 or 2 o'clock angle--and then clipping along.

I'm also trying to be more courageous to let the wind take the boat more to one side and lean completely back and out on the other side to keep it balanced enough to sail fast without capsizing. I confess, this is the most exhilarating and fearful part of sailing for me so far.

I've got a lot to learn about sailing. Mostly, I read and then try out on the lake what I read in the books or see in the video demonstrations. Who knows, I may become a decent sailor in a few years. Until then, just steer clear when you see me coming.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA