Friday, April 17, 2015

Moving Toward Community

More than a place, community is a way of relating, caring, belonging, seeing

Whether my daily work has been primarily from within the church or through a community-based organization or initiative directly serving urban neighbors, the movement is the same: moving toward community

Community is the way and the purpose. It is about place, but just as much it is a way of relating, of caring, of belonging, of seeing, of linking arms in common concern and neighborly purpose. 

Community is both the promise of the authentic church and the telos of the best in urban neighborhood development. Without moving toward community, though they invest impressive facilities, neither the church nor community infrastructures will be healthy or healing.

My journey at the intersection of community and church over the past twenty five years has yielded more than a few insights and learnings. Some gleanings are so obvious I couldn't help but "get it." Some lessons have come via the school of hard knocks. Others have been more subtly discerned.

The following list certainly isn't exhaustive, but there is enough behind each pithy statement for an extended conversation among all who seek to encourage and be faithful to community in a variety of settings. I list them in brief, however, to encourage that very conversation.

Take the community into your heart. Make room for it in your dreams--in your imagination, your planning, your time, your range of care, your hope.

Social services, community development and parish ministries impact far beyond those who participate and can be numbered. There is much more than meets the eye, so think, plan and implement that way.

Keep in mind that community is a dynamic and sometimes messy process often fueled by crises.

Community tends to thrive when information is abundant, available, accessible and visible.

Work at connecting people to one another and to readily available resources.

Clarify and often revisit your urban hopes and dreams with your group, neighbors, and larger community.

Identify the unique roles of a particular initiative, group, ministry or congregation in the community mix.

Property values don't make a neighborhood desirable. Rather, it is neighbors who make room for one another and who highly value the very least.

Expect community resources to be fragile and sometimes unhealthy.

Expect to be asked to lead where you have not led before.

Address community structures and systems so that families, congregations and schools can become whole.

Look for opportunities for synergy and synthesis.

Let grace do its work in the disruptions, the uncontrollable and the unexpected.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Monday, April 6, 2015

Practice Resurrection

Wendell Berry coined this phrase in his poignant "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front"

 The phrase "practice resurrection" comes from this poem by Wendell Berry. I like the phrase; it is pregnant with meaning and challenge and hope. Its context in "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" by Berry sets it up:

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

from The Country of Marriage, 1973, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Resurrection, Prejudice and Pride

by Wilfred L. Winget

O Mighty, Holy Breath of God
On this glorious Day of Resurrection
Blow open all the shutters of our minds
bursting the barriers of
  prejudice and pride
  insensitivity and sloth
  ignorance and fear
stretching wide our vision of
  what you are doing
  where you are working
    in our fascinating
    exasperating world.

  Blow wide the doors of our hearts
    impelling us outward to
      the lonely and loveless
      the angry and hopeless
      the empty and faithless
        as ready instruments
        of your Grace.

  Blow up our lungs to keep us shouting
      Yes to Faith in the face of fear
      Yes to Hope in defiance of despair
      Yes to Love in spite of apathy
      Yes to Life in the teeth of death

Through Christ, the Living One,
  Our Lord.

Wil Winget taught at Spring Arbor University until losing a painfully terrible bout with cancer about 30 years ago.  He was brother-in-law to one of my seminary New Testament professors and friend Morris Weigelt, who shared the poem with me.  To me, it captures the breathtaking promise and challenge of practicing resurrection.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Given To

This song has been playing in my head and heart this week

This song was striking to me the first time I heard Marshall Rosenberg sing it plainly on the audiobook of Speaking Peace. Rosenberg isn't much of a singer, but the songs he sings reflect his approach to nonviolent communication quite well. 

Rosenberg's understanding is that giving is very much a part of our nature. In giving to others, we find pleasure and joy. With that, we also experience the joy of willingly being taken from--something that sounds foreign to most ears.

I am aware that I have been given to and that I have taken. I am also aware that I find joy giving and being taken from (most of the time!). Rosenberg has helped me see this as a precious value and practice.

I am also aware of one of the paradoxes of this week which Christians call Holy Week: what is being taken is also being given. "No one can take my life from me; I lay it down."

I never feel more given to 
than when you take from me - 
when you understand the joy I feel 
giving to you. 
And you know my giving isn't done 
to put you in my debt, 
but because I want to live the love 
I feel for you. 

To receive with grace 
may be the greatest giving. 
There's no way I can separate 
the two. 
When you give to me, 
I give you my receiving. 
When you take from me, I feel so 
given to. 

-- "Given To" (1978) by Ruth Bebermeyer from the album, Given To

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA