Monday, October 23, 2006

A Story

That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us; to have courage for the most strange, the most singular, and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. That [humanity] has in this sense been cowardly has done life endless harm; the experiences that are called 'visions,' the whole so-called "spirit-world," death, all those things that are so closely akin to us, have by daily parrying been so crowded out of life that the sense with which we could have grasped them are atrophied. To say nothing of God.
-Rainer Maria Rilke

Rilke's words ring true to me in my day to day life around here. I've known David for years. Many years. He and I were first neighbors back in 1986. One night a couple of years after we met I found him knocking on my door. When I answered the door he fell into my arms weeping. He had been at a swimming lesson with his son at a public park here in Indianapolis and during the course of the swimming lesson his son drowned (it sounds impossible even as I type it). David was standing by the side of the swimming pool. David was destroyed. There is no other word for it. Over several years his life fell apart. He is a gifted man. But a broken one too.
When I moved back here in 2003 David and I ran into each other again. His life had hit bottom a few years earlier when he was shot nearly in the exact spot that our home now stands on. After that he began, slowly, to put the pieces of his life back together. It's been a new beginning in fits and starts.
At the beginning of the summer he had a new summer job working with young people. But within a week he had been fired. He came to see me. We talked. He was so disappointed in losing the job - in part because he intended to use his earnings to buy a ticket to New York City to see his other son graduate from a special program there. Our church provides neighborhood assistance...but a plane ticket to New York didn't seem like what that was meant for -- but I had some extra money after a little extra work I had done that summer. I told David I would buy him a ticket to New York if he would come up with some contribution he could and would make to the life of his neighborhood.
So we talked together. He had big dreams (like usual). He is a dreamer. But he's not necessarily the best implementer of dreams. So, I asked him to dream smaller. And so he did. We talked together about his gift of encouragement and his joy at being around people. I talked with him about a neighbor who has suffered a couple of strokes and who is lonely. I said, I would like to see David spend some time with this guy. He agreed that he would.
Later that summer I got a call from David. He had enjoyed his time with his son in New York and he told me that he would be visiting the neighbor we talked about.
Over the next few weeks I wondered if David had gotten by to see him. One Saturday evening in September I got a call. It was David. He told me that he and this neighbor had gotten together a few times. The day before he said they had gone out to the golf course. And though his companion was not up to playing he loved being out on the course again. They talked and laughed for hours. Then David began to choke up. I asked him what was wrong. He said that his companion's wife had called him that morning to tell him that her husband had just died. "Oh David," I said to him, "what a gift you gave to him. In the last 24 hours of life he got to spend a beautiful day in a place that he loved. He wasn't lonely. Just think how rich that made those last few hours." David sniffed and I could hear him seeing the gift through his grief. I thought of what courage it has taken David, through death and guilt and addiction and unemployment and disillusionment -- to bear witness to life and love. And I think what a privilege it is to see such courage. It helps me see a whole new world.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Friday our youngest son, Jordan, turned thirteen years old. And this is something to celebrate. Why? Because Jordan is the ultimate celebrator. And yet he is an amazing cross between a Trappist monk, a pied piper of children, and a mimic (and memorizer) of tales he has heard (and loved), and (and this is a very special and unique gift) a young person seemingly comfortable in his own skin. In short - he is a wonder.

Jordan is the one among us who is most comfortable in a crowd. Though he would much rather be alone. Jordan loves children, though he claims to be annoyed by them, he will spend three days with his young cousins -- they will follow him around, play with him, climb over and around him, and never a word of complaint arises from him -- never seeking a moment of hiding away from them. He is amazing.

He loves the camera -- positions himself both in front of it and behind it. On Monday he will go to film a Shortridge Soccer game (talk about a thankless task). But point a camera at him and he will not be shy -- he will show you something. It may be funny. It may be quiet. It may be outrageous. But it will be all him. And all his choice. He is himself. is a rare gift that he is -- being comfortable as he is in his own skin.

He will tell you what he thinks of something. He loves to tell a story -- either something that he witnessed or that happened to him - or one of the stories that he sees on television or in a movie. He memorizes dialogue of his favorite stories - and will spill it out to you at just the slightest opening.

He eats just a few things. He loves pasta - spaghetti and elbow macaroni and shells and penne are among his favorites. He likes a good steak. He like Ramen noodles, un cooked, with the sauce, dry, poured on top. He likes bread -- but only with the edges cut off. He likes hot dogs (sometimes). He likes peanut butter meltaways from the South Bend Chocolate Company. There are a few other favorites but not many.

Each of us is a unique creation. And I see (in my own life and others) that it is often to forget that. But Jordan is a wonderful reminder to me each and every day to trust and believe in who God made each of us to be. What a gift that is. Thank you Jordan!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Old Friends, New Dreams

What's homecoming when you are already at home? That's my question as I reflect on Sunday. Sunday was the first Broadway Homecoming. It was a remarkable day. Actually it was a remarkable weekend. My life is different than it would have been without the day -- and yet I was always (and already) at home. How does that make sense?

It makes sense in the same way that the Gospel makes sense. Each day, each moment is full of possibility. The question is will we see it and live it? This homecoming photograph is of a group of us who were here all together back in 1990, and half of us are still together. Suhyoung Baik, Rachel Metheny and I were here back in the day with Phil Amerson, and Mary Ann Moman and Vanessa Allen-Brown. Rev. Baik has been the only one who has stayed across all these years. But Rachel and I have both left and returned. So what does it mean to have homecoming when you are already at home (we were far from the only ones with that question).

It is like this -- Phil and Mary Ann and Vanessa and I have always been together. We have been physically apart. But with each other we are always at home. That's what I mean by comparing this to the Gospel. Jesus says time and time again -- that it is not the way things look to the world that is reality -- it is the way that they are, in the realm of God which is right here and right now.

It is the same way I think of things when people think about who we are and what we do at Broadway without paying attention to the depth. People from outside of us (including many of our funders) think that we do our summer program to "help" our low-income neighbors. They are so wrong. We do the summer program so we won't miss out on the energy, the joy, and the gifts of the children and families who make up our summer program. People think we do our tutoring program so that we can "help" these low-income kids do better in school. Nope. Wrong again. We do it so that we can invest in the lives of young people who will grow up to be scientists like Madame Curie, who will be astronauts like Mae Jemison, who will be lawyers and judges like Thurgood Marshall. Why would you want to miss out on something like that?

The Gospel calls us -- always and each and every day to see a whole new world. It calls us to do that not by leaders having a vision that was never thought of before - but by people living and trusting the vision that God gives to each of us, in the small daily acts of pouring ourselves out in love for one another.

In Christ we see a whole new world -- Paul says this in 2 Corinthians. We would do well to pay attention to it. And we do - when we celebrate the past by welcoming old friends home. We do that when we celebrate the future by naming the wonder of who we are today.

I guess my main hope for this whole homecoming weekend is that...we will see that whole new world even more clearly. I think this is always a possibility that arises from a good party. My observation though is that we think parties are not to be taken seriously. That's exactly the opposite. It is in the joy of the celebration that we truly know ourselves, that dreams get loosened up and shared, that laughter spills out and brings us health and healing. Nothing could be more important.

Old friends and new dreams all tied together. And through that -- a whole new world.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Risking the Truth, Sleeping in Indianapolis

I visited my friend Mari yesterday. She had recently had to give away her car -- a 1960's vintage Chevy. She ran it until it didn't run anymore. I have ridden with her in it a few times. Bench seat, front and back. AM radio. Stick shift that takes a little muscle to move. It's got it all. But now it's dead. She had a hard time letting it go. But no one could get it running safely for her. She found an old 1970's Monte Carlo (though she's frustrated that it looks "mass produced") that she is driving now.

She gave her old car to the "kid" next door. He's in his early 20's. He often has other young men over to visit with him. She keeps an eye on her neighbors. She is always willing to be helpful -- within her limits. This was something she could do.

Sunday morning, just a short time after she had given the car away, she remembered that she had left some pliers under the driver's seat. She went to get them out and as she opened the door, she noticed something shift in the back seat. One of the young men, looked groggily up from the back seat. He had spent the night in the back of her former car. She told him it was alright -- to go back to sleep and that she was headed to church (she said she mentioned that last thing so that he might be comforted by her appearance).

She told me that she was sure that several of the young men are homeless. When she told her neighbor who she had given her car that she had found this young man in the car, he said "Oh, I told him that I could give him a ride home." She stared back at him and said, "I know he has no home."

She talked with me about the invisible homeless who are not at the shelters downtown but instead at places like this. We talked about young people. We talked about young people who grow up into young women and men without a home. We talked about the invisibility of so many people.

And I continued to think about how it is that God calls us to see and know the invisible. I don't know one thing -- ONE THING -- that I can do about this. But I'm glad I know about it. Because by knowing the truth, I might be able to see the gift that is there. If I don't see what is real and true, I won't be able to know anything else. I won't be able to learn what there is to learn, here.

I talked today with a friend who is struggling with a deep dark secret. And he thinks he is alone. He isn't. But he feels like he is. Because he doesn't want anyone to know the problem he is struggling with -- and it just makes him feel more alone. Talk about a Catch-22!

I wish my friend knew that there are others struggling with similar issues. Others in his church. Others in his community. I think that is one of the blessings that there is in the urban church. We know that we nobody is perfect. We can admit our brokeness and our need for healing. And we are a safe place for that. But my friend doesn't know that yet. He doesn't feel safe enough yet. At some point I hope he will risk the truth. I hope he will. Because his struggle is our gift -- it is a blessing that we can receive from in overflowing measure. But not if it remains invisible. I pray he will risk the truth. I pray for young men sleeping in cars. And I pray for the eyes to see.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


I wanted to show an overflowing cup. That's what the last month has been like. I can't believe that I haven't typed on this darn thing for that long. It's been a month of ups and downs and all arounds. So...instead of catching myself up all at once, let me try and take a moment and write about yesterday.

Yesterday was a full day. And last night I presided at a worship service celebrating the life of Frank who died late on Friday afternoon. His partner Peter and his son Justin were at his side. Others of his family gathered around as well. And on Monday night we came to sing our faith, to comfort one another in our grief, and to recall the witness of his life and to have a place, together, to express our gratitude.

Frank was an amazing man. He died as a result of pulmonary fibrosis. In the end he just couldn't breathe any more. But as I thought about Frank's life I thought of the courage with which he lived his life. He was from a small town in Northern Indiana. He married young. He and his wife adopted a baby boy and raised him. His wife died 20 plus years into their marriage. And he found his way into living his life as the gay man, he knew himself to be. It is a difficult thing to make such a move after a lifetime of living another life before the world. And it was not easy for him. But he did it. And in that he found a fuller happiness.

He had a loving son who considered his father his best friend. After his wife died, Justin and he took off to New York City and explored the city for several days - sightseeing and eating at all the restaurants they could stomach! One of my favorite Frank stories was of the gift that he got around his 40th birthday of a hot air balloon ride. The problem with his lungs had been diagnosed nearly 20 years before. I love the irony and the beauty of him floating on air, even as his lungs battled to take it in.

I thought of that passage from the 3rd chapter of the gospel of John. Mostly folks know it for the words "you must be born again" -- but it talks about being born of "water and the spirit" and of "the wind blowing where it will." I think Frank lived like that. I think he allowed himself to be grasped by the winds of the Spirit.

It is infuriating that the born again passage has been used by so many to argue for a religion of exclusion. Birth is in fact one of those moments when we know the presence of wonder in our lives. It is a moment when all things are possible. And what Nicodemus gets from Jesus is the opportunity to realize that the world is to be experienced again and again and again, as if we were born anew -- to the wonder that is life. Frank allowed for the possibility of wonder to fill his life. We can deny wonder. We can live as if we are not ever in its grasp. In fact we can do all sorts of dumb things like that. But Frank didn't. He allowed himself to be grasped by wonder. Perhaps because he had to gasp for so many breaths -- it made him appreciate the gifts of the spirit so much more.

Always cited in a list of the gifts of the Spirit is "gentleness." My friend Mary Ann gave me a book years ago on the spirituality of gentleness (I still could use to learn some of its lessons). Frank's gentleness came out of a life lived with courage. He was fearful of not being able to breath. And yet he tutored children in the program at our church. Other tutors talked about the way in which he calmed even the most energetic child whenever he was around them. It would have been easy to stay hidden away, not giving himself to others and the world. But that isn't the way he lived.

He lived, fearful, but not in fear. He lived a life open to the Spirit's working in him, in his life, and in his love.

He and Peter took a cruise near the end of his life. There is a wonderful photo of Frank sitting in the sand with the laves lapping around his legs in the Caribbean. Waves, I think, are like liquid wind. And in his hot air balloon ride I imagine he could see how guided by the wind, we can see the world from a whole new perspective. To one who longed for and lusted for air...Frank lived open to the winds of the Spirit. Finally leading him into a love that is still risky in this day and age and society. Finally leading him home. His cup overflowed. And mine does for having known him.