Jesus

The Holidays: Anxiety & Consumption or Presence & People

picture_consumption_behaviorAs we enter the holiday season, the lure of “necessary” excess and the myth of a consumption that satisfies will steadily grow stronger. This is not a reality in every culture, but it is front and center in ours.  

It for this reason that I offer this timely and prophetic quote from a faith father that is probably more relevant today than it was when he said it 1500 years ago. 

Fifth-century monk Nilus of Ancyra wrote, 

“We should remain within the limits imposed by our basic needs and strive with all our power not to exceed them. For once we are carried a little beyond these limits in our desire for the pleasures of life, there is then no criterion by which to check our onward movement, since no bounds can be set to that which exceeds the necessary.”

As we stumble toward a Jesus who taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread (nothing more and nothing less),” I offer this blessing as we navigate the beauty and brokenness of this holiday season. 

May we find our deepest satisfaction not in what we receive, but in what we give away.  

May we receive genuine relationship with family and neighbor as our most sacred gift.  

May we free ourselves from the bondage of consumption that captures our time and imagination. 

May the anxiety of lists and busyness be lifted and exchanged by the richness of laughter and presence. 

May we care for the creation God has given us to steward by choosing less in the face of more.

May we be reminded, each day, of the reality of a God who moved into our human neighborhood in Jesus, announcing that another world is possible which comes into view a little more through our participation today. 

 

In A World of ISIS, We Need More Muslim Friends

I can remember when I was scared of Muslims.

I don’t think I would have ever uttered those words, but subconsciously, they were true. 

As a good, Bible-Believing-Evangelical-Christian (that’s all one word, right?) who could recite the two greatest commandments to love God and love others before I was out of diapers, how had this fear developed in me?

Our Daughter Ruby w/Afghan Family

Our Daughter Ruby w/Afghan Family

Well, it’s easy. Stories we are told about Muslims are often related to terror, oppression and violence. And, to be honest, it is far more comfortable to remain in a place of isolation and ignorance than it is to engage in the intentional work of education, experience and relationship. 

Further, I used to think the only way to meet Muslims was to fly half way across the world and enter into a reality completely foreign to my own. “They” are somewhere over there and “we” are over here, so let’s just agree to keep our distance and allow our politicians and power brokers to work things out.

That all changed for me when my wife and I joined a faith community committed to Jesus’ invitation to love our neighbors. We quickly realized loving our neighbors required we know our neighbors. And, living in a city that is home to tens of thousands of international refugees, we discovered that “they” don’t only live across the world, “they” are at “our” baseball games, in our neighborhood and our parks. It wasn’t that our Muslim friends had just moved in, it was that we hadn’t had the eyes to see them, let alone enter genuine friendships. 

Over the years, I have discovered that the only way to love and be loved by my neighbors (locally and globally) is to be in relationship. The reason I used to be scared of Muslims was simply because I didn’t know any. I had never heard their stories. I had never been to their sacred places. I didn’t understand their traditions. I hadn’t even shared a meal with them. 

I have come to realize what an incredible opportunity I had squandered. Interestingly, what I had squandered wasn’t primarily what I had to offer my neighbors, but what they had to offer me. 

As ISIS fills the headlines, Islamphobia spreads like the common cold and sound bites trump human interaction, there is no more important time to build friendships with our Muslim neighbors. Here are five reasons why:

1. A Cure for Fear

Fear is one of the most toxic diseases hijacking Christian’s ability to live as salt and light. Not only do we often tell ourselves that everyone is out to get us, we think relationships with those different than us leave us open to falling down the slippery slope of compromise.

I have never met a Muslim who asks me to compromise my commitment to Jesus. If anything, they encourage me to take it more seriously. Being in relationship with people who are different than us doesn’t compromise our faith, it reflects the very best of it. A mentor of mine recently said, “The deeper our roots are in Jesus, the wider our branches can extend into other traditions.”

2. An Expanded Worldview

I recently sat in a West Bank backyard with a collection of 20 Christians and Muslims. Having just spent a few days together, we sang, danced and shared what we had each learned about the other’s religious tradition based on our experience together. It was sacred. The worldview of both the Christians who were with me and the Muslims who lived in this village will forever view the “other” in a more helpful, human way.

In many other parts of the world, Christians and Muslims don’t see themselves as enemies, but as dear friends, partners and fellow humans. When we extend past our inherited worldview, we may see a very different landscape of interfaith collaboration. What media sources, experiences or influencers are we allowing to inform our worldview? How might that become more diverse?

3. An Antidote to Isolationism

We, the Christian community, can fall victim to becoming insulated and isolated, which inherently puts us in a posture of defense rather than invitation. When our relationships remain only among those who think, look and believe like we do, we run the risk of becoming exclusive and tribal. Which, ironically, is so much of the West’s critique of regimes like ISIS.

The antithesis of Christ-like love is to only be in relationship with those who are like “us,” while excluding “them.” As we begin to build relationships with those outside of our tradition, we break out of our little bubbles and are able to truly love like Jesus. Jesus never ran in fear from those who were different than him. No, he ran to people who were different. Our inherited theology may distance us from those of other religions, but Jesus never does.

4. A Solution for Our Need for Mutual Relationship

Our Christian tradition hasn’t historically done well at entering relationships with those outside of our tradition in a posture of mutuality. Our tendency has been to enter relationships as the hero rather than the learner.

As we build friendships with our Muslim neighbors, we must do so seeking to understand rather than be understood. Genuine friendship is not a project. Get curious. Share life and space. Spend long hours around the dinner table. Take each other’s kids to school. Accept their love in the same way you would expect them to receive yours.

5. An Understanding of Misrepresentation

I just got an email from my friend, Jarrod McKenna, who as a Jesus follower, is doing remarkable work reassigning dignity to the Muslim community in Australia. Sadly, his email was to tell me that a Muslim family was violently attacked, not because of their actions, but because of their religion.

In my city, a Muslim mom was recently killed outside of her house for similar reasons. These are just a couple acts of hatred and prejudice of our Muslim neighbors are enduring as a result of our inability to differentiate between Islamic extremists (ISIS, etc.) and the majority of Muslims.

The Christian Community must understand that the vast majority of Muslims are embarrassed and concerned for their own safety as a result of ISIS, and we must advocate for their humanity. If we are in genuine friendship, our advocacy will become a non-negotiable.

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NOTE: This piece was first published on RELEVANT Magazine

 

 

Problem to Fix or Opportunity to Embrace? 3 Ways to Care for Unaccompanied Minors

IMG_0672A couple weeks ago, Mexican and USAmerican leaders gathered at Friendship Park -- the wall between us -- representing millions of Christians throughout Mexico and the United States by offering a prayer on behalf of the 60,000 unaccompanied minors detained on our border. As I stood in this sacred prayer circle that extended across our shared border, I thought,“This is what the Church looks like when it takes seriously it’s call to care for the ‘least of these’ as part of our citizenship to a kingdom that knows no borders.”

While some Christian’s view the arrival of these children (many of whom are fleeing actual or pending violence) as a burdensome imposition -- welcoming these kids with protests and hate speech -- others are rightly viewing this an opportunity for the Church to be the Church and reflect Good News to some of the worlds most vulnerable. These kids can’t be viewed as a threat to our abundance, but the very people we are to care for out of our abundance. 

Thankfully, I have had scores of folks in the Church asking what can be done. Another way it has been asked is, “How can we welcome the children in the same way Jesus did?” 

Here are three tangible ways: 

1. Seek to Understand the Human Plight 

Few understand the gravity of the situation these kids are fleeing from. Whether physical starvation, hopeless depression, violent war or a gang reality, these kids are traumatized before they ever begin their journey to the United States. It is in that place that they begin one of the most dangerous journey’s imaginable from Central America to the United States. The vast majority of the girls who make the journey are either killed, raped or sold into sex slavery, while the percentage of boys who experience similar horrors isn’t much lower. With this in mind, imagine how they feel when they finally make it into the United States! While 60,000 have made it, scores of others haven’t. These kids need attention and care, so when we welcome them with hatred and signs to “GO HOME,” I can’t imagine how that adds to their trauma. Further, I can’t imagine that’s how Jesus’ would have his Church treat the strangers and children among us. 

READ: Enrique’s Journey 

WATCH: Which Way Home

2. Meet Those Behind the Headlines

This is not an issue to remain in the walls of political power or on the mouths of political pundits filling our news outlets. Because this is a humanitarian issue, we must meet the humans behind the headlines and debates. There are detention centers and shelters in cities all across the United States where these kids are being held as their future hangs in the balance. Go and meet these kids. Play soccer. Share a meal. Hear their story. 

Just a few weeks ago, we (TGIP) brought of a group of US teenagers to a shelter here in San Diego to spend time with these teenagers from Central America. While it took a few minutes to break the awkward “hello’s,” these kids bonded as equals. They were no different from one another, they just had dramatically different stories. After hours of soccer, games and sharing tables, the common humanity was all any of us could see.  

GO: Southwest Key is the largest network of shelters in the United States and are located in multiple states. Also, you don’t have to search long to identify a detention center in your city. 

3. Act According to Your Convictions

Having gained both an academic and experiential understanding of this crisis, there are plenty of ways to take action. Here are a few suggestions for you and/or your community:

  • Foster/Adopt: There are now organizations and ministries facilitating the foster and/or adoption process of these kids. This is a VERY tangible way for the Church to be the Church. Imagine if we weren’t waiting for the government to care for these kids, but taking action ourselves to solve this crisis by opening our doors and hearts?
  • Donate: Search organizations who are caring for these kids and offer your finances or material resources.
  • Advocate: Call your representative and tell them the Church supports the care of these children and that this crisis must be viewed as a humanitarian crisis politically.
  • Educate: Invite those closest to you and the leadership within your Church to academically and experientially educate themselves on this issue.  Offer them tangible steps towards redemptive engagement.

In the way that Jesus opened his arms to children when those in power told him to do otherwise, may the Church open its arms to the children on our doorstep who are so desperately in need of love, dignity, healing and hope.

 

3 Barriers Hijacking Christian’s Ability to Love Our “Enemies”

EmpathyIn recent years, my family has navigated some rough patches; death, cancer treatments, open heart surgeries, chronic disease, etc. Now, I’m certain this isn’t everyone’s experience, but mine has been that in these times of trauma or tragedy, family comes together to stand with one another as we wrestle through life’s crap. We aren’t picking fights, we are crying on each other’s shoulders. 

In recent months, our human family has been enduring an especially rough patch. 

War. 

Racism. 

Suicide.

Deadly viruses.

Plane crashes.

Whether in remote villages or urban centers, few have been untouched (in some way) by the realities unfolding. 

As I observe our corporate response to tragedy as a human family, and evaluate my own response in the midst of it, I have noticed something disturbing unfold. Rather than rally together as a family navigating a season of trauma, we have used this moment to divide, stir hatred and misunderstanding, point fingers and more than anything, view those on the opposite side of an issue as less than human. 

Watching political pundits bark the party line or news anchors posture themselves as authority figures rather than conduits of curiosity, I find myself asking the question, “What keeps us from seeing others as human?”  

And by human, I mean, divine image bearers who have stories, families, pain, hopes, traditions and a unique interpretation of reality. 

Here are three barriers that are hijacking our ability to love our “enemies” and acknowledge our shared humanity: 

1. Fear

Those of us in the West (and I’m sure many others around the globe) live in a culture of fear. It is a reality of “What If?” What if the robber breaks into my house? What if all of our jobs are taken by immigrants who don’t deserve to be here? What if the terrorists strike my city? What if that person walking on the street (who looks different than me) tries to jump me? What if the stock market crashes and I lose all my investments? What if (insert name) gets elected and everything goes to hell?  

The Problem? We spend so much time trying to prepare for the “what if” that we completely miss out on the joy, beauty and opportunity right in front of us. Further, we project our fear on others and undeservedly make them the potential culprit. Because everyone is out to get us, we can no longer trust anyone and our worldview is largely pessimistic. 

The Cure? “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do…Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows…Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” -- Jesus (Luke 12) 

In the end, if we truly believe Jesus is reigning, what do we have to fear?

2. Nationalism

Yes, we live in a country with unprecedented wealth, opportunity (for many) and infrastructure that has done remarkable things domestically and abroad. As I travel around the world, I don’t have to look far to run into people who dream to live in our country. There are so many reasons to be grateful to live here. With that said, it is deeply disturbing to me how inverse our allegiances have become within the Christian subculture. Many, out of reverence to our country, have placed their primary allegiance to the USA rather than to the Kingdom of God. 

The Problem? Nationalism is a form of idolatry that we must repent from. Healthy love of country isn’t what I’m referring to. Nationalism is the belief that our country is somehow set apart over and above all other countries which leads to unquestionable support of our nation’s policies and practices even if they come at the expense of innocent human beings on the other side of the globe. Further, we often place our hope in our elected officials rather than in Jesus (who reigns as king of the Kingdom that has come and is coming). It means we -- whether subconsciously or consciously -- see people who live outside of our borders as “less than.” We may not admit it, but it is certainly the case. If our war machines take the lives of those half way across the world it is somehow easier to justify than if it were the life of one of our own. 

The Cure? “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world. -- Jesus (John 18:36)

May we daily submit ourselves first and foremost to the rule and reign of Jesus, praying, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”   

3. Power 

The growing distance between those with economic and political power creates a social distance that doesn’t allow us to share tables with those who have differing degrees of power. Often, those in power don’t KNOW the people who their power impacts which leads to decisions that negatively impact those on the underside of power. The flip side is that those without power are willing to dehumanize others as a way to ascend to power. If getting power means values and ethics are compromised (which inevitably has direct implications on human beings), then so be it. 

The Problem? Power is viewed as a commodity that can be acquired for our own advancement rather than gift to be given away for the flourishing of others. A utopian view would say everyone is born into an equal playing field of opportunity, but that simply isn’t the case. Those in power don’t plan to relinquish it and those without power will often choose unethical means to gain it.  

The Cure? “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’” -- Jesus (Matt 18) 

What if we took seriously Jesus’ words that the first shall be last and the last will be first?

A Prayer for the People of God and our Human Family 

May we, the people of God, choose to live fueled by the hope Resurrection rather than held captive by the fear of death. 

May we, the people of God, choose to rightly place our allegiance in Jesus and his kingdom rather than become slaves to the kingdoms of this world.

May we, the people of God, choose to embrace the way of the Cross and freely give away power for the flourishing of others as we join God in the world he is making. 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as our human family endures a season of trauma, may your image rise in each of us so that we can offer and receive love in the most unexpected people and places.  Amen

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.

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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. 

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