Embracing the Greatest Challenge of My Life as Opportunity

IMG_2280Having taken paternity leave with the arrival of our twins, I haven’t “worked” in nearly two months. With that said, there has been no time for reading deep, reflective books on spiritually. No time to engage world issues. No time to be active and seek the healing of systemic injustices in our neighborhood.

No, there has been time for one thing and one thing only; being a dad

If I’m honest, it’s been a struggle. The same exhausting, under appreciated, sleepless, messy and relentless grind of parenting four kids, all of whom are four years old or younger. There are certainly moments of joy, pride and gratitude, but they are far less frequent than the ones of discouragement and delirium. 

In the midst of the fog, I had a bit of an epiphany a couple weeks ago. I found myself thinking about how I would find time for spiritual practices to be reintegrated into my life and dreaming about the intellectual growth I would experience when I go back to “work.” It was as though I was telling myself, “If you just survive this season, then you can finally get back to attending to your spirituality and formation.” 

This is when the epiphany hit; If I don’t connect my parenting with my spirituality and formation, I’m missing out on potentially the most important season of my discipleship journey. 

Changing diapers at 3am = Opportunity to choose selfless sacrifice. 

Responding to yet another 2 year old melt down = Opportunity to model grace and understanding.

Chaos of everyday life = Opportunity to embrace and live into an everyday spirituality.

Weeks/months between dates with my wife = Opportunity for me to get creative in what love and intentionality look like. 

These are all opportunities for me to choose to grow in my personal formation and live more like the One I follow. I can’t see these as hurdles to jump so I can then get back to my spirituality and formation. No, these are the very experiences that are forming me into who I am created to be. To be fully human. To be connected to the gift of life that is pulsating in every moment of everyday. To choose to live a life of self-sacrifice for the flourishing of others. 

I don’t have this figured out in the least, but I do want to give it a shot. I don’t have to wait. We don’t have to wait. We just have to wake up to what is right in front of us and be fully present there.

Maybe that is what love looks like and what the gift of discipleship means in the midst of the mundane and unglamorous realities of daily life.

 

 

To My Four Kids, From Dad

IMG_1571After five days in the hospital filled with overwhelming joy, paralyzing fear and complete exhaustion in the wake of the birth of our twins, I finally found a moment to walk outside the florescent lights and sit under the bright moon. Sitting on a small patch of grass outside the hospital doors, the reality of being a father to four kids finally hit me. 

I was both overwhelmed and overjoyed by the gift and responsibility of raising four kids in a world so desperately in need of mustard seeds of hope that one day blossom into healing and beauty.

As I sit in relative comfort and begin to dream big dreams for my kids, I was struck by the reality that most father’s around the globe are forced to welcome their kids into a world where there is no “ladder” to climb because it has been knocked out from under them by broken systems that are breaking people. 

A world where many kids are born into families fleeing violent persecution and being nursed on the trauma of war in battered refugee camps; places where the thought of hope is a distant second to simply fighting to survive.

A world where one’s value is more closely associated with gender (male) than with the beautiful uniqueness inherent in every new life.  

But it is also a world pregnant with possibilities. A world where former enemies move beyond their past, share tables and begin to imagine a future together. 

A world where the blossoms of new life begin to sprout in the shadowy corners of forgotten neighborhoods.  

A world where the diversity of God’s kingdom begins to awaken our eyes and hearts to the new world God is making. 

It is in this world - a world that is both beautiful and broken -- that I offer this prayer over my four kids. 

May you see the humanity, dignity and image of God in everyone. Regardless of documentation, orientation or association, may you choose to see the face of Jesus in all those put in your path. May you see those who are different than you not through the lens of judgment, but with a spirit of curiosity and posture of invitation. 

May you immerse into the the muck and messiness of everyday life seeking to understand rather than be understood. May you move toward broken people and places catalyzed by hope rather than paralyzed by fear. And, finally, as you move deeper into relationship with these people and places, may you stick around for the long haul offering radical presence in a world of hurry.  

My dear ones, may your relative comfort and inherited privilege not lead to complacency, but instead be used to contend for the flourishing of others. May you be willing to sacrifice your reputation, finances and time in order to stand in front of any bulldozer that is flattening people. Like the Jesus we follow, may you return evil with good and choose not to get even, but get creative in love.  

May you lead out of your identity as ones first and foremost loved by God, so you can give yourselves fully to God and others. If you get anything, please get this: your identity is not based on what you do, but who you are. All is grace dear ones and you are God’s beloved. As such, your mother and me will always love you, contend for you, pray for you and stand with you no matter what choices you make or what you “do” or don’t do.  

Whether you join God’s mission of reconciliation in the halls of power or the back allys of forgotten neighborhoods, may you see and participate in the restoration made real in Jesus death and resurrection. May you taste, feel, see and experience a Kingdom where the last will be first and the first will be last. For it is there that love lives. 

And, day in and day out, may we be parents who live and model the kind of lives we are inviting you to live. 

Much love to each of you; Ruby, Rosie, Hank & Lou. 

Dad

 

Lament and the 4 Kids Who Will Never See Their Mother Again

unnamedLast night, friends from around our neighborhood gathered to hold a vigil of lament for the Charleston tragedy. 

We shared our confusion, our sadness, our anger and our pain.  

We read a liturgy of solidarity and empathy seeking to simply sit in the pain alongside our black sisters and brothers impacted not only by this tragedy, but by the “spoiled meat of racism” that manifests itself everyday. 

We then walked around the room looking into the eyes of each of the victims as their pictures and bio’s hauntingly and beautifully hung on the walls of the room. 

What a remarkable collective of people giving themselves to God and neighbor. No doubt, a collective of people God was and is using to bring about the world he is making. 

But the pain of this tragedy runs deep. We must lament. We must wail. We must sit in the disorienting pain of our sisters and brothers seeking to understand rather than to be understood.

unnamedIt was the beautiful face and story of DePayne Middleton Doctor that broke me. A mother of four daughters who day in and day out lived a remarkable life of love and care. Four daughters who will never hear the soothing voice or experience the warm hug of their mother again.  

As a father of four kids, this is an unfathomable reality that I can’t pretend to understanding…but I can weep.  

Weep over the missed birthday parties, graduations, weddings and grandkids. 

Weep over the deepened feelings of vulnerability and isolation.

Weep over the injustice of a death fueled by an ideology that was given birth by a busted history and system of inequality.  

We trust that the stories of those killed did not end last week, but is just beginning as their witness is now amplified around the world to shed light on an infection debilitating our nation. 

We closed by reading the wise words of Martin Luther King Jr. spoken after four girls were killed in a Birmingham church in an act of terror similar to last weeks.

“They did not die in vain. God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. History has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as the redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city.”

While we pray this to be true, for now, we must weep. 

Why Neighborhood Matters: Christian Conferences, Consumption & Everyday Life

IMG_1152As I sat on my porch overlooking the streets of my urban neighborhood and the sparkling lights of downtown San Diego, I thought to myself, “There is no place I’d rather be. THIS is where life happens and where peace is made real.”  

Just 30 minutes before, I had gotten off a plane from a 24 hour trip to Chicago for the Justice Conference where Jer Swigart and I co-hosted the Faith and Peace Track representing our organization, The Global Immersion Project.  

The time was incredible as the room filled with pastors, leaders and practitioners from countries spanning the world who created a dynamic environment of collaboration, excitement and activism. The mysterious and enlivening story of Jesus was palpable. 

As we taught through our content on Everyday Peacemaking, we told story after story of ways peace -- which we define as the holistic repair of relationship -- is not only being realized in the midst of global conflicts, but on the streets of our neighborhoods. With each story I told about my kids, wife and faith community (all whom have committed to live the Jesus Way on the streets of our neighborhood of Golden Hill), I was stirred more and more with gratitude for the gift of a community of practice.

Teaching, training and inspiration matter, but only in so much as they move us to everyday practice in place. That is the discipleship challenge. Jesus wasn’t one who gave a sterling sermon, got folks fired up and then retreated to the hills (although he would do that too). Jesus LIVED the content he taught in the muck and messiness of everyday life on the streets of his Galilean neighborhood. 

We live in a culture that values hype. It may be the best intentioned hype in the world, but if it only stirs excitement for a one-off experience and doesn’t train and mobilize people into the not-so-glamorous realities of everyday life, I question whether it does more harm than good. 

When we strive for some lofty “ideal” that never translates into reality, we’ve missed the point. And, that’s why a neighborhood and community of practice is a necessity for everyday discipleship (peacemaking). Our neighborhoods (whatever the may look like!) are the context in which the Jesus Community is called to embody the Resurrection life in a broken world.  

The day after I got home from the conference, my community came together for our weekly worship gathering that rotates between our homes in our neighborhood. We spent the whole evening pausing to reflect on different places in our neighborhood where we have seen and experienced God’s kingdom made real in both the beautiful and broken realties of everyday life. We looked at pictures and shared stories that have come to life in our rec center, local parks, back ally’s, yoga studio, coffee shops and front patio’s. 

It was a cathartic experience. When you’ve given yourself to a place year after year, it is easy to get discouraged and forget how much life has transpired and how much transformation taken place.  

In that moment, I thought, “I’m all for participating in conferences…but they must remain a means to an end that looks like transformed people and places.”

So, let’s celebrate moments of collaboration, teaching and training while putting them in their rightful place as a means to fuel our everyday life and practice. Just like anything, Christian conferences can become yet another opportunity to simply consume for consumptions sake. Sadly, that actually distracts and demobilizes the Church from being the Church. 

Friends, we were made for so much more than a one-off high. And, the world desperately needs the Jesus Community to live into its vocation as an instrument of peace every single moment of every single day in the unique contexts we inhabit.  

What a gift to come together and celebrate our common hearts and vision. Now, let’s go get after it. 

————--

NOTE: Pic is on our patio with my wife 34 weeks pregnant with twins!  

The Bible (Part 1): Tool of Violence or Liberation…or Both?

Holy-Bible-by-Steve-Snodgrass-Accessed-August-4-2014.-Used-by-Creative-Commons-Licence.-httpsflic.krp79AtF3The Bible is one of the most misunderstood books in the history of humanity. Yet, it is the most read book in the history of humanity.  

It has been used to produce beautiful and broken realities:

  • The Bible has been used to silence and dehumanize women as “less than” and inferior. Some scholars have gone as far as saying women lack the image of God. Obviously, this leads to abuse and exploitation.
  • The Bible has been used to affirm the enslavement and exploitation of complete races of people who look different than those in power.
  • The Bible has been used to justify some of the bloodiest and unjust wars in human history.
  • The Bible has been used to isolate segments of society as though they are modern day lepers who are trying to infect the rest of the society.
  • ON THE OTHER HAND, a massive number of human rights and liberation movements throughout history have been fueled by a community who held the Bible as their sacred text. To name a few: The civil rights movement, modern unearthing of the sex trafficking industry, global reduction of poverty and increased access to clean water, overturning South African apartheid, etc…

This begs the question, “Is the problem the Bible or the way in which we have interpreted it over centuries of Church history?”

The other day, our church community started a series focused on asking hard questions about the Bible; where it came from, how it was written and assembled, what it contains and what are faithful ways we can begin to interpret its seemingly beautiful and broken contents. 

Let’s be honest, many folks have been reading the Bible since they were small children and now approach it will so many assumptions around interpretation and application that our engagement with the living text has calcified. On the other hand, many of us are new to following Jesus and asking where this book containing violence, infidelity and tribalism fits into liberating love and faithful discipleship.

We have two choices: 1. Continue with our assumptions about the text and stay comfortable (and potentially resentful), or 2. Engage the text critically seeking a renewed understanding of its place in our Christian story.   

I would endorse the latter. We don’t honor the Scriptures by dancing around the hard questions that force us into the muck and messiness of this complex story. No, we honor the Scriptures when we push into them with an eye toward understanding where they fit in God’s story of reconciliation with humanity and redemption of all the cosmos. It should make us squirm when we read about God endorsed genocide in the Old Testament and dehumanizing endorsements of “slavery” and gender inequality in the New Testament. We can let that squirming fester and lead us to resentment or withdrawal, or we can jump right into it seeking to understand beyond a surface reading that fails to invite us into the depth and breadth of the text in context.

A Couple Thoughts to Frame this Conversation

We don’t follow the Bible, we follow Jesus. When those get inverted, bad things happen. Yes, the Bible is one of the primary resources for faithfully following Jesus, and we are commanded to obey Scripture, but it is a means to an end…not the end in and of itself. When we follow the Bible (or, more accurately, our interpretation of it…) rather than Jesus, we may get the “right” answers while failing to live, love and lead in the way Jesus did and calls us to do. We can’t prooftext our way to right relationship (e.g. 1st century Pharisees or modern street preachers holding hate signs that may - or may not -- have the “right” answers but in no way reflect the love of Jesus for humanity). We must enter into relationship and allow the Spirit to lead and guide us in the middle of it. 

The Bible wasn’t written ABOUT us, but it was written FOR us. We have to understand context and genre because most people writing the Bible and/or whose story the Bible was telling lived in a radically different context that we do today. The vast majority of the Biblical canon is written about a people (Israel) who are seeking to rightly follow God (Yahweh) and reflect his love to the world as they live as a migrant community wandering the Middle East or as a community in exile under the heavy yoke of Empire (of course, they had seasons in power as well). Bottom line, as Western Christians who have the most “power” in the world, there is very little we can relate to about the realities of who the Bible was written about. We’d be wise to ask our immigrant neighbors or our brothers and sisters living under the reign of a violent regime how they may help us intrepret the Story of God told through Israel. Lastly, it was written FOR us in as much as it is a story of humanity’s (which includes us) journey back to God and his mission of reconciliation and redemption of all the cosmos. 

Infallibility, Inerrancy and all that fun stuff. This is where things often get a bit sticky. The Bible is a book written by human beings with stories, agendas and literary techniques unique within their context. Yes, the Bible was God-breathed, but we have to understand both the human writing and human reading of the text. Inerrancy is a modern concept; not applied to Scripture until the Enlightenment when truth became primarily associated with science, logic and rationality. Infallibility doesn’t lead people astray, it leads people into the middle of the human story (with all its muck, mess, beauty, hope, tragedy, doubt, etc) and of God’s willingness to meet them right in the middle of it. 

The Art of Interpretation. There is a long history of brilliant people trying to decide how in the world to interpret this wildly complex and sacred text. The way in which said brilliant people have chosen to interpret represents a really, REALLY wide spectrum. Some have chosen to see Scripture as allegorical (Church Father, Origen, being a leading proponent), which proposes that the deepest truth of Scripture isn’t found in a literal reading, but in the space where the words are pointing us (beyond and below a literal reading). On the other end of the spectrum, some argue that a literal reading of text is the only way to faithfully interpret the truth being conveyed by the biblical authors. In short, it is important to note that there is no such thing as reading the Bible without interpreting it. There are many ways to interpret and we trust the Spirit to guide us to those ends, but all is interpretation and we’d be wise to embrace that as a gift rather than a threat.  

PRIMARY THEME: It is important to enter our reading of the Bible with an eye toward the meta theme of God’s Story, which is God’s Reconciliation with Humanity and Redemption of all the cosmos (New Creation). Amid all of the potentially confusing, complex and confounding pieces of Scripture, this is the theme our interpretation must point back to (unless, of course, you view the primary theme as something radically different…). It is a story of right relationship, grace, selfless love, unfolding liberation and a relentless pursuit of all things being set to right.  

CENTRAL CHARACTER: Israel. Yep, this is not the answer most people expect to hear and, sadly, I don’t have space to fully unpack the nuances here. In short, the whole of the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) is the story of Israel’s covenant relationship with God (Yahweh) and their vocation to reflect good news to the world. The Bible isn’t a story of autonomous stories that are fun to read. No, they are all placed within God’s redemptive plan for humanity as seen through its central character, Israel. “Well, what about Jesus?” one may ask. Yes, Jesus is the more important character in the story, but we MUST understand Jesus in the context of his role in Israel’s story. Jesus is the long awaited messianic deliverer of Israel (second “Adam”) who finally liberated them from exile and expanded the identity of the people God to the ends of the earth. Jesus is central to Israel’s story and to understand him outside of the context completely neuters the story and his decisive role within it. 

In my next post (part 2), I’ll seek to answer the question, “Where did the Bible come from?” by offering a brief recap of how the content was captured over a couple thousand years leading up to the final canonization of our current Christian Bible. 

 

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