My Experience Finding a “Tribe” with Tony Campolo & Red Letter Christians

Most Christians in America (and much of the world) are familiar with the life and work of Tony Campolo.  There is his infamous “curse word teaching” that asks his audience whether they are more shocked at the fact that he said sh&% or at the fact that there are thousands of people dying each day in a world that has more than enough resources to care for each of them if only we were willing to care for the “least of these.” There are the pictures of Tony embracing with decades worth of Presidents as they seek his council and he inevitably finds a way to offer a prophetic word into an institution that desperately needs it.  There is his constant reminder that “Sunday is coming” and that while “We may live in the best Babylon, it is still Babylon!”  

More than anything, Tony is marked by his call of Christians to take seriously the red letters of Jesus in the gospel narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  The red letters aren’t simply to be read as an other-worldly euphoria, but as a framing ethic through which God’s people are empowered to embrace their vocation as salt and light.  If taken seriously, the life and teachings of Jesus allow us to be a living reflection of Good News for the sake of a watching world.  

There began a revolution.  Not a revolution around a charismatic speaker, but a revolution around the person of Jesus.  

Seeing the remarkable impact of a ministry that pointed people back to Jesus, Tony felt it important to mentor, train and come alongside the next generation(s) of authors and speakers who advocated this life and message.  A few years ago he invited a handful of influential leaders into a cohort that would gather once a year and remain networked throughout the rest of the year to support, encourage and come alongside one another as they live and taught the red letters of Jesus.  

This past year, I was invited to join this tribe of radicals, intellectuals, advocates, pastors and all round Jesus-y folks.  I thought, “I’m just a little dude from the town of Prunedale; how did I get invited into a community alongside Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, Margot Starbuck, Richard Twiss, Shane Hipps, Brian McClaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, etc…?”

I quickly accepted the invitation and boarded a plane to the East Coast to attend the annual gathering. If I’m honest, I was both honored and a little bit concerned that it would be three days of high-powered leaders posturing and offering subtle promotions of our “stuff.” Rather, it was a time of generative conversation, collaboration and shared vision. It was an experience of being “known” among a tribe of radicals who are crazy enough to live into the story God has for them. It was friendship and soul care. 

Although we were sitting in informal circles rather than auditoriums, every once in awhile Tony would start to crank up the volume and start “preaching.”  We all smiled, looked at each other and often ended up breaking into applause as we continued to learn at the feet of one who has spent his life learning at the feet of the King.  It was red letter leadership being passed down to a generation who isn’t finding their identity in a message, book or program, but in a Resurrected 1st century Rabbi who instigated a revolution that continues today.  

May the revolution continue and may all of God’s children choose to take part. 

Stories Behind Our Gifts (Re-Posted)

This is a post I wrote a couple years ago around this time.  It seems quite timely as the consumerist craze of Black Friday (see a story from earlier this morning) casts a shadow on the beauty of Thankfulness that filled our homes yesterday.

This is a great season to allow our values to be reflected in the way we spend our money.  It is so important for those of us who have endless products at our disposal to remember the stories behind the production of each one of them.  I struggle with this and I invite others to come alongside me in this struggle.  May we set aside some of our comforts for the sake of representing the love and provision of Jesus to all humanity.

Some creative ways to consume with integrity this Christmas:

  • -Buy from fair trade distributors like Trade as One
  • -Pass up buying another product and buy something practical for someone who desperately needs it
  • -Donate to that missionary or non-profit that has been on your heart
  • -Shop at second hand stores. (Ever heard of up-cycling?  Check it out)
  • -Give the gift of an experience rather than a product

More ideas?  Please pass them along in the comments!

How To (and Not To) Respond to the Current Crisis in the Middle East

My heart is heavy.   

Every day for the past week, every social media outlet has told their version of the current uprising stretching across the Middle East (Egypt, Libya, Yemen) .  Whether it’s pictures of Embassy’s burned to the ground, rioting citizens or highly politicized comics, the surge of content has been anything but “feel-good” and hopeful.  And that’s because the events and corresponding responses have been anything but “feel-good” and hopeful.  

Shared Meal in Middle East

My heart breaks because I know the events that are unfolding do not represent the majority of those who inhabit the Middle East.  I spend a significant amount of time in the Middle East and have built deep, life-long friendships.  Just two weeks ago I sat around a table and shared a meal with Christians, Jews and Muslims in the home of a devout Muslim family in this region.  A day after that, I served alongside Muslim youth workers who are promoting non-violence and reconciliation in the face of oppression and poverty.  On the same day I sat with an Arab Christian who embodied Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in dealing with daily injustice by saying, “We refuse to be enemies.”  Lastly, and what keeps playing itself over and over in my head, are the words spoken to me by a Muslim friend named Omar who lives in the Middle East.  He said, “Please give this message to all of your American friends. We (Arab Muslims and Christians) desire peace.  The violence you see in the news does not represent us.  It is not the majority, it is the smallest minority of extremism.  Please listen to our story and accept our friendship.”

I am now back in the States and am seeing that the fear, hatred and violence promoted by governments and media also being promoted by Christians in response to the events in the Middle East.  One Christian posted a picture of the world that had completely blown up the Middle East and labeled it “Ground Zero.”  The caption said, “There, I fixed it. Problem solved.”  This “solution” would mean the death of some of my dearest friends.  
My heart breaks because of the hateful stereotyping, racism and violent response being disseminated by Christians who in one breath proclaim the Jesus who calls us to love our enemies and in the next breath encourages their government to blow them up.  
As followers of the pro-people Jesus, is this best we can do?  Is that a reflection of the Christian hope that was brought about by and through the acts of the Suffering Servant?  Have we lost our imagination that leads to the participating in the restorative mission of God for the cosmos?
Friends, we can do better.  We must do better.  
How then shall we respond?
Grieve the loss of life. My heart breaks for the Americans (and their families!) who were killed in the violence.  Ambassador Stevens seemed to be a man who cared about people and did well at engaging the lives and stories of those he lived among.  He represented well what many Americans desire of foreign policy and relations.  His loss, and those of his colleagues, is a tragedy.  
Listen, Learn and Be Still.  We would do well to slow down and listen to the stories of others before telling their story for them.  Those that have stepped foot in other cultures (whether domestic or international) know how much we have to learn as products of each of our unique upbringings and world views.  Slow down, listen, learn and be still before jumping to words or actions that may do more harm than good.  

Generous Muslim Host

Have eyes for common humanity before common politics and religion. We all inherently know that the diversity of humanity isn’t going to allow for us all to perfectly agree on politics and religion.  Rather than look at people (again, domestically or internationally) through the lens of politics or religion, look at them through the lens of a shared humanity.  All humans were made in the image of God.  When we see Jesus in the eyes of “the other” it is much harder to hate, hurt and demean.  

Pray:  Pray for the healing of others, from all nations and religions. Pray for peace in places of conflict.  Seek forgiveness from our bling prejudice.  Ask for courage for those who promote Kingdom values.  Pray for new friendships to be cultivated among former enemies.  Pray for your/our enemies.  
Ask hard questions.  How might have my political or social involvement perpetuated or sparked some of the recent events?  Am I an objective observer or are there ways I can be part of the problem or part of the restoration?  Is the form of Islam that is being portrayed in the media an accurate form of faithful Islam or a simply an ideological counterfeit? 
Live a Different Narrative & Care for the Hurting Among Us. I have heard over and over again, “Oh, it’s those crazy, lunatic Muslim’s just doing what they do again.” It is in times like these that our role as pro-people people in the Way of Jesus must listen, learn and share a different story…a more true story of Islam and those in the Middle East.  Those of us that know and have experienced real life with the people who are now being labeled “insane terrorists” must bring to the dialog table the disconnect between perceived reality and reality. We must acquire important resources that will help us better step into this situation with eyes for common humanity, justice and the heart of God.  We must live into the narrative God desires for humanity, which inevitably will lead us to care for the hurting; whether grieving families who have lost loved ones or families/individuals who are experiencing hate and stereotyping in your neighborhoods because of the events half way across the globe. 
Let us begin that process now.

Why I Went To A Sikh Temple Last Night

I wasn’t sure what to expect as we pulled into the parking lot of a local Sikh Temple (known as a gurudwara) last night, but I assumed it would be culturally enlightening and offer a glimpse into a worldview and religious tradition I have only sparingly engaged.  While yesterday was the National Day of Remembrance and Solidarity for the victims and mourners of the temple shooting in Wisconsin, I felt deeply compelled to stand with them in their pain as a follower of the Prince of Peace.

Walking into the gurudwara’a courtyard holding my two-year-old daughter’s hand, my wife and two friends were immediately greeted by the priest with a handshake and smile.  He thanked us for coming and invited us into the experience that included a short service in the gurudwara and vigil outside to remember the six worshipers who were shot by a man that had never met them.  I can only speculate, but if this man would have engaged these people on a relational level at any point, he certainly would have reconsidered his actions.  

Much like the response of the Amish after the horrific schoolhouse massacre in ’06, the Sikh community has intentionally chosen to respond to by offering radical love and forgiveness.  Although somber, they carried a deep conviction to embrace the way of peace as retaliation for the death of these innocent victims.  

Having been handed a head covering and a candle, we slowly walked by the pictures of the victims and read their stories.  One, a women who had come to the United State only five years ago, worked 11 hours a day in a factory to raise enough money to support her family.  She was known for staying late at the Temple to make food for those in need and regularly sat at the bed of the ill in a local hospital.  Another was an 84-year-old man who had recently lost his wife and would walk two miles each day to pray at the Temple and serve food to the hungry.  The stories went on and on…

As we read and looked into the eyes of these victims, our hearts broke and we were transported into the life of those who often are stereotyped, persecuted and isolated because of their adherence to a faith tradition that isn’t “normal” to many of us in the West.  It was tragic, angering and painful.  

Gathering to start the vigil, one of the congregants walked up to us and again thanked us for being there and invited us to stay after for a shared meal.  Lighting our candles, the vigil began with a prayer and was followed by six different children reading the story of each victim.  To close, the priest led us through one more prayer, and speaking against the blind stereotype and prejudice that is pervading our country, said, “As Americans, this is how we learn about each other.”

Friends, we don’t compromise the integrity of our faith and convictions by engaging and standing with those of other faiths.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  When we stand in solidarity with those of other faiths – especially in times of tragedy – we embody the very best of our faith, namely the pro-people heart of Jesus

So why did I go to a Sikh Temple last night?  Because as a follower of Jesus I am called to stand with the victimized, the oppressed and hurting.  It is what I’m here to do and the very essence of who I am as one “in Christ,” to quote the Apostle Paul.  The victims don’t have to fit into our box or adhere to the same belief system, faith or worldview.  No, those are not things we are to concern ourselves with, because in then end, we are all humans in need of community and love.  In standing with people in times like these we get a glimpse into the New Creation that was set forth in Jesus’ Resurrection.  We are to be Resurrection people who reflect what God has in mind of humanity.  These are opportunities for us to be fully human.   

May we be a people who repent from blind prejudice and stereotype by diving deep into relationships with people that are “different” than us.  May we humble ourselves to learn from those that teach us how to seek reconciliation and offer radical forgiveness.  And may we always choose to first see others through the eyes of a Jesus who invites all humanity to his Kingdom banquet. 

My Child, the Marlboro Man and Interdependence

I was lying next to my daughter Ruby as she drank her milk and started to fade to sleep.  She often hums her favorite songs through the garble of milk, but this night she set aside the milk so she could nail every note of her newly assembled tune.

To the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Ruby began singing the nicknames she has created of those who are closest to her…the people she lives life with.  She sang (start humming Twinkle Twinkle to get full effect!), “Nena, Titi, Ani, Sam, Momma, Elmo, Daddy.”  Ok, the truth is out…yes, we watch Elmo.  But, the red puppet aside, little Ruby was falling asleep to the names and images of those that love her and those in whom she loves.  Not only was this adorable, it was profound. 

I’d like to think this song was the 19-month version of evening prayers.  Her very last conscious thoughts of the day turned not to herself, her toys, her dolls…no, they turned to others.  To those we share life with; community mates, family, neighbors. 

What would it look like if we all went to sleep not consumed with prayers for ourselves (or with personal details of life that I so often allow to take over my thoughts), but with prayers for others?  These are the prayers of one radically shaped by community.  Not just a group of people who hang out a lot, but a group of people who are intentionally shaping their lives in the way of Jesus and see life in community as the best way to faithfully live this out. 

True community is wrestling through life’s good and bad…together.  It is carrying each other’s burdens.  It is not just sharing meals, but sharing mission.  It not about building one’s personal kingdom, but about participating in God’s Kingdom. 

Life in community is exchanging the autonomous life of independence for a life of radical interdependence.  First between the great mystery of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and second between ourselves and the community we have entrusted ourselves to.  The Marlboro Man (independence, freedom, self reliance) of our Western culture is a deceptive myth and the anti-thesis of relationships in God’s Kingdom.

From the beginning, all humanity was hardwired for community.  We were designed to find life in communion with God and communion with one another.  We can’t fully understand who we are and who God wants us to be outside of life in community. 

Ruby’s prayer-song was simple and innocent, but I believe it was a window into the divine.  It was a glimpse into the dream God has for his people and through childlike faithfulness I got to get a sneak peak of what that might look like. 

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