Thursday, May 31, 2007

Graduation Day

Kathy took this photo last night after graduation out in the parking lot behind Arsenal Technical High School. I found it all a pretty emotional experience. This picture of Conor with his grandparents (Herb and Sue Mather to the left as you look at the picture and Judy and Bob Licht to the right) is a reminder of the ties across generations and I hope it serves as a reminder to him of who he is. I really didn't know my grandparents very well. A little bit. But I think that both Conor and Jordan have had a little more of an opportunity to get to know their grandparents. We live in a more mobile society. We live in a little closer to them physically than I did to my grandparents. Their grandparents have spent time with them, alone and with us. We have tried to point out from time to time aspects of their grandparents stories and lives that we think reveal some things about their own lives -- even as we encourage them to follow their own call in this world.

This graduation day was well spent with this part of his family. That's why I wanted this photograph. I think of how Bob Licht's scientific mind is reflected in Conor's love of mathematics and physics and computer science. I think of how Judy Licht's independence of thought and strong convictions (which I saw reflected very clearly in her parents) are reflected in Conor's own independence and inner strength. I think of how Herb Mather's sense of adventure I can see so clearly in Conor -- always wanting to explore and connect to the world around him. And how in Sue Mather, in the short time she has been around our family, has helped Conor develop a bit more of the grace and hospitality that Sue walks through the world with, so easily. My mother, Lillian Mather, was incredibly resourceful: very "craft-y" and creative and always trying to figure things out -- to make sense of how things worked and why - I see that in Conor as well.

So, as is always said at such events, graduation day is not an end, it is a beginning. I hope it is just another signpost along the road that reveals to Conor who he is and who he is becoming and who God has called him to be. It seems like a pretty good start to me.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Nikki Giovanni's poem, shared with me by Mari Evans last Tuesday, is a Gospel poem. It begins in grief, and ends in hope.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


The college decision for Conor has been made. It's Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. The designation that is the title of this piece comes from a slogan at Centre. C6H0 reflects Centre's basking in the long ago glory of a 1921 win against the undefeated Harvard football team, 6-0. The New York Times later called it "Football's Upset of the Century." Seems like living in the past to me. At the same time it seems to be handled in a good spirit of fun.

This got me thinking about graduation and the way we handle things in the public sphere -- particularly related to urban areas and public education. There is often great groaning and wringing of hands related to graduation rates in urban communities -- particularly low income communities. Now urban schools are important -- and they are also not perfect. They are also not the Savior. They cannot solve the problems of why young people don't go to or finish high school. In our public life, it seems that we like to find a scapegoat -- and if kids aren't finishing high school and are getting in trouble -- it's obviously the fault of the school or teachers (or whomever). It is my belief though that schools can't solve these problems for us -- they are part of the solution -- with all of us -- but they are not the solution, itself. Even if we wanted them to be (which we seem to want) it just won't work. Not because there aren't good dedicated teachers -- not because there aren't people who care. It's because young people don't come to school unshaped by family and community. The solution is a community and a family one -- even more than the school.

My brother Alan is a public high school principal in Chicago at Lindblom Math & Science Academy. It's a very fine school. He and his staff and students are really doing a great job there. It is what a public school should be. I think that there are a lot better things going on at public schools than the larger public perception would lead one to believe. It seems to me that we blame teachers and schools for problems that we have been unwilling to solve as a society.

So...I would like to remark on one thing I think communities, congregations and other groups can do to help. That is to celebrate those in our communities that are graduating from high school. A couple of months ago I was part of a group of clergy that was invited to meet with Dr. Eugene White the Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent. At that meeting he asked the gathered clergy to challenge our congregations to "adopt" the neighborhoods around our church buildings. I remember thinking that we at Broadway are already there.

If you see your neighborhood as part of your family then one of the things that you do - (at least that we are doing at our home as we prepare for Conor's graduation) is you celebrate the graduate. How can that help? And does it help? Well -- I can say that the solutions that the community has been working on -- tutoring, mentoring, etc...haven't really worked. Things have gotten worse over the years. What if we started trying something different? What if we celebrated those who do graduate? What if we gather family and neighbor and sing together the praises of the young people and their families who have gotten across the goal line of graduation? Wouldn't other neighbors and family members see that celebration going on and feel at least a little bit attracted to the good time and the laughter? Lest you discount such things as "soft" -- I would remind you that are "hard" answers haven't been all that effective. What if in the midst of such a celebration we find ways to celebrate the role parents and family members and congregations and neighbors and other organizations and persons have played in that young person's life?

I have been having an interesting (to me) online discussion with another blogger about what makes for successful marriage. My problem with what he is writing is that I don't think his assertions about what will work to strengthen marriage have been shown to actually work. His solutions certainly are the conventional wisdom. But you would be hard pressed to show that those solutions have actually been helpful. It is fascinating to me that a sociology professor (which he is) would use what some might call "fuzzy thinking" to justify his position -- rather than looking at the problem from a variety of different perspectives and seeking what WOULD or at least MIGHT work.

How does that connect to education? I think that our society seems to believe that schools can solves these problems. I don't believe it's been shown that they can. I think that our society seems to believe that the way to respond to it is by focusing on what is wrong. I don't think that is a proven winner either. It strikes me that so much of what the church does today in low income communities -- things like tutoring or after school programs are certainly not at all bad things -- but we keep celebrating them as if they were accomplishing a lot more than what they may actually be accomplishing. We let ourselves "wish" them into practice. Many folks in our congregation work at Lilly. If someone's boss asks her or him to tell them if a drug that they are testing is working and they were to reply "yes, it is..." and the boss asks why and the worker replies "well...I just really think it is..." that would be an unacceptable answer. But we accept it all the time in our communities -- particularly in our work with low-income communities and people. Why?

I've decided I like the fact that Centre celebrates it's victory of Harvard in 1921. I think we need a lot more celebrating and a lot less focusing on what is wrong. One can use a victory to build on other victories -- like building a fine academic institution (and not a football powerhouse).

I wonder if we celebrated in as many fun and glorious ways that we could the young people and families and communities who are graduating from high school this year -- if that may not be the true seeds of new opportunities and change that everyone really wants.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Visit to the Dentist

I had thought about entitling this post "Broadway Church in ministry." A few weeks ago I had a chat with a colleague at another church in our fair city. He told me about a program at his church that engages "every member in ministry every day." He talked, very excitedly, about the way in which people of the congregation he attends were getting involved in ministry every day, through the agency of the church. He talked about people mentoring others, about people volunteering at a school that the church has established a connection to. Pretty good things actually. But then he asked -- "wouldn't this be a great thing for Broadway?" I quickly answered, "No." And he was taken aback. "Why not," he wanted to know. "Because every person at Broadway IS ALREADY in ministry every day," I answered. "Actually, the biggest problem we have in our congregation (and in Western mainstream Protestantism I think) is a belief that ministry ONLY happens in and through the agency of the church. Real ministry is what happens in the lives and works of the people of our congregations every day -- in their homes, in their work, in their volunteerism, in their life as neighbor. The problem we have is that people think that ministry is what happens because the church asks you to do something, rather than your ministry is the way in which you live your life in all that you do."

And that brings me to a visit to my dentist. My friend. Bob Taylor. Every visit to his office is a joy. A real joy. Why? Because his work there is his ministry. Because he moves from chair to chair, from person to person - and offers himself to each person. You are very likely to hear laughter -- not only when he is at your chair, but around the room. You will also get serious conversation about important things -- if you want it. And it will be thoughtful. In difficult times you might get tears. All of these things are a prayer. A salve for the soul. Food for the spirit.

I come to the dentist -- expectantly. Not knowing what to expect -- but expecting something good and holy and rich. I can't remember what my teeth have experienced after I've been there -- but I know that I always feel better. I often come away feeling challenged -- sometime with ideas -- sometime with how I can be a better excuse for a human being myself. Sometime I come away simply in wonder and grateful for Bob and the witness of his faith through that place.

While I celebrate Bob in this piece today -- I want to say that I see this repeated over and over again -- in people in our congregation who teach. I see it in the lives of people who make their home and their table -- one that is a place of healing and laughter and good health. I see it in the lives of the musicians and artists. I see it in the lives of those who work in government taking risks and seeing the world new in how they act and the decisions they make.

And not only do I see it in the people of our congregation -- but I see it in my neighbors. I see it in the laughter of a child who as I walk by calls out "Hi, Mike" and seems genuinely happy to see me - that feeds me -- such a simple, small act. Or in the warmth of a tiny baby named Joy on my shoulder early this morning standing in the office at Broadway. Or in the conversation with a neighbor who is dreaming big dreams for their life -- and through that challenging me to dream that big for myself. Ministry abounds. And I sure am glad of it.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Up On The Roof

Last Wednesday for the staff meeting "The Shining Light Team" of our staff took us on a tour of the church that ended with us "up on the roof." I had never been up here before. Quite a perspective. As spring is coming the leaves are starting to fill out on the trees. The neighborhood looks like a completely different place -- looking at the rooftops rather than the front doors. It makes me wonder about whether I am too often looking at things from the same perspective. How does my perspective need to shift?

My friend, Marc, sent me a link to an incredible video on YouTube -- Here it is. Please click on it and watch. Here's the description Marc sent of it:

"This is a video of a group in New England called Young@Heart. It as an octogenarian’s choir that sings modern songs (I once saw this group sing “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones!!). They key elements that I gathered from this group, and this video, is the tremendous amount of fun this group has together as they learn and perform songs typically created and listened to by kids young enough to be their great-grandchildren. Evidently, through their fun and work together, they have established great care from one another, which is clearly portrayed in this video. In this video, an 80 year old man with congestive heart failure (on oxygen) sings the song “Fix You” by cold play with the vocal backdrop of the Young@Heart Choir. The fascinating dynamic here is that he was supposed to perform the song with his friend, Bob, who passed away just before the performance. The irony here is the subject of the song which deals with loss in a graciously joyful manner. Bob’s family are sitting in the audience crying which creates a moving dynamic to the whole scenario. So, I may be pulling this a little too far, but I really think that because of this community and their relationships with one another they are TRULY grieving together through the power of this song, its performer and their connectivity. It appears to be a real step towards healing."
This got me thinking about what opportunities we miss that are right in our hands. Who would think to look at a group of octagenerians and see a group of folk who want to sing songs by Cold Play and The Ramones? What are the opportunities that are right there in our hands that we aren't seeing? Is this not a living example of seeing the world with all new eyes -- with the eyes of the gospel?