01 April 2015
I tend to try to avoid controversy these days-a reader brought that to my attention. RFRA was a bad move politically and economically for the state. Politically, House Republicans struck while the fire was hot, so to speak, coming off of the 2014 election with super majorities, they wanted to get this controversial bill passed, much like the Ritz bill, as quickly as possible so that people forgot by the next election in 2016....it's a strategy often used, but doesn't make it right nor representational of the people they've been elected to serve. Economically, this was a complete disaster because of the message it sends and has undone much of the economic development advances made in the state in the last several years. The bill is different than other states with similar legislation by the insertion of section 9, and by the fact Indiana does not have anti-discrimination laws protecting non-heterosexual individuals. It can be interpreted to permit discrimination by businesses toward individuals based on the business owner's religious beliefs. Does it say discrimination in the bill? No-of course not, but it could be used for such. For proof, look no further than the bill's biggest proponent Advance America's own website which states it crystal clear (if it's still up), not to mention the governor's own reluctance to simply say "No" when asked that direct question eight times on ABC.
But to me, RFRA is more a matter of faith, not politics, and I wanted to share some thoughts with why some recent events have me feeling really uncomfortable and wondering what is next for the Church in America. So as someone trying hard to follow Christ, and not a politician, I'm just asking for some pondering by the readers. If you believe that Indiana now has an image problem, I believe the Church has a bigger one, or maybe more accurately a heart problem that few in the pulpit are addressing. Recent events seem to make it worse. Last week we saw Ted Cruz announce his candidacy at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, invoking God into the 2016 race, I've seen another comment "Pence stands with God", and of course House Bill 101 signed into law.
Let's look at our Biblical belief system more broadly in light of RFRA. If I owned a restaurant, could I refuse to serve obese people on the premise that gluttony is a sin? If I were a florist, could I refuse to cater a wedding if the bride and groom were sleeping together because sex before marriage is a sin? How about divorced individuals? Can I deny a developer the right to develop based on greed as sin? How about the sins of idolatry, gambling, or pride? Well, Dave Ramsey has said gambling's not a sin so we can eliminate that. But the others, I mean, I've got some rights here, right? Maybe even some moral obligation to help set this state straight.
I'm not a proponent of RFRA, not because of the language necessarily, but because of the damage it does to the Church. And frankly, I'm getting tired of defending my faith, not on the basis of Scripture or our model Christ, but on the basis of how politicians have seemed to assert roles as defenders of the faith. As if God needs any help. The depth at which politics has influenced the gospel and our churches should be alarming, but we've bought into it.....we've embraced it, and cheer it on like we do the home team.
God's so much bigger than Indiana, or America for that matter, yet it seems hard to fathom He ever got along so well without us. Do you suppose He's grateful for RFRA? I mean seriously, I bet Jesus had wished he could have had RFRA to fall back on so He could have avoided the prostitute, Samaritan, lepers, or tax collectors, against some there had been strict religious laws. But I'm certain He anticipated a lawsuit and ministered to them anyway. And me, the chief of sinners, I am so glad Jesus didn't have RFRA to fall back on because I would have never known a Holy God's redeeming grace.
Do I think that a preacher, organization, or individual should be forced to provide wedding services to a gay couple? No, honestly I don't. And frankly, this is what I don't get from the other side...........why would they want them to? But I think it boils down to a heart issue of how to engage one's faith. I have friends and family in the gay community that I love and respect, yet I believe in traditional marriage, no surprise there. I think that they understand that's a belief drawn from conclusions of my personal faith, not because the state may or may not be able to define marriage according to my Judea-Christian beliefs. And subsequently, I don't feel like I need the State of Indiana backing me up. If I error, let me error on the side of grace, and if compelled to go a mile.......go two, and give my coat as well.
What truly concerns me is how this law may be misused by interpretation, despite its seemingly innocent language, in this heated and tumultuous environment. The bill has been called innocuous and really "won't change anything". But it will, and it has already, regardless of the prospect of a clarifying statement by the legislature. Sometimes the message sent is bigger than the words penned. It's created division, as I believe was planned, and it cast a long shadow over our state, but I care a lot less about that than the longer shadow it casts over the Church. Only repealing the law will pull the state out of the downward spiral. I'm not sure what it will take to change course for the Church.
This time of the year, between Palm Sunday and Easter, always makes me think of the parallels between those who cried Hosanna and the Church in America. The Jews lining the streets with palm branches were much more interested in a Jesus who could overthrow Roman rule and establish an earthly kingdom....but that wasn't His plan, not at all, and so they left. Too often I think as Christians we try to establish Christ's religious authority in our government, but that's not what He wants. He wants us to follow Him, not try to somehow finish a job He chose not to do. The Church has got to figure a way out of the political binds we find ourselves in, to sound more like Christ and less like angry politicians. But hey, that's our right........not what we are called to, but certainly our right here in the land of religious freedom.
25 March 2015
|Famous painting of the Battle of Brandywine Creek|
By the time Indiana was being settled in large numbers, the age of Revolutionaries was approaching eighty years old which is why the Hoosier state became home, and the final resting place, to very few Patriots engaged in fighting the British. But in following Mary and her son, George, I found that she moved on to Indiana to live with her aging parents who came in about 1829 to Tippecanoe County. Her father, Christopher, and mother, Elizabeth Packer Whitteberry had made a homestead in their 70s. Recently I found their humble grave sites in rural southeastern Tippecanoe County. And I learned that Christopher Whitteberry, at the age of 17, fought in the Revolution.
|Patriot Christopher Whitteberry's gravestone in Tippecanoe County, IN|
18 March 2015
We've said good-bye to too many giants of our community in the last few weeks. One was my great aunt of nearly 94 years. She impacted my life in a way few have, through her example of public service over nearly 50 years, which I got to observe first-hand. Firetrucks and ambulances from the community she served led the procession to the cemetery. She had become an institution and she'll be missed. The following was read at her memorial service and is composed of excerpts from events held to honor her years of service.
|My great aunt and me|
“You know what the Lord requires of you.
Love mercy, do justly, and walk humbly before your God.”
There are very few people who embody those words, but Elma Konya did. She was just and merciful in her daily work of serving others. And she was humble. When she learned that she would be honored by receiving the Sagamore, she said “Why do I need recognized, I’m just a farmwife.”
Elma Crothers was born to Lemuel and Bertha Crothers in 1921 at their farmstead in North Township, Marshall County. Except for a brief time on a farm just across the county line, Elma lived her entire life within the boundaries of a township she served faithfully for nearly fifty years. Elma worked for Bikeweb manufacturing for seventeen years and as a farm wife before entering a career as a public servant. In 1962, Elma began working as North Township Deputy Assessor and continued in that capacity until running for North Township Trustee in 1970. She faithfully executed the office for each of the following ten consecutive terms, winning the public’s trust for her honesty and fairness.
|Elma with Senator Donnelly|
Citing the continued excellence of the North Township Volunteer Fire Department in equipment and facilities, and the construction of its new building in 1993 as her proudest accomplishments, her unsung commitment to carrying out the duties as trustee and assessor in a fair manner is her true legacy. This may be most exemplified within the township’s farm community. With a working knowledge of farm practices, Elma assisted big and small farmers alike in a manner that could only be described as neighborly and above reproach.
Elma served faithfully, selflessly, and without recognition-through times when politically popular and not. Day in and day out. She didn’t perform “acts” of service, it was her life. Receiving the Sagamore of the Wabash from the Governor is truly an honor to any Hoosier. There are times, though, when it is an honor, and there are times when it is an overdue payment for a life of service.
In 2011, Elma Konya was honored for her nearly fifty years of public service. Surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues, Elma received a hero’s applause when she rose to her feet and reflected on the guiding principle she used to serve the North Township community over the last forty years as Trustee.
“I lived through the Depression. I knew what it was like to be hungry, to not have a roof over your head, to be without heat. You care for each other.”
Senator Donnelly was on hand to offer words of appreciation to Konya and said “you are the inspiration to what the fabric of this great nation is made of…to quietly serve your neighbors and friends”. He then read a letter congratulating and thanking Mrs. Konya for her many years of service, and best wishes from the President.
11 March 2015
The Whitley County Courthouse in the center of downtown Columbia City has one of the most unusual features found in a Hoosier county courthouse. Long before the "sky deck" on the Willis Tower (Sears Tower) in Chicago was conceived, the brilliant architect, Brent S. Tolan of Ft. Wayne had an innovative idea for how natural lighting could fill the center of the limestone fortress. Glass floors. Two levels of glass floors, beneath a sky-lit dome, allowed natural light to fill the rotunda space of the Whitley County Courthouse, dedicated on June 14, 1890. The floors are composed of glass blocks held in a framework of steel. And I couldn't help but notice that one could look up and see the footprints from a visitor to this seat of justice. Unfortunately a renovation in 1979, while saving the building, closed off the natural light in the dome-so the effect is restricted to the historic light fixtures, but still-what a great look.
04 March 2015
OK-I give. I think I'm ready for spring. In the hope of a quick return to warmer weather, I offer up this collage of the four seasons at Sycamore Hill, featuring the Schroeder Barn, built in 1865. Many thanks to my good friend over at Troy Sherk Photography for supplying the spring (top) and winter (bottom) photos.
24 February 2015
I wish I had more time to blog.
I always find it therapeutic and it seems that a handful of you actually enjoy reading Hoosier Happenings as well. The last several weeks have found me steeped in new responsibilities to which I've tried to throw myself at wholeheartedly so combined with work, something had to give. But I saw a post on Facebook last night concerning community development that prompted this recollection of a story by the great philosopher, Dr. Seuss, and maybe sums up a great deal of my experiences in these first few weeks........and honestly, seems like a reflection on nearly the last "fifty-nine years" as we stand here in the prairie of Prax beneath the Zax ByPass. Let's hope for an off-ramp and begin to pull in the same direction, together, because the world isn't going to stand still-it will grow. Lately it's been growing around and without us.
The Zax by Dr. Seuss
One day, making tracks
In the prairie of Prax,
Came a North-Going Zax
And a South-Going Zax.
And it happened that both of them came to a place
Where they bumped. There they stood.
Foot to foot. Face to face.
"Look here, now!" the North-Going Zax said. "I say!
You are blocking my path. You are right in my way.
I'm a North-Going Zax and I always go north.
Get out of my way, now, and let me go forth!"
"Who's in whose way?" snapped the South-Going Zax.
"I always go south, making south-going tracks.
So you're in MY way! And I ask you to move
And let me go south in my south-going groove."
Then the North-Going Zax puffed his chest up with pride.
"I never," he said, "take a step to one side.
And I'll prove to you that I won't change my ways
If I have to keep standing here fifty-nine days!"
"And I'll prove to YOU," yelled the South-Going Zax,
"That I can stand here in the prairie of Prax
For fifty-nine years! For I live by a rule
That I learned as a boy back in South-Going School.
Never budge! That's my rule. Never budge in the least!
Not an inch to the west! Not an inch to the east!
I'll stay here, not budging! I can and I will
If it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!"
Of course the world didn't stand still. The world grew.
In a couple of years, the new highway came through
And they built it right over those two stubborn Zax
And left them there, standing un-budged in their tracks.
07 January 2015
My appreciation for the Indiana dunes began several years ago when researching the early preservation movement in the dunes region, headed up by notable folks like Jens Jensen, and stand-out botanist Dr. Henry Cowles of Chicago who completed pioneering work in ecology in the dunes. While I haven't extensively explored the dunes area (outside of the state park), I have enjoyed a few hikes in the area. Recently a buddy and I hiked the trail through Cowles Bog, one of the most ecologically significant areas of the dunes and named for the good doctor who helped place it on the map.
The bog is estimated to be about 8,000 years old and is described as a "fen" or marsh area covered with mosses and sedges. The bog was named a National Natural Landmark in 1965, about the time the National Lakeshore was created. In 1913, Dr. Cowles headed up an international excursion to the bog, attended by scientists from around the world who came to witness one of the most ecologically-diverse areas in the United States, only behind Yellowstone Park and the giant redwoods area of California.
Yep-right here in Indiana.
31 December 2014
I had a long conversation this week with a young man who is trying to reconcile the traditions of Christmas with his Christian faith. He's taken it to heart and has pages of notes from his research on the origins of Christmas as the holiday we observe. He became very serious and asked me "what do you think of Christmas?" Not exactly sure what he was getting at, I said, "well, it's over-commercialized, and of course, it wasn't when Christ was actually born." More than a half hour later we parted and I mentioned that I had this post rolling around in my head and that our conversation encouraged me to frame it a little differently.
Now this isn't going to be a "put Christ back in Christmas" post, nor is it about the idea the holiday has been hijacked by retailers. In looking for the true spirit of the celebration, in an aspect of the Christian faith that truly should be celebrated, I wonder if we've let the hype steal what could be, and I think was, one of the most meaningful emotions of the season. Have we lost the feeling of anticipation?
From the time the angel appeared to Mary, then Joseph, the anticipation of the Christ was nurtured by these two individuals who God chose to reveal his plan of salvation and reconciliation of the fractured world. And when Mary gave birth, the angels carried that message of hope to shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem, who hurried with anticipation to see this savior-child. And some time later, having been revealed to magi, these wise men followed a star in anticipation to see who they knew had been foretold in ancient prophecies. What would be next for Jesus? His father and mother must have wondered, and then the young men He gathered to His side must have felt such great anticipation in their hearts as Christ healed the sick, made the lame to walk, and opened blind eyes. And when all hope must have seemed lost on Golgotha, imagine the anxious hearts when they learned the stone had been rolled away. What great feeling of wonder and anticipation must have filled those with whom Jesus had walked the streets of Jerusalem.
|Christmas Eve at the 'ol homestead|
Christmas Eve is my most favorite point on the calender. There seems to be an almost palatable feeling of peace that envelopes the world around us. I can walk through our house and feel warmth, hope, and peace in a way that is hard to put into words, but I am sure you understand what I am attempting to convey. And maybe it is the lights on the tree, or the traditions of family before me that pull my heart to that place. But from my late teens until now-it has been the most sacred of times as I consider the sacrifice, born in a manger, that brings hope to the world.
Frankly, I don't know that I care that the Church landed on December 25 to celebrate the birth of Christ eons ago. To me, it is less about celebrating a day than it is about celebrating what the coming of Christ as a baby means to the Christian faith. I choose to celebrate, with anticipation, what God has already prepared for me in the year ahead. So in that vein, celebrating at this point on the calender makes perfect sense. Redirecting our hearts and thoughts during this time should start with the feeling of anticipation borne out of reflecting on the blessings God has provided in this last year and looking forward to fulfilling His calling on our hearts in the year ahead.
This isn't a post about the appropriateness of Christmas trees or lights, or greenery or Santa. And it isn't about deciding how many gifts cross the line from making this Christmas commercialized or not. Maybe this is a call to re-frame our thinking at this time of the year to that of anticipation. Block out the noise and don't worry about whether or not a manger scene is on the courthouse lawn, don't try to make the story of Christ's birth more hip with clever sermon titles or cute phrases. Just share it and ask yourself the pointed question for the year ahead, "am I living in anticipation of the Savior of the world?"
24 December 2014
17 December 2014
One of the most quoted scriptures during Advent is the message the angles carried to shepherds tending their flocks outside Bethlehem: Luke 2:14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace good will toward men."
Two thousand years later, while some still hope for peace, it seems an elusive concept in so much of the world. And where violence doesn't shadow the hope of peace, the busy-ness of life, angst, greed, and what-have-you tends to steal the peace that is ours for the asking. We must only seek it in the One whose coming was wrapped in its message. Too often, in many churches, we don't even bother with the hope for peace, much less in being peacemakers as is found in the Beatitudes, because we feel somehow the reality of sin and our disconnection with those who do not profess Christ, provides a waiver from our responsibility to this world. A world that needs to know the peace of God....I should hope that we're not so broken a vessel to carry that message.
For a few generations the words "Peace on Earth" hung near the top of my grandfather's barn. His family, who left the Amish church, did not know war until he served in the Pacific theater during World War II. Was it any wonder after his service ended that he should have that message proclaimed from on high? When the farm left the family, my mom noticed the words had disappeared from the barn, so she stopped and asked the owner if he had kept them. He did, and they found their way to our home.
About 10 years ago we used the words, and our kids, to send the message of "peace on earth" on our Christmas cards. When we arrived in the country, I think my mom thought they'd be placed on our barn. Instead, we had the perfect place for them inside our home and they stand as a constant reminder of what our responsibility is in this world: agents of peace, peacemakers, as we've been called to. I think that means giving up our rights, or the need to be right, in so many circumstances. I think it means finding ways to get people talking with each other, to work toward compromise and understanding. It means speaking less, and listening more, and being more inclusive in how we go about doing our Father's will.
So, in this week leading up to Christmas, let's determine to find an inward peace and contentment and then in the year before us, let's commit to being peacemakers, healers if you will, to the broken world around us.
10 December 2014
|1869 bird's-eye view of Michigan City, the Michigan Road is the main angled street not conforming to the grid|
|The Warren Building, under redevelopment as the new Artspace project|
|First Congregational Church, 1881, on Washington Street|
|The former Zorn Brewery complex, c. 1870, in the Elston Grove District|
This is what happens when a community rallies around its historic resources = economic development.
03 December 2014
|Levi Van Reed House, Warren County|
|Sweitzer barn on the Van Reed farm|
After Levi’s death the farming operations were carried out by his sons John and Levi, Jr. The vast estate was divided among Levi’s living children, each receiving hundreds of acres. Levi Van Reed, Jr. inherited the family farmstead which included 240 acres on either side of Old U.S. 41. Levi Van Reed, Jr. was born in 1860, likely at the farmstead. In 1895, the Levi Van Reed, Jr. family retired from farming and moved to Williamsport where they were involved in other business interests.
|Spoon mold on the farm.....just kidding, what a great splash block design!|