listening

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. 

Pentecost and the Freedom to be in All the Wrong Places

0This Sunday, the Church concludes the 50 day Easter season with Pentecost. Pentecost celebrates the giving of the Holy Spirit and reminds us that our story isn’t static, but dynamic, alive and unfolding. It reminds us that we are a people marked by both what has happened AND what is happening. It reminds us that our primary work isn’t to defend and isolate ourselves from the world around us, but to move into it as ambassadors of hope and reconciliation. In the same way that the disciples moved out from Jerusalem after Pentecost, we are to move out of our places of comfort and complacency as we join God in the world he is making.

We are no longer captive to fear, but enlivened by our freedom. Freedom to love the outcast. Freedom to listen to those we disagree with. Freedom share tables with those of different faith traditions. Freedom to encounter violence with creative alternatives. Freedom to love our enemies. 

We don’t have to fear what “bad” might rub off on us. Instead, we live in the freedom to move forward with both humility and confidence that the Holy Spirit does her best work when we intentionally move into the places she is already present. And often, those people and places don’t fit into any of our tidy categories. Whether hanging out with friends in my gay basketball league, discussing the reality of God around a backyard bonfire in the West Bank with a collection of Christians and Muslims working for peace, sharing an Iftar meal with my Muslim neighbors during Ramadan or helping my undocumented neighbor sort through my recycling, I am more convinced than ever that the Holy Spirit was already present…she just needed me, and the Church as a whole, to join in the work already underway.

If we are content sticking around the comfort and certainty of Jerusalem, our doctrine and dogma will suffice. If we take seriously our call to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, then we must embrace the glorious mystery of the Holy Spirit and join her in participating in the healing of a broken world. 

Owning Our Role in Gentrification & the Bible

IMG_7340What is the role of a community of faith in a gentrified or gentrifying neighborhood? Is what we see as good actually good for the whole population of a neighborhood? How do we become aware of those issues? How do we promote a common good of both the haves and have not’s?

In developing a biblical framework for the reality of gentrification, there are two themes that we see helpful in highlighting.  First, how we enter a place is as significant as how we end up living in it.  In other words, we can move into a neighborhood or city in the posture of the colonizing hero or we can enter it with humility and a willingness to embrace the already established ethos.  Second, and requiring we hold the first theme in radical tension, we are to live in neighborhoods as advocates of the Kingdom of God and with the hope of God’s reign being made manifest in this place.  

So how do we enter a place with humility as a learner, while still advocating for a hope found in the reality of the Kingdom of God that was inaugurated in Jesus?  

As the physical place where all three monotheistic religions share a common history, Hebron is one of the most volatile cities in the Middle East today.  Home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Jews, Christians and Muslims are able to trace their roots back to their father, Abraham.  Today, there is a daily struggle for the acquisition of more land and better access to the cities’ religious sites to the point that land is being stolen from one another.  Rather than working with one another in common respect for the land, there is a posture of domination and acquisition that trumps their ability to celebrate a common bloodline.  

The irony of today’s struggle is that their father, Abraham, gives us one of the most important insights into how we are to enter into a neighborhood that is already inhabited.  After his wife Sarah died at the beginning of Genesis 23, Abraham enters a time of mourning and preparation for her burial in Hebron, which at the time was inhabited by the Hittites.  Having a significant reputation among the people, Abraham could have easily taken land for Sarah’s burial or assumed that it would be given to him.  Instead, he says, “I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead” (23:4). Over the course of the narrative, he is offered the land multiple times for free, but Abraham insists on honoring the inhabitants by paying a fair price for the land.  

At a later point in Israel’s story, God’s people find themselves in exile under the heavy hand of Babylon.  They no longer inhabit their neighborhood and their understanding of a rightly ordered world is a distant dream.  Yet, despite it all, the prophet Jeremiah shares the word of Yahweh to his people in exile;

“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” -- Jeremiah 29:5-7

It is here that we get a picture affirming our second theme that we are to be advocates and participants in the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom in the places we inhabit.  No matter how we land in our neighborhood, city or suburb, we are to seek the good of our place.  We are to embody and advocate for the reality of God’s reign because the good of our place will equal the good of our family.   

After hundreds of years, exile had become Israel’s primary reality when Jesus, their deliverer, finally arrives.   For Israel, the Messiah was to bring about three realities: 1. Restoration of the Davidic throne through military conquest, 2. Rebuilding of the Temple and 3. Reoccupation of the Holy Land.  While Jesus comes bringing a message of hope in announcing the reality of the Kingdom of God, such hope wasn’t always realized in the way they would have anticipated.  In fact, because Jesus didn’t bring about any of these three realities in the way Israel expected, the majority of God’s people considered Jesus a failed Messiah.  He had moved into the neighborhood of humanity with the hope of the Kingdom of God, but rather than establishing God’s reign through military conquest, he established it through suffering and selfless sacrifice.  For Jesus, the common good of the human neighborhood required that he make himself last in order for others to be first.  

While Jesus was viewed as a failed Messiah by the standards of the Jewish community of his day, we know that his upside down approach was actually the means through which the Kingdom was made manifest.  Jesus did have some “short term” wins throughout his ministry, but there was a longer-term impact he came to bring about that wasn’t as easy to see or measure. 

As we faithfully inhabit our neighborhoods with the hope of the Kingdom of God inaugurated in Jesus, maybe our goal isn’t to fix everything right now, but to seek a longer-term good.  In fact, what might look like failure in the short term could be the sowing of seeds that lead toward a long term good.  Maybe just being with the people in a neighborhood can offer a long-term good that transcends some of the short-term realities of gentrification.  Maybe moving towards a common good with our neighbors out of the tangible hope of God’s Kingdom reign will redeem some of our apparent short term “failures.”

If there is anything we have learned, it is that transformation is slow and often comes about in ways we would never have expected.  Such is the life of Jesus and such is life as a follower of Jesus.  While committing to find our hope in Jesus’ enthronement as King of the Kingdom, we live, love and lead in our neighborhoods with curiosity, humility and a listening ear that leads us towards a common heart and life with our neighbors. 

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NOTE: This is an excerpt from a chapter I contributed to a book published by The Urban Loft called Vespas, Cafes, Singlespeed Bikes and Urban Hipsters: Gentrification, Urban Mission, and Church Planting. 

3 Steps to Becoming the Most (un)Successful Person in the World

monastery2I spent yesterday morning at a local monastery seeking to create some space to not only clear my mind and heart, but to listen to the voice of the Creator. As life produces more and more “noise,” these times are hard to come by, but remarkably significant. I can’t imagine a better, yet more challenging way to begin a new week. 

Much of my time was spent reflecting on something a mentor of mine recently said, “God’s will is not success, but peace.” 

What does this mean? And if it means what I think it might, the implications seem pretty high.

What is “Success?”

In our culture, success has been defined primarily by how well we produce X that leads to wealth, power or reputation. Our identity is rooted far more in what we do (and how well we do it) than it is in who we are. And, to be honest, most of us don’t even know who we are. For me, it often feels like a daily struggle. 

How Do We Define God’s Will As Peace?

It is the restoration of all things back to Himself. It is wrong things being made right. It is a humanity that is reconciled to God and to one another. It is knowing that our identity is not informed by what we produce, but by who we are as sons and daughters of the Father.

What would my life look like if I spent my best energy towards peace rather than the building of “success?”

When I pursue culturally constructed versions of success, my image bearing neighbors (near and far) become means to my end rather than ends in and of themselves. Not only do I fail to acknowledge their humanity, I lose my own. If success is anything other than about the love of other, then it will be destructive. 

I don’t have to look far for examples of this. No, I simply have to look inward. This definition of success has infected my DNA as much as the next guy/girl. It is a daily reality that requires daily repentance and realignment. 

To trust that God’s will is peace changes everything about how I live, love and lead. Rather than seeking to climb every ladder to stand over people, I begin to choose to pick up my cross and lift other people up. I become more concerned about living into who I am as a son of the Father than who I am perceived to be by those I seek to impress. I am free to love God and others selflessly, because self no longer takes center stage.

I become fully human again.

I have so much to learn and so many areas to grow.

I finished the day by walking the way of the cross. It was profound. In fact, it reminded me that walking the way of the cross isn’t a once a month spiritual disciple, but an everyday choice to follow the one who suffered so we might find life.

  

Ramadan, A Shared Table & Following Jesus

Iftar MealLast night, Janny and I had the honor of sharing a table with a gathering of local Muslim’s for an Iftar meal.  It is currently Ramadan, which means the Muslim community around the globe fasts everyday day from sunrise to sunset.  No food. No water. No tobacco. No sex. Each night they have a celebration feast to break their daily fast called the Iftar meal.  It is sacred, joyous and a time to sit with those they love to worship the One they love, Allah (which is simply the Arabic translation of God).  

It was into that sacred gathering that they expanded the table and pulled up a seat for us and a few other Christian and political leaders throughout San Diego.  Their hope was simply to create space in their daily practice for their neighbors to experience life with them.  They were both acknowledging city leaders who have been proactive in creating an environment of dignity and mutual relationship, and creating a space for new/renewed understanding of one another.  Acknowledging our core faith differences, they made clear that it should in no way detract from our ability to share a common vision for the good of our city.  We are neighbors who live, work and play on the same streets with a common desire to see deep, charitable relationships, sustainable economy and mutual understanding and a celebration of diversity.

As I often say, as followers of Jesus, we have no choice but to move towards relationships with those that are marginalized, dehumanized and in need of love.  We don’t compromise our faith by hanging out with people we may or may not agree with.  No, in fact, we reflect the very best of our faith.

When we begin to spend time with the “other,” we will be struck by our shared humanity.  The “enemy” or the person on the “wrong side” of an issue is actually more like us than we may have realized.

Muslim communities around the United States are often subject to hatred, discrimination and scapegoating in the post-9/11 context.  As a result, the majority of Jesus followers only know of them through the latest sound bite or polarizing political pundit.  That not only fails to honor their tradition, it fails to honor them as humans.  

What do we do? We listen. 

And that is exactly what we did last night.  As is often the case when we have entered contexts foreign to us in the posture of humility and learning, we were moved not only by how much share in common with “the other,” but how much we have to learn from them.  

Worship

I complain if I get to a meal a couple hours late, let alone miss meals all day long.  For our friends, they gladly give up these material needs for 30 days during daylight hours as a way to worship and re-center themselves around the things they value most. To sit with them as they picked up their forks for the first time all day, I was inspired in my own devotion.

What do I willingly give up in order to deepen my worship?

Neighbors  

At one point, the Imam stood up before this diverse crowd of Muslim and Christian leaders, city officials and politicians and shared a series of questions he regularly challenges his community to ask:

1. Do you know your neighbors name?

2. Are you viewed as a good neighbor?

3. Do you reflect the best of Islam to your neighbors?

In that moment I was struck by the similar language I use in leading my community of Jesus followers.  He went on to describe ways these questions had been answered “yes” by his community and it was inspiring, convicting and remarkably hopeful. 

Unity

The whole point of the evening was to create space for people of different faiths, political persuasions and ethnicity to simply share a common meal together.  It was rich in conversation, experience and collaboration around a shared future. It was not designed to water down any of our unique beliefs or traditions, but to acknowledge our differences and move forward in mutual respect and understanding. 

There was never a feeling of trying to be persuaded or convinced of anything, it was a genuine extending of a hand to build a future where we find unity in our diversity.  Where faith, religion and tradition can be taken seriously, while engaging one another respectively.   

Janny and I not only met new friends who we hope will be part of our lives for a long time, we drove home with full hearts.  Hearts that were affirmed in hope being possible.  Hearts that were convicted to learn more.  Hearts that were inspired to continuing to build a narrative of hopeful engagement rather than fearful division and hatred.  As followers of Jesus, we have no choice but to choose this way forward.  It is a gift and an honor.  

We were affirmed in our belief that we cannot simply learn about Muslims, we must learn from them. It is in the act of sharing life together around a table that we not only display the best of our faith, but we are exposed to the best of theirs.

 

 

 

 

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