nonviolence

Parenting as Resistance: A Post-MLK Day Reflection

Last week I picked up Ruby, our 6-year old, from school and she immediately burst into questions about Martin Luther King Jr. A portion of our conversation went like this:

Ruby:Daddy, did you know that white people used to not let black people drink from their water fountains or shop in their stores or ride on their buses?” 

Me: “Yep, it’s terrible. How does that make you feel?”

Ruby:Really sad. Why would people do that just because they look different?”

Me:Because people are often scared of people who look or think different than they do. And some people think they are better because of the color of their skin.

Ruby:Did you hear about the man who said that we shouldn’t do that anymore? We are going to celebrate his birthday next Monday.”

Me:Yep, his name was Martin Luther King Jr and he was a peacemaker who followed Jesus.”

Ruby:We need to celebrate his birthday more often by doing what he said.” 

I was undone. Both with pride for the way my daughter was developing and disgust at the evil of our shared history in this country. 

A few days ago, some of our dear friends hosted an interactive MLK party where we read parts of his speeches, reflected on the significance of his prophetic work and witness, lamented our broken past (and present) and sang songs of hopeful protest. 

Last month, I walked the streets of Montgomery, Alabama to study the history of slavery, racism and white supremacy in our country and learn from Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative who is actively working to heal the deep wounds in our country. As we stood in a building that once held African slaves in chains between their auctioning to the highest white, European bidder, we were invited into the history of systemic racism in the form of slavery, lynching, segregation/Jim Crow and mass incarceration. 

A couple months before that, I found myself sharing and praying at the memorial service of Alfred Olango on the streets of my own city (San Diego) alongside the family of this unarmed black man killed by the police. The pain, misunderstanding and distrust was palpable. 

Two years before that, like Joshua around Jericho, I marched with faith leaders in NYC after the murder of Eric Garner (who famously said, “I can’t breath,” while being choked by a police officer) pleading for God to tear down the walls of racism and injustice that hold us captive. 

I’m no hero, but I feel as though I’m learning about and from those who are. Her are a few learning’s that have risen to the surface. 

First, as a white man inheriting a narrative of dominance, I’ve had to confront how blind I’ve been to the plight of my friends of color and commit to a long, disorienting journey of (re)learning. Second, I’ve been deeply moved by the active nonviolent resistance put on display by black organizers for decades in pursuit of racial justice and equality. It is there that I have not only seen the actions of Jesus, but the people Jesus most often described as understanding and inhabiting the kingdom of God. And, third, I’ve been convicted and inspired to share about both -- the ugly history and the beautiful peacemakers seeking to redeem it -- with our children. 

While my wife and I still have ALOT to learn in the parenting department, we are doing our best to stumble forward in a way that shapes our four littles in a way that reflects that of Jesus. We have found that when we expose, educate and invite our children to confront our broken past and build a new future, the act of parenting becomes a tangible form of resistance. It is resistance to perpetuating a narrative and life of apathy, privilege and violence. It is a resistance to the principalities and powers that promote the flourishing of a few at the expense of the many. At the same time, it is an opportunity to shape a generation that has learned from our mistakes and participates with God in healing our broken world. 

As white parents with plenty of privilege, here are a few ways we are working to understand our parenting as resistance:

Expose Our Kids to Injustice

As a parent, there is a temptation to isolate our kids from the injustices of our world. While requiring necessary discernment, I would argue that we need to more regularly expose our kids to injustice. Not only does it allow them to confront the brokenness of our world (and the ways we’ve contributed to it) while still under our care and guidance, it gifts them with the opportunity to see a reality beyond their own. Many kids are raised embedded in systems, structures and everyday realities of injustice, so it is only in our isolated privilege that we “choose” to expose our kids to injustice. As followers of Jesus, we often see God’s best work unfolding in and among those on the underside of power. Not only was this the reality of Jesus, it was the very nature of the way he described the kingdom of God. If we don’t accompany our kids into realities of pain and suffering, they miss an opportunity to meet Jesus in the lives of those often dismissed by society at large. 

Educate on the Good and the Bad

It’s easy to teach our kiddos all the good stuff of our history. Or, to twist the “bad” stuff of our past to make it sound “good.” Not only is that incomplete (or even untrue), it short-circuits their formation and perpetuates harmful narratives. In preparation for MLK Day, we read to our kids about Rosa Parks and talked about why black people were treated badly by white people. We watched Kid President who talked about MLK and the tragedy of his assassination. We opened up space for them to ask hard questions, which as a parent, is both terrifying and thrilling. If we stigmatize the hard questions as “out of bounds,” they will either ask someone else or get more curious on their own. We’re not big fans of either of those options. 

Invite Them Into a Story Worth Living

We are adamant about not only helping our kids identify what they are against, but inviting them into a life that reflects what they are for. We need to invite them into story that is shaped by an enemy-loving God (Jesus) and sustained by enemy-loving people (Church). In short, we want them to identify with our global family by following a Jesus who crossed every kind of border and boundary as part of God’s mission of reconciliation. We don’t want them to be peacekeepers who embrace the status quo, but peacemakers who upset the status quo for the sake of restoring what is broken. To be “peacemakers” has now become our kiddos greatest aspiration and we talk about what that looked like for them each day on the way home from school. 

This is not a time to sit on the sidelines in silence. It’s the moment we must follow Jesus into the middle of our broken story to stand with and alongside those who have been abused and sidelined in our society. For those of us with influence in and among the next generation (not only biological parents!), parenting may be both our best resistance to the evil and best opportunity to usher in the good. 

 

One Reason I Still Have Hope For The USAmerican Evangelical Church

DSC00816If I’m completely honest, I’ve been really discouraged as of late. A major source of my discouragement has been the way the USAmerican evangelical church (a tribe I have identified with for most of my life, so my critique and exhortation will be directed there) has chosen to engage the world in this season marked by division, violence and trauma. Now, I admit I’m speaking in generalities, but rather than being the healing balm to society’s gaping wounds, we have often contributed to the bleeding by either withdrawing in fear or adding fuel to the violence. 

I actually believe that if the USAmerican evangelical church took Jesus’ life and teachings seriously, our collective presence globally would not be associated with violence and division, but with hope and reconciliation. Call me crazy, but I believe the Church -- at her best -- can be an instrument of peace in the world. The collective impact of the USAmerican evangelical church (which, obviously, is only one segment of the Church global) on the world is unprecedented. That impact can either be associated with revenge (which it largely has been) or reconciliation. 

When we are more driven by our fear to defend what is ours from the enemy “over there” rather than freed to live fully into our mandate to love, we morph into something we were never intended to be…and our actions follow suit:

Fear trumps hope.

Isolation trumps invitation.

Stereotype trumps understanding.

Dogma trumps generosity.

Critique trumps curiosity.

Safety trumps faithfulness.

And, ultimately, hate trumps love.

So, what is one reason I still have hope for the USAmerican evangelical church?

As much as you may be thinking I’m going to say Amy Grant’s infamous Christmas album or Nick Cage’s sterling performance in Left Behind or our fascinatingly disturbing alignment with the “politics” of Donald Trump, it is none of those…

What gives me hope is that we follow a God who, in Jesus, invites us to not only love our neighbor, but our enemy. 

We follow an enemy-loving God. 

I think we often miss how unbelievably significant and world-altering the implications of this mandate can be if we actually took it seriously. Having sat at the feet of religious teachers from all over the world representing many different traditions, I’ve NEVER heard a teaching so radically provocative, subversive and compelling as Jesus’ words of enemy-love in Matthew 5. Of course, Jesus didn’t just teach this stuff, he embodied it as he’s dying at the hands of the “enemy” saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). I would argue that living this mandate is the best, most tangible contribution the USAmerican evangelical church can make in our divided world. In fact, I think this matters so much, our world can’t afford to have us withdraw from Jesus’ invitation to enemy-love. 

Why do I believe the USAmerican evangelical church can actually live this out?

Two reasons:

  1. Because Church history affirms that a commitment to enemy-love is a normative element of discipleship. Dr. Ron Sider recently did an exhaustive study of the Early Church’s response to violence and found that there were no accounts of Christian’s responding to violence with violence for the first THREE HUNDRED years of its existence (Jesus to Constantine). Violence only infected the Church when Constantine married Empire and militarism with Christianity in the 4th century.
  1. Because I’ve seen it being lived out ALL OVER the world and it has inspired and completely reshaped my understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. 

It’s being lived out in war zones in Iraq by my friends with Preemptive Love

It’s being lived out under military occupation in the West Bank village of Bethany by my friends Milad and Manar

It’s being lived out in deportation shelters in Tijuana by my friend Gilberto at Casa Del Migrante

It’s being lived out on the streets of East Oakland by my friend Ben McBride of the Empower Initiative

Although we are still stumbling into this, it’s being lived out among my community right on our streets in Golden Hill. 

And, here’s the thing, every time hatred and violence is returned not with revenge, but with forgiveness and love, the world actually begins to reorder itself into the way God designed it to function all along. The cycle of violence is immediately destroyed. The humanity and dignity of the abused is revealed. The inhumanity of the actions by the “enemy” are exposed for all to see. Relationships strengthen and deepen in mutuality. Imagination and creativity grow as we see that another way is actually possible (Jesus called it the Kingdom of God!). And, ultimately, people actually see, experience and are transformed by this revolutionary 1st-century rabbi from Palestine we’ve all been trying to follow all along. 

This, my friends, is Good News. This gives me hope. This is our invitation and opportunity to join God in healing a broken world by living in the most counter-intuitive and counter-cultural way imaginable. 

It’s going to cost us something. In fact, it may cost us everything. But, it is in our willingness to die that the soil is prepared for new life. 

Despite our temptation to be discouraged and paralyzed by our collective failures, we have something to contribute to a hurting world.

Now, let’s get after it. 

Living ‘Selma’ in a ‘Sniper’ World

130117191909-mills-mlk-march-story-topThis coming Monday is our national celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. As I have been reflecting on his work and witness, I am convinced his message is as necessary and prophetic today as it was when he was alive (if not more!). 

We live in a culture that not only glorifies violence, but often celebrates its use against the “enemy” as the truest form of heroism and bravery. While I won’t get into the debate of whether violence is ever justified to preserve life (a much bigger conversation extending far beyond an 700 word blog post), I will say I’m deeply troubled by our assumption that violence is the only way to respond to a real or perceived threat. 

Most disturbing is the fact that the majority of Jesus followers in this country have the same assumptions about the “necessary” use of violence as the culture at large. I would argue that an objective observer would not be able to distinguish between the USAmerican Church’s ethic of violence and the ethic of the State or the culture at large. As followers of a God who looked like an enemy-loving Jesus -- who sacrificially absorbed violence rather than perpetuating it -- we’d be wise to re-examine our assumptions around violence in light of his life and teachings. 

Jesus’ take on responding with violence:

“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven.” -- Matt 5:43-45

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too.  When they force you to go one mile, go with them two.” -- Matt 5:38-41

After being beat, humiliated, dehumanized and nearly killed, Jesus’ response to violence, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” -- Luke 23:34

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” -- Matt 5:9

These passages are often interpreted as Jesus either being a soft pushover or teachings that were not realistic and helpful for establishing a normative, everyday ethic toward violence. The reality is that Jesus was not promoting a passive response to violence, but a dignifying one. A response that would both expose the inhumanity of the abuser’s actions and amplify the dignity of the abused. 

Jesus is not just calling us away from the lure of violence, but inviting us toward the necessary, subversive, creative and costly work of peacemaking. Peacemaking isn’t a passive withdrawal from conflict. Peacemaking isn’t embracing the status quo. Peacemaking isn’t euphoric or other worldly. 

Peacemaking is a series of actions that move us toward conflict armed with weapons to heal and transform rather than weapons to destroy.

MLK not only took Jesus’ life and teachings seriously, he modeled actions of an alternative response to violence, hatred and injustice. He invited a movement of people to take the hard work of peacemaking seriously by outlining tangible actions that would expose the inhumanity of those abusing power and amplify the humanity, dignity and plight of his black brothers and sisters caught in their wake. 

As we celebrate MLK’s life and legacy, may we be reminded to take Jesus’ life and teachings seriously and repent of the ways in which we’ve allowed a culture of violence to hijack our own humanity. Because when we begin to view fellow image bearers as “collateral damage,” we are becoming less human and missing out on an opportunity to join God in the world he is making. 

So, rather than embrace an American Sniper spirituality where the Bible brands our violence, may we embrace the spirituality of Selma where the Bible is embodied in nonviolent action. This is not only our task, it is our opportunity. May it be so. 

Just Peacemaking #6: Palestinian’s Choosing Way of Jesus

This week I will post my last three video reflections from my time wading through the center of the Israel/Palestine conflict. There were so many experiences, insights and connections that I will only touch on a couple stories in these remaining videos. Please don’t hesitate to contact me personally if you would like more info on this conflict (i.e. explaining more of the political realities of Fatah and Hamas or unpacking Zionism and its implications in this region, etc…). Otherwise, I will be getting much more detailed in some upcoming writing/publications as I reflect and faithfully share the stories of those that often don’t have a voice.

Mazen in Daishe Refugee Camp

Street Art inside Daishe Refugee Camp
inside Daishe Refugee Camp

Separation Wall between Bethlehem and Jerusalem

Ayed with my friend Jer and I -- “Budrus” is movie that documents his non-violent resistance movement.

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