Friday, December 22, 2017


These four stories help me get over gift anxiety 

GIFT ANXIETY  What shall I give?  Will it be enough?  Will it be right?  Will it be what my loved ones desire?  Will they be pleased?  Such thoughts go through my mind as I think about gift-giving.  I scroll through online items and walk the aisles of stores with questions circling.  You do this, too?  We're not alone.  

Some of my favorite imaginative Christmas stories and songs revolve around gift anxiety--and its resolution.  Leaving alone the more perplexing story woven in the Twelve Days of Christmas song, you may know the following stories quite well.  I recall them here and set them in context of this question: what is an adequate gift?

LITTLE DRUMMER  The most popular of the stories I have in mind is embedded in the song, "The Little Drummer Boy."  It sings first-person of a little boy who has nothing he thinks is fit to bring to the baby who is born to be the King.  "I have no gift to bring," he sighs.  He decides—innocently, naively, hopefully—to offer the only thing he has or can do: he will play his drum the very best he can for Jesus.  In the song, the baby Jesus smiles at him as he plays.  The gift is adequate.

LITTLEST ANGEL  "The Littlest Angel" is a familiar childhood story about a troublesome little angel who, learning that God's Son is to be born on earth, manages to hide away such common things as a butterfly, a bird’s egg, stones, his favorite dog’s collar in a rough-hewn box--things that he loved as a little boy on earth—to offer the Christ child.  His items, however, pale grossly in comparison to the other angels' magnificent, shining gifts.  He feels humiliated and runs to hide.  But, to his surprise, his choices are things the little boy Jesus relates to and loves.  As the Christ child looks approvingly upon his gift, it rises and transforms to become the star above the stable, giving light to all.

GIFT OF THE OF MAGI  "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry is the touching story of a young couple with very limited resources trying to offer each other a significant gift at Christmas.  Unbeknown to each other, they sacrifice the best they have for the other's best. She sells her beautiful long hair so she can purchase a golden chain for her lover's valuable watch. He, in turn, pawns his cherished timepiece to buy a golden comb for her beautiful hair.

IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER  Christina Rossetti’s carol "In the Bleak Midwinter" concludes with a verse that compellingly underscores the only adequate gift we really bring is the gift of our heart: “What can I give Him, Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part. Yet what I can I give Him--Give my heart.”

GIFTS WE RECEIVE  Christmas is really not about what you can give to Jesus or to others. It is about what God has given to us. All our gift giving is a simply response to and reflection of this gift. Whatever it is you choose to give to others, let it be joyfully and from a grace-gifted heart.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Future

The Future

By Wendell Berry

For God’s sake, be done
with this jabber of “a better world.”
What blasphemy! No “futuristic”
twit or child thereof ever
in embodied light will see
a better world than this.
Do something! Go cut the weeds
beside the oblivious road. Pick up
the cans and bottles, old tires,
and dead predictions. No future
can be stuffed into this presence
except by being dead. The day is
clear and bright, and overhead
the sun not yet half finished
with his daily praise.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Monday, October 2, 2017

Welcome, Autumn

I love autumn. I'm always looking for writings and poetry about the season. I've found quite a few that I've shared on this indybikehiker blog over the years. Word search "autumn" on my blog and see what all turns up.

The following poem will show up frequently. I wrote it in 2006 and I've posted it every autumn since. It's my personal celebration of this season and my nudge to every reader to embrace its possibilities.

On the brink of autumn,

A hint of chill in the air,
The sun’s setting sooner,
In a few days we’ll be there

Where green turns to golden
And reapers harvest the yield,
Where dry leaves are falling
And flocking fowl arc the fields.

Then we’ll don our jackets
And brace ourselves for the wind
That rustles through branches
And billows our souls again.

Do not shrink back from fall;
Embrace this gilded season
As a grace that descends;
A gift to all from heaven.

It’s time for returning,
For in-bringing and burning,
For heart walks in deep woods,
For distilling, discerning.

What’s muddled becomes clear
And all chaff is left exposed
As autumn’s sun glows bright
And a harvest moon shines cold.

We may shed pretenses
And travel a lighter way
Our hearts as crisp as leaves
That lift and then sail away.

As we are being turned,
Turn—facing all the changes,
The falling, the cooling,
And the encroaching darkness.

Lean into the season
Lest it overtake your way.
Let your soul be opened;
Relish its gift this fall day.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Monday, July 3, 2017


A tribute to daily actions of ordinary citizens that promote American-style freedom


I feel a deep gratitude for American-style freedom and for those who have thought, deliberated, lived and died to frame, preserve, and advance it.  The fact that I feel, simultaneously, that certain domestic and international policies and actions are not in American freedom’s best interest does not negate my gratitude or reduce my sense of patriotism.  Nor does it mean I write a blank check and cast a rubber-stamp vote for everything my government--in any of its three branches and myriad bureaus--does in the name and for the sake of America and freedom.  It is one thing to be grateful and patriotic, it is another to be gullible and naïve.


I try to keep in mind that freedom is bigger than any Presidential administration.  America is greater than a duly elected Congress.  The Constitution stands above any appointed Court.  The soul of America is deeper than policies conceived and implemented through layers of bureaucracy.  Its spirit is broader than what can be expressed by any region, state, or local community.  For this reason, and for the fact that pride and prejudice is ever present and must be grappled with in each generation, it is prudent to be vigilant against directives and decisions that appropriate the term “freedom” but do not necessarily embody and advance it for all.


I saw this quote etched in stone at a monument in Washington, D.C.: “Freedom isn’t free.”  So it isn’t.  That doesn’t necessarily mean its only cost is blood and that the primary manner of preserving freedom is war, the threat of violence, preemptive attacks on rogue regimes which American administrations suspect, or the deployment and ever-increasing funding of a bloated military at the expense of local community creativity and our most vulnerable citizens.  The fact that freedom has occasionally been preserved by unavoidable war does not mean that war is the primary and celebrated cost of freedom.


I write this, having visited Arlington National Cemetery, where tombstones in the shape of Crosses and Stars of David line the hills as far as the eye can see—each representing a life given for American freedom.  I write this, having visited the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, The Lincoln Memorial, and the World War II Memorial.  These lives testify to heroic efforts to preserve American freedom or to win it for those who asked for our help.  But war and the death of soldiers is not the primary way freedom is preserved and promoted.


Freedom is more proactive than an occasional defensive response of protection when it is truly under attack or an aggressive response of preemption when it is perceived to be threatened.  The cost of freedom is a daily vigilance and active exercise of freedom by ordinary citizens.  We mistakenly think that freedom is something won for us by the few who bear arms; in fact, freedom is something willed by the many who confirm its blessing and fuel its light through responsible use of its privileges and responsibilities.


The vigorous and watchful exercise of such freedoms as speech, religion, and one’s vote serve to intensify freedom’s promise and buttress it against would-be detractors.  It takes the vigilance of the citizenry to hold elected and appointed officials accountable to ensure there is freedom from want and freedom from fear.  That “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are not repeatedly abused by the likes of either arrogant Wall Street executives or domestic abusers is far from a given.  Some people and entities will always construe freedom for license and frame liberty in ways to serve themselves at the expense of others.


Nothing short of an attentive, informed, and engaged citizenry willing the best that freedom can mean will prevent genuine freedom from dissipating without a shot being fired or a terrorist attack being launched.  It is possible to wave flags and sing of freedom, all the while speech is curtailed, civil liberties conceded, corporate monopolies on goods and services permitted, equal opportunity redefined, religion regulated, poverty increased, and personal and community security decreased.  Disengagement and apathy are greater threats to American freedom than terrorism or rogue regimes.


When in Washington, D.C. recently, I wanted to see a monument to the average American citizen.  There were monuments to war heroes and esteemed Presidents and national figures.  These are likely all great people and deserving of honor.  But should there not be, in the city of democracy, an unmistakable message to the world that what preserves and promotes freedom and democracy is not so much “great persons” as a great people, not so much war but a vigilant peace, not only the notable actions of a few but the faithful and ordinary actions of the many who choose everyday to make freedom ring true in every community across America?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Adequacy and Change

We are adequate
most of the time,
sometimes less,
occasionally a bit more--
but only occasionally.

More average than
we like to think, we
unwittingly buoy the mean--
contributing to normality’s

But adequacy belies
capacities and gifts
and energies that,
every now and then,
make us extraordinary
for specific challenges,
in particular moments,
within special encounters.

A transcendent cause lifts us,
we rise to an unanticipated crisis,
a deep devotion draws us forward,
we dare to care for neighbors,
we discipline our faculties
to focus upon an inspired goal.

Then adequacy is eclipsed,
normalcy becomes moot,
stability yields to risk,
humanity becomes instrumental
to life-saving ends.

We are capable of adequacy
(and that’s good, that’s laudable),
but also of loving
(and that’s grace, that’s divine).

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Monday, April 17, 2017

Practicing Resurrection

To "practice resurrection" (Wendell Berry's phrase in his 1973 poem 'Mad Farmer Liberation Front') means, to me:
to trust that truth-telling, justice-seeking and system-challenging, though apparently defeated and futile, wins.

to invest in people and places that most have written off, dismissed, bypassed, and left behind.

to challenge foregone conclusions about who is worthy, what is salvageable, where renewal can happen.

to dare to attempt to build community where most have given up and moved on.

to dare to express love and graciousness while others act in fear and express hate.

to reject the death penalty as a legitimate expression of justice and to always seek restorative justice.

to welcome and embrace all whom fear says should be labeled, excluded, expelled.

to accept full forgiveness and offer full forgiveness to hurtful people.

to undermine the ascendency of self-serving, greed-defined market practices with self-giving acts of community and neighborliness.

to say “no" to death in the midst of life; to deny death it’s victory of foregone conclusions.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday Neighborhood Prayer Walk

Here's how we prayer walked our urban neighborhood this Good Friday evening

Let us set out on a walk through our nearby neighborhood, stopping to pray at various points of community pain or hope. We have adapted the Roman Catholic tradition of following the Stations of the Cross as a public expression of faith. Walk and pray with us through our community. We will conclude each prayer with “Lord, in your mercy…” Response: “…Hear our prayer!”

Station 1: People’s Health Center

We pray: We grieve the difficulty our neighbors have getting access to good, affordable health care. We are grateful for People’s Health Center and Healthnet. We pray healing wisdom for all doctors, nurses, technicians, and staff who serve our neighbors here.

Station 2: St. Clair Senior Apartments

We pray: We grieve the many ways our society disregards and devalues senior adults. We are grateful for the creation of affordable senior adult housing that provides safety and security for many of our retired neighbors and neighbors with disabilities. We pray grace for senior adults—and all who serve seniors in our community.

Station 3: Commercial spaces at St. Clair Senior Apartments

We pray: We grieve the loss and absence of essential economic resources in our community. When basic services and commercial opportunities are missing, the costs to our neighbors are high. We are grateful for faithful and new businesses and services in the area. We pray for expansion and development of local industries and services that will fully occupy available commercial spaces, making good and services readily accessible and affordable to our neighbors.

Station 4: East Tenth Children & Youth Center’s Playground

We pray: We grieve when children are neglected and not given opportunity for early learning, guided care, and safe places to play and grow. We are grateful for East Tenth UMC CYC’s faithfulness to neighborhood children over more than 20 years. We pray wisdom for the staff and provision of generous resources to continue to provide creative and comprehensive care for children infant through pre-K.

Station 5: An abandoned house

We pray: We grieve the irresponsible actions, neglect, and financial problems that bring houses into disrepair, abandonment, and blight. We pray breakthrough in local policies and resources that will challenge blight and bring real estate exploiters and unreachable property owners to accountability and justice. May reinvestment transform abandonment into places of vibrant household living.

Station 6: A substandard rental house

We pray: We grieve the circumstances that prevent people from accessing safe, clean, affordable housing. We grieve property owners and landlords who compromise their dignity and the dignity of renters by providing dismal living conditions. We grieve the crime, illegal drug activity, and prostitution that festers in such settings. We pray for changed hearts of property owners and landlords. We pray watchfulness and wisdom for city health inspectors and law enforcement. And we pray breakthroughs for neighbors caught up in self-defeating lifestyles.

Station 7: A new house and a rehabbed house

We pray: We are grateful for community organizations and local resources that come together to make new and rehabbed houses affordable and available to neighbors. We are grateful for how this begins to revitalize our neighborhood. We pray safety for all construction workers, continued local resources to support this work, and for the families who will soon occupy these homes.

Station 8: A corner where youth are frequently present

We pray: Our hearts go out to all youth—and particularly to young people without caring support at home. We grieve the shortage of engaging initiatives and safe, supportive places where youth can grow without the undue risks of street life. We are grateful for places like the Boner Fitness & Learning Center at the Chase Legacy Building and City Life Youth Drop-in Center that offer help and hope. We pray new and more opportunities for youth in our community. And we pray that young people will be kept safe and find purposeful places of belonging and development.

Station 9: A pocket park

We pray: We grieve the sparseness of green spaces and play places across our community. We are grateful for the emergence of pocket parks and local playgrounds where children and families can safely walk and play. We pray breakthrough for plans for a new neighborhood park that will be fully equipped as a place for neighbors to enjoy green space and gather.

Station 10: An IndyGo Bus Stop

We pray: We are grateful for the provision of transit services in our community that provide mobility to thousands of neighbors each day. We are grateful for the promise of upgraded services. We pray safety and accessibility for all neighbors who use our city’s transit network to navigate to and from work and needed services each day.

Station 11: The Jefferson Apartments

We pray: We grieve the often high cost of rental housing for many of our lower income neighbors. We are grateful for the provision of affordable multi-family housing facilities like The Jefferson Apartments. We are grateful for the connection to services and homeownership readiness that residents can access. We pray peace upon each household dwelling in these apartments and condominiums.

Station 12: John Boner Neighborhood Center

We pray: We are grateful for the presence and range of services provided through the John Boner Neighborhood Center—from senior services to job training to emergency assistance offered to neighbors. We pray generous support for the Center and grace for the staff and volunteers who serve hundreds of neighbors weekly through this place.

Station 13: A rain garden on E. 10th St.

We pray: We grieve the many unsafe sidewalks and streets pedestrians traverse. We are grateful for the investment in the E. 10th Street streetscape, with its trees, rain gardens, and safety features. We pray safety for all who travel these sidewalks and streets each day.

Station 14: East Tenth United Methodist Church

We pray: We are deeply grateful for th presence and service of this congregation for over 100 years on this street and in this community. We pray continued faithfulness, foresight, and Spirit-guided care to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this place—both now and for the future.

There is so much more for which to pray--and to shape our prayers into actions of investment and service and advocacy.

Look around your community, your neighborhood. For what can you give thanks? For what can you intercede? How can you make a difference with your resources?

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Revisiting Wendell Berry's Poem 'Look Out' in the Shadow of Trump's Regime

I first posted this in 2008. As we face the specter of the Trump regime's rollback of essential environmental protections for the sake of exploiting fossil fuels for sheer greed, it seems just as apropos.

Wendell Berry challenges us to see and enact a different way forward.

This poem by Wendell Berry challenges me on a day like today--the day after the 7th anniversary of 9/11. We have been bombarded with the illusion that we are living in a "Post-9/11 world" that changes all the rules of ethics, rights, neighborliness, and international relations. I, for one, don't buy that line. 

It's an age-old ruse to justify entrenching fear and grabbing power. Berry doesn't by the line, either. The world did not change on 9/11. Neither did the sinfulness or grace-full possibilities of humans. 

"Look Out" is from Berry's collection of poems titled Given (Shoemaker, Hoard, Washington, D.C., 2005). This is what Wendell Berry sees outside his Port Royal, Kentucky farmhouse:

Come to the window, look out, and see
the valley turning green in remembrance
of all springs past and to come, the woods
perfecting with immortal patience
the leaves that are the work of all of time,
the sycamore whose white limbs shed
the history of a man's life with their old bark,
the river quivering under the morning's breath
like the touched skin of a horse, and you will see
also the shadow cast upon it by fire, the war
that lights its way by burning the earth.

Come to your windows, people of the world,
look out at whatever you see wherever you are,
and you will see dancing upon it that shadow.
You will see that your place, wherever it is,
your house, your garden, your shop, your forest, your farm,
bears the shadow of its destruction by war
which is the economy of greed which is plunder
which is the economy of wrath which is fire.

The Lords of War sell the earth to buy fire,
they sell the water and air of life to buy fire.
They are little men grown great by willingness
to drive whatever exists into its perfect absence.
Their intention to destroy any place is solidly founded
upon their willingness to destroy every place.
Every household of the world is at their mercy,
the households of the farmer and the otter and the owl
are at their mercy. They have no mercy.
Having hate, they can have no mercy.
Their greed is the hatred of mercy.
Their pockets jingle with the small change of the poor.
Their power is the willingness to destroy
everything for knowledge which is money
which is power which is victory
which is ashes sown by the wind.

Leave your windows and go out, people of the world,
go into the streets, go into the fields, go into the woods
and along the streams. Go together, go alone.
Say no to the Lords of War which is Money
which is Fire. Say no by saying yes
to the air, to the earth, to the trees,
yes to the grasses, to the rivers, to the birds
and the animals and every living thing, yes
to the small houses, yes to the children. Yes.

WHAT DO I SEE? When I look out my window, do I see far enough--deeply enough, broadly enough--to perceive this? And if or when I perceive such, am I caring or daring enough to leave my window and go out and say "no" to the Lords of War--to Money and Fire--and "yes" to life? Or do I just stand and stare, or turn away and hope someone else will take care of it?

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


I read this blessing in Sojomail from Sojourners a few years ago. In Latin, benedicere means “to bless."  It’s by Ken Sehested, a North Carolina pastor and stonemason.  Written on New Year’s Day 2005, it launches with a traditional Irish blessing.

I did some MTB riding in Wood County, West
Virginia, early last spring and came upon these
ruins at Volcano.
May your home always be too
small to hold all your friends. 

May your heart remain ever supple,
fearless in the face of threat,
jubilant in the grip of grace. 

May your hands remain open,
caressing, never clinched,
save to pound the doors
of all who barter justice
to the highest bidder. 

May your heroes be earthy,
dusty-shoed and rumpled,
hallowed but unhaloed,
guiding you through seasons
of tremor and travail, apprenticed
to the godly art of giggling
amid haggard news and
portentous circumstance. 

May your hankering be
in rhythm with heaven's,
whose covenant vows a dusty
intersection with our own:
when creation's hope and history rhyme. 

May hosannas lilt from your lungs:
God is not done;
God is not yet done.

All flesh, I am told, will behold;
will surely behold.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Office Beater Bike

I keep this bike in my office in the near-downtown Indianapolis Near Eastside neighborhood called St. Clair Place. It's actually my son Jared's beater bike that I have somewhat permanently borrowed.

This Beater Bike ( - no bikes currently in production) is neither fast nor sexy. It's just sturdy and reliable. It's got a functional retro style and 3-speed Sturmey Archer hub. Jared added a cup holder and light brown Schwalbe tires. I outfitted it with cork hand grips (from; this should be good for a cup of coffee, Chris Wiggins), a bell, and a handy easy on-off pannier/shoulder bag.

It gets me to and from downtown and area meetings pretty well. It keeps me from circling city blocks looking for a vehicle parking space. It prevents me from endlessly feeding parking meters.

Sometimes, I commute the 14 miles from home on my Surly Long Haul Trucker (also via www., which is just about the perfect commuter bike. When I don't give myself enough time to ride to work (an hour is required) and end up driving my VW Jetta on the Interstate, I use Jared's beater bike to get around during the day.

Think about taking and keeping a bike at your workplace. It opens up lots of options.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Friday, March 3, 2017

Too Worldly to Be Holy?

Depictions of 'Secular Saints' by Brother Robert Lentz,
OFM, include this image of '21st-Century Christ.'
Before you pass on Lent again, before you dismiss it as just for people more religious than you—more holy than you: please hear me out.

If you’ve had enough of holiness, if “holy intention” for Lent agitates you, try “wholeness intention.” Leave religion out of it. Give up trying to be “holy.” Instead, ask: what small change could I make for 40 days to grow, to stretch, to love?

“Holy” has become for many of us a foreboding, off-putting word and image. As an alternative, I’ve come to think more in terms of wholeness, completeness, love. This helps me.

I have also begun to reframe “holy” in the context of daily, worldly, secular life. Laying aside halos and frescos and stained glass and liturgical rituals, I imagine “holy” in simpler, more profound daily realities.

“Holy” is the intention of a bruised-hearted person to heal and move forward, to hope and dare to love again.

“Holy” is the crazy thought and fledgling will to seek to find what one’s highest possibilities just might be.

“Holy” is the pause, the recognition, the awe for a sunrise, of a sunset, of a reflection in a puddle, of a neighbor being a neighbor.

“Holy” is the recognition of justice and injustice—and exerting one's capacities to end the latter and lift up the former.

“Holy” is recognition of earth’s abundance, preciousness, and fragility—and acting as a creative steward for its future wellness.

 “Holy” is loving oneself despite what’s been done, what’s been said, what’s not been said. Holy is being gentle with oneself and investing in one’s care.

“Holy” is loving one’s neighbor as oneself—not knowing what’s been done, said, etc. “Holy” is making room, offering support, walking with.

“Holy” is less about luminous halos and stained glass and more about daily grace and helping hands and gentle encouragement.

“Holy” is you as you are, as you were intended to be, as you endeavor yet to become, as you lean forwardly into life with love in your heart.

Give up trying to be “holy.” Leave religion out of it. Instead, ask: what small change could I make for 40 days to grow, to stretch, to love?

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA