listening

The Pipeline Continues: May We Hear the Voice(s) of the People

IMG_7344Last month, I found myself sitting in a tent listening to the Sioux tribal elders at Standing Rock reflect on the implications of the Dakota Access Pipeline halt. In arctic temperatures surrounded by domestic and international reporters, one of the elders (pic) described the tribe’s genuine celebration at the halt and proceeded to elaborate on its significance.

In the next breath, his words turned somber as he walked through hundreds of years of interaction between the US government and his tribe (and the wider Native American community). He systematically walked through treaty after treaty after treaty and lamented the fact that the very government that had proposed them had broken each one.

He said, “While we celebrate this temporary victory, we have hundreds of years of history that remind us to never trust the promises of the government. Companies have responsibility to investors. We have responsibility to be stewards of the water. Oil is malignant to the planet and those who find life from it.

Ocheti camp will remain and double our efforts to protect this land, river and home. All seven tribes of souix have gathered for first time in 140 years. Former enemies are standing together for the land we’ve been entrusted to steward.

We have not broken any laws. We have conducted ourselves in a prayerful and peaceful way. We are not protestors or terrorists or rioters, we are in fact water protectors.

We pray for the law enforcement officials everyday. We want to walk across the bridge and shake hands. Dakota means “friend.” The people and place reflect that. We will continue to feed and keep warm everyone in this camp.”

As I listened, I couldn’t help but be both inspired and saddened. In the case of Native American’s in general and the Sioux at Standing Rock specifically, we have largely chosen to see only the realities that affirm our inherited worldview or benefited our bottom line. As a result, there are real people standing on real land that are hurting and pleading for us to listen. They stewarded this land long before white Europeans arrived and continue to bear the responsibility of caring for it for the generations to come.

Today, President Donald Trump signed an executive action greenlighting the Dakota Access Pipeline, which had been halted to seek alternative routes. The original route, under Lake Oahe, would have threatened the Standing Rock Sioux’s drinking water and sacred lands.

Having stood with and been cared for by these remarkable people, I have the responsibility to at the very least share their story. As inhabitants of the same plot of soil we call the US, I would argue it is not only their story, but our story.

May we listen. May we lament. May we act by standing in front of any bulldozer that is flattening people.

A Theology from Below (and Subterranean Book Review)

subterraneanYear after year as my community seeks to live well in the unique soil of our little neighborhood, we discover how much our neighborhood has to teach us about ourselves, each other and the One we follow. Because real life is textured with both the beautiful and broken realities of humanity, we find ourselves formed and informed in new ways that we couldn’t have ever expected. For this reason, we make plenty of space for our theology to be shaped not only from “above” through our intellect, study and empirical insight, but also from “below” through the realities of God’s presence in the mundane of everyday. In fact, it is often this lived theology that most clearly reveals to us where we fit in God’s story that is unfolding in our place. 

The reality of having our theology developed from below means we regularly expose ourselves to darkness, disappointment and failure. The stories don’t always end the way we want them to. In our heads we may have the perfect theological formula, but in reality, the formula is often as unhelpful as our freshman algebra class. What happens when that friend you’ve been walking with for years falls back into addiction and violence? What happens when your seemingly perfect family reality get upended by tragedy? Or when despite your best efforts, your vision for what is “good” in your neighborhood turns out being the exact opposite? 

In Practicing Locality -- chapter 9 of Dan White’s new book, Subterranean: Why the Future of the Church is Rootedness -- he argues that despite the cost and potential disappointment, we have to give ourselves to everyday practice because it is only there that we will develop a “living theology.” To do theology faithfully, we must participate in the social realities of our broken and beautiful places“(pg 95). This is a theology not only informed by a textbook, but by the breath of the Spirit moving in and through a community of practice. It is for that reason Dan opens the chapter by describing the necessity of imagination. When we give ourselves to the everyday, we have to carry with us an imagination for God’s dream for the world in the midst of the inevitable disappointment, failure and darkness. As one who is part of a faith community committed to a “living theology,” we experience as much heart ache, failure and brokenness as we do joy and “success.” An imagination for not only what is, but what will be, is often the fuel that sustains us.

Dan goes on to offer a couple “tools” that can help faith communities experience a “living theology” by participating in the fabric of their neighborhood as a reflection of renewal and rooted presence. Without going into the nuances of his suggested pathways here, it is clear that Dan is a practitioner whose stories and insights could only come forth out of a life of practice. Not only does he encourage us to hold our theology accountable to a lived set of practices, he reminds us to remain in the posture of learners rather than hero’s. “We speak from where our bodies are situated. Too much theologizing and Christian living techniques are formed in the ivory tower of the Christian world, telling us what people need and how they should receive it(95).

In contrast to many “church-planting” books, he continually highlights the necessity of learning from and being loved by our neighbors in a mutually beneficial relationship. We aren’t the hero’s who have come to conquer or correct, we are simply participants in what God is already doing for the flourishing of all.  We must take a teachable posture as we are confronted by our ignorance and misplaced judgments. We must recognize our own blindness and limitations in the spaces we dwell in. We must behold, not just look (97)…walk gently and quietly so as to not stomp all over others’ sweat-soaked work. Innovation happens when a community humbly comes together to discern how to be in a place in a way that blesses the lifeworld of a neighborhood(98).

If there is a liability to this chapter, it is the introduction of so much new language. This is not only true of Dan’s book, but characteristic of a whole moment of theologians and communicators who are seeking to offer a renewed vision for how the church can be in the world. While fresh language is vitally important, it can also be confusing and a hurdle rather than an asset. I have been guilty of this myself and would love to see a growing movement with common language so as not to require the continual interpretation and reinterpretation of shared ideas. 

In the end, Practicing Locality is a refreshing reminder that we must live the stuff we talk about. Theology means little (if anything at all) if it isn’t lived out in the context of everyday life in neighborhood. Further, this chapter serves as a helpful guide to onramp individuals and communities into a lived set of practices that reflect a Jesus who didn’t come to conquer, but to give himself away for the flourishing of others. May we go and do likewise. 

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This review was part of a Subterranean Book Blog Tour, which is offering a unique 40% off discount code that expires Oct 23rd if purchased at http://wipfandstock.com/subterranean.html Here is the code: ROOTED

The Tragedy of Self-Appointed Prophets

Woman-yelling-in-megaphoneThe world is swirling with issues.

Picking up my phone and opening my news app each morning is being met with more and more dread each day.

When something hits the news, it is fascinating to watch people jump onto social media and begin “yelling” out their answers for how to heal our broken systems.

Of course, there is almost always at least two completely different opinions for how these problems should be fixed, which typically leads to people drawing lines in the sand, picking their stance and not budging. Relationships often fracture and a polarized a world gets more polarized, rendering it immobilized for the work of reconciliation.

Whether it’s on our Facebook page, Twitter feed or around our table, I assume most of us can think of an interaction where this unhelpful and potentially destructive reality played out.

So, does this “yelling” of our opinions actually help heal the broken systems and the people whom those systems are breaking?

I’m all about using our voices to call out injustice. By offering a critique of power and a hope for those on the underside of it, the ancient prophets did this beautifully throughout history.

But, in a globalized, virtually interconnected world, I’m concerned we have too many self appointed prophets (which, by definition is NOT a prophet), and not near enough practitioners. Far more constructive than a verbal or written argument is actually doing something.

I don’t think the world needs more armchair advocates…especially when our arguing or defending leads to the fracture of real life relationships. I’m not saying we all need to passively waltz around the world’s issues. No, I’m proposing we actively engage them in two ways:

1. Healthy, constructive discourse that doesn’t require we all agree to remain in relationship 
2. We spend less time talking, and use our best energy to actually do something

What this world needs are people who are willing to role up their sleeves and get dirty. And not for a week or a month or a year, but for the long haul.

The world needs people embedded in the center of these conflicts equipped with the practices that make for peace. These people don’t have time to debate solutions on social media because they are already hard at work making the solutions a reality. They don’t have to transplant themselves to the center of the issue, because they are already embedded in it. They don’t have to seek the approval of their constituency, because it’s not about their reputation, it’s about the flourishing of those they have been called to serve.

They are sharing meals with the forgotten in their neighborhood.

They are building lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with those of other faiths who we are often taught to fear.

They are sitting at the hospital bedside of the family who is suffering loss at the hands of unjust people and systems.

They are in the churches, schools and homes of our black and brown communities to listen, learn and support.

They are in detention centers and deportation shelters to pray with and look in the eyes of those in our society’s shadows.

They are encouraging and walking with our faith and political leaders as they navigate the potentially compromising positions of power.

It’s a way of life that is costly. It is not glamorous. And it often comes without our desired outcomes being met in the short term and, potentially, not even in the long term.

This is the work of a trained, strategic and intentional community of Jesus followers who are prepared to move to the center of our society’s conflicts with the weapons to transform rather than destroy. It’s the gritty, subversive and costly work of peacemaking.

More than ever, I believe the work of peacemaking is discipleship. It’s the long hard road of the cross that will lead to the flourishing of others and allow our deepest calling to meet the worlds deepest needs. May it be so. 

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NOTE: The work of The Global Immersion Project is to train and mobilize the kind of people I describe. We call them Everyday Peacemakers. To learn more or participate in one of our international or domestic trainings, go here: http://globalimmerse.org

Girls: The Hope of the Future

unnamedOver the past few days, Ruby, our little four year old firecracker, has asked some profound and provocative questions that have both challenged and brought us much hope for the future.

“Why does Jesus want us to talk to him if he never talks back to us?”

“Why do we have a house to sleep in, while some of our neighbors don’t?”

“Why are there only boys on the Giants (my favorite MLB baseball team)?”

Today, a 17 year old Muslim girl named Malala Yousafzai, won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Muslim.

Pakistani.

Female.

Child.

Breaking culture’s boundaries and expectations, this heroine gives us a glimpse of hope in a season when we needed it most. 

g243_u112483_1350706037760.cached“Two years ago Yousafzai garnered the world’s attention when she was shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting education for girls in Pakistan. Since then, after recovering from surgery, she has taken her campaign global, most notable with a speech last year at the United Nations.

We haven’t heard a statement from Yousafzai about the peace prize. Apparently, she was in chemistry class when she was notified. She’s scheduled to release one later this day. After school lets out.

That may be my favorite part of the article I read about Yousafzai this morning. Because while, yes, she is a hero, she is also still a child. Who probably has a history quiz today. The day she is making history.

But I can’t say I’m shocked. Of course the Nobel Peace Prize is going to a child. My only surprise is that it took this long! Who better than a child to promote peace? They have the biggest stakes in the future.”

In a world riddled with conflict, oppression and brokenness, I’m more convinced than ever that it will be strong, articulate and courageous girls/women who will offer the needed healing to humanity’s deepest wounds.

And, if today’s Nobel Peace Prize recipient is any reflection of this, we are well on our way.

Maybe we’ll tell Ruby that girls don’t have enough time to play baseball because they are too busy winning a Nobel Peace Prize.

May we empower, listen, learn and be led by this tribe of prophets. Maybe, just maybe, they will show us once again what it looks like to tangibly love God and neighbor. 

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NOTE: Embedded quote courtesy of Compassion International: http://blog.compassion.com/nobel-peace-prize-malala-yousafzai/#ixzz3FlzB8xUk

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

 

 

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