Parenting as Resistance: A Post-MLK Day Reflection

Last week I picked up Ruby, our 6-year old, from school and she immediately burst into questions about Martin Luther King Jr. A portion of our conversation went like this:

Ruby:Daddy, did you know that white people used to not let black people drink from their water fountains or shop in their stores or ride on their buses?” 

Me: “Yep, it’s terrible. How does that make you feel?”

Ruby:Really sad. Why would people do that just because they look different?”

Me:Because people are often scared of people who look or think different than they do. And some people think they are better because of the color of their skin.

Ruby:Did you hear about the man who said that we shouldn’t do that anymore? We are going to celebrate his birthday next Monday.”

Me:Yep, his name was Martin Luther King Jr and he was a peacemaker who followed Jesus.”

Ruby:We need to celebrate his birthday more often by doing what he said.” 

I was undone. Both with pride for the way my daughter was developing and disgust at the evil of our shared history in this country. 

A few days ago, some of our dear friends hosted an interactive MLK party where we read parts of his speeches, reflected on the significance of his prophetic work and witness, lamented our broken past (and present) and sang songs of hopeful protest. 

Last month, I walked the streets of Montgomery, Alabama to study the history of slavery, racism and white supremacy in our country and learn from Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative who is actively working to heal the deep wounds in our country. As we stood in a building that once held African slaves in chains between their auctioning to the highest white, European bidder, we were invited into the history of systemic racism in the form of slavery, lynching, segregation/Jim Crow and mass incarceration. 

A couple months before that, I found myself sharing and praying at the memorial service of Alfred Olango on the streets of my own city (San Diego) alongside the family of this unarmed black man killed by the police. The pain, misunderstanding and distrust was palpable. 

Two years before that, like Joshua around Jericho, I marched with faith leaders in NYC after the murder of Eric Garner (who famously said, “I can’t breath,” while being choked by a police officer) pleading for God to tear down the walls of racism and injustice that hold us captive. 

I’m no hero, but I feel as though I’m learning about and from those who are. Her are a few learning’s that have risen to the surface. 

First, as a white man inheriting a narrative of dominance, I’ve had to confront how blind I’ve been to the plight of my friends of color and commit to a long, disorienting journey of (re)learning. Second, I’ve been deeply moved by the active nonviolent resistance put on display by black organizers for decades in pursuit of racial justice and equality. It is there that I have not only seen the actions of Jesus, but the people Jesus most often described as understanding and inhabiting the kingdom of God. And, third, I’ve been convicted and inspired to share about both -- the ugly history and the beautiful peacemakers seeking to redeem it -- with our children. 

While my wife and I still have ALOT to learn in the parenting department, we are doing our best to stumble forward in a way that shapes our four littles in a way that reflects that of Jesus. We have found that when we expose, educate and invite our children to confront our broken past and build a new future, the act of parenting becomes a tangible form of resistance. It is resistance to perpetuating a narrative and life of apathy, privilege and violence. It is a resistance to the principalities and powers that promote the flourishing of a few at the expense of the many. At the same time, it is an opportunity to shape a generation that has learned from our mistakes and participates with God in healing our broken world. 

As white parents with plenty of privilege, here are a few ways we are working to understand our parenting as resistance:

Expose Our Kids to Injustice

As a parent, there is a temptation to isolate our kids from the injustices of our world. While requiring necessary discernment, I would argue that we need to more regularly expose our kids to injustice. Not only does it allow them to confront the brokenness of our world (and the ways we’ve contributed to it) while still under our care and guidance, it gifts them with the opportunity to see a reality beyond their own. Many kids are raised embedded in systems, structures and everyday realities of injustice, so it is only in our isolated privilege that we “choose” to expose our kids to injustice. As followers of Jesus, we often see God’s best work unfolding in and among those on the underside of power. Not only was this the reality of Jesus, it was the very nature of the way he described the kingdom of God. If we don’t accompany our kids into realities of pain and suffering, they miss an opportunity to meet Jesus in the lives of those often dismissed by society at large. 

Educate on the Good and the Bad

It’s easy to teach our kiddos all the good stuff of our history. Or, to twist the “bad” stuff of our past to make it sound “good.” Not only is that incomplete (or even untrue), it short-circuits their formation and perpetuates harmful narratives. In preparation for MLK Day, we read to our kids about Rosa Parks and talked about why black people were treated badly by white people. We watched Kid President who talked about MLK and the tragedy of his assassination. We opened up space for them to ask hard questions, which as a parent, is both terrifying and thrilling. If we stigmatize the hard questions as “out of bounds,” they will either ask someone else or get more curious on their own. We’re not big fans of either of those options. 

Invite Them Into a Story Worth Living

We are adamant about not only helping our kids identify what they are against, but inviting them into a life that reflects what they are for. We need to invite them into story that is shaped by an enemy-loving God (Jesus) and sustained by enemy-loving people (Church). In short, we want them to identify with our global family by following a Jesus who crossed every kind of border and boundary as part of God’s mission of reconciliation. We don’t want them to be peacekeepers who embrace the status quo, but peacemakers who upset the status quo for the sake of restoring what is broken. To be “peacemakers” has now become our kiddos greatest aspiration and we talk about what that looked like for them each day on the way home from school. 

This is not a time to sit on the sidelines in silence. It’s the moment we must follow Jesus into the middle of our broken story to stand with and alongside those who have been abused and sidelined in our society. For those of us with influence in and among the next generation (not only biological parents!), parenting may be both our best resistance to the evil and best opportunity to usher in the good. 

 

One Reason I Still Have Hope For The USAmerican Evangelical Church

DSC00816If I’m completely honest, I’ve been really discouraged as of late. A major source of my discouragement has been the way the USAmerican evangelical church (a tribe I have identified with for most of my life, so my critique and exhortation will be directed there) has chosen to engage the world in this season marked by division, violence and trauma. Now, I admit I’m speaking in generalities, but rather than being the healing balm to society’s gaping wounds, we have often contributed to the bleeding by either withdrawing in fear or adding fuel to the violence. 

I actually believe that if the USAmerican evangelical church took Jesus’ life and teachings seriously, our collective presence globally would not be associated with violence and division, but with hope and reconciliation. Call me crazy, but I believe the Church -- at her best -- can be an instrument of peace in the world. The collective impact of the USAmerican evangelical church (which, obviously, is only one segment of the Church global) on the world is unprecedented. That impact can either be associated with revenge (which it largely has been) or reconciliation. 

When we are more driven by our fear to defend what is ours from the enemy “over there” rather than freed to live fully into our mandate to love, we morph into something we were never intended to be…and our actions follow suit:

Fear trumps hope.

Isolation trumps invitation.

Stereotype trumps understanding.

Dogma trumps generosity.

Critique trumps curiosity.

Safety trumps faithfulness.

And, ultimately, hate trumps love.

So, what is one reason I still have hope for the USAmerican evangelical church?

As much as you may be thinking I’m going to say Amy Grant’s infamous Christmas album or Nick Cage’s sterling performance in Left Behind or our fascinatingly disturbing alignment with the “politics” of Donald Trump, it is none of those…

What gives me hope is that we follow a God who, in Jesus, invites us to not only love our neighbor, but our enemy. 

We follow an enemy-loving God. 

I think we often miss how unbelievably significant and world-altering the implications of this mandate can be if we actually took it seriously. Having sat at the feet of religious teachers from all over the world representing many different traditions, I’ve NEVER heard a teaching so radically provocative, subversive and compelling as Jesus’ words of enemy-love in Matthew 5. Of course, Jesus didn’t just teach this stuff, he embodied it as he’s dying at the hands of the “enemy” saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). I would argue that living this mandate is the best, most tangible contribution the USAmerican evangelical church can make in our divided world. In fact, I think this matters so much, our world can’t afford to have us withdraw from Jesus’ invitation to enemy-love. 

Why do I believe the USAmerican evangelical church can actually live this out?

Two reasons:

  1. Because Church history affirms that a commitment to enemy-love is a normative element of discipleship. Dr. Ron Sider recently did an exhaustive study of the Early Church’s response to violence and found that there were no accounts of Christian’s responding to violence with violence for the first THREE HUNDRED years of its existence (Jesus to Constantine). Violence only infected the Church when Constantine married Empire and militarism with Christianity in the 4th century.
  1. Because I’ve seen it being lived out ALL OVER the world and it has inspired and completely reshaped my understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. 

It’s being lived out in war zones in Iraq by my friends with Preemptive Love

It’s being lived out under military occupation in the West Bank village of Bethany by my friends Milad and Manar

It’s being lived out in deportation shelters in Tijuana by my friend Gilberto at Casa Del Migrante

It’s being lived out on the streets of East Oakland by my friend Ben McBride of the Empower Initiative

Although we are still stumbling into this, it’s being lived out among my community right on our streets in Golden Hill. 

And, here’s the thing, every time hatred and violence is returned not with revenge, but with forgiveness and love, the world actually begins to reorder itself into the way God designed it to function all along. The cycle of violence is immediately destroyed. The humanity and dignity of the abused is revealed. The inhumanity of the actions by the “enemy” are exposed for all to see. Relationships strengthen and deepen in mutuality. Imagination and creativity grow as we see that another way is actually possible (Jesus called it the Kingdom of God!). And, ultimately, people actually see, experience and are transformed by this revolutionary 1st-century rabbi from Palestine we’ve all been trying to follow all along. 

This, my friends, is Good News. This gives me hope. This is our invitation and opportunity to join God in healing a broken world by living in the most counter-intuitive and counter-cultural way imaginable. 

It’s going to cost us something. In fact, it may cost us everything. But, it is in our willingness to die that the soil is prepared for new life. 

Despite our temptation to be discouraged and paralyzed by our collective failures, we have something to contribute to a hurting world.

Now, let’s get after it. 

The Opportunity of Raising Kids in This Crazy World

kidsHaving spent the last couple days getting solo time with my kiddos, I’ve never been more convinced that the way we raise the next generation will be our greatest contribution to healing a broken world. The stakes are high. 

Let’s not shelter our kids, but invite them into the beautiful and broken realities of our world.

Let’s not hide them from the darkness, but accompany them into the midst of it.

Let’s teach them to lead with curiosity, ask great questions and be discontent with the status quo.

Let’s help them not be color blind, but color competent. 

Let’s give them the gift of community that keep them rooted in an interdependent network of relationships and specific place that shapes their view of God and others. 

Let’s teach them to have their lives marked by what they’re for rather than what they’re against. 

Let’s teach them to identify their inherited privilege and choose to leverage or give it away for the flourishing of those who don’t have it. 

Let’s give them the freedom to question, doubt and wrestle with their faith and inherited narratives.

Let’s create a safe space for them to identify our blind spots and help us reframe, reform and renew the stories we tell ourselves. 

Most importantly, let’s live the kind of lives we would want our kids to live by not only passing along a set of ideals, but modeling a set of practices in every day life. 

And, in the end, when we inevitably screw up, may we have the kind of grace on ourselves as has been given to us. 

This is a our best “weapon” against the pain, violence and division of our world.

Listen to My Interview with Morgan Freeman from the Holy Land

A few months ago, I had the incredible opportunity to do an in-person interview with one of the most iconic figures of the silver screen, Morgan Freeman. As anticipated, his presence was both stoic and warm and his voice as silky smooth as imagined. I’m just disappointed I didn’t ask him to record my voicemail message. Alas, we had a great conversation about themes in his recent National Geographic Channel show, The Story of God. You can read the interview and my reflections on it in this article.

Fast forward a couple months and I heard from his team about doing an audio interview with Morgan while I was leading a delegation through the Holy Land…because there is no more appropriate location to discuss the different ways religions view God than in the place where Jews, Christians and Muslims find a common home. So, while overlooking the Sea of Galilee in Northern Israel, I was able to fire up Skype and record this conversation I had with Morgan and his colleague Lori McCreary (Executive Producer of The Story of God and Madam Secretary). We talk fear of the “other,” multi-faith understandings of God -- and how that impacts our common call to love our neighbor -- and a handful of other fascinating topics. Listen in by clicking on the recording below the picture. Enjoy! 

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The Idol of Safety

safetyIn the wake of another heinous attack taking the lives of innocent civilians, the world feels increasingly unstable. The violence “over there” is no longer relegated to headlines on the other side of the world; it is edging closer to our doorsteps and threatens to invade our everyday lives. 

In light of this reality, conversations ranging from our coffee shops to the halls of political power are shouting out the necessity to pursue security and safety above anything else. 

I get it. 

As a father of four little kids, there has never been a season in my life when I’ve felt more compelled toward security and safety. I can’t begin to comprehend the disorientation and paralyzing pain that would come with the harm of my family. 

For the past five years, I have regularly been traveling to conflict zones in the Middle East, but the more kids I have waiting for me to safely return home, the harder it gets to step on that plane and make an intentional decision to move toward exposing myself to violence. 

In short, when I hear our current political candidates talking about the paramount importance of “security” and “safety,” it strikes a chord and I find myself tempted to stand up and applaud.

AND THEN I PAUSE, step back for a moment, ask some harder questions of where my applause is coming from, and consider my kingdom allegiance marked by One who moved toward rather than away from potential violence.

I’m convicted that my desire to applaud this “security at any cost” rhetoric and policy is a temptation to worship the idol of safety. It is not something to be admired, it is something to be acknowledged, questioned and repented of (turned away from). Worshiping the idol of safety greatly inhibits our ability to worship the crucified and risen Jesus.

It’s not that I don’t want safety for me, my family or the world. I actually want that more than ever, but when I look at this through the lens of discipleship (following Jesus), here are the issues I’m wresting with today:

  1. The objective of terrorism is to instill fear. Politicians then use that fear to shape a reality that advances their agenda. What they are offering us is nothing more than a pseudo-reality that requires we have the discernment to see through the smokescreen to what is actually real. My desire for safety is real, but in reality, I should be far more concerned about a car wreck, chronic disease or natural disaster than terrorism. When I begin making decisions from a place of fear, I not only buy into a pseudo-reality that is being crafted by political power plays, I begin to close my eyes to the new and dynamic ways God is calling me to join in the world he is making. 
  2. The means through which we pursue safety often force us to compromise our kingdom identity and can lead to less safety. First, let me acknowledge that political leaders are responsible to tend to the safety of citizens and can make the decisions they feel are necessary to do so. With that said, we, as the Church, can’t allow our political allegiance to trump our kingdom allegiance. When we worship the idol of “safety,” we can quickly compromise our kingdom witness and begin to justify the means through which safety is achieved. For example, when we celebrate the death of other human beings because it means we are “safer,” we may be worshiping the idol of safety rather than the enemy-loving God embodied in Jesus. When we demonize and punish entire groups of people (the vast majority of whom have no desire to do us harm) for the sake of our “safety,” we may be worshiping the idol of safety rather than a Jesus who loved indiscriminately. When we reject the very people (many of whom are children!) who are fleeing violence for the sake of our “safety,” we may be worshiping the idol of safety rather than a Jesus who calls us to care for the “strangers in our midst.” Finally, while these may feel like safety measures, it is growingly clear that these means don’t lead to a lasting, sustainable security and safety. Rather, they more often lead to resentment, oppression and instability, which then breads more violence. 
  3. I can’t reconcile withdrawal, isolation and a posture of defense with a God who moved toward violence, brokenness and “the other” in Jesus. As Ive been wresting with this idol of safety, I’ve repeatedly been convicted by this truth; Jesus never called us to be safe; he called us to be faithful. According to Jesus, faithfulness moves us beyond love of neighbor to love of enemy. If pursuit of my safety trumps my ability to love whoever God has in my path, fear wins and I distance myself from God’s heart for the world. How can I love my “enemy” if I don’t know them? The idol of safety moves us away from people who are different than us and sends us inward to those who look, think and act like we do. There is no love outside of relationship; there is only misunderstanding, demonization and stereotype. Lastly, how can we know our “enemy” if we don’t cross the borders that divide us? The Jesus Way requires we reject the temptation to move inward and continually calls us to move toward “the other.”  

Interestingly, I find myself wresting through this stuff during Holy Week. This is the week in which Jesus models to the world life as it was meant to be lived. It is a life marked not by isolation or triumphant overthrow, but by suffering, sacrifice and selfless love for the flourishing of others. It is a life that crosses borders and boundaries to reassign the humanity, dignity and the image of God in all the “wrong” people with whom he should have feared and stayed away from. A life that ended with the uttering of this prayer for his enemies, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” These are the stories we tell in Sunday School and say, “Wow, Jesus is a bad ass. He wasn’t scared of anything and I would do anything to live and love like that.” 

Imagine if instead he chose to worship the idol of safety and never left the safety of his little Galilean synagogue so he could read Torah and remain isolated from all the violence of the world? That story would not only suck, it wouldn’t reflect the heart of a God who literally moved into our human neighborhood to remind us what love looks like. 

So, during this Holy Week, let’s pay attention to the very understandable fear, paralysis and temptation to worship the idol of safety. If I’m completely honest, I’m still having a hard time with this. This is not easy stuff and I’m not happy about having to make these intentional decisions to keep perspective in a world that feels so unstable. But, friends, this is the beauty, challenge and mystery of choosing to follow an enemy-loving God who -- this Holy Week -- invites us to love to the point of death, while being fueled by the hope and reality of Resurrection. 

May it be so. 

 

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