Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Community Context and Grace


Twelve ways I recognize grace as I practice community-building in urban neighborhoods

I’m privileged to work in a community-building context. For most of my adult life, the matrix of urban core neighborhoods that comprise the Near East area of Indianapolis have been—and continue to be—the learning ground of my faith. Here is where I have been most spiritually formed. Though I was raised in a conservative Protestant pastor’s home, am a seminary-trained, ordained clergy, and consider myself a recovering evangelical, the adventure of community building is the cutting edge of my faith.

Here are a few things that I recognize and practice as a person of faith in a community-building context:

1. I try to express my faith by what I do. What I believe is very personal; what I live out is quite public.  Most people could care less about the nuances of my particular religion; they care about my influence, actions, and impact in the community.

2. I distinguish between beliefs and faith. Here’s how: beliefs reflect an assent to religious teachings and doctrines; faith acts in transformational confidence together with others, often against powers that be. Beliefs are nouns; faith is a verb. In a community-building context, leading with beliefs, as dynamic and personally meaningful as they may be, tends to divide people and derail helpful action. Leading with faith pulls people together in common actions that reflect hope.

3. I recognize that, like me, others live their faith by what they do—and I salute this. I’m not the only one doing what I’m doing out of a heart of faith. Many are motivated and undergirded by faith—we just don’t know it because they don’t wear it on their sleeves.

4. I recognize that some neighbors live without religion or claim to have no faith at all—and I try to understand this. I try to explore beyond typical reasons for unfaith that are surmised within circles of the faithfully churched. I've let go of judgement and noted my hypocrisy: In community-building terms, some very-churched citizens can express high levels of community cynicism—which expresses, essentially, lack of faith and hope that grace is at work beyond the walls of the church.

5. I consider myself part of the problem in authentic community and I go to work on it. I undermine community wtih suspicions, presumptions, prejudices, fears, knee-jerk reactions, side-taking, horrible-izing, standoffishness, etc.--whether acted on or not. When I recognize incipient thought patterns, notions, and attitudes like this, I try to challenge them, change them, and immediately act to counter them. I think this is as much a part of building community—and serious faith formation—as anything else.

6. I recognize that grace is at work in and through people and situations that churches and orthodox doctrine don’t recognize. While this wreaks havoc on the theology of my upbringing, openness to this possibility and being on the lookout for it is one of the rich privileges in community life.

7. I am here to learn and grow as much as to share and sow. I am called to listen and seek to understand. I have to keep ripping up my church filters, my social class presumptions, and my litmus tests. I must keep challenging myself and keep opening my eyes and heart.

8. Communities and neighbors receive myriad invitations from faith groups to gather for worship, but suffer for a lack of basic solidarity and justice-making from those same faith groups. Preaching grace and doing justice are inseparable and equal in necessity and power for effective witness. If you're preaching grace without doing justice in the community, you just don't represent the Gospel.

9. I constantly monitor and modify how I talk about faith, God and the church. I'm convinced we make the Gospel unnecessarily offensive with words, or offensive for the wrong or superficial reasons. If grace is reaching out to all--inviting all, drawing all, working in ways we cannot see or understand--why do we persist in talking in ways and with terms that preempt it, make it difficult, and inadvertently inoculate people against our expression of it?

10. I’m learning to appreciate small change in people and situations. While aiming high, we can—and should—celebrate every small breakthrough.

11. Little happens that lasts outside of authentic relationship. Long ago I let go of the illusion that programs or institutions produce lasting positive change in people or communities. Real relationships as neighbors--that's the thing.

12. Separateness and exclusivity is anti-faith in community building. In an urban community context, those who separate themselves or become nonparticipants in the larger community miss much of the inspiration that comes as neighbors grapple with tough issues, come up with hopeful solutions, and enact them--in faith. Exclusivity is anti-faith. Separateness is anti-faith. Dare to come out of your cloister, to listen to others, to link arms with neighbors and move toward some breathtaking outcomes.


John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 
www.indybikehiker.com 
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker 
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Gold Stars for Peeing...or Almost Any Good Deed

Few know about why I give out ceramic gold stars to friends and strangers. Here's the backstory (and this is absolutely TMI!)

Not being able to pee one day last summer, I found myself in ER with a foley catheter followed by prostate exams, tests, and longterm Rx therapy to help me consistently urinate. Afterward, I told a few friends at a restaurant table that I will never again take simply peeing for granted and felt like I deserved a gold star just for being able to urinate. In response, local artist/ceramicist Jodi Krumel made me a bunch of half-dollar-size ceramic gold stars, which I now give out to friends for successfully peeing--or to strangers for almost any good deed. Like I said: TMI.

So, my dad died at age 81 of prostate cancer, and, since last summer's episode, I get tested annually.

All this to share some good news (and to encourage my friend Heather Morgan Dethloff who is going through chemo right now): my PSA (prostate cancer risk) count has actually declined since last summer.

Maybe having fun with the fear/problem has helped the situation. I want to think so.

BTW: Jodi Krumel is willing to make these gold stars for others. If interested, contact her at www.GetDirtyCeramics.com or jodi@GetDirtyCeramics.com

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
www.indybikehiker.com
www.twitter.com/indybikehiker
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Thoughts in the Presence of Fear

Wendell Berry's 2001 reflections on 9/11. Prophetic then, they are uncannily telling now.

 These 27 brief, connected responses shine in stark contrast to popular reactions then and broken policies now.  One of America's clearest voices of critique and re-centered renewal, Wendell Berry calmly reflects wider awareness and deeper faith in the face of despair and insanity. This piece appeared in Orion magazine not long after the September 11 terrorist attacks.  Rereading it 10 years later, I recognize the prophetic nature of what he wrote. It is uncannily telling now. I wonder, in the words of the folk song, "when will we ever learn?"

I. The time will soon come when we will not be able to remember the horrors of September 11 without remembering also the unquestioning technological and economic optimism that ended on that day.

II. This optimism rested on the proposition that we were living in a “new world order” and a “new economy” that would “grow” on and on, bringing a prosperity of which every new increment would be “unprecedented”.


III.
The dominant politicians, corporate officers, and investors who believed this proposition did not acknowledge that the prosperity was limited to a tiny percent of the world’s people, and to an ever smaller number of people even in the United States; that it was founded upon the oppressive labor of poor people all over the world; and that its ecological costs increasingly threatened all life, including the lives of the supposedly prosperous.


IV.
The “developed” nations had given to the “free market” the status of a god, and were sacrificing to it their farmers, farmlands, and communities, their forests, wetlands, and prairies, their ecosystems and watersheds. They had accepted universal pollution and global warming as normal costs of doing business.


V.
There was, as a consequence, a growing worldwide effort on behalf of economic decentralization, economic justice, and ecological responsibility. We must recognize that the events of September 11 make this effort more necessary than ever. We citizens of the industrial countries must continue the labor of self-criticism and self-correction. We must recognize our mistakes.


VI.
The paramount doctrine of the economic and technological euphoria of recent decades has been that everything depends on innovation. It was understood as desirable, and even necessary, that we should go on and on from one technological innovation to the next, which would cause the economy to “grow” and make everything better and better. This of course implied at every point a hatred of the past, of all things inherited and free. All things superseded in our progress of innovations, whatever their value might have been, were discounted as of no value at all.


VII.
We did not anticipate anything like what has now happened. We did not foresee that all our sequence of innovations might be at once overridden by a greater one: the invention of a new kind of war that would turn our previous innovations against us, discovering and exploiting the debits and the dangers that we had ignored. We never considered the possibility that we might be trapped in the webwork of communication and transport that was supposed to make us free.


VIII.
Nor did we foresee that the weaponry and the war science that we marketed and taught to the world would become available, not just to recognized national governments, which possess so uncannily the power to legitimate large-scale violence, but also to “rogue nations”, dissident or fanatical groups and individuals - whose violence, though never worse than that of nations, is judged by the nations to be illegitimate.


IX.
We had accepted uncritically the belief that technology is only good; that it cannot serve evil as well as good; that it cannot serve our enemies as well as ourselves; that it cannot be used to destroy what is good, including our homelands and our lives.


X.
We had accepted too the corollary belief that an economy (either as a money economy or as a life-support system) that is global in extent, technologically complex, and centralized is invulnerable to terrorism, sabotage, or war, and that it is protectable by “national defense”


XI.
We now have a clear, inescapable choice that we must make. We can continue to promote a global economic system of unlimited “free trade” among corporations, held together by long and highly vulnerable lines of communication and supply, but now recognizing that such a system will have to be protected by a hugely expensive police force that will be worldwide, whether maintained by one nation or several or all, and that such a police force will be effective precisely to the extent that it oversways the freedom and privacy of the citizens of every nation.


XII.
Or we can promote a decentralized world economy which would have the aim of assuring to every nation and region a local self-sufficiency in life-supporting goods. This would not eliminate international trade, but it would tend toward a trade in surpluses after local needs had been met.


XIII. One of the gravest dangers to us now, second only to further terrorist attacks against our people, is that we will attempt to go on as before with the corporate program of global “free trade”, whatever the cost in freedom and civil rights, without self-questioning or self-criticism or public debate.


XIV. This is why the substitution of rhetoric for thought, always a temptation in a national crisis, must be resisted by officials and citizens alike. It is hard for ordinary citizens to know what is actually happening in Washington in a time of such great trouble; for all we know, serious and difficult thought may be taking place there. But the talk that we are hearing from politicians, bureaucrats, and commentators has so far tended to reduce the complex problems now facing us to issues of unity, security, normality, and retaliation.


XV. National self-righteousness, like personal self-righteousness, is a mistake. It is misleading. It is a sign of weakness. Any war that we may make now against terrorism will come as a new installment in a history of war in which we have fully participated. We are not innocent of making war against civilian populations. The modern doctrine of such warfare was set forth and enacted by General William Tecumseh Sherman, who held that a civilian population could be declared guilty and rightly subjected to military punishment. We have never repudiated that doctrine.


XVI. It is a mistake also - as events since September 11 have shown - to suppose that a government can promote and participate in a global economy and at the same time act exclusively in its own interest by abrogating its international treaties and standing apart from international cooperation on moral issues.


XVII. And surely, in our country, under our Constitution, it is a fundamental error to suppose that any crisis or emergency can justify any form of political oppression. Since September 11, far too many public voices have presumed to “speak for us” in saying that Americans will gladly accept a reduction of freedom in exchange for greater “security”. Some would, maybe. But some others would accept a reduction in security (and in global trade) far more willingly than they would accept any abridgement of our Constitutional rights.


XVIII. In a time such as this, when we have been seriously and most cruelly hurt by those who hate us, and when we must consider ourselves to be gravely threatened by those same people, it is hard to speak of the ways of peace and to remember that Christ enjoined us to love our enemies, but this is no less necessary for being difficult.


XIX. Even now we dare not forget that since the attack of Pearl Harbor - to which the present attack has been often and not usefully compared - we humans have suffered an almost uninterrupted sequence of wars, none of which has brought peace or made us more peaceable.


XX. The aim and result of war necessarily is not peace but victory, and any victory won by violence necessarily justifies the violence that won it and leads to further violence. If we are serious about innovation, must we not conclude that we need something new to replace our perpetual “war to end war?”


XXI. What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of being. We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness. We have, for example, several national military academies, but not one peace academy. We have ignored the teachings and the examples of Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other peaceable leaders. And here we have an inescapable duty to notice also that war is profitable, whereas the means of peaceableness, being cheap or free, make no money.


XXII. The key to peaceableness is continuous practice. It is wrong to suppose that we can exploit and impoverish the poorer countries, while arming them and instructing them in the newest means of war, and then reasonably expect them to be peaceable.


XXIII. We must not again allow public emotion or the public media to caricature our enemies. If our enemies are now to be some nations of Islam, then we should undertake to know those enemies. Our schools should begin to teach the histories, cultures, arts, and language of the Islamic nations. And our leaders should have the humility and the wisdom to ask the reasons some of those people have for hating us.


XXIV. Starting with the economies of food and farming, we should promote at home, and encourage abroad, the ideal of local self-sufficiency. We should recognize that this is the surest, the safest, and the cheapest way for the world to live. We should not countenance the loss or destruction of any local capacity to produce necessary goods


XXV. We should reconsider and renew and extend our efforts to protect the natural foundations of the human economy: soil, water, and air. We should protect every intact ecosystem and watershed that we have left, and begin restoration of those that have been damaged.


XXVI. The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before that we need to change our present concept of education. Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use is not to serve industries, either by job-training or by industry-subsidized research. It’s proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible. This cannot be done by gathering or “accessing” what we now call “information” - which is to say facts without context and therefore without priority. A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means putting first things first.


XXVII. The first thing we must begin to teach our children (and learn ourselves) is that we cannot spend and consume endlessly. We have got to learn to save and conserve. We do need a “new economy”, but one that is founded on thrift and care, on saving and conserving, not on excess and waste. An economy based on waste is inherently and hopelessly violent, and war is its inevitable by-product. We need a peaceable economy.