Sunday, April 30, 2006

Education -- Building Up One Another in Love

What a day Sunday was. It was Rachel's last sermon before heading off for her clergy renewal leave -- to New Zealand, and Alaska, and Hawaii and Guatemala. She's focusing her time away on the subject of radical hospitality -- and in those places she really ought to find some very diverse and wonderful teachers and friends. After worship we had a big party wishing her bon voyage and saying Good Bye to Callie Smith who has been our intern at Broadway for the last year -- and has been valued for her sharing of our life together in this place. In her sermon Rachel focused on the passage from I John which challenges us to love another -- and that this is the only way in which we know the love of God -- in our love for one another.

Later in the afternoon I headed off with De'Amon to hear our friend Dave Labrum out at the St. Vincent Hospice talk about his new book -- and tell the stories of some folks he has worked with that have used art in the healing process of dealing with the grief of the deaths of in many cases their children and in a few others, their spouses.

Radical Hospitality, Death, Grief and Art were some pretty heavy topics -- and we had barely hit mid-afternoon.

Kathy, Conor, Jordan and I headed off to Chris and Eric's in the evening for dinner and conversation. We spent a lot of the time talking with them about Conor's upcoming immersion in Spain for seven weeks this summer. Eric and Chris go to our church. Eric was Conor's Spanish teacher his first two years at Tech High School. Chris is working on his graduate degree at IU and will soon be heading off to Kazakstan (I'm sure I spelled that wrong -- sorry Chris) for a year to work in helping strenghten education in this new country.

The talk slowly turned from Conor and Jordan's education (Jordan is in 6th grade at Shortridge) to education in general and what is happening in and to public education in Indianapolis and across the country. Jordan complained about some of the discipline (or lack thereof) in a few of his classes and in the school. One of the strange things about that is that I know Jordan really likes it there at Shortridge. He can tend to see only the problems - but if he is truly miserable, you know it. And he isn't. But, as his father, I wonder how to help him see the way he can make a positive that he doesn't just feel helpless and victimized (though that seems too strong a word). Actually, he is doing something hopeful and helpful which I'll write about another day -- perhaps that is my role as his father -- to remind him about what he is already doing.

Eric talked about how he is considering moving to another school. He loves his co-workers and his students -- but he also has a lot of frustrations. He talked about those frustrations and I felt that what he was expressing was that the best he could do -- the best they were able to do at school was just help a few kids beat the odds (my language). My own words for what he seemed to long for was an educational system that helps change the odds for everyone. Chris seemed to see some signs of hope -- as I understand it he sees it as a good sign that schools all are being held to similar standards in terms of the testing that is required across the board -- and the challenges that states and school corporations are offering to the No Child Left Behind strategy.

I thought of Rob Faulkens in our congregation who has just taken over as the new principal of Crispus Attucks Middle School (soon to be a grade 7-12 academy) -- the mural at the top of this piece is from the school. I wonder how he will handle these issues. My brother, Alan, is the principal of a newly restored high school in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. Both of these two men have big challenges facing some of the same issues that Eric was talking about here in Indianapolis and that Chris is working with on the other side of the world. Debbie Vawter in our congregation is the principal of an elementary school here in Indianapolis. Bob Taylor is on the school board in Washington Township. We have many educators at all levels throughout our congregation. And from my perspective they are doing pretty extraordinary work. It iss clear to me that these people have a calling and they feel it deeply. They also seem to carry a heavy burden and feel as if they are waging, very much of, a uphill battle. They can't help read the paper and the harsh words that there are for educators and schools.

From my perspective we have asked our schools to take on issues that we are unable (or unwilling) to take on as a society. The schools become our scapegoats. I think that our teachers and administrators, at least the ones I know, are doing magnificent work, good and holy work, even courageous work -- and for the most part -- at least publicly they are disparaged for it. But they aren't the only ones. Parents and children come under heavy attack as well. I hear classes and races of young people spoken of with barely disguised disgust. I hear many people talk about "parents who don't care." I have lived and worked in low income neighborhoods in cities for over 20 years - and I have never met a parent who doesn't care. I'm not saying there aren't any -- but they are fairly invisible to me. The reason our schools have a tough time, it seems to me, is that there is still injustice, there is racism, there is poverty, there is inadequate health care. And all these things help undermine a strong education. I'm not saying it's impossible -- but it is impossible if we pretend like those other problems simply aren't there -- or don't make any difference.

Several years ago at a school board meeting in South Bend I remember hearing a Notre Dame professor remark, off-handedly, that "of course you know that the single most important factor in educational achievement in income level." That wasn't the point of what he was saying -- it was just a throw away line in the midst of a much larger point. But what I was thinking was that we never attack the issue as if this was true. We mostly just attack the schools. I think it's hard to have a school that is different than it's community. If the community it sits in the middle of -- thinks of itself as empty, needy and poor -- then it is difficult for the school to address that during the hours it is open. It can be part of the answer -- but they are only a part.

Schools could do a better job of involving parents. I know as a parent in an urban school system I have often found it very frustrating to be involved. I have filled out a form every year -- in the 12 years we have been in the schools I can count on one hand the number of times I have been followed up with on any of those forms. And when I have atempted to follow up -- the bureaucracy has been nearly impossible to wade through. If that's tough for me who is fairly aggressive -- what about a younger, less agressive parent -- aren't they even more likely to not be involved at the school? And yet every school that I've been involved with has set in the midst of a residential neighborhood. Many of these neighborhoods are filled with older folks who feel under utilized, and under appreciated. What if the PTO/A were to hire/give a stipend to an elder in the community around the school who could and would organize the parents and others in the larger community and get them and keep them involved in the school (I think the school itself simply is too overwhelmed to follow up on the surveys, much less follow up with neighbors who aren't related biologically to their students). Wouldn't that help begin to build up the connections and commitment to the school in all sorts of ways? And what would it look like if young people saw their neighbors and family members giving themselves to the school. They would see how much others around them value it...and they would grow up with a sense of responsibility for themselves to be involved.

Another idea that the Mapleton Fall Creek Community Development Corporation in our neighborhood is doing is another example of at least an attempt at building up community through education and the schools. One of the things often pointed out about urban education is the many drop outs there are -- and that is true. The drop out rate is too high. But all the efforts that have been made to improve or correct that haven't seemed to pan out. So isn't a new effort worth a try? While there are a lot of drop outs -- there are also quite a few who do graduate. And those should be celebrated. The Corporation is joining the Juneteenth Celebration at the Children's Museum and will be celebrating the young people and their families who are graduating. Also at that time, we will be handing out (publicly) the scholarships being awarded by the various neighborhood institutions (including the Eugene Smith Scholarship at Broadway UMC). Yes...there are too many drop outs...but there are graduates in our neighborhood and wonderful families that have supported them -- and also our neighborhood supports our young people -- and we are going to let folks know.

These types of efforts can be part of the solution. It won't be quick...but we need to multiply this type of creativity. We need to try as many and varied ways as we can to both strengthen our community's commitment to it's schools and also to celebrate the goodness and the ties that are already there. This will be a lot more helpful to building up the schools than constantly beating them up in the press, demonizing the parents, and giving up on public education.

I'm reminded once again -- that technology is a wonderful tool, but it isn't a solution. Love is. Our love for one another. Our love for our community.

One final thing that I've seen that I like is that over in the Ohio conferences (East and West) of the United Methodist Church I have been pleased to see the two bishops holding hearings throughout their conferences on education. I like that. I think that this is a good beginning point for making a response to what is happening. If at these hearings there are students and teachers and administrators and parents and school board members and elders and business people and clergy and on and on who are speaking their dreams, their hopes, and their sense of call about what to do...I can hardly think of a greater gift that we could give. We need to set people free to give what they have to offer. Not to do seems to me is a sin. It also is a denial of the resurrection and our celebration of the Spirit's presence in the life of the world (not just in the church). I think we should hold such hearings on health care and poverty and other things as well...If we take the time to listen to each other...then we will almost certainly all learn a lot.

It is Radical Hospitality and Life and Death and Grief and Dinner with Friends that helps us see the presence of the realm of God. Or at least that's how it works for me.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Advocate of the Word

Jicelyn Thomas and I first met back in 1985. She and I and a man named Biff Weidman were going to be hired at Patchwork Central in Evansville for positions that were called "Advocates of the Word." The problem was that they only had enough money to pay for two positions. I had just graduated from seminary, so I could get a job in a church in Evansville. Bishop Hoddapp graciously agreed to appoint me to Asbury UMC in Evansville.

It was a tough year and I grew to know and love Jicelyn in that year in Evansville. There was a Bible Study that met at Patchwork in mid-week. It was mainly made up of clergy from the neighborhood around Patchwork.Jicelyn impressed me with her intelligence, her commitment to justice and her matter-of-factness. She struck me as politically savvy, but not willing to give up her principles. She came over to our home on Christmas Eve and we sat around the tiny kitchen table and prayed and laughed and talked. She was a little bit of home in a place that felt far from home at Christmas.

After Kathy and I left Evansville to come to Broadway, Jicelyn stayed at Patchwork and then a year or two later headed off to seminary at Candler in Atlanta. We would visit her -- one year Kathy and Biff and traveled down to Atlanta to spend a few days in prayer and Bible Study together seeking discernment about possibly starting our own intentional community.

Jicelyn worked in the Jubilee Summer Program in 1990. She came back in 1991 after she graduated and was appointed to serve here at Broadway. She made her home with us on Washington Boulevard. We had a shower put in on the first floor and converted the dining room into her bedroom.

When we left on December 31, 1991 Jicelyn stayed on in the home. I can't remember whether it was mid-summer 1992 or 1993 that she packed up and headed to Vanderbilt down in Nashville, TN to begin working on a Phd in homiletics. Right before she headed down she ended up in the hospital several times. She wasn't sure what was wrong. After a brief hospital stay she made the move and quickly ended up in the hospital in Nashville. Fairly soon after she arrived she was diagnosed with Lupus.

Over the next several years she was in and out of the hospital in Nashville. She continued to work on her Phd. Her eyesight would fade in and out and she got a student who would read her books into a tape recorder and she would listen. She couldn't wear shoes because of the swelling in her feet, so in the winter she would wear bread sacks around her feet to keep them dry when she went grocery shopping. She would laugh and say that people would point at her and say "there goes that bag lady that is getting her Phd at Vanderbilt."

Once she hit the million dollar cap on her health insurance and her health continued to deteriorate she returned home to Evansville and moved into a house with her mother Wilma and sister Bev.

After several years and continued deteriorating health Jicelyn had to move into an apartment building that consists of some very light assisted living. She isn't all that happy about it -- she'd rather be out with Mom and Bev, but with Bev on the road with the railroad every week it had become impossible for Wilma to take care of her daughter.

In January I had visited with Jicelyn down in Evansville and I returned again on Friday night. Her neighbor Jackie fried up some fish for us. It was great and Jicelyn and I talked and talked and talked. We talked about the real Gospel stuff. We talked about how people's lives change and how communities change. We talked about her health and about her lack of desire to be kept alive by artificial means. She tires quickly and it took all she had for me to get her in the car and drive her out to Wilma and Bev's so she could see the old home place.

I remember so many Bible Studies we have done together. I remember so many discussions about what ways in which we live out our faith and what the calling of the church is in the midst of this world. And I'm so glad that we can still have them. And I'm glad that we can still laugh. I wished we still lived and worked together. Jicelyn isn't perfect any more than any of the rest of us are. But, in her, I have found someone who I can talk with -- who understands the questions that form in me, because they are many of the same questions she struggles with. She is a wonder. I don't know how much longer Jicelyn will be around...but as long as she is here...I know no stronger Advocate of the Word.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Spirit Sleuths: Detectives on the Track of the Holy

Donna Schaper wrote in a wonderful book entitled "A Book of Common Power" many years ago of what she called Spirit Sleuths: Detectives on the Track of the Holy. I love that expression. It seems like an apt description of what the calling of Christians is in this world. It reminds me of the Gandhi poster on the wall in my study which says, "Real Beauty is My Aim." Real Beauty and the Holy are pretty closely related.

I saw a play tonight entitled "Underneath the Lintel" -- during this one act play at the IRT the librarian tells the story of a character who is standing under the lintel of his shop when Jesus collapses under the weight of his cross right in front of him. The story goes, the librarian says, that the shopkeeper won't offer to lend a helping hand to the burdened brother on the ground -- because he wants to keep the rules and because he is afraid of death -- of being killed by the authorities if he lends a hand.

I seems like to me that this is exactly why we don't train our eyes on the Holy. Instead we fall back on "well -- it's against the rules" or "I'm afraid" to keep us from seeing the gift that is right there before us. By "it's against the rules" I mean that sense of order and convention that keeps us from seeing the giftedness right in front of us. By "I'm afraid" -- I mean a few more things -- some of which include -- a fear of upsetting others -- a fear of "if I do this, then my life will never be the same." But mostly I just think we aren't used to stepping out from underneath the lintel.

This is certainly clearly (and from my perspective, universally) true in regards to the way we treat the poor. There are many folks who are marginalized for a lot of reasons: sexuality, age, ethnicity, sex, disability - but it is the poor who seem over and over again to have folks not seeing them as beloved children of God with an abundance of gifts to share that it would be a sin to waste.

I often find myself talking with groups: secular and faith-based on the topic of working with the poor. In the last couple of weeks I have interviewed some seminarians for an internship position at the church. Both of them told me that one of the reasons that Broadway is attractive to them is because "you're inner-city." What do you mean by "inner city" I ask them. And for a moment there is a little confusion in their eyes. Then both of them told me -- in separate interviews that they wanted to be able to "help those who are poor." -- that's a fine sentiment -- but I don't think that's being a spirit sleuth. It may be functioning as a "compassion sleuth" -- but that's not the same thing. The problem with such a thought is that the good religious folk see themselves as helpers and the poor saps they are helping as "needy." Whatever happened to "we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God?"

If there is something that the church really NEEDS today it is the eyes to see the gifts of the poor in our midst. Why? Because Jesus promises us the abundant life here and now -- in the midst of struggle, injustice, disease and captivity. Because we are called to live as if that abundance is real. But we don't. We don't.

The church so often simply sees the poor as objects to be served -- not as sisters and brothers who we are tied to in "an inescapable network of mutuality." (as Dr. King reminded us) And when we don't live like that, it not only is a shame, it's a sin. And we all end up poorer for it. It's as if God poured an abundance in our hands and we walked away. It's not "as if" -- it is what we are literally doing.

It's so easy to think about running a day care for kids than it is looking for the holy in the lives of their parents. It's easy to think about running a "Life Skills Program" for adults -- than it is to take the time to really get to listen and know the "skills" someone already has and how they are using them for their family, themselves, or even for strangers.

Being spirit sleuths means seeing past people's weaknesses, illnesses, sin and problems. It doesn't mean denying those things -- but it does mean trusting Jesus that today (not yesterday, not at the Second Coming) that God has announced good news to the poor and recovery of sight to the blind and release to the captive. Seeing that...watching for that is doing something worthwhile. Yes, Jesus did say "feed the hungry and clothe naked" -- but why do we focus on that one time he said that and not pay attention to all his eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners? Even when we do eat together -- overwhelmingly we good church folk invite people to eat with us at the church. God's feast is a moveable one. And Jesus' meals seem to be happening in people's home...surely that might be a clue to try something.

One of the things Rachel has done really well at the church these past few months is lead us in thinking about God's Moveable Feast...because of her challenge we are having people come together across all sorts of boundaries to eat together and talk together. Why? I'd say because Rachel is a Spirit Sleuth -- and she recognizes that there are a whole lot more of them out there doing good work...

The Fall of Every Sparrow

Wendell Berry in writing on economy says...

"For the thing that troubles us about the industrial economy is exactly that it is not comprehensive enough, that, moreover, it tends to destroy what it does not comprehend, and that it is dependent upon much that it does not comprehend. In attempting to criticize such an economy, we naturally pose against it an economy that does not leave anything out, and we can say without presuming too much that the first principle of the Kingdom of God is that it includes everything; in it, the fall of every sparrow is a significant event. We are in it whether we know it or not and whether we wish to be or not. Another principle, both ecological and traditional, is that everything in the Kingdom of God is joined both to it and to everything else that is in it; that is to say, the Kingdom of God is orderly. A third principle is that humans do not and can never know either all the creatures that the Kingdom of God contains or the whole pattern or order by which it contains them."

This is what I believe we are called to -- whatever it is that we do -- as Christians in our work in the world -- and certainly in regards to economy. That is to say that if what we are doing is not encouraging and building up the attention to the fall of every sparrow than we are not doing what we are called to do. And by the fall of every sparrow -- I mean the fall of every sparrow in our local communities (where we see the sparrows as they fall)... But so often we don't pay attention -- we don't know the names.

This is what I believe we are called to in the life of the church -- that is to say to build economies that are not at odds with the Kingdom of God. That's saying it too lightly. We are called to build economies -- in our communities -- that celebrate and recognize the presence and power of the Kingdom of God.

How can we do that? We do that every time we take time to get to know not only the names of the poor, but the lives of those who are poor -- the gifts, the dreams, the calling and claim of God that is upon each life. The Kingdom of God doesn't waste one such life -- and yet every day those lives, those productive, energetic, passionate lives are sharing and pouring out an abundance and the church (and the world) barely notices. So...we can take the time to listen to dreams. The second is that we can try to connect the us each see one another more clearly. A third is that we can support those in our neighborhoods who have a gift for organizing the dreamers.

I think it would also mean recognizing the abundance of the soil and the waters of Fall Creek and how those might serve the economy we call the Kingdom of God. It could mean that in the summer program the young people would be taken fishing by some of our neighbors -- along Fall Creek -- and then the fish cooked and shared together. De'Amon mentioned someone at staff meeting this week, who is a neighbor who takes her grandchildren fishing and might be interested in doing it with others. It could mean organizing a farmer's market from small farmers right outside Indianapolis and within our own neighborhood -- so that together we can support one another and recognize the way we are all tied together. That would be recognizing that economy of the Kingdom of God, perhaps. Or it could be, at least.

It might mean hiring neighbors to do some crazy things. What about picking three blocks and hiring a neighbor on each block to go and knock on every door and say to the folks living there: "Tell you what -- we'll bankroll anything you want to do on this block that will be fun, or will improve the quality of life, or will make use of an abandoned lot or home -- but it can't be obscene or illegal. There are only two rules...everybody in the household must be involved and one household can't do whatever it is, alone (there must be more than one household involved)." Doesn't that build the economy of the Kingdom of God? Or what about asking all the people who are interested in health care if they would be willing to take blood pressure cuffs and blood sugar machines and knock on every door in their block and use those "tools" as an opportunity to get to know their neighbors...find out what is going on in the lives of the people there? Isn't that knowing the fall of every sparrow?

What about how we care for each other in the economy of our neighborhood around schools and children and families and churches? What if the churches could work out something with the schools so that if a parent gave their approval - if a young person was having a hard time the school would let a group from the neighborhood and some of the churches know and they would pray for and send encouraging notes to the family as they struggle through that time? What about that? What would it be like for a parent who is struggling with a difficult time with their child to know that they are not alone? Isn't that helping us see and know the power and presence of the Kingdom of God? Isn't that an economy that is present already?

All I'm trying to suggest is that we need to let our imaginations go a bit and trust the Spirit at work in our lives and hearts and minds to build on what is already present -- the wonderful abundance of forgiveness, grace, hope and love...even in the midst of violence, injustice, poverty, and fear. An economy that recognizes the Kingdom of God is one I want to invest in.

Today I'm driving to Evansville so I can spend some time tomorrow with the folks at Central UMC who are doing some good work in their community there. I'm looking forward to spending time in that community and to see the economy of the Kingdom of God at work in that place.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Five Rules to Keep from Being the Agent of the Devil in the Middle of the Church

Each day brings new surprises around Broadway Church. There are hard things...families going through difficult times with relationships, others with financial struggles, others grieving the death of a friend -- and yet in the midst of these we find many signs of resurrection. Don't ask me why. Some say we are simply nuts.

Today, Carmen and I were talking about the summer program (known as JCAMP -- The Jubilee of Community Arts for Multi-Talented People). Carmen, who lives here and grew up in this neighborhood, is going to direct it this year. As we have talked about the program we have followed some basic rules they are these:

1) Never do for others what they can do for themselves.

2) Find another's gifts, contributions, capacities. Use them. Give them a place in the community.

3) Whenever a service is proposed, fight to get it converted into income.

4) If those in power are hell-bent on giving poor people services rather than income, then fight for those services to come in the form of vouchers. That way the person who must be served has a choice as to who will serve them. And there may be some competition.

5) Develop hospitality.

These rules appeared in an article in the Other Side magazine entitled "Why Servanthood is Bad." Ever since I read that article these rules have played around in my head -- and they've often accompanied me as I've struggled to discern my call in the congregations in which I've been blessed to serve.

So, what do they mean in practice? In JCAMP I guess we'll find out this summer. Some of it means that Brandon will be teaching photography, Yusef will be teaching Tae Kwon Do (as he did last year), Mrs. Kimbrough will be doing storytelling. There are artists in our congregation and community who we hope will be blessing us with visual arts and dance classes and music lessons and poetry classes and theatrical opportunities. The question is how do we identify and strengthen the gifts of those around us -- and then give those gifts a chance to bloom through this and other opportunities. The opportunities abound...can we take advantage of them when they come?

We are -- but it is a challenge each and every day. It is easy to fall back into patterns of doing for others what they can do for themselves. It is MORE THAN EASY to fall back into looking for needs, rather than another's gifts, talents, capacities and dreams. It takes real commitment to find ways to provide income rather than services. At the heart of it all is our commitment to hospitality. The mission of our congregation is "to seek, welcome and value all people." These rules seem like some good guidance in living upto and into that statement.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Who Cares?

This is a question that rings in my ears and is the title of an amazing book by David Schwartz. The whole title is Who Cares? Rediscovering Community. In this book he provides "Five Simple Solutions That Are Wrong" -- they are:

1) Rejecting Government Intervention
2) Increasing Management Efficiency
3) Promoting Volunteerism
4) Believing there is a "treatment" for troublesome people
5) Changing Government Program Funding Rapidly

David used to be the director of the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council. He still lives right outside Harrisburg and is a delightful spirit with real joy and grace in what he does and in who he is. I love these five solutions that are wrong -- because they remind me to not look for the quick fix. And also not to be an idealogue -- but to understand the value (and place) of institutions and so-called "helping" professions. David is a wonder.

In the book he also includes "Six Useful Way to Support Hospitality" -- they are:

1 (above all) Slowing the Destruction of Human Culture
2 Promoting Asking: Connecting Strangers Who Are Unlikely to Meet
3 Stimulating Associational Groups
4 Championing "Third Places"
5 Preserving Professional Healing Traditions
6 Cherishing Place and Local Economy

In Sunday's Banquet I think that we did a lot of these things (if I can be so bold). We helped slow the destruction of human culture -- through the celebration and sharing of one another's gifts. We saw strangers who were unlikely to meet in any other way or in any other place get connected. We stimulated at least one associational group (the Mapleton Fall Creek Development Corporation) -- who for the first time in its history is building a strategic plan by first listening to the voices of its residents -- NOT for their needs -- but for what they care about and what gifts that they bring. The proprietor of one of the important "Third Places" of our community -- Unleavened Bread (proprietor Ms. Elyse Womack) -- was in attendance. In preserving professional healing traditions -- we had two fairly new residents in our neighborhood -- one who is an MSW student at IUPUI who is working in the area of Mental Health and who I wrote about on Good Friday -- and another is Sarah, a pediatric physician. Both Marc and Sarah spoke about their feeling that healing comes mainly not through clinical settings (though both think such settings are important) -- but they are mainly concerned about building the health of the community, through community and through what they can offer from their professional traditions. And finally, the whole thing was a cherishing of local place and culture. There was much laughter and wonder in the room. There was the meeting of strangers who were becoming friends. It seemed like the atmosphere that I felt in our home when friends gathered as Jordan was born in the upstairs bedroom.

David Schwartz -- thank you for taking the time to help us see the gift of community and the value and place of institutions...

(Many thanks to Dan Slattery for the wonderful painting at the top of this posting)

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Polygamy and a Banquet

Early this morning I began my walk down to Broadway. Not down the middle of Fall Creek this time (like usual) -- but along Sutherland. As I walked to the church I thought about the day ahead. The Bishop's coming to preach today. What shall I say to introduce him? As I think about the passage about doubting Thomas (the gospel for today) I wonder how the prayers of the people will go. What do I need not to forget? Though I know by the time I reach the church it will all have disappeared! In between worship services I've invited a few folk from Broadway to sit and chat with the Bishop - get to know him informally. And then after the 10:45 worship we'll have a Celebration Luncheon of the gifts, talents and dreams of our neighbors (here in the midst of our wonderful neighborhood).

And so the day begins...little did I know what it would bring along the way.

In between worship a few of us gather to talk with the Bishop -- get to know each other. He asks how people came to be at Broadway. We chat and laugh. He tells us a bit about being in the Dakotas. Troy brings up that he teaches Sunday School class and that one of the children in the class asked him why his two mom's couldn't be married in the church. What should I say to them, he asked? The Bish replied that we have put our pastors in a terrible situation. We tell them in the Discipline that they are to minister to the congregation -- but then we tie their hands. Not exactly an answer -- but it could have been worse. It sets us off on a wide ranging discussion. In the midst of which the Bishop explains that one of the reasons that the vote comes down as it does is because of the block of folks from the Methodist Church in Africa (the bishop used the term "Central Conferences"). He then went on to say that in Africa they have the power to make their own discipline (at least somewhat) -- which is how it is that polygamy is allowed in the Methodist Church in Africa ("though there are limits put on it" he says -- only two wives per bishop I wonder?). Hmmm, now there was something that I didn't remember. And I must admit it was a little confusing. Troy immediately piped up and asked "how do we become a Central Conference?" That got a good laugh. But it certainly made you think. worldwide Methodism polygamy is allowed, but celebrating the love and fidelity between two people of the same sex -- is not allowed.

After the 10:45 worship we gathered downstairs for the banquet. By the time I stepped into the room they were already having to set up more tables (having had more people show up than they planned for). Neighbors and others milled around the table and the buzz of conversation was thick in the air. It was great. Maya was talking with Mark. They had never met before. Mark goes to church here at Broadway. Maya doesn't. Mark tutors a child in the church's tutoring program. The child is having problems with literacy. Maya runs her own tutoring program out of her home here in the neighborhood. She focuses on literacy. She has some ideas for Mark. Others are talking about gardening. Some are talking about health. Some are talking about arts and music and theater. Others are talking about housing. De'Amon gets up to talk and he tells them how he has been overwhelmed and surprised, himself, at the outpouring of gifts he has run across in this neighborhood. As I stood there I realized that I had never been at such a gathering before. I'd been at lots of meetings in lots of neighborhoods -- many of them in church basements like this one -- but I'd never seen a meeting quite like this.

It wasn't a meeting about problems. It was a meeting about hope. It was a meeting that came about because the resurrection is alive and happening in the lives of people all around us. And it was the first time I can ever remember a whole group of people coming together and acting like that was true. Ms. Anita and Stephanie had prepared the food. Smart food (for children and adults)-- finger food mostly -- tuna salad and chicken wings and meatballs and chocolate cake that made you know that there is a God (made from scratch and so rich that it filled you with every bite). Ellis was over in the middle of the community room with his pencil and pad drawing portraits for people. Krystal had her massage machine there and people were taking turns sitting down on it and getting a massage from her. The kids were running around and playing. It was an incredible time.

The question for Broadway at this gathering it seems to me is are we committed enough to keep up with what is happening in the hearts and lives and spirits of the people around us? Are we committed to truly investing in the folks around here?

Here's another question for me -- we gathered around tables of common interests. When do we get to cross pollinate our interests? I saw a sign this past summer advertising "strawberries and jazz." We need to think of that -- to allow such cross pollination to happen again and again. It's good to find those who share our interests, but it is really cool when we get to blend things together in new and unusual ways. That's when the Spirit's presence seems to really break through and be seen. What would it look like for the health care folks to get together with the music people? What if they started holding front porch concerts? What if we could somehow find out if that was making people more healthy? What about the gardeners and the artists and the economic development folks -- what if the photographers would do a calendar on the Gardens (and gardeners) of the Mapleton Fall Creek neighborhood and sell them to make money for the gardeners? Or what about the gardeners selling fresh herbs (being organized to do so) to the local upscale restaurants? In thinking about the artists -- and those who are interested in young people -- what about hiring wondering/roving artists and musicians to wander the neighborhood with backpacks full of art supplies or musical instruments and stopping wherever young people are gathered and "creating art?"

The question for the Mapleton Fall Creek Development Corporation is what does this mean for their strategic planning process? How does this information of the gifts of our neighbors -- of what our neighbors care enough about to act on -- help them know and understand their role in this neighborhood? I'm not sure of the answer -- but I think the question is a good place to start.

At worship among other things we read from I John chapter 1:
the Word of Life appeared right before our eyes: We saw it happen! And now we're telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us. (The Message)
Everywhere I look around here -- in the gracious presence of gay and lesbian folk who feel (rightly so) that the church treats them with a tremendous lack of grace (thus making them the most graceful people that one can possibly imagine -- and we can use such overflowing graciousness around this place -- who can't?) to folks in the low-income neighborhood around our church who have been treated as poor and needy people rather than beloved children of God who have gifts overflowing to share -- we are seeing the Life of God taking shape before us. Too cool.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Immersion and Radical Christianity

Today we drove down to Bloomington to the orientation for the IU Honors Program that Conor has been accepted into for this summer. He will be spending seven weeks in Ciudad Real, Spain. The woman who heads up the program is very impressive. She's tiny and commanding and thorough. It seems that he will be in very good hands.

During her opening session she talked about how hard it is for the young people to get immersed into using Spanish if they are calling back home or e-mailing in English, or talking with others in the group in English (they'll be living with host families for the entire time there). She talked about how confusing it is when you first get there and you don't understand some (or much) of what your host family is saying. She talked about how disheartening that can be. She turned to the young people (all 16 and 17 years old) who will be going and she said, "I hope you will have the strength and the courage to only communicate in Spanish in that first week."

Right then I was struck by her challenge to these young people. I thought of my friends who argue for "full immersion baptism" -- and I thought -- "they are only talking about the water." I can't remember ever attending a baptism where the presider pointed out what a challenge it is to recognize our baptism. I've never been at a baptism where the presider has challenged those baptized (either adults being baptized --or those standing up for their children being baptized) to the strength and courage that is required to live a Christian life in this world in these days.

I wondered when she said it whether it was anything like being immersed in a language that you couldn't quite get a grasp on (even though you knew a few words) and in a new culture (that looked a little like the one you had left behind, but at the same time seemed completely different). I think that there are a lot of similarities. I do think it takes strength and courage (often more than I happen to have on hand) to see the hope of holding on to the new perspective that we are called to as Christian people.

But I don't think it's just a one week challenge. It seems like a pretty daily one to me. Though, sometimes I see glimpses of how if you see just a little bit for awhile, sometimes it breaks open to reveal much more than you had ever thought possible.

I feel like that all the time around Broadway Church here in Indianapolis. I am being challenged each and every day to see the hope and possibility in the lives of those who are considered poor and needy. And then there is the hope that I'm called to see even in those who are my enemies (or those who simply annoy the heck out of me).

It's hard to keep pushing to recognize those who live in our low-income neighborhood as something other than being defined by income. Inner city churches continue to provide "help" to "needy" neighbors -- rather than realizing that it is a sin to ignore the beauty and abundance that pours out of the lives of those very ones they are trying to "help."

"But if we don't help them they'll starve" people say. To tell you the truth - that's not been my experience. In over 20 years of working in inner cities I've never seen anyone starve to death. Though every day I see people hungry to have their giftedness recognized and invested in...

Yes, it's hard work...yes, it's challenging. But isn't it worth it?

Radical Christianity isn't just about giving up things -- even though it is about that as well. The harder part it seems to me is that part of living every day seeing the world differently than I did before. Seeing the people who pass before my eyes as beloved children of God with something to offer for the building up of the community.

That's the immersion I want to see -- an baptism that challenges me to see a whole new world -- a world of hope and justice and peace and abundance -- but in the very places where people say it is least. I'm not talking about being Pollyanna. I'm talking about seeing the grace and joy that is in the places where we least expect it, but where we most need to see it (because then we know the roots from whence it comes).

Friday, April 21, 2006


De'Amon, our Roving Listener, has been visiting for the past couple of weeks with Mrs. Kimbrough. Turns out that way back in the late 1970's and early 1980's Mrs. Kimbrough had a dream. Heck it was more than a dream -- it was a great and cool idea. And she went about making it come true. She stood in her kitchen and taught a class. No one was there, but she put it on tape. She told stories as she cooked, she described what she was doing, she talked about life -- all to the students that she knew would be there. She shared what she had who she was. Who thought of doing such a thing back then? Who thought of her as someone who would do it? She built up a whole boxful -- boxes full -- of cassettes (some were on house cleaning as well). She started trying to see if she could market them. But she was discouraged in every direction she turned. And so she gave up her dream. But she kept the boxes, full of cassettes. So she didn't give up on them completely. She just set them aside. She didn't throw them away. Maybe that's what hope is.

I remember a little boy named Andre here in the neighborhood back in the late 1980's. Peanut-headed little boy. About 8 years old. He loved to watch the older boys playing football on the church parking lot in the fall. He played peewee football and every time he saw them out their playing he would suit up and stand on the sidelines with his football helmet under his arm waiting to get the call to go into the game. He just stood there day after day and week after week. But this was the big boys game. This was the teenagers, the older teenagers -- and they didn't even speak to the young 'un's much less play football with 'em. Seeing that little boy standing out there with his football helmet under his arm every single day makes me think -- Now That's Hope.

Mrs. Kimbrough has hope that was there just waiting for her to haul it out. And De'Amon, the Roving Listener, in giving her the chance to tell him about it -- she took the opportunity to dust off that hope and take it out and give it a spin. Maybe it will burst into something. It reminds me of E.B. White watching his wife, Katherine White, planting bulbs in the fall and remarking that she was "calmly plotting the resurrection."

I remember that when I was a kid my mom would say "that's a given." I was never sure what "a given" was. Maybe a given is the hope that gets put away in boxes, but still kept around. Maybe a given is what keeps a little boy who never gets called into the game showing up every day. Whatever it is -- I want to hang on to it. That's a given.


I've been reading the poetry of William Stafford over the past few weeks. I read one of his entitled "Clash" today.

The butcher knife was there
on the table my father made.
The hatchet was on the stair;
I knew where it was.

Hot wires burned in the wall;
all the nails pointed in.
At the sound of my mother's call
I knew it was the time.

When she threatened I hid in the yard.
Policemen would come for me.
It was dark; waiting was hard.
There was something I had to win.

After my mother wept
I forgot where the hatchet was:
there was a truce we kept--
we both chose real things.

If she taunted, I grew still.
If she faultered, I lowered the knife.
I did not have to kill.
Time had made me stronger.

I won before too late,
and--a man by the time she died--
I had traveled from love to hate
and partway back again.

Now all I have, my life,
strange, comes partly from this:
I thought about a knife
when I learned that great word -- "Choose."

from, The Darkness Around Us Is Deep

I attended (and participated) in a funeral on Holy Monday for Derek, the son of my friend (and amazing poet in her own right) Mari. She told us at his funeral (he was 58 years old) that she had recently learned that he had suffered a trauma when he was seven years old. She was surprised when he told her because "I thought I ran a pretty tight ship." She did. She does.

She challenged us all at that gathering to pay attention to children - to listen to them. I think about how adults are uncomfortable around the pain of children. Perhaps we don't want to intrude on the other adults (parents, etc.) in their lives. Perhaps we don't think we can talk with children -- that it is best left to experts.

But it is not just children who need a listening ear.

It reminded me of a time many years ago in South Bend when a member of our congregation was struggling with alcoholism. He needed to de-tox. He finally trusted enough to tell us out loud what we all already knew. His wife worked and needed to be on the job because she was their only source of income. So, we in the church took rotations every day, watching our friend as he went through de-tox. We joked afterwards that we should call ourselves "the de-tox church." That time was really important. We were paying attention to each other and using the muscles we had, small as they were, to strengthen one another. In those times sitting with our friend in his home we got a chance to talk about important things, I heard some dreams of his that I had never heard before, and some time later I saw some of those dreams come true, because he had spoken them out loud and found folks who either shared that dream or were willing to support him in his.

I wondered about how many stories there are like Derek's in our neighborhood and in our congregation that we miss paying attention to the signals and we don't take the opportunity to listen to someone who is searching for a place to be heard. One of my father's teachers by the name of Nell Morton wrote many years ago about "hearing people to healing."

But if I'm honest I must confess that I don't spend as much time as I could listening. And I don't think I'm alone. I have often heard our culture described as a distracting one -- television and computer screens are certainly outward and visible signs of those distractions. Years ago I heard Walter Wangerin describe the television as "the saw toothed tool of the devil." I'm not Luddite -- but in grappling with such issues I grieve our lack of attention to one another.

I wonder what it would look like to strengthen the muscles of our communities, our streets, and our congregations - to listen to one another (young and old). In our neighborhood people with the loudest voices often talk about the bad things around -- robberies, and assaults, and brokeness, and loss -- but what if in listening to those stories we pushed further and trusted that we would hear about the joy hidden - like yeast in dough? What if we didn't ignore the signs around us of people struggling with addictions and traumas and disappointments and discouragement -- but instead told stories of hearing those stories and then the stories of survival and courage and grace and hope that have come out of them? But if we never hear them in the first place, we never have that chance.

One of the great joys I had in listening to Mari talk about Derek when I stopped by her house on Tuesday morning was her talking about the amount of love that she set had been loosed by his death. She spoke quietly and with great wonder and emotion about the great amount of joy and love that has come to her and others in the wake of Derek's death. Oh, she grieves the loss of him that is sure. But that she is so able to recognize the power of love that is healing broken relationships and bringing joy into the lives of others who miss Derek is a remarkable and holy thing.

There are clashes all the time -- and I praise a poet who writes so honestly about them and reminds me, once again, of my own calling.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Small things -- with Great Love

I've been reading David James Duncan's new book God Laughs & Plays: Churchless Sermons in Response to the Preachments of the Fundamentalist Right and I've been loving it. In it he quotes Mother Theresa who reminds us that "We can do no great things--only small things, with great love." That got me to thinking about what an important reminder that is in this culture in these days. Jesus told stories about the little and the least all the time. So where do we do that here? When Lent began a tragedy struck in our neighborhood. Two little girls died in a fire at their home on Sunday morning. The gas in their home had been turned off and a fire started from their alternative heating source...and they were killed. At the time I hoped that we wouldn't simply forget them and their lives. A neighbor wrote me and recalled the sense of hospitality and joy that was at the heart of one of those little girls.
We have a radio station -- very small, that two sixth graders, Jordan and McKeith, and their adult advisor, Mr. O use to broadcast interviews with neighbors. Jordan and McKeith both go to Shortridge Middle School where the siblings of the two little girls still go to school. And they know them. McKeith and Mr. O just live a few houses away from the house that burned down. We talked about them interviewing the siblings. They can interview neighbors who knew the little girls and broadcast a show in honor of their lives and spirits. Then I talked with Carmen at the church -- Carmen lives in the neighborhood, too -- and she has some contacts who know the parents. She's going to sit down with them and listen to them talk about their daughters -- who they were, their dreams -- what gifts and talents they had. And then we'll see if something doesn't bubble up from that for our summer program (J-CAMP --Jubilee-Community Arts Multi-Talented People). These two little girls remind me of the importance of each person in the life of our community. They remind me that loving one another is a painful but important thing. They remind me why I'm here.

Two walks on Good Friday

Good Friday was a walking day for me. First things first -- a short walk to Unleavened Bread to have breakfast with Marc (a young man from the 2900 block of Delaware who is working on his MSW and wants to do his internship at Broadway) and Dave Medsker (the authorities at IUPUI's School of Social Work don't like Marc's idea - say it isn't clinical enough -- I mention Dave Medsker to him, though, and the school says "oh, if Dave would supervise then it MUST be okay"). So we meet. And talk. And Dave will do it. Then we leave the café and walk to the church and begin the walk to North UMC and to join the already started stations of the cross walk. But we can't find them. But we do find De'amon who joins us and we talk. De'amon tells us about a man, Mr. Kimbrough, and his wife, Mrs. Kimbrough, who live close to the church who he had just met, in his work as the roving listener. Mrs. Kimbrough told about her husband's two recent strokes and how proud a man he is and how depressed he is and how he loves to play golf. But now he can't. As she talks Mr. Kimbrough steps outside -- he sees De'amon and he pulls himself up from his slouch. He thrusts his shoulders to the sky. He is, De'amon says, a proud man. Mrs. Kimbrough speaks about her captivity in the house -- about her wish that Mr. Kimbrough could stand again on a golf course. De'amon walks a block away, he tells us, to the home of his friend lamont. Lamont plays golf. He tells him about Mr. Kimbrough. Lamont gets excited and says he wants to meet Mr. Kimbrough. He loves golf. He doesn't know many people around. Sometimes he plays with Richard who works at the corner of fall creek and college. But he doesn't seem him enough really. But maybe Mr. Kimbrough. Marc's MSW internship would focus on mental health and I think as we walk - how much De'amon is teaching him about "non-clinical" mental health work. And marc picks up on that. He talks about the connection between Lamont and Mr. Kimbrough as a "neural pathway" that De'amon has helped clear the way for. And he wonders if his work in this community, his community, can clear the way for more neural pathways to do their healing work. I don't think of it as neural pathways. I think of it as the way of the cross this good Friday. A way of the cross that is not so miserable, but that is truly a healing pathway.

And then on good Friday evening...i'm walking over to Broadway for the's a beautiful bright early evening. I walk down Sutherland (colors bursting in the trees and the flowers in a few neighbors front yards) -- take the long way...and come out onto College and walk across the College Street Bridge. There is a man standing on the west side of the bridge, halfway across -- looking east. I'm walking and listening to my radio headset (Indiana Week in Review is playing). But as I pass him the man speaks to me. I stop and take off the headset. He pulls me next to him and points across the bridge. The trees are starting slowly to put out leaves. He says "look at those birds." I see two enormous birds in a large tree, with a few green leaves - he says, "those are buzzards. I've lived here for over 50 years. There used be be a lot of buzzards around here, but I haven't seen any for 40 years. What do you think it means?" a stranger -- on Good Friday -- stops me on a bridge and asks me what it means that buzzards have appeared along Fall Creek. I can't imagine. Truly. I can't imagine. I think..." IS Good Friday." but I don't say it out loud. It seems to ridiculous to say. But I wonder what it means. Is Fall Creek dying? Too much toxicity over too many years? Do the buzzards know that the city is dying? We see signs of it all around. In my ears I've been listening to politicians and journalists spar over the last happenings in the higher realms of the state -- but I'm listening to them, rather than reading the signs of the times -- buzzards on Fall Creek and Mr and Mrs Kimbrough looking for a little healing and new life on Good Friday. My ears are not tuned to the right things right now. I'm listening to the politicians and the pundits -- rather than my neighbors and nature. Maybe this Good Friday I've learned a lesson.