Monday, January 29, 2007

Congratulations Conor!

I apologize for the photograph. It's the best I could do. Standing to the right of center in the green sweater is Conor. This was taken on Saturday night in the Media Center at Arsenal Technical High School. The occasion was Tech Community Leadership Night. The evening began with the recognition of people as Distinguished Alumni. After that several of the graduating seniors were given scholarships by what is called The Tech Community Council. This is really a beautiful example of citizenship and democracy at its best.

Several civic and religious organizations around the Tech neighborhood give scholarships every year for the last 20 years to graduating seniors. They do it because they are neighbor to one another. At a time when there is a lot of handwringing about the lack of community this stands out to me as a shining example of the beauty of it (though they claim this is the only such council or scholarships offered at any public high school in Indianapolis).

But this one had a special undercurrent for me connected to Conor as well. Conor received the East Tenth United Methodist Everson Class Award as the program said "Presented by the Everson Class to a Tech senior who has demonstrated dedicated service to church and community ministry." The chairperson of the Tech Community Council and the M.C. of the event (the person behind the podium) is John Kanouse who is a member of that Sunday School class. I first met John about the time Conor was born. Our friend Lynne Butler was the pastor of East Tenth Street and she had me come in and meet with some of their leadership. I had called Lynne, who lived just a few blocks away from us, the night that Conor was born, to get her help with the birth as we needed another pair of hands in our home that night. Conor was born in the guest bedroom at home on April 13, 1989. Lynne Butler was sitting on the headboard holding Kathy's head up, and wiping her brow, as he was born. The next Sunday she told the congregation at East 10th Street about it. As John Kanouse announced that Conor was receiving this honor -- he mentioned that he had known me for 20 years and that he knew about Conor from nearly the first moments of his birth. It was a surprise and a delight to have Conor receive this award from this good man, this good congregation -- one that had a connection, however small, to our family.

This whole experience of Conor finishing high school has been a new experience. One that has been very rich and delightfully full of such surprises as Saturday night. I never would have thought -- even five years ago, that we would be back at Broadway, that Conor would be graduating from Tech High School, and that he would receive a scholarship from a church who in some small way was a part of his birth. It reminds me of Dr. King's words -- "we are all tied together in an inescapable network of mutuality." I guess so.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Seana's Words

My friend, Seana Murphy, wrote me last night in response to the words in yesterday's posting.

Here is what she said:

I too experience existential agony over the deaths of those named to us
through relationship and half hearted media and those unnamed to us and
the demanding question of the cross-the scriptures-what are we called to
do? What are we called to freaking do? Rufus would say that we are
called like the story of the cross to die and to live again-thus the
question how do we-members of a community of faith-like the named and
unnamed-resurrect when the flagrant loss smolders in the ashes that was
once home-that once held the lives that are now gone?

There are no real answers-no good ones-take to the streets! In the
spirit of those gone due to faulty functions of other humans-burn down
the establishment? My Black Panther rhetoric fails me because like you
and the named and unnamed who loved them-my heart is broken? What do we
do-as remaining children of God? We call upon each other-to call their
names-in our own way-in our own time.

I call their names in this poem-I call their names with a sadness that
is all too familiar and a superficial hope in the promise of my
ancestors-that they are in a better place-and I call their names with a
love for community that still burns-and I call your name-because when
hurt like this strikes the soul-your name too must be called-your
spirit-passion-hope-restored in the calling-in your calling-and in love.


Allyson, did you know
Someone said your name was French
Meaning..of noble kind
Music once moved your feet to dance
Will you dance again?

You must have known the weight of
Your foremother-birth mother of Jesus
The irony-the greatest pain-other mothers
Witnessed-some cried out-some silently wept
As you-like Mary's son-were taken away from us
Will you rise again?
Will you meet Ms. Allyson of great nobility
And dance?

Evon, someone said your name meant fighter
Your desire to remain independent
Your power to say I can still stay here
Your imagination!
You reached back in time and remembered that
Before there was gas and electricity-there was simplicity
Covers and conversations by candlelight
Will you, and Allyson, and Mary converse tonight?

A writer said your name meant BOLD
Rhyming with gold..the precious chameleon metal
Changing form with temperature-liquid-solid-liquid
Smiles changed, hugs changed, walks & talks changed
A gap in time exists between each-each changed because of you
Will you, and Allyson, and Mary, and Evon
Smile, hug, walk & talk together-
Fill in the time that once held you here?

Did you know that your name was hidden in the stars?
Did you know your brilliance?
Your name-stars-irony-existence
Your name, now your flesh, your spirit-hidden in
The stars
Will you and Valarie, and Allyson, and Mary, and Evon
Playfully collide in the sky-display the light that
Is missing down here?

Arneshia, beauty waiting in bloom
Spring is just around the corner and we wait for
You, Valarie, Allyson, Mary, Evon, and Porsha to
Rise again in our hearts
Through a song, a dance, a smell, a taste, a touch, a sound, a vision, a
A something
A anything
Remind us-through calling of your names
Remind us-of the power-Evon-
Remind us of the Boldness-Valarie
Remind us of the Brillance-Porsha
Remind us of the Nobility-Allyson
Remind us of the Beauty-Arneshia
Remind us of the Dance-Mary (Mother of Jesus)
Remind us of the Dance

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


This photo is from the Indianapolis Star -- it's a block from the church where I'm typing these words. Evon Griffin died in this fire early yesterday morning.

I've been thinking about Sunday's scripture as I prepare to speak in the presence of fire.

Here's a passage from the Book of Jeremiah:

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; and before you were born I consecrated you." These are the words of God to Jeremiah. As I read these words I couldn't help but think of the six (6!) people who have died from fires in their homes in the last two (2!) years -- heck in less than the last two years -- in the four block radius of this church. That's stunning.

Weren't Allyson and Mary and Evon and Arneshia, Valarie, and Porsha consecrated? And for this? For this? To be burned up in their homes? Why? (by the way -- all but one of these was under 15 years old) Of course there is no answer for that. Or at least no good answer. Less than fifteen years old. Children in the full flower of their possibility. Each one of the six, beloved children of God. Each one.

In the famous love passage from I Corinthians 13 we will read -- we will read these words from that passage "If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing." Another translation says, ..."if I hand over my body to be burned, but do not have love..." -- the Oxford Annotated version notes that the word "suggests voluntary self-immolation, martyrdom, or branding as a slave." Oh man.

So, I keep thinking of the deaths of these women. All of them women. That was another thing.

But the words of Paul about love are etched in my mind and soul..."Love never ends...Now I know in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."

The greatest of these is love. I don't feel very hopeful today. I think of the barrenness of grief. The desolation that Isaiah speaks about (in last week's lesson from the Hebrew scriptures) I see before me. Six lives in less than two years in a four block area -- where's the hope in that? I don't feel very faithful. I sit here at my computer - a person of faith would be somewhere else doing something. So...I'm out there. But what does it mean to have love? What does it mean to love these women? They are no longer here. But isn't there someway we can love them? Maybe if we can pull together some people -- people who loved them, to talk, to cry, to pray... Maybe in that love something will arise.

The lesson from the Gospel has Jesus saying, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Love.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Imagination Superhighway

On Christmas Day I received a book entitled "A Joyful Theology" by Sara Maitland. Ms. Maitland is a novelist. Having read the book I wish that all the theology that I had to read in seminary had been written by novelists! (or anyone who really knew how to write) It's a wonderful book. It's hilarious, witty, serious, thoughtful, and engaging.

I came across this in her book:
M. Eiffel, an eminent French engineer of the nineteenth century, proposed to build a tower for the Grand Exhibition in Paris. His plans were not moderate: the tower would be the last word in contemporary engineering-- it would involve fifteen thousand steel girders, and over seven million threaded rods, held in place by two and a half million bolts. It would be the tallest structure ever built in Europe (the previous claimant to this glory was Lincoln Cathedral spirit, which had fallen down more than three hundred years before). It would be so tall and so delicately constructed that it would actually weigh less than the cylinder of air that encompassed it. It would be tous qu' y a de chic and modernity.
He drew up the plans. The exhibition committee was keen. A site by the Seine, at the bottom of the Champ de Mars, was selected; subscriptions were raised...Then Monsieur E his a substantial snag: no construction company would build it for him. It was held that erecting a structure more than seven hundred feet high was scientifically impossible and probably blasphemous as well. It would fall down and their souls, together with their professional reputations and their pocket books would be put at risk.
There is something intrepid and unstoppable and many of those high Victorian engineers. Eiffel was no exception: undaunted, he became his own site foreman and advertised up and down the length of rural France for acrobats, tightrope walkers, circus professionals who could, he thought, understand his vision and have the nerve to act it out.
He was right. We see the result still, the epitome of Paris, serene, elegant, bold, floating over the river and displayed on several million post cards.
The Eiffel Tower was built by acrobats and tightrope walkers; engineers and philosophers of balance; artists of the body.
A few years ago people talked about the "superhighway" of the internet. Reading this reminds me of the superhighway I want to ride on. That is the Imagination Superhighway or the Inspiration Superhighway.

I kept thinking of a post that I wrote last year after the death of young Brennan Marsh. I entitled it "No Wasted Meetings." As I sat in the meeting today I realized that this was one of the meetings I had to get out of. And I will. The imagination and the inspiration were small. Perhaps Edison was right -- maybe this life is mainly perspiration...but even when I have perspired most heavily it has often been an occasion of delight. I remember throwing hay out in the fields of the Lammers Farm in Huntingburg, IN -- laughing and telling stories as we walked alongside the wagon and tossed the bales on. Later we would be up in the barn stacking the bales -- that's when the perspiration would really come -- blinding my eyes as my contacts filled with salt and the hay swirled around.

Yet in those times we often let our imaginations run wild. We talked about the world we wanted to see, about the dreams we had, the ways we could make those dreams come true. That's a far cry from a meeting where one talks for hours about "what our purpose is or our values are." This is not to demean the meeting. There were really good people there. People who care about many of the same things I do. It's just that we spend so much more time talking about how we communicate what we do that we never get around to...well...actually doing something.

I love Monsier Eiffel's approach -- bring together unlikely people to work together on something. On spiritual development bring together children (the heart of spiritual development is play) -- for worship bring together circus performers (they know how to use their bodies to "SAY" something) -- for economic development get some cooks and gardeners together (they know how to grow things from the ground up and how to take what's grown and make it into a delicious meal!). Now Monsier Eiffel turned to this because all other paths were blocked. Maybe we could turn to his way of seeing things before that. I remember reading in a book years ago about Curitiba, Brazil and it's incredible Mayor (at the time) Jaime Lerner. Jaime fired all the city planners and hired architects in their places (he said he needed people who were actually used to building something). Then when young people vandalized some of the gardens in Curitiba he was met by the police chief who wanted to authorize overtime for the police force. Mayor Lerner told him no -- that instead he would take the money and hire the young people who were vandalizing to be gardeners. He was doing with what was in hand - but using imagination and inspiration to do it.

I recently read the report of the Mayor's Task Force on Crime and Violence here in Indianapolis. It is pretty darn lame. It lacks those crucial ingredients of imagination and inspiration. I lack it to often myself. So I ask for your prayers -- that I will not be a block to imagination and inspiration around me...

Sunday, January 21, 2007


An expression that often runs through my mind is "bloom where you are planted." I think about that for myself, my family, and for my neighbors and parishioners. How can we help one another bloom where we are planted? What does that look like?

The picture at the top is from an exhibition entitled "Bloom" by the artist Anna Schuleit. This exhibition is set in the Massachusetts Mental Health Center. She took this abandoned Mental Hospital and set up 28,000 flowers throughout the place. She said that she did it because mental patients never get flowers (while regular hospital patients often do). After the four days of the exhibition she took these flowers (one halfway is depicted in the photograph at the top) and had them sent to mental patients around the Boston area. How beautiful.

Back in 2001 she took the old Northampton Mental Hospital (abandoned as well) and put speakers in many of the rooms and for 28 minutes one day she played Bach's "Magnificat" throughout the grounds (through the broken windows) as people gathered. In the interview I got the idea that the people at the event were former mental patients, their families, people who had worked there, and people from the community. It was a way to say goodbye officially. And -- how beautiful that the "Magnificat" was sung -- this reminder that God has turned the world upside down from the way we understand it.

I take a lot of inspiration from this woman and I find myself being inspired by her witness to see the world around me with new eyes. Bloom. Yes, indeed.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

When Pastors Made A Difference

I'm reading this new book by Stephen Johnson entitled The Ghost Map, about the cholera epidemic in London nearly one hundred and fifty years ago. I've been thinking about the book as I've been walking tonight. Certainly the most important person in getting the epidemic stopped was a physician by the name of John Snow. He was remarkable. He didn't take the conventional wisdom, but went ahead and tried to see the world clearly for himself. Even though the newspapers, the medical establishment and others were against him, he hung in there and continued to do his research and learned what was really causing the spread of cholera.

But it is not his story that I want to tell you, dear reader. Though you may not have heard of him, he is well known. I want to speak of another important "actor" in this drama - one less well known in our day and age. I want to tell you a little of the story of Rev. Henry Whitehead. He is the pastor at St. Luke's -- which is in the area where the cholera epidemic is most rapidly spreading. Rev. Whitehead visited people in their homes. He talked with them as the cholera epidemic was sweeping through the community and tried to make sense of it himself. He asked questions, he paid attention, and he didn't let his brain go to sleep. As the epidemic began to reach its peak and then diminish he heard of Dr. Snow's thoughts. He didn't thik they were right...but he thought that perhaps he should consider them. As he asked more questions he began to see that Dr. Snow was right -- the culprit had been water coming from the Broad Street Water Pump.

But now that Rev. Whitehead believed him he wondered how he could help the rest of the city see that Dr. Snow was right and thus be able to take appropriate preventive measures in the future. Rev. Whitehead was listened to on the important committees that were considering the cause and effect of what had happened. Though there was great skepticism about what Dr. Snow had deduced and proven (even though it was proven), it took Rev. Whitehead's recounting his experience and his observation to get the support of the majority of the committee.

Because he paid attention -- because he knew the people of his community -- because of that -- the cholera epidemic was stopped before it could greatly expand its reach beyond the horrible limits it made. And, perhaps more importantly, the city of London began to take preventative measures.

I thought of a conversation that I had with a friend, Mac Hamon, recently (another pastor). He asked -- where are we in really being able to be helpful to the common good? Where?

We don't know the people of our parishes well any more. We might know some of the people of our congregation -- but that larger notion of parish has shrunk. We also have had our understanding of what area(s) are "ours" to speak to are primarily that of the "spiritual" (as if God weren't concerned with every single corner of our life.

I was thinking about this as I read the Indianapolis Community Crime Prevention Task Force Report (click on it to download the report for yourself). There are a couple of clergy on the task force. But they don't seem to have done their homework (nor anyone else on that committee). The crime and violence in Indianapolis over this past year has raised a great concern. Yet the responses of the task force are trite, cynical and an inch deep.

They are trite in that they just repeat the conventional wisdom that has taken ahold of us these days. The report encourages the growth of mentoring programs. The problem with that is that there are more mentoring programs in Indianapolis right now than at any other time in our history. Yet, clearly our violence and crime problems are not all right. Other social programs are encouraged as well -- day care, after school care, etc...

They are cynical in that they recommend steps that they have no authority or responsibility to see implemented. The things they recommend are not on the face of themselves "bad" -- in fact quite the opposite -- and yet no one is actually likely to do them, because of the report of this task force. And that, I'm afraid, is quite cynical.

Finally, their report is only an inch deep (if that) -- there is no critique offered of things like the mentoring programs or school based programs. There seems to be little or no actual experience with the victims and perpetrators of these crimes, beyond only the most surface. There is no gathering of facts and/or data at all, that they might use to bolster their empty ideas.

Pastors use to make a difference. We knew our communities. What we didn't know we knew how to gather data to find out. We used common sense. Now we are quicker to type up a blog than sit down with our neighbor (let me indict myself along with anyone else).

The concerns of pastors, are the concerns of our communities. Churches all too often act like they are islands having nothing to do with or no connection to their communities. If they church grows or shrinks it is due to the spiritual dynamic in the congregation rather than anything to do with the demographics. No wonder we have problems these days with science and religion. Religion has scooted over and is no longer willing to sit too close to science. That is our arrogance (this is not to say that science doesn't have an arrogance all its own).

We need -- the city, the state, and the nation needs -- pastors who are citizens of the community -- who help us see the real lives in and real life of our communities.

I'm searching for a way forward. Maybe the Ghost Map can help.