Deported: A View From the “Other” Side

GilbertoI was recently sitting in a Tijuana shelter that houses men for 12 days after they have been deported from the United States. I was guiding a group of pastors and leaders from around California and Arizona who wanted to learn the human story of immigration first hand. With that goal in mind, we simply sat with Gilberto, the director of the shelter, and asked him to tell some of his story and the story of those he has given his life to over the past 30 years.  

Unimpressed by our glowing resumes, large church attendance or broad vocabulary, Gilberto humbly shared about the path Jesus led him on toward caring for society’s leftovers. With a glowing resume of his own, Gilberto intentionally chose to step off the path of comfort and “success” to step deeper into the reality of his brothers who needed his support. 

He shared about the man who had been deported at 51 years old after living in the US for 50 years. Because this man’s parents came to the US when he was 6 months old, he knew no other home than that of the US. When he landed in Tijuana, it not only felt like a foreign land, but he didn’t even know Spanish. 

He shared about the US military veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan but after serving his time in war zones, was deported to Mexico. 

He shared about the man who had recently been deported and was now desperately trying to return to his wife and young children in the US.  

With each story, the layers of isolation, dehumanization and misunderstanding began to be peeled back. We had all heard the stories of deportation in the headlines, but none of us had come face to face with the humans behind the story. 

Mesmerized by this sage who cast such a strong aroma of Jesus, we asked, “What would you encourage us to say to our congregations regarding the plight of the immigrant?”

He quickly responded with words I’ll never forget: 

“Tell them to read their Bibles. Jesus told us to care for three types of people; the orphan, the widow and the stranger. It’s been 2000 years and we’re still doing a pretty bad job.”

We were frozen in our seats. 

How could a group of pastors who have given their lives to following Jesus and to the work of encouraging others to do the same argue such a profound statement?

It was one of those strange, other-worldly moments when conviction and inspiration seem to collide.  

Now, we could argue this politically and enter into the endless rhetoric, partisan mud slinging and various interpretations of United States immigration history, but that’s not the point. The point is taking seriously Jesus’ mandate to care for the orphans, the widows and the strangers (“refugee” in some translations) among us. 

In his 30 years, Gilberto has cared for 220,00 “strangers” who have come to his door. They aren’t a problem to fix, but a blessing to receive.

Maybe, just maybe, after we begin to care for and love the people Jesus asked us to, we will discover that we need their love as much as they need ours. 

Maybe, just maybe, after we begin to care for and love the people Jesus asked us to, we will have the relational credibility to legislate their well being.

We might not care for 220,000, but we can start with one.

————-

NOTE: If you and/or your community want to experience this reality first hand, consider joining one of our Immigrant’s Journey Learning Labs. More info HERE on The Global Immersion Project website. 

(de)Escalating Violence and the Human Story in Israel/Palestine

Jerusalem-Day3-145I was sitting in the airport the other day listening to yet another account of the current events unfolding in Israel and Palestine. Almost mechanically, the lips of the news anchor spilled out words like terrorists, extremist, escalating violence, detention, kidnapping, hatred, protest, etc. 

It was as though they were telling a story of some otherworldly reality that had virtually no human implications. It was all the stuff we are supposed to hear about the Middle East, so it successfully affirmed stereotypes, assumptions and prejudice.  

In hearing all this, I was deeply troubled and saddened. Since the most recent violence flared up with the kidnapping of three young Israeli’s a few weeks ago, I have been in touch with my friends who actually live, work and play in the midst of this reality that is so often spoken of in the callused, mechanical way of the news anchor. 

In the context of genuine relationship, I asked one Christian Palestinian couple how they are holding up in light of everything. They said it has been horribly difficult as many of those around them experience so much pain and injustice in the form of detentions, home invasions and even death. It is becoming hard not to hate. 

Continuing, “But we know that if we turn to hate, we will lose our soul.” After quoting their morning reading of Martin Luther King Jr and the words of Jesus in Matthew describing their call to love their enemies and forgive those who persecute them, they closed with the request, “Just keep praying.”

Another friend, a Jewish Rabbi, was recently on a bus with his family when the windows shattered and a molotov cocktail was thrown inside. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Rather than pursue the myth of redemptive violence, his “revenge” took the form assembling an interfaith prayer gathering in Jerusalem for the peace of the city. 

My friend, John Moyle, recently described an interaction between an Israeli and Palestinian family who have lost loved ones in the conflict:

Earlier today, two Palestinian friends of Oakbrook Church joined five Israeli friends of Oakbrook in a visit with the family of Naftali Fraenkel, one of the three Jewish students who was murdered in the West Bank a few weeks ago. A circle of chairs was arranged so that the group could speak together in a more intimate setting. Hundreds of other people waiting to greet the family circled around this gathering to listen in on the conversation. Many people were significantly moved by both the sincere gesture of sorrow by the Palestinians and their warm reception by the bereaved Jewish family. 

On the way out, the aged grandfather came out to shake their hands, and a couple of lines about hope for peace were exchanged. The grandfather asked, “Do you have hope for peace?” One Palestinian responded, “I lost my brother in this conflict. I got shot by a settler … and I dream of peace. If we lose our hope we lose the chance to live.” The grandfather listened, his eyes welling up with tears, and he swayed closer and closer towards his Palestinian guest. A sparkle of light, a place where two hearts touched. A very powerful moment. 

In the midst of conflict, the prophetic presence of peacemakers is stronger than ever. Within the Just Peacemaking paradigm (developed by a mentor of mine, the late Glen Stassen), the only way to slow the building cycle of violence is to choose practices of de-escalation. In other words, until someone is willing to respond to an act of violence with a lesser degree of violence (or none at all!), things will continue to get worse. 

This is why, in the face of building violence, there is no more radical, prophetic or heroic action than that of choosing not to get even, but getting creative in love. When people have every right to be angry and seek revenge violently, choosing to deescalate violence through creative initiatives for peace tells us that another world is possible. A world with a King who was enthroned not through violent revenge, but through taking violence upon himself for the flourishing of others.  

What are the implications?

You may lose the war. You may not get the results you want. You may get killed.

But as my friends said, you will keep your soul. And, maybe, just maybe, this will lead the “enemy” to de-escalate as well. There are plenty of historical examples of mutual de-escalation not only on an individual level, but on a national level in times of war.   

As the cycle of violence builds in Israel/Palestine through acts of revenge and retaliation, we must shine a light on those who are intentionally choosing to put their lives on the line through actions of de-escalation. We know that hate breeds hate and violence breeds violence, but we trust that the seeds of love returned in the face of hate and violence will root deep into the soil of renewed relationship.

In the end, we trust that Jesus, the peacemaker, is still at work. In fact, I believe he is speaking louder than ever to the world through the faith of committed peacemakers embedded in this conflict. In a world that magnifies the acts of hatred, violence and division, we must acknowledge their faithfulness and celebrate the redemptive work that is unfolding as a result.

Together, let’s pray for the peacemakers. And pray against the myth of redemptive violence and it’s destructive ends. Most importantly, let’s choose to act like these remarkable people in the conflicts we find ourselves in right here at home.   

RESOURCES:

This is a moment where those of us in the West have the responsibility to expose ourselves to diverse media outlets. There are major agendas at play and we must be savvy in how we construct reality. Here are a few articles that offer some nuance and hope in the midst of a difficult reality. 

Best overview of the current crisis I’ve read. “As a Jew Living In America, the Past Week Has Changed Me Forever.”

The most beautiful interaction that has come out of this crisis. “Slain Israeli teen’s uncle consoles murdered Palestinian’s father.”

Another remarkable interaction. “Families of Slain Israeli and Palestinian Teens Turn to Each Other for Comfort.”

Short video of the mother describing her reaction to her son, a U.S. Citizen, being detained and beaten without conviction by the IDF.

 

My Dad, Grief and Groans of New Creation

10485921_10203840097473557_4389962877608429835_nI’m sitting in my dad’s hospital room as a write this. Having just endured open-heart surgery, I have never seen or experienced him in this current state. Last night, as my sisters and I stood with him in the ICU singing, praying and telling him stories of his grandchildren, the only form of communication he could muster was a pained groan. He could hear us and was mentally strong, but to those with whom he loves most in the world, he could only offer a groan. Albeit, even a groan was a heroic effort on his part.  

Anyone that knows my pop, knows a man who is physically strong and extremely healthy. When he got out of surgery, one of my best buddies joked, “He’ll be hunting elk by morning. I’ll bet he’d bag one and carry it six miles in a blinding snow storm too.” 

As I watched him struggle for each breathe and squirm in pain from the torment his body had just endured, I thought to myself, “Surely, this is not the way creation was intended to function.” My dad, the one who is always the strong (yet compassionate) rock for his family, friends and coworkers is reduced to a groan? Really? If ever I thought there was something wrong with the world in its current iteration, it is this moment.  

And then I was reminded of something the Apostle Paul said some 2000 years ago. After Jesus had come to bring about a whole new reality (kingdom) as was embodied in his life, death and resurrection, Paul describes this reality as New Creation (II Corinthians 5). While the rightly ordered Creation was undone in Eden (and the following cast of characters in the Genesis story), it was re-ordered in Jesus. Jesus is the first born of this New Creation (rightly ordered world) and we not only anticipate what is to come, but begin to catch glimpses of it in the here and now (see note at bottom of post). 

Back to the Apostle Paul. He described this anticipation as a “groan” (II Cor 5). Not only are individuals “groaning” to be healed and restored, but the whole of creation is “groaning” to be rightly ordered back to its original design. 

Indeed, creation is not fully functioning in the way it was originally created to function. We don’t have to look far for this reality to be made real. 

Broken families.

War.  

Natural disasters. 

Economic inequality.

Individual and systemic racism. 

…my dad lying on an operation table. 

But, the story isn’t over. In fact, it is just beginning. 

And in the meantime, we groan. We groan for families to be reconciled. We groan for wars to end around conference tables rather than battlefields. We groan for the earth and its systems to be restored. We groan for all children to have an equal opportunity for employment. We groan for the day when diversity is seen as an asset rather than a liability.  

For us, we listen to my dad groan and imagine a day where his grandchildren cover him like a blanket. We groan for his physical strength to once again match his emotional, mental and spiritual strength. We groan for the making of many more memories that remind us of who we are and who we are becoming as we join God in healing a broken world. 

In our groaning, no niceties or clichés will do. Groaning is painful. It is deep. It is real. It is not about creating false assurances. It is about pouring out our guts in the hope of what is to come. It is about looking for signposts of a new reality. A reality where tears are wiped away and hope is found. 

Until then, we groan and trust that the New Creation brought about in Jesus will be the New Creation we begin to see, taste and experience today. 

——

NOTE: A better interpretation of “New Creation” in the New Testament is “Renewed Creation.” In the same way that Jesus body was not destroyed and resurrected as some other worldly creature, Creation will not be destroyed and replaced with something different. What we see now is what heaven/New Creation will look like. But in this reality, all the busted and broken realties will be renewed to their original form. 

Raising Girls In A World Where They Are Less Than Human

I have two daughters. 

They are little spark plugs of utter joy and complete chaos. They make me laugh. They make me cry. They remind me to view the world through child-like wonder. They remind me that I am not what I do, but who I am. They teach me what selfless love actually looks like…everyday…day after day…early morning after early morning…nasty crap diaper after nasty crap diaper. They make me realize how much I have to learn about parenting and our place in the world. 

Most every night from the moment they were born, I have quietly held them in my arms or rested my hand on their back while they sleep and prayed for them. 

I pray for their continued breath. I pray for their development as little, unique human beings. I pray the Spirit of God to fill them and empower them. I pray the Lord’s Prayer over them. I pray for them to be protected from evil. I pray for them to love those who aren’t often loved. I pray for them to live confidently into who they have been created to be, free from the pressure of imposed reputation and expectation. 

I pray for their past, present and future. 

In learning to love these little girls, I began to ask more and more questions about the place of women in the world, in the Church and in everyday life. So many realities that I could have ignored in the past (not that I should have!) are now front and center as I think of my babies becoming little girls who become women apart of a diverse global village. 

IMG_7749As in most things (parenting, theology, the Church, hospitality, etc), my wife, Janny, is about two years ahead me in asking these hard questions about the place of women in the world. Watching her study, teach and advocate on issues pertaining to the flourishing of women, I have been convicted, challenged and inspired.

Evaluating my own complicity and ignorance led me to realize that for a guy who advocates so strongly for the value of a global kingdom worldview, I am radically narrow in who I consider authorities in my life. In other words, most scholars, thinkers and practicioners I have studied are white males. No offense to my white male friends (thankfully I dodged that label with my Scandinavian heritage…I’m technically a “pale male.”), but I needed to spend a lot more time learning from the life, teachings and perspectives of women around the world. As a father of two girls, a husband and global citizen seeking the shalom of God in and among all of humanity, I have no choice.

So, this year I have committed to intentionally learning from women (authors, teachers, neighbors, etc.) any chance I get. In fact, The Global Immersion Project Learning Lab I’ll be leading to Israel/Palestine this Fall will solely focus on the role of women peacemakers in the Holy Land.

As I began to crack the surface and open my eyes to the plight of women world-wide, I quickly discovered that many scholars, faith leaders and advocates would consider the treatment of women as the leading injustice in the world. From rural villages in the majority world to urban centers of the West, when there is dysfunction, brokenness and abuse, it most often falls on women.  

The dysfunction, brokenness and abuse isn’t reserved to far off villages or traditions, it extends to our doorstep. From systemic poverty to sex trafficking to employment prejudice to disempowerment and shame within the Church.  

RoseBdayParalleling my learnings, my little girls continue to grow, develop and form their view of the world, God and humanity each and every day. Our youngest, Rosie, recently turned one and we invited our close friends, neighbors and family to celebrate and bless her young life. 

Our community surrounding us, I rested my hands on her sweet little head and prayed this blessing over her life:

Rosie you are so full of life, wonder and innocence. I bless you to live fully into the unique woman God has created you to be. I bless you to be one who is not only empowered, but one who empowers. I bless you with the gift of walking with a community that daily stumbles toward Jesus and participates with him in healing a broken world.  

In a world where women are often demeaned, discredited, abused, oppressed and treated as less that human, I bless you with the courage to be one who reassigns dignity to those who have lost it. I bless you to be a voice for the voiceless. I bless you to have an eye for injustice and move boldly toward it with the practices that make for peace. 

Rosie, my sweet daughter, I pray that you will lead the way in teaching me, us and the whole world what it means to live into who you were created to be while giving yourself to the flourishing of others. 

RESOURCES:

Here are a few resources that I have read/watched recently that have been especially impactful. 

Jesus Feminist -- Rather than offering cynical critique, Sarah Bessey simply invites us to full life in Jesus. The most hopeful, constructive and compelling book I’ve read in years. 

Half the Church -- Helpful theological reflection on the role of women in the Church past and present. Further, a good introduction into the plight of women world wide and the opportunity for the Church to be mobilized as an instrument of peace.  

Half the Sky -- This documentary offers first hand exposure to the global inequality of women. It is so jarring, it makes the film hard to watch. Which is why it’s so important we are exposed to it. 

 

Pastoring in the New Parish

IMG_3448The longer we live in our neighborhood and enter into deeper relationships with a handful of the 13,000 people who live within the 10 X 7 blocks of Golden Hill, the more we become aware of the importance of the faithfulness of our little faith community in this place. We are discovering that the majority of our neighbors would never consider attending a traditional church (for a variety of reasons) and many others who have attended churches in the past have been deeply hurt, disillusioned or disconnected from the church communities of their past.

So is that it? Game over?

No, far from it. As we find ourselves invited (and inviting) deeper into the lives of our neighbors we are discovering it is just the beginning. Whether walking with women through pregnancy and supporting them in the intimacy of child birth or officiating weddings of those who wouldn’t otherwise have a “pastor” in their life or sitting on our patio with the war veteran enduring PTSD or checking in on the elderly man next door or sharing a meal with a friend in the park who doesn’t have a home or simply offering a warm greeting to those on our sidewalks, we are embracing the fact that our neighborhood is our parish and we are its pastors.

So, if we believe Jesus is the hope of the world and that the Church plays a role in God’s mission of reconciliation, then how might the Church express itself in a neighborhood like ours?

There must be a movement of us that rise up not to impose our beliefs on our neighbors, but to simply walk with them, care for them, encourage them in the realities of everyday life and empower them to live more fully into who they were created to be.

Doubts.

Loss.

Career transition.

Children.

Marriage.

Play.

Those who embrace this pastorate can’t reduce our congregants to those who come in our buildings once or twice a week. No, our congregants are the people we share life with everyday. There is a building movement of those who are retracing our pastoral roles back to the ancient idea of parish. The neighborhood (the physical place where we live, work and play) is the new parish and we are its pastors.

We have meals in our homes. We take care of each other’s children. We offer marriage support and counseling when they’re in need. When our neighbors are the most vulnerable, we hold space for them to experience the gift of simply being present. In those spaces, both the presence of Jesus and the presence of the Jesus Community is made real.

Further, in this pastorate of everyday relationship, we open ourselves up to be pastored by our neighbors. Genuine relationship doesn’t run one direction, it is an act of mutual submission that frees us to fully share and receive love…even if from the most unexpected people and places.

This isn’t a walking away from formal leadership in the Church, it’s our faithful act to fully embrace the pastoral vocation we have been called to live out each and everyday. 

It’s hard. It’s ambiguous. The metrics are difficult to calculate at times. The pain often outweighs the hope. We don’t get a platform or a microphone. Instead, we are given the gift of genuine relationship. Relationship where we are as formed as those we form.

In this pastorate, there will be no title that assumes leadership or authority. No, our only authority comes when we have fully submitted ourselves to our neighborhoods and lead with tangible acts of humble presence and long-term commitment.

I’m not saying the role of pastor in a “traditional” sense is bad or wrong or unnecessary. It is surely needed! What I am saying is that it’s time we expand our definition of pastor and begin to create tangible pathways for those of us called to this form of pastoring to be mobilized, equipped and sent to participate with God in the people and places far off the beaten path of most churches influence.  

———-

NOTE:

1. Our Thresholds Missional Community Cohort -- of which I’m on the leadership team -- is committed to the coaching, training and mobilizing of this very kind of pastor. A pastor who is leading embedded communities of faith and reconciliation.

2. My dear friends of the Parish Collective recently wrote a book that fills out the theological, historical and practical implications of taking seriously this form of pastorate. It is called The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community.

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