Women: “The Devil’s Gateway?”

LouJimmy Carter recently said, “Abuse of women as the primary human rights issue in the world today.” 

We don’t have to look far into the global plight of women to see the truth to this statement. 

He goes on to say that religion (and the misuse of it) is a major contributor in perpetuating the oppression rather than leading to liberation and healing. For those of us in the Christian tradition, we aren’t obsovled from this critique. 

Influential “Church Father’s” have said things like “women’s are the devils gateway (Turtullian).” Others have argued that women don’t inherit the image of God in the same way men do. Perspectives like these have subtly built themselves into theological constructs and church structure. 

While the Church has often gotten it wrong, Jesus models what is right. Jesus life and message is one of liberating women into their sacred vocation as equal participants in God’s mission of reconciliation.

Further, throughout the gospels, women are continually portrayed as the ones who actually understood Jesus message while the disciples struggled to keep up. They were the first to know the good news (birth and resurrection) and the ones entrusted to share it with the world. 

How might a renewed understanding of our sacred text (the Bible), Jesus life and teachings and the history of the Church help us understand women not as second class citizens in the Kingdom, but as equals who often lead us to a full understanding of God and the gospel in today’s world?

The reality is that women are the source of life in the world. They are the primary conduits of God’s continuing story of new life and rebirth. They are the one’s most in tune with the flourishing of others at their own expense rather than the ones who often pursue their own flourishing (men) at the expense of others. They are willing to bleed so others find life. 

As part of their morning prayers, ancient rabbi’s (and some modern ones) would pray, “Thank God I’m not a woman.”

On this international women’s day, we pray, “THANK GOD FOR WOMEN.”

As a father of three girls and a husband to a women I’d follow to the ends of the earth, I couldn’t be more grateful. We named our youngest daughter Lou (renowned warrior) Sojourner (abolishionist who gave her life for racial equality). 

May Lou (and all girls/women) live in and contribute to a world where she is free to lead us in abolishing inequality and remind us of the beauty, strength and leadership of women.  

Today is “A Day Without Immigrants”

Nationwide, immigrants of every ethnicity and backstory are staying home from work, school, grocery shopping, etc to highlight the contribution of immigrants to U.S. business and culture. In the face of recent rhetoric and policy, this is a critically prophetic action taken to help us remember to SEE the humanity, dignity and image of God in EVERYONE.

Whether we realize it or not, we ALL benefit from the presence of immigrants in our neighborhoods, cities and country. For example, if you ate a vegetable or piece of fruit today, it almost certainly went through the hands of an immigrant.

A few things for us to think about today:

-Immigrants are less likely to commit a crime than the native born population.

-96% of economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal said that illegal immigration, in particular, had “been beneficial to the economy” (Undocumented Americans pay $12 billion annually to the Social Security Trust Fund & $11.64 billion annually in state and local taxes.)

-there are 37 million immigrants in the USA today (about 12% of population). 11.5 million are undocumented. 40-50% entered legally and overstayed their visa, while the rest crossed illegally (we’d be wise to listen long to the stories that led to this decision)

-The fastest growing undocumented population are Asian immigrants.

-140,000 more people have left the United States for Mexico between 2009 to 2014

MOST IMPORTANTLY

-Immigrants are our neighbors. Jesus made it clear that our priority is to love GOD and love NEIGHBOR. It’s hard to love our neighbors when we don’t know them or only hear their stories through the lens of partisan politics.

-The Hebrew word for “Stranger” or “Alien” (ger) appears in the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) 92 times…consistently in relation to God’s mandate to care and love them.

-Jesus is very clear that this mandate remains when he reminds us to care for the orphans, widow’s, prisoners and “strangers”

-Unless we are Indigenous to the this plot of land, we are ALL immigrants. I’m 3rd generation from Sweden!

A STORY

One of our closest friends is an undocumented immigrant. She lives in our neighborhood and is regularly in our home. Our kids are like her kids and her kids are like our kids. Her young children are US citizens.

Every day they live in fear of their family being torn apart. Every day they live in the shadows powerless (politically) to change their future. (This recent study by Fuller Theological Seminary shows the psychological and emotional damage of this reality)

Our friend’s daughter came to our house a couple weeks ago to join us in writing letters to President Trump to encourage him and invite him to remember “the least of these” among us.

See the picture of what she wrote…

IMG_7821

This girl has every reason to be hateful, resentful and hostile. Instead she simply asks for the stability of an education. An opportunity to contribute to the best of our society.

Friends, we CAN have a secure nation-state without compromising our higher allegiance to a Kingdom (of God) that mandates we care for the “stranger in our midst.” To do that, we must address our proximity problem that has put miles (whether geographical or idealogical) between “us” and “them.” We have to be willing to sit at the table to hear the stories, be generous in our assumptions and build a future marked by invitation rather than isolation. 

May we follow this brave girl’s lead and lend platform to her voice as we follow an others-oriented God who calls us to do the same. 

——

I used a bunch of sources (I know, this may lead to a fight about #alternativefacts…ugh), but here are a couple:

https://defineamerican.com/factsmatter/#undocumented-americans-pay-an-estimated-11-64-billion-in-state-and-local-taxes-a-year

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/02/16/515555428/a-day-without-immigrants-promises-a-national-strike-thursday

http://evangelicalimmigrationtable.com/preach/statistics/

The Pipeline Continues: May We Hear the Voice(s) of the People

IMG_7344Last month, I found myself sitting in a tent listening to the Sioux tribal elders at Standing Rock reflect on the implications of the Dakota Access Pipeline halt. In arctic temperatures surrounded by domestic and international reporters, one of the elders (pic) described the tribe’s genuine celebration at the halt and proceeded to elaborate on its significance.

In the next breath, his words turned somber as he walked through hundreds of years of interaction between the US government and his tribe (and the wider Native American community). He systematically walked through treaty after treaty after treaty and lamented the fact that the very government that had proposed them had broken each one.

He said, “While we celebrate this temporary victory, we have hundreds of years of history that remind us to never trust the promises of the government. Companies have responsibility to investors. We have responsibility to be stewards of the water. Oil is malignant to the planet and those who find life from it.

Ocheti camp will remain and double our efforts to protect this land, river and home. All seven tribes of souix have gathered for first time in 140 years. Former enemies are standing together for the land we’ve been entrusted to steward.

We have not broken any laws. We have conducted ourselves in a prayerful and peaceful way. We are not protestors or terrorists or rioters, we are in fact water protectors.

We pray for the law enforcement officials everyday. We want to walk across the bridge and shake hands. Dakota means “friend.” The people and place reflect that. We will continue to feed and keep warm everyone in this camp.”

As I listened, I couldn’t help but be both inspired and saddened. In the case of Native American’s in general and the Sioux at Standing Rock specifically, we have largely chosen to see only the realities that affirm our inherited worldview or benefited our bottom line. As a result, there are real people standing on real land that are hurting and pleading for us to listen. They stewarded this land long before white Europeans arrived and continue to bear the responsibility of caring for it for the generations to come.

Today, President Donald Trump signed an executive action greenlighting the Dakota Access Pipeline, which had been halted to seek alternative routes. The original route, under Lake Oahe, would have threatened the Standing Rock Sioux’s drinking water and sacred lands.

Having stood with and been cared for by these remarkable people, I have the responsibility to at the very least share their story. As inhabitants of the same plot of soil we call the US, I would argue it is not only their story, but our story.

May we listen. May we lament. May we act by standing in front of any bulldozer that is flattening people.

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. 

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