Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Bar, A Park, and a Neighborhood

What does Broadway think? What do I think? Those are the questions that have been asked of me lately as the pastor of Broadway UMC. People want to know about what Broadway thinks about the bar that is coming in to the Julia Carson building. And I've been frustrated that people ask me this question. Why am I frustrated? Because of all the things happening around our neighborhood this is probably the very least of all the concerns.

Here's my question: If the bar is a bad investment in this neighborhood -- where are the people proclaiming/working toward/making happen an alternative? It is only the chorus of "no's" that rain down on this effort. Less than a block away from the Julia Carson Center there stands a big empty lot - a huge empty lot at the northeast corner of Central and Fall Creek. It has been empty for the over 20 years I have known this community. Economic development efforts have been talked about but nobody has actually accomplished anything. Right behind the Julia Carson building at the Northwest corner of 28th and Central there is an abandoned storefront. I haven't seen any moves to do anything about that. It just sits there empty.

At the neighborhood association meeting last week television camera crews showed up to film what that group would have to say about it. I thought back to the summer when the Mapleton-Fall Creek Development Corporation held a celebration of the young people who graduated from high school this year who live in the neighborhood. One of the Colts was the Master of Ceremonies, the head of the 21st Century Scholars Program from the state was there, so were persons who are giving scholarships to young people graduating from the neighborhood. But did any television cameras show up for that? No.

We have learned over the past 9 months that our neighborhood is full of incredible entrepreneurs like Joe King who started a Hunting & Fishing Club (a first class operation) that seeks to work with the young people of our neighborhood (their neighborhood, too). We have learned that their are gardeners in nearly every other household. We have learned that there are talented artists, poets, and musicians. We have learned that there are people with positions of authority who live within our neighborhood. We have learned that there are people who really care about young people in our neighborhood.

Not one of those people did I see out there leading the fight against the bar. They were too busy doing their good work to pay attention to something that they knew would end up not having a very big, if any, effect on what they are doing. But it is disappointing when all the energy, all the goodness, all the gifts, all the spirit and hope that is alive in a place is ignored so that the politicians can play war with each other in the public eye.

The election season seems more and more like the WWF everytime I look around. A lot of body slamming and choreographed moves. No one gets hurt. People pay a lot of money. And, in the end, people's eyesight and attention is drawn away from the joy and music and beauty that is all around us. It is a challenge to think about how to amplify the sound of the singing that is the beauty of our community. We'll keep working on that. But it's time like these that seem to sap a bit of my energy at least.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Book Notes -- What's Going On?

I can't figure out what's going on. Maybe I'm in a manic phase (some people think I'm ALWAYS in a manic phase). I don't usually have the huge down times though that those who I know who struggle with being manic have.

But scattered around my home and the church right now must be close to a dozen books that I have "started" reading.

Here are the titles (and a note about why I got them, if I can remember):

Rory Stewart's book about his walk across Afghanistan after September 11th called The Places In Between.
A Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin (recommended to me by the son of Granny D when we visited her at her home in New Hampshire).
Gandhi's Letters to Americans (I bought this here in the U.S. after spotting it first in Ooty, India in the year 2000)
Two books by Mike Tidwell: the first was written in 2003 and is entitled Bayou Farewell (it's about how the levee system in New Orleans is destroying the land) and the second book was written in the wake of Katrina and is called The Ravaging Tide -- I thought that reading these two together would be really interesting)
I'm reading a novel entitled The Walking Guide by Alan Cowell who has been a reporter around the world -- in many of the more current hot spots.
I'm reading Defying Hitler by Sebastian Hafner (it's been on my shelves for ages and been calling to me).
I'm reading a book entitled After by Steven Brill. It's his collection of stories of many different people (including Indiana's own Mitch Daniels) in the minutes, hours and days following September 11th).
Garrett Keizer's book The Enigma of Anger and Thich Nhat Hanh's book, simply entitled Anger are both on my list because of conversations that parishioners have had with me that has sent me to these books.
I also have been reading Dennis Ross's book The Missing Peace (about his involvement with the Peace Process in the Middle East over the last 20 years)

A pretty eclectic mix I know. But I can assure you that they are good reads. But the words of Marvin Gaye -- "What's Going On" -- keep ringing in my ears. I wonder if I should read more theology or "church books" from time to time (they sneak in there every once in awhile) - but these books give me insight into worlds that I might not otherwise know. I feel hungry and thirsty to see and know the world better. The different experiences of what it means to be human are endlessly interesting to me. And books open those worlds to me.

A September 11th Type of Day

"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." -- Wendell Berry, 2001

Yesterday I went to Big Hat Books in Broad Ripple to pick up a book I had ordered. Standing near the counter I listened as the woman who owns the place talked with a friend of hers about "having a September-11th type of day." She is from New York and she talked about the over 50 funerals that she had attended in the wake of the attacks in New York. She talked about how it had overwhelmed her this particular morning again and she talked about "tearing the whole side of her car off" as she was driving to the book store this morning.

As she was looking for the book that she had called to tell me had arrived, she kept up the patter. When she saw the title of the book I was getting she gave a scream and started talking about what a wonderful book it is. As she was ringing me up she said, "I'm giving you the September 11th discount for having to stand here listening to me." Then she said, "but I think you're a teacher so you get the discount anyway. Aren't you a teacher?" "No," I answered. Long pause. I decided to go ahead and tell her, "I'm a preacher." "Oh, that's soooo beautiful," she said. "Where." "Broadway United Methodist, down at Fall Creek and College." "Beautiful." She said, "Well, I'm giving you the preacher discount, but today it's the September 11th discount."

One of the things that struck me as she talked is that she did not talk out of a sense of defeatism or hopelessness or depression. It was more a sense of wonder that seemed to describe her feelings. Perhaps that seems obscene. But it didn't seem so standing there. I thought I saw in her something I've seen here or there over the last five years -- and that is not a person held in hostage by fear, nor a person oblivious to the very real threats and dangers of our day - but instead a person of faith and hope who looks at the world around herself, realistically, but still keeps moving ahead.

As we left my friend, Marc, said "that woman needs to have her own reality tv show." As we walked down the street we talked about a reality tv show on BookTV (C-Span 2) with her as the centerpiece. It would be great tv I'm sure. At the same time it is a reminder that there are folks like her all around us -- people with a sense of wonder -- in the amazing diversity that we human beings come packaged in. If we wait to see them until they pop up on the television screen, we'll miss the real McCoys' as they stand in front of us. And that would be a shame.

September 11th five years ago was my first day with a woman named Liz who became a good, good friend as we watched the Towers fall on the television in the church office. Later I sat down with her answering the phone and wrote letters to each of the children of our parish. I wanted them to hear from their church about what had happened, not only from the other parts of the culture around them. And I hoped that they might hold onto those letters across the years and that it might remind them that everything that happens in this old world deserves at least a shot to be seen through the lens of faith. Or at least genuine wonder (even in the midst of grief).

Monday, September 04, 2006

Forgiving Persistence

In my devotions this morning I came across the following reading from a friend of mine by the name of Daniel Berrigan (from a book entitled Sorrow Built a Bridge):
Of this I am certain: of our calling to holiness, our vocation to persist, in season and out in the work of healing others, even as we seek healing for ourselves…
So we take heart. We commend the woman who quite simply, with all her heart, on behalf of someone she loved, refused to give up [the Syrophoenician woman of Mark 7.24-30]. We might think of her act as ‘forgiving persistence’ toward Christ. We might also wish to ponder a kind of ‘persistent forgiveness’ toward the church.
The woman refuses and persists. And so prevails.
And so must we. And so shall we.
We must forgive, deepen our love, persist in our conviction that even the church can be redeemed from sin.
In so fulfilling our vocation, we ourselves are healed.

These words come to me at a good time today. I think of people who I've sat with, walked with, talked with, prayed with, over the last few days. I know and hear the pain in their lives (and in my own) and yet I find myself so encouraged by the persistence that comes to seek healing from a friend, from a pastor, even from a stranger. That to me is hope...that reaching out, even when it seems like the storms of life are raging.
Yesterday, my car got towed. I parked in the wrong place downtown (at the wrong time) and so, feeling sick, I had to walk down to the County City building and pay my fine and find out where the car was to pick it up. I was feeling lousy and I walked in the door on the west side of the building and realized that I couldn't go in that way. The police officer by the door told me where I needed to go. And then, unexpectedly, he asked me where I was going. I told him, and he gave me a smile (at the end of a long day, I'm sure it wasn't the easiest thing to summon up) and told me where to go -- and with his words he commisserated with me (it's hard to say how, it's just that in how he spoke I knew I wasn't alone). This small act of kindness in a weary and sick day was a reminder to me of the small ways, in forgiving persistence, that we bless each other every day, and yet often are unaware.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

First, the symmetry

Tonight after arriving back home from the weekend with my family over in Cincinnati,I finished reading a book I had sitting around for awhile. It is entitled Evil: An Investigation and it is by Lance Morrow. In it he tells the following story: There is a story about the nineteenth-century naturalist Louis Agassiz.
When a student would come to his Harvard laboratories applying to study ichthyology with the great man, Agassiz would go to a shelf in his office and take down a jar of formaldehyde, from which he would withdraw a large dead fish. Placing the fish on a metal plate, he would hand it to the student with the words, "Study your fish."
The student would be instructed to sit in an adjoining room, with no texts and no instruments of any kind, and simply to look at the fish, to study it. Sometimes Agassiz would leave the student in there for hours.
The student at first would be mystified. But after a time, he would begin to do as he was instructed. He would study his fish. He would stare at it, first on one side and then th eother. And he would begin to notice, among other things, what?
First, the symmetry.
That the fish was a marvel of symmetry, a masterpiece of twinned features.

It is interesting to spend time with one's extended family. All of a sudden you begin to see "twinned features" between people that have perhaps missed your notice before.

We gathered to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of Kathy's Uncle Bob and Aunt Helen. Their five children were all there, along with their children. Kathy's sister and brother were there as well. I looked at the array of family and I began to see a symmetry that I hadn't always picked up on before. Perhaps the years of looking finally revealed something to me that was there in front of my eyes all along. It was fun to be there and see the varieties of symmetry's that could come from within one family. I saw the same thing around the dinner table at Kathy's folks home as we would gather for meals throughout the weekend and see Kathy and her sister and her brother revealing different dimensions and yet coming together to form each a unique symmetry. Very cool.

And it got me to thinking about the way in which we recognize each other in the church and in the community. Do we look for the ways in which there is symmetry and find ways to put those things together to create something new and amazing? Or do we look and shake our heads and think that nothing coming together is possible. In the church, at least, we do a bit of both.

In the community at large, I fear we rarely ever look for the symmetry. When violence takes off in the community we see it as someone else's problem (though, of course "we" have to do something about it). We have a hard time seeing our part of the symmetry. I see the same thing when I read the paper and see an article about "the breakdown of marriage" in the community -- and instead of looking for the symmetry -- we look for how to fix the people who are broken (you know the people whose "fault" this problem is -- take your pick, by the way, it's a smorgasbord!).

I yearn for vision that is able to see oneself and others we come across as belonging together in a symmetry. It's not my birthday, but I'll still close my eyes and make that wish tonight.

Friday, September 01, 2006

On Notice

This is my "On Notice" Board. My sons have turned me on to the Colbert Report. I don't get to watch it much but one of the pieces on the show that has attracted me is the two boards he uses. The first board is the "On Notice" Board and the second one is the "Dead to Me" Board. While they seem self-explanatory enough, let me just say that the first board is those things which are getting under his skin and the second board is for those that he isn't going to even acknowledge their existence any more.

I've been feeling like an "On Notice" Board would come in handy around the house, as we all have things that get under our skin. I could have added many more of course. I could have a board just for theological terms that get under my skin. I could have a board just for the way in which it seems to me that the Christian church wastes the wonderful gifts of the spirit in the lives of the people of our congregations and communities. I could talk about the way the church treats the poor. The way that Christianity and the larger society tends to ignore racism and homophobia all in the interest of being "nice." It's just that it's really difficult to fill all those out on the little bit of room you have with an "On Notice" Board.

But what I like about it best of all is that it is a way in which I can laugh at things that make me all too angry. And that laughter ends up helping. It reminds me of the "minjung theology" from Korean tradition. One of the center pieces of this theology is a making fun of the powers that attempt to rule our lives. David James Duncan writes about it in his book God Laughs & Plays as well when he tells a story which concludes, "Those Lizard People, they think they run everything." That is certainly in the spirit of minjung theology and the concept of han. I hate ever feeling like a victim of the powers of this world or other people who try (deliberately or not so deliberately) to drive me nuts. And this is one of the ways to handle this.

One of the things I really appreciate about Stephen Colbert is his attempt to poke fun at things that make so many of us angry. And in the laughter, hope is revived.

So I offer my list which through the magic of the Internet I was able to upload so that it appears that the Colbert Report list is my own! What's on your list (or who)?