missional living

When Immigration Takes a Human Face

goldenhillcafe1-300x199I recently looked out my front door and saw a woman sitting on the stairs of my patio. She was out of breath, sweaty and had a large basket next to her full of cans and plastic bottles to be recycled. She looked desperately in need of some rest and refreshment. I’m pretty good at ignoring people in need (sadly), but when they come to your physical doorstep, I couldn’t imagine not stepping outside to check on this woman. 

Opening our front door, she looked up at me with a bit of concern on her face thinking I might ask her to get off my patio. To calm her nerves, I simply sat down on the steps next to her and we exchanged warm smiles. Because she offered me a greeting in Spanish, I quickly realized she didn’t speak much English and I gave my best shot at speaking in Spanish. Over the next 10 minutes, we simply sat on my patio overlooking the main street of our neighborhood that runs in front of my house. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we just sat in comfortable silence. Her name was Conchetta. Finally, I asked if I could get her some food and a cold drink and she quickly said, “yes.” 

After taking in some needed nourishment, Conchetta, offered me a warm smile filled with the richness of humanity and gratitude, and leisurely went back to work assembling the best of our neighborhoods “trash” so she could bring some life to her family. 

Our faith community has spent a lot of time over the years becoming students of our neighborhood. As a result, we discovered that roughly 60% of our neighborhoods’ residents are Latino (most are Mexican because of our proximity to the border) and a high percentage of those are undocumented. In fact, it’s a safe assumption that my new friend, Conchetta, is undocumented.  

As the “immigration issue” continues to be discussed in our country, for me, it is becoming much less of a political talking point and much more about genuine, human relationship. They are my friends. They are my neighbors. They are humans beings who live with the same needs, desires and aspirations as the rest of us. They have kids, grandkids, parents, brothers and sisters. They are children of a God who reigns over a global kingdom. A kingdom that was inaugurated in a Jesus who spent his life crossing borders to tangibly love the outsider and remind them of their sacred identity as sons and daughters of the Father and citizens of his kingdom. In the context of relationship, like I now have with Conchetta, “they” become “us.” 

Obeying the greatest commandments of loving God and neighbor leaves my faith community and me with no choice but to pursue this issue with radical love and moral obligation. This isn’t yet another political debate to be waged in such a way that widens the partisan divide. It is a human reality with human implications that the Jesus Community must be waging peace right in the middle of.

May we walk with our friends -- whether immigrants, ex-convicts, orphans, etc. -- out of the shadows and into our homes, around our tables and begin co-creating a better future in the neighborhoods, cities and world in which we have each been entrusted.  

—--

NOTE: After reading this, I have had multiple people inquire about what they can do. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Build friendships. Friendship not only humanizes issues, it moves us to action.

2. The Evangelical Immigration Table is a great organization that offers resources, spiritual disciplines and tangible actions around a biblical view of immigration. 

3. Walk with your immigrant friends towards citizenship. There are courses we can take (offered by World Relief) that give us the credentials to offer immigration counseling that is desperately needed by those seeking citizenship.

Missional Community Cohort: Creating and Leading Embedded Communities of Faith and Reconciliation

ThresholdsCohortAs part of my new staff role with Thresholds, I’m thrilled to join a team of practitioners and teachers -- who have been living into their call to lead missional communities for decades -- in co-leading a brand new initiative to come alongside leaders all over the country who are forming/leading missional communities in a diverse set of contexts. 

We’ve found that the “missional movement” is growing rapidly, but there are very few opportunities to receive coaching and support from people that have actually “been in the game” for awhile. Spear-headed by my friend, mentor and co-author of Thin Places, Rob Yackley, and co-lead by a handful of us player-coaches, this will be a dynamic context for shared life, vocational partnership and tangible coaching. 

This will be a cohort format (10-15 people) based right in our homes here in Golden Hill. We will launch with our first intensive (2.5 days) on May 1st, so consider this your invitation! We are looking to finalize our cohort participants by mid-March.

GO HERE for all the info, but here are some details as a bit of a teaser… 

WHAT IS IT CALLED?

Missional Community Cohort: Creating and Leading Embedded Communities of Faith and Reconciliation

WHAT IS IT?

The Thresholds Missional Community Cohort is a 18-month collaborative journey created specifically to provide insight and direction for those who have just launched or who would like to launch a missional community.

WHY ARE WE OFFERING THIS?

The missional community movement is characterized by radical incarnation, deep neighborhood transformation, and the life-giving integration of our lives and faith.

The movement is growing rapidly around the world and more and more people are asking questions and exploring what it might mean in their own lives. But they are often without peers, a learning community, or experienced guides.

At Thresholds, we have been gifted with 12 years of experience creating and leading missional communities and we feel compelled to share that gift. Through experienced facilitators, tested teachings, personal coaching, on-going encouragement  new mental maps, sharpened missional skills and sustained spiritual practices, you will be equipped to create and live out a new way of being Church.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

• We will gather five times over 18 months on the ground in a host neighborhood.

• Each gathering will be two and a half days (Thursday evening to Saturday evening)

• At least one gathering per year will be in an off-site context (within the same region) with the other gatherings taking place in the host neighborhood.

• Each gathering will have a unique focus but also re-enforce each of the other essential elements.

• Between each gathering we will offer 1 all-cohort conference call and 1 personal coaching call.

• Cost: $1,800 (not including travel, lodging, or meals). Participants will be encouraged to contribute one-third of the cost, to ask their faith community to contribute one-third, and to ask someone who believes in them and their vision to contribute one-third.

• There will be readings and assigned tasks between each gather-ing designed to implement our learnings.

• Cohorts will be limited to 10-15 participants to enhance interaction and learning.

WHY A COHORT?

There are several reasons why we believe this is a transformative approach to forming communities:

• We can’t create community alone. We need a community to help us form a community.

• A cohort offers relational continuity, encouragement, and an opportunity to tackle the task holistically.

• The cohort offers targeted instruction that is both affordable and accessible. 

• We are inspired and richly informed through books, seminars, and conferences, but most of us need the sustained presence of experienced guides and a learning community to create a clear, comprehensive, actionable pathway forward.

STUDY CONTENT 

Each of our five face-to-face gatherings will engage the concepts and practices we’ve found to be critical in forming and stewarding a missional community. We will engage these topics academically, conversationally, and experientially in the context of homes and a neighborhood. And we will tackle them in a sequence that addresses the challenges that naturally unfold in this pursuit.

Five Sessions: 1. Becoming Sacrament, 2. Gathering Sojourners, 3. Life Together, 4. Inhabiting Place, 5. Sustaining Practices.

We are launching our first cohort in May and are inviting a handful for practitioners to join us for the ride. We are thinking it will be especially helpful for those either starting a missional community or those seeking to transition from a congregational model of church to a more neighborhood model.

Contact, Rob Yackley, at robertyackley@gmail.com if you’re interested!

 

Transition, Sending and the Eucharist

NCSendingIt was a bit of an emotional day for Janny and I yesterday as our dear friends, community mates and fellow NieuCommunities staff put together a “sending/blessing” time for us. If you haven’t yet heard, we are NOT moving out of our neighborhood and we are STILL leading our missional community (gathering regularly in our home), but with the increasing momentum of The Global Immersion Project and the invitation to come on staff with mentors and dear friends, Rob and Laurie Yackley (who now lead Thresholds), to coach missional leaders in our city and across the country, there is a necessary organizational transition under way. To learn more, go here

We sat with this handful of friends, mentors and colleagues who have given themselves fully to the work God has set before them in our neighborhood and in coaching developing leaders who have gone through our Apprenticeship. They have been our tribe. When we are with these people, we know they “get” us as they not only share the same deep commitments to King and Kingdom, but inspire us to go even deeper. 
 
We will continue to share a neighborhood, raise our children together, creatively navigate the material simplicity of the life we have all chosen and move together on mission. While we are so thankful for all of that, we will still mourn the days we aren’t sitting around the table with them as colleagues. Things won’t be bad, but they will be a bit different. 
 
Janny and I are moving forward with as much confidence and conviction as ever before in our lives and we are thrilled at the road that has been put before us, but we must allow the grieving to run its course. It is necessary, healthy and leaves us much to celebrate. 
 
As we shared a big breakfast together, each person shared silly stories and offered affirmations of what they have seen in us over the past 4(ish) years. Listening intently, it became clear that these have been the most formative years of our lives. It has been in this context and environment that we have most clearly discovered who we are and what we will contribute long term. It has challenged us, shaped us and refined us, but we have come alive and been given the gift of moving confidently into God’s call on our lives. 
 
Our organizational ethos doesn’t see an organizational move like ours as us “leaving,” but as us being faithful to be sent into what God has for us. While there is mourning, there is far more celebration. 
 
Having already been choked up numerous times, each of our colleagues read blessings over us they had written down. We then circled up, they laid hands on us and we shared Eucharist together rightly placing the crucified and risen Jesus at the center of the season that is to come. 
 
What a gift it has been. One of the blessings ended with these words from a liturgy we often use as a community:
 
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: Wherever he may send you;
 
May he guide you through the wilderness: Protect you through the storm:
 
May he bring you home rejoicing: At the wonders he has shown you:
 
May he bring home rejoicing: Once again into our doors.

When Good News Looks Like Something: 5 Ways to Engage Your Neighborhood

StreetFair3I love my neighborhood. It’s not that it is all that glamorous or cool or “safe” or whatever. It’s that it is full of people who actually want to experience some kind of community together. There is a building sense that we all have some skin in the game and that our thriving is somehow connected to the thriving of our neighbor. Whether talking with fellow parents at the park, young students at the dive bar or our friends in the local Mexican bakery, words like community, neighborhood and integration seem to be finding their way into our everyday vocabulary of conversation.

It’s not always been this way in Golden Hill.

It wasn’t too long ago that our neighborhood was known as “Heroin Hill” because of the drug presence and violent activities that regularly surrounded it.

Before that, it was known as the “Garbage Dump” because our numerous recovery homes would house societies “garbage.”

Well, there is a new narrative bubbling to the surface on our streets, storefronts and in our homes. It is a narrative of new life, renewed hope and a common vision for a shared future. 

Just two weeks ago, we had our second annual Golden Hill Street Fair. The same streets that have endured years of crime, segregation and hopelessness began to spring to life. This early Sunday morning, like a garden showing its first signs of germination, 25th street (which is right outside our front door) started sprouting to life as tent after tent took their place. Stages were being set up and the smell of a dozen different ethnic foods began to fill the air. The beer garden was taking shape as three local breweries brought out their finest, and resident volunteers were running a million miles a minute, the majority of whom had huge smiles on their faces.

The anticipation was palpable.

And then people started streaming in. By noon, there had probably already been about 5,000 people that had come through and by the end of the day, close to 20,000.

20,000 people. That’s more than our neighborhood’s total population.

IMG_6317I volunteered to work the event (with my 3 year old by my side watching Dora the Explorer and dancing to the mariachi bands) selling customized Golden Hill t-shirts. As the line grew with each passing hour, I realized something about my neighbors and the neighborhood we share. Golden Hill was receiving a new identity. No longer a place to be ashamed of or viewed only as a holding area until we could afford to live some place better, our neighbors were proud of our neighborhood. Not because our real estate values went up or because our crime levels had dropped, but because we were sensing the type of community humanity is designed for.

We were moving towards a common good together and that made the impossible seem possible. These types of spaces encourage the lonely widow to experience the joy of new life. They allow the single mother to realize they aren’t alone. They create space for isolated families to engage with one another and dream about shared life.  

For a number of years now, I have been apart of a community of about 30 people who all live in Golden Hill seeking to stumble towards Jesus together. We don’t have it all figured out, but we deeply care for our neighbors and our neighborhood in general. Between all of us, we have established hundreds of relationships within these 7 X 10 blocks. Over the course of the day, I saw nearly every person we have experienced life with over the years. From a distant acquaintance to a dear friend. From the liquor storeowner to my community league basketball buddy. From my farmer’s market colleagues, to local pastor friends.

Within each interaction, there was a common spark in our eyes. A spark of celebration of what has been unfolding and anticipation for what is to come. 

Having helped start our neighborhood Farmer’s Market a few years ago and now finishing my first full year on the board of our Neighborhood Council, my perspective on what is unfolding in my neighborhood is much different than at any other time in my life. These kinds of Kingdom moments don’t just happen randomly. They are not moments we can simply sit back and hope create themselves. No, these are sacred moments the Community of God is called to be right in the middle of.

Here are some ways we can begin to engage our neighborhoods redemptively and link arms with others for the common good:

1. Stop spending so much time at church

Before you walk me down the Plank ‘O Heresy, here me out. I’m not saying we stop gathering as the Church. No, no, no. What I am saying is that, 1. It is easy for Christians to think the best ministry happens at a church building. As a result, we get so busy going to a building (that usually is not in our neighborhood) to do ministry, that we don’t have any time to share life with those right outside our front door. In the words of my friend, Jer Swigart, “We can live in our neighborhoods without actually ever living life within it.” 2. See your neighborhood as your local parish. These are the people you have been called to live, love and lead alongside. Having hosted many formal church sponsored events in my day, I can’t tell you how freeing and transformative it was to help host an event that wasn’t put on by a church, but could be intimately engaged by the Church. People don’t know me as “Jon the Pastor,” but as Jon the dude who plays basketball in the rec center or Jon the guy who works at the farmers market or Jon on the Neighborhood Council. We don’t have to have a “Christian” title to do ministry. In fact, those titles can often be the greatest hindrance.

2. Identify the assets in your neighborhood

What does your neighborhood already have to offer that you can simply come alongside and support? We don’t need to start our own “Christian” version of things, we simply need to follow Jesus into the places he already is at work and join him there. What are the public spaces where your neighbors already gather? Join your local sports leagues, take your kids to the same park everyday, shop at the same businesses, build relationships at the local pub/bar/coffee shop, support the local church in your neighborhood (even if you don’t like the preaching or music or whatever), etc…

3. Connect with influencers in your neighborhood

Whether they are long time residents, business leaders, local politicians or artist, there are people who carry a lot of influence in your neighborhood. Seek them out and take them to coffee. You will be surprised at how thrilled they will be to hear of your common heart for your neighborhood and begin to form a collaborative relationship. They will give you access to people and systems that would take you years on your own.

4. Immerse yourself in the areas of brokenness

We are taught to only see either what is right in front of us or what is pleasing to the eye. If we are to follow Jesus into our neighborhoods, we must be agents of reconciliation. This means we have to intentionally walk off the beaten paths and see what is happening below the surface that is in need of healing. This may be a hidden population in your neighborhood who is either being oppressed/forgotten (whether intentionally or not), a political or economic injustice or a sociological reality like isolation, depression or workaholism. These must take a human face. Immersing isn’t simply identifying a problem, but entering into it redemptively (think Incarnation).

5. Contend for the broken to the point of restoration. 

Jesus followers are to live in the reality of Resurrection. Even though things may look impossible and the hope of New Creation far off, we must remain in the game even when things get tough. While things will not always end how we’d hope, we are to walk with people and systems with a vision for restoration. The Good Samaritan didn’t put a Band-Aid on the broken down pilgrim and walk away. No, he walked him, sacrificing his own good to the point of restoring the pilgrim back to community. This is where most of us want to jump ship, but this is where the world needs us most.

In the late 1800’s a poet had a vision for my neighborhood beyond what most could see at that time. It is a picture that lifts our site line from a broken past and gives us a glimpse of a hopeful future.

As the sun rolls down and is lost to sight,

Tinting the scene with its golden light,

The Islands dim and the fading shore,

The ebbing tide through our harbor door,

The drooping sails of an anchoring fleet,

The shadowy city at our feet,

With the Mountains’ proud peaks so lofty and still,

‘Tis a picture worth seeing, from Golden Hill.

 

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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