To Make Sure You Get There Alright

 

Matthew-BoultonBy Matthew Myer Boulton

Maybe it’s because of our location, once described as the country’s frontier and now as its heartland, “the crossroads of America.”  Or, speaking of roads, maybe it’s because our signature sporting event is a celebration not only of speed but also of the very idea of a 500-mile journey.

Whatever the reason, the notion and experience of a journey has always been close to the Hoosier heart.  Some of us travel far and wide.  Others of us basically stay put, welcoming travelers with that legendary Hoosier hospitality.

I say this as a relative newcomer, my family having moved to Indianapolis from Boston just a few years ago so I might serve as president of Christian Theological Seminary.  Now, Boston is a friendly place – but there are differences.

“The notion and experience of a journey has always been close to the Hoosier heart.”

My very first week here in town, I found my car nearly out of gas, and so asked a stranger for directions to the nearest gas station.  After providing them he offered to follow me.  A bit taken aback, I said, “Why?”  I’ve never forgotten his answer.

“Well,” he said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, “to make sure you get there alright.”  Still a bit off-balance, I declined his offer – but as I drove to the station, I smiled all the way there.

We still have a long way to go on this journey we call “Indiana.”  There are too many hungry kids in our neighborhoods, too much violence in our streets, and in our homes, and in our hearts.  The great teachers and traditions often turn to the theme of journey in their stories and instruction – and this is no accident.  It’s part of the genius of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, for example, that the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, end not in the promised land, but on the verge of it:  in sight of the land of milk and honey, but not there yet.

We’re not there yet either, and we need the best in our traditions to propel us and challenge us to take pride not only in the distance we’ve traveled, but also in the distance we will travel today and tomorrow.

“We’re not there yet either, and we need the best in our traditions to propel us and challenge us to take pride not only in the distance we’ve traveled, but also in the distance we will travel today and tomorrow.”

One of the most beautiful ideas in the Christian tradition is the idea of vocation or “calling,” of living life as an answer to a kind of summons.  Dag Hammarskjold, former secretary-general of the United Nations and a man of extraordinary spiritual insight, describes it this way:

“I don’t know Who – or what – put the question, I don’t know when it was put.  I don’t even remember answering.  But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”

Which is to say, his life became:  a journey, a great adventure of discerning and living out what we are meant to do, what we are inspired to do, what we are drawn to do – drawn as if by a magnet outside of us that pulls on something deep inside of us, something that’s been there all along.

What we may need most are intentional, extraordinary conversations about this kind of journeying, and this kind of purpose.   Not only so we can each clarify our own callings but also so we can support each other along the way:  whether we find ourselves at a crossroads, or turning around a great track of 500 miles or more that always, in the end, brings us back home.

So let every Hoosier follow his or her own path – but let us also take care of each other, all of us, as we go.  And if any of our fellow travelers ask us why, we can always say, “Well, to make sure you get there alright.”

Matthew Myer Boulton is the President and Professor of Theology, Christian Theological Seminary

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2013 Spirit & Place Festival Theme – RISK

RISKPhoto Credit: Getty Images

RISK
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Residents of Central Indiana are known for being entrepreneurial, family-friendly, and loyal to their communities, and we are famous for our “Hoosier Hospitality.” However, Hoosiers are not generally considered risk-takers. A recent essay on Indiana’s history noted, “We are followers, not leaders; the state of vice-presidents, not presidents…Our motto in this counter-narrative is ‘Good enough is good enough’.”

“How do arts disciplines, faith communities, and educational and civic organizations embrace or repel risk?”

Spirit & Place Festival’s 2013 theme Risk seeks to discover what it means for a culture to be open to challenges and change. Festival programs will also explore questions such as: How do arts disciplines, faith communities, and educational and civic organizations embrace or repel risk? What is the best way to explore risk-taking? And most importantly, what “risk-stories” in Central Indiana should be celebrated or challenged?

“What risk-stories in Central Indiana should be celebrated or challenged?”

Is it fair to conclude that Hoosiers are afraid to take risks? Part of this perception doubtless stems from the state’s fiscal conservatism, which most historians date to the 1830s when the state went bankrupt after investing heavily in a canal network that soon was superseded by railroads. Yet Central Indiana has taken a few large economic risks over the past few decades. Before the redevelopment of downtown Indianapolis, there were very few restaurants and virtually no forms of entertainment in the downtown area. Residents who worked downtown did not have much of a reason to stick around on a Friday night. Now downtown is the entertainment center for our city, with restaurants, bars, hotels, sporting arenas, etc on almost every block. Another risky economic venture occurred in the 80’s when former Mayor Hudnut pushed for the construction of a multi-million dollar domed football stadium, even though we did not have a NFL team yet. However, this investment paid off, at least in terms of national exposure, when the Colts moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis. But in taking this risk, did we forego other opportunities equally as challenging?

“What issues need strategic risk-taking?”

Central Indiana showed that it was willing to take risks for sports ventures once again when the city won the bid to serve at the 2012 NFL Super Bowl host city. Millions of taxpayer dollars went into landscaping, construction of new hotels, resurfacing miles of streets, and creating the Super Bowl village. Residents and city leaders wondered if this large investment would be worth it. Most Super Bowls are held in cities with warmer climates, such as Miami, New Orleans, and Dallas. Would football fans want to venture to a Midwestern city in the middle of winter, especially a city that is not typically known as a center for entertainment? The money and hard work paid off in the end. Thousands of fans poured into the city and were amazed by our Super Bowl village, the zip line, the amenities and convenience of our downtown area, and the hospitality of our residents. The NFL has recently declared that future host cities must have a Super Bowl Village and a key attraction like the zip line. Thanks to the redevelopment of downtown, the construction of the Lucas Oil Stadium, and our success with the 2012 Super Bowl, we are now considered a Midwestern hub for economic and cultural development.

Although we have proven that we are willing to take risks when it comes to sports-related economic ventures or downtown redevelopment, in what other areas have we taken risks? Or are we merely playing it safe in the other areas of our culture and economy? When describing the culture of central Indiana, the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis observes that “Indianapolis is a midwestern city and as such embodies (perhaps exaggerates) the region’s middle class values. Stability, orderly change, cooperation, compromise, conciliation, self-reliance, patriotism, faith: these watchwords find constant expression in the city’s past and present. ” These virtues are not opposed to risk-taking, but they don’t always fit what modern urban planners emphasize as hallmarks of a vibrant place. Richard Florida, head of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and one of the nation’s leading urban strategists, has argued that talented younger adults want to live in cities marked by diversity, technology, and creative energy, characteristics associated with risk-taking.

“How can we surf the space between safety and danger in ways that stimulate community vitality?

Do we as a community want to embrace these attributes; if so, how do we incorporate them into our identity without losing other things that we value? What attitudes, behaviors, and actions might support such a thoughtful, risk-taking culture? What risks can we take during Spirit & place to galvanize change for pressing social, economic and educational challenges?

We’re hoping some of these questions will be answered during the 18th annual Spirit & Place Festival where over 100 community organizations will collaborate to develop events around RISK.

Contact us if you have any questions.  Application guidelines are now available at www.spiritandplace.org. Deadline to submit your program application is March 7, 2013.

References:

1. Bodenhamer, David & Shepherd, Randall. (2005).”The Narratives and Counternarratives of Indiana’s Legal History.” Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 101, 348-367.

2. Bodenhamer, David & Barrows, Robert (Eds.). (1994). Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.