8 Words That Broke My Heart

Having traveled through numerous Arabic speaking countries in the past few years, Janny and I have grown to enjoy the language and culture.  A couple months ago we drove to El Cajon, about 30 minutes east of San Diego, for a doctor’s appointment and noticed that all the signs were in English and Arabic, rather than the usual English and Spanish.

As we sat in the waiting room I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation of the couple next to me.  It was a conversation I would have rather not heard and it broke my heart.  They were complaining about the signs including Arabic and the more they talked the more heated they got.  At one point, the wife said, “First it was Mexican, now it’s Iranian sh*%.” She went onto say even more “colorful” stuff that I won’t include here.  I couldn’t believe my ears and I was torn between tears and rage.

San Diego is a Sanctuary City which offers a home and fresh start for international refugees.  El Cajon has the second largest Iraqi refugee population in the U.S. as they host tens of thousands of people who have been displaced by the current war. The neighborhood adjacent to us is home to an equally large number of refugees from war torn parts of Africa.  In fact, numerous people who we serve with in NieuCommunties have walked alongside these families for 2 years to teach them English and assist them in integrating into a very new culture.  Just a couple weeks ago, Janny and Ruby (my wife and daughter) spent the day playing games and running relays with the refugee kids in this neighborhood.

These are God’s children and they have gone through stuff that I can’t even imagine. Many have lived in slums trying to escape death and persecution for 20+ years waiting for approval to move to the U.S.  They haven’t experienced a day of peace in their lives.  Once they get here, they have 8 months of assistance and then they are on their own.  Not knowing the language and culture, the odds are stacked up against them and many end up homeless.  The last thing they need are the prejudices of those like I ran into in the doctor’s office.

When we employ such polarizing rhetoric, we not only violate American ideals (other than Native Americans, we were all immigrants at one time), we fracture God’s dream for humanity.  When we understand Jesus’ attention for the Samaritans (Israel’s unwanted “half breed” after Assyria took the Northern Kingdom), we see that if He were on earth today He would be sitting at the dinner table with these modern refugees.  Reality is, in the lives of His followers, Jesus is on earth today and we are to take a seat at the table.

Are we going to sit at the table or remain in a bubble that only drifts farther and farther from the heart of God and the model of Jesus?

Thinking back, I mainly feel sad for the couple at the doctor’s office.  I am sad that they are aren’t sitting at the table and enjoying the feast of God’s diverse Kingdom.  And honestly, I know I have prejudices of my own I need to work on before I can point fingers at them.

Pic: Picture we took of a stop sign in Casablanca, Morocco.

Thin Places: Today’s Celtic Spirituality

My friend Kenny and I get to hang out pretty often (The story behind our first meeting is pretty amazing: read about it here).  It is usually a random gathering as I see him sitting up against his favorite telephone pole as I walk to my favorite coffee shop.  Sometimes I act busy and just say hello, ask a few questions and keep walking to the coffee shop.  Other days, I slow down, sit up against the garage door next to his telephone pole and have some quality conversation. Kenny is brilliant and always remembers the content of our previous conversations, so it’s not hard to get into some meaningful dialog.

I don’t know where Kenny sleeps at night (he makes it clear that he doesn’t tell anyone), but he sits at the base of the same tree every morning and at the base of the same telephone pole every afternoon.  He and I have an informal “book study” going on, but he usually just wants to share a couple stories and show me the best coupons in the local newspaper.

St. Columba was a Celtic Monk who while living on the island of Iona off of Scotland would climb to the top of a nearby hill and pray a blessing over his brothers and over the land.  He called it a “thin place,” meaning heaven and earth were only thinly separated. Further, he had visions of all being restored to God’s original order.

When I sit with Kenny, I experience a “thin place.” When I choose to see clearly, I can see the face of Jesus in his eyes and I hope he can see Jesus in mine.  I picture the day when his fractured reality is restored and he not only has a roof to keep him from the soaking rain, but when his inner being filled with the Spirit.

I hope to seek out “thin places” in my daily life.  It is less about location and more about being open to participate in the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom as inaugurated in Jesus. It is about living into God’s ultimate vision of restoration in my life and in all Creation.

Embracing the Clear Sky of Thanksgiving in the Dense Fog of Wal Mart

As I conclude a Thanksgiving weekend full of the joys of family and friends, it is a time for me to process how much I have to be thankful for.  Every year, this weekend is a bitter-sweet paradox for me.  On Thursday, I embrace the clear sky of family, gratitude and a celebration feast.  On Friday, the thick fog of consumption roles in and Wal Mart workers get stopped to death by Black Friday mobs.  What is up with this paradox?  A post from earlier this year served has a healthy reminder for me, so I thought I would re-post.

I recently listened to a great sermon on finances from Nathan George, founder of Trade as One. He began by asking how many of us had had a shower in the last week. He said that those of us who had are rich and that 4 of the 6 billion people on earth hadn’t been so fortunate. I got up late for work yesterday and didn’t get my DAILY shower. I felt gross all day and my hair was kinda sticking up like Alfalfa…

Last semester I took a class @ Fuller Seminary titled, Jesus and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. My professor, Daniel Kirk(who wrote this book)had us read PLENTY of commentary on the Synoptic Gospels(Matt., Mark, Luke)outside of class, but in his lectures he never picked one up. He read straight out of the Greek Bible and translated to us as naturally as I read the english versions. The humanity of Jesus came alive and the Kingdom He inaugurated took a hauntingly (maybe I’ll explain why I use that word later) tangible form. So much of the WORDS and DEEDS of Jesus centered around His interaction and justice for the “least of these (Matt. 25).” Jesus’ face was illumined in the face of the stranger, the hungry, the prisoner and the homeless. Yes, Jesus spent alot of time preaching this Kingdom to the wealthy and highly religious, but He embodied this Kingdom through His deeds and interactions with those who inhabited it…the poor(Luke 6).

I can live a life with multiple degrees of separation from these inhabitants of the Kingdom of God. I sleep in a warm bed with a heating blanket, they sleep under a tarp with a newspaper. I eat fresh produce, they eat my leftovers. My possessions rest in cabinets and closets, theirs rests on their backs. It’s a strange tension…should I feel bad for having what I do. No, I think I should feel thankful, but in order to be fully thankful, I am finding I must have an understanding and heart for those who don’t. Not just a “oh that sucks for them” kind of understanding, but a “how can I learn from your story and be part of its healing” understanding. It is often my “blessings” in the form of material excess that sometimes keep me from full participation in the Kingdom of God(Matt.19:24)…

So by serving, learning from and hanging out with these Kingdom Inhabitants, does the Gospel Jesus came to proclaim through WORD and DEED come to life?

Jesus, in order for us to fully be grateful for what/who we have in our lives this Thanksgiving, we must not forget the stories of those who have so little.  May we stand in solidarity with your Kingdom inhabitants this season and for the rest of our lives.

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