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. 

 

4 Tips for Following Jesus in Election Season

Donkey-elephantWell, here we are again. The season that seems to come around all too often and stick around far too long. Some of our dinner table dynamics are still trying to recover from “conversations” that percolated during the last election season and our “unfriend” counts have finally slowed. 

We have come to embrace the fact (whether we like it or not) that the political process in this country involves mudslinging, political posturing and combative debate. With that said, I’m yet to meet a person who finds that reality helpful. Most alarming, the Jesus’ Community often falls prey to this failed political discourse though its participation or fueling of an unsafe, divisive environment.     

So, how does the Jesus’ Community live in this election season as a signpost of the kingdom rather than a pawn in a political power play?     

1. Spend AT LEAST as Much Energy Advancing the Kingdom as You Do Your Candidate

Based on one’s core convictions and values, there is no doubt that some candidates are a better choice than others. The championing of a candidate becomes problematic when we find ourselves spending more emotional and physical energy advancing the cause of a candidate than we do advancing God’s Kingdom which has both come and is coming. Championing a candidate and championing the Kingdom are certainly not mutually exclusive, but they are far from the same thing.

A good question to ask in this election season: “Does my life’s energy more reflect a desire for “God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven,” or a desire for “my candidate to get elected and his/her agenda implemented?”

2. Be Careful Where You Place Your Hope

I don’t know how many times I have heard Christian’s say something like this about their political aspirations, “If my candidate (insert name) isn’t elected, the United States will fall apart and I’m not sure I even want to be here when that happens.” Or, “If my candidate (insert name) is elected, our next generation will finally have somewhere to place their hope.”

Both sentiments are problematic. First, no candidate or system is perfect, so we must not (ever, EVER) claim as such. We can get so caught up in the political game that we white wash the corruption that is marbled into our political system and place our candidate/party/system on an unwarranted pedestal. This blind hope reduces the Jesus’ Community to pawns in a politically partisan drama, rather than signposts for the hope found in the upside-down Kingdom of God. Second, we can celebrate and endorse our political institution without worshiping it. As one who came to upend and reorient the power structures around a system of love and selfless sacrifice, it’s hard to imagine Jesus entrusting the hope of his kingdom agenda to the agenda of Rome’s political systems and power players. Our hope isn’t found in a political party or system, it’s in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. 

3. HOW Someone is Elected is as Important as BEING Elected 

This is often where things get pretty ugly. As our Facebook timelines, Twitter feeds, family reunions and conversations at the park fill up with political rhetoric, mudslinging and dehumanizing language, the Jesus’ Community has a choice. We can either join the chorus of unhelpful sound bites seeking to “win,” or we can model constructive discourse that places relationship ahead of political agenda. The discipleship challenge in the midst of a heated political climate is to embrace a posture of curiosity that seeks to understand rather than to be understood. “Winning” an election while losing our prophetic witness as a community shaped by the cross is not “winning” at all. We don’t have to fall victim to this game of rhetoric and political posturing. It IS possible to stand for our core values without being jerk in the process. 

4. Remember Your Primary Allegiance and Live Like it is Real

In the end, our primary allegiance isn’t to the United States of America; our primary allegiance is to the Kingdom of God. Yes, we are US citizens with a corresponding set of responsibilities (voting being one of them!), but we are first and foremost Kingdom citizens. It is a Kingdom without borders whose values often run in direct opposition to many of our cultural values of acquisition, power, prestige, control, peace through violence or winning at any cost. When our allegiances get inverted, bad things happen and we fail to live into our call to be salt and light in a world desperately in need. 

Friends, we live in a system where elections matter because they determine who will make decisions that impact people. People created in the image of God and with infinite worth. So, in so much as that is true, elections are worth our attention. BUT, getting our candidate elected isn’t worth compromising our witness. And, in the end, whether our candidate is elected or not has no bearing on our call to live, love and lead in a way that reflects God’s heart for the world amid the muck and messiness of everyday life in our homes, neighborhoods, nation and world.  

A Celebrated (Yet Toxic) Addiction & the Gift of Today

IMG_0833I’m a doer.

Not only do I feel pretty darn good about myself when things get checked off my “to do” list, it actually gives me a weird high and offers a really tangible grid for success. 

Interestingly, once I get stuff done, I almost immediately turn to the next thing to get done. 

Family admin. 

Household chores. 

Finances. 

Meetings. 

Neighborhood initiatives.

Work Projects.

The list could go on and on. 

I’ve been studying the Enneagram a lot lately, which is a unique (and ancient) tool for understanding how you’re hardwired to function in the world. I’m a “3” on the Enneagram which is known as the “achiever” or “performer.” In short, I’m designed to do stuff. 

This can be really good and really bad.

While I can make things happen, contribute to long term movement and rally folks around a vision, I can also overwork, form my identity around the things I do rather than who I am and, in the end, miss out on the sacredness of being present in the beautiful mundane of everyday. 

This is an important realization (and a hard one!) and I’m having to do a little extra evaluation of it in my current season of life with nearly four kids, a non-profit and a household that requires the attention of a Fortune 500 CEO.

I was recently on a walk to the park with my girls Ruby (4) and Rosie (2). While I was distractedly responding to an email on my “smart” phone, I looked over and noticed that Rosie had fallen behind and was bent over starring at the ground. As I circled back around to speed her up, I noticed that she was looking at a crack in the sidewalk admiring the little twig that was sprouting between the concrete slabs. 

For her, she wasn’t at all concerned about arriving at a destination, but about being fully present along the way. In this tiny twig, Rosie found beauty and she wasn’t about to miss it. 

I was at a conference this past weekend and one of the speakers (Rob Bell) shared a rich insight that completely ruined me (in all the best kind of ways). He said, “Success means you wake up and ask what you can get. Wonder means you wake up and say, I can’t believe I get to do this.” 

Head and heart explosion. 

In the midst of the seemingly endless “to do’s” of life, it’s easy to miss the beauty and wonder. There are insurance calls, diapers to change, mortgage/rent payments, dentist appointments, deadlines, dirty dishes and emails to respond to. 

Yes, that stuff has to get done, but friends, it will get done.

Maybe there is a way to get all this stuff done and not miss out on opportunities to wonder. Opportunities to be fully alive to ourselves, the world and those around us. Opportunities to be reminded that we aren’t what we do, but who we are.  

Maybe when we release our addiction to doing, we can begin being the types of people the world needs most.

When I slow down long enough to look at my life, I can honestly say, “I can’t believe I get to do this.” 

May we wonder. 

 

 

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