prejudice

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.

7 Lessons About Peace From My Time in the Middle East

998309_10152222403097492_17879176_nHaving just gotten home from guiding another The Global Immersion Project Learning Community deep into the lives of the unheralded heroes in the Holy Land to learn from their often untold stories, I am processing emotions, thoughts and reflections that will soon bud into a renewed set of practices at home and abroad. I have now been to Israel/Palestine quite a few times and it would be easy to think the experience becomes mechanical or normal or whatever. Well, for me, that simply hasn’t been the case. We encourage our participants to enter the experience in the posture of a learner rather than a hero. I try to do the same, and in doing so, am continually convicted, challenged and inspired by our remarkable friends and peacemakers embedded within this conflict. 

Here are 7 learning’s that have risen to the surface since landing back on home soil:

1. It’s About a Holy People, Not a Holy Land

There is no place on earth that has exploited human story and experience for the sake of a tourist “experience” more than in the Holy Land. Millions and MILLIONS of people go to the Holy Land each year seeking a holy experience, but fail to actually interact with the Holy People of the land. Now, I’m not saying a Holy Land pilgrimage is evil or bad. No, they are incredible and allow us to tangibly interact with central places and experiences central to our faith story. I’m a history/geography nut, so I totally get the value of this! But, and this is a big BUT, many of these tours inherently place the inhabitants of the land as tour guides in our “holy land experience” rather than seeing them as the very source of our holy land experience. It’s like going to Disneyland and as we run to each ride, our only encounter with the human staff is as they strap our seat belt around us before yet another emotional high.  

Not only is this model of tourism unsustainable, it is unjust and insulates us from the realities of those living within Israel/Palestine. Bottom line, as followers of Jesus, is is our responsibility to turn our primary attention to the people of the land rather than to the land itself. Not only does this honor our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, it creates the space for us to encounter not only the work God has done, but the work he is doing

Note: There are more and more organizations that have identified the brokenness of the tourist industry in the Holy Land and are leading “ethical” tours in this region. In addition to TGIP, see Telos, MEJDI & even Rick Steve’s!

2. Forming Peacemakers is Hard

My primary role in leading these experiences is that of teacher and coach. Being a peacemaker does not equal picking a side and trying to get people to align with you. Firstly, no conflict is that dualistic and secondly, that would be far too easy. Being formed as a peacemaker is learning how to place yourself in the center of the pain and tension of conflict and highlight the humanity that exists within. It is about walking with people toward conflict transformatively rather than picking a side or running from the conflict all together. 

As our participants see and experience the pain and injustice that exists in this region, there is a natural pull to pick sides and get really pissed off. The opposite extreme is to see the conflict, be so overwhelmed with its complexities and want to simply walk away. Neither option is the work of peacemaking and my (and my partner, Jer Swigart) work is to walk with people towards a more constructive place in their formation, which usually means confronting the evil within ourselves before confronting the evil around us. It is ridiculously difficult!!

3. Enemies Cease to be Enemies When You Look Them in the Eye

The Western world has become quite content with allowing sound bites and images to tell us who our “enemies” are. Without leaving the comfort of our own lazy boy chair, we talk and act as though we have a nuanced understanding of who is our friend or enemy. Not only is this unhelpful, it is does not allow us to see and celebrate the humanity we share with all of God’s children. 

We spent an afternoon in conversation with one of the most “extreme” ideological and polarizing characters in the Israel/Palestine conflict. Although I disagreed not only with much of WHAT he had to say, but HOW he chose to say it, I was struck by his humanity. He’s just another guy like me who deeply believes in his cause and those impacted by it. At the end of our conversation, I thanked him for his time, congratulated him on his newest grandchildren (We’re friends on Facebook, so I was in the know!) and gave him a hug. All the rhetoric and posturing went out the door and we saw each other as fellow humans. It’s really hard to have “enemies” when you look them in the eye.

4. Choosing Non-violence Doesn’t Equal the Avoidance of Bloodshed. 

It absolutely bends my brain when I hear arguments that choosing non-violence in the face of violent conflict is somehow soft or weak. As we learned from peacemaker after peacemaker who is faithfully choosing to face violence with creative acts that subvert and disarm systemic violence and war-making, I was both inspired and convicted. It was inspiring in that it was in these stories that the story of Jesus was BY FAR the most tangible and real. It was convicting in that I was confronted with my own tendency toward violence. I want to live the Jesus way that calls me to set down my weapons and pick up my cross, but it is hard. It is scary. And to be honest, it doesn’t always “work.” In other words, non-violence doesn’t equal the avoidance of bloodshed. Like Jesus, rather than it being my “enemies” blood, it would be mine. I suppose that is why I’m convinced the work of peacemaking is not only a way of life, it is discipleship. 

5. Violent Conflict is Very Real, but We Choose How We Engage It

We intentionally go to the center of this often volatile conflict because it is the best classroom, filled with the best instructors for the things that make for peace. Sometimes the conflict feels a bit far off from everyday life both in Israel and in the West Bank, but on this trip, it became more real that ever. There were three different instances where protests, clashes and violence unfolded within steps of us. It culminated with our hotel being hit by tear gas canisters and tanks rolling through the road at the bottom of our steps. 

As these incidents unfolded, I was stuck by the reality of violence AND the very tangible choice we have in how to engage it. Again, not an easy choice, but a certainly a choice in our discipleship journey. 

48053_10152222376937492_1409313618_n6. Brotherhood Has Nothing to do with Borders

While with our dear friends at the House of Hope in Bethany (in the West Bank), Jer and I were given what could be the most moving “award” I have ever received. We were honored as “Brothers for Peace” and given a plaque that read: 

“For being ambassadors for Christ, passionate peace builders, and partners in building bridges…reviving hope…and making the future…”

I could have never imagined a reality in my life where I would consider one of my dearest friends to be a person who lives half way across the globe in a reality and culture that is 180 degree different than my own. But, I am glad to say that reality has come true with my friend Milad, a Christian Palestinian who has given his life for peace in the midst of a reality that knows very little of peace. This is not a one way relationship where I simply go to “serve” him. No, he often “serves” and teaches me far more of what it means to follow Jesus than I teach him. It is a genuine, mutually edifying friendship. It’s crazy the types of experience and relationships you build when you follow Jesus into the places you’ve been called. What a gift.

7. When the Church Embraces Her Vocation as an Instrument of Peace in the World, Wrong Things Will Begin to be Made Right.

It is both terrifying and convicting hearing from person after person living in the Holy Land (Israeli and Palestinian) how much of an impact the American Church has on the continuation or the resolution of the current conflict between Israel & Palestine. They, very tangibly, feel the impact of our theology and politics being played out on their streets, in their homes and shaping the future of their children. Whether we like it or not, this is the reality and we have to take it seriously. For too long (about 100 years specific to our engagement in this region), the Church has given more allegiance to war making and nationalism that it has to the Kingdom of God and the Way of the Cross. Thankfully, the tide is turning and our friends in the Holy Land are celebrating our realignment with peacemaking and reconciliation as is central to the Mission of God and embodied in the life and teachings of Jesus 

I’m a more convicted than ever that the Way of Jesus, and the Church as an embodied manifestation of this Way, is the most constructive way to bring about peace in the world. In other words, when the Church embraces her vocation as an instrument of peace, wrong things will begin to be made right in the world. What an honor to be part of and worthy cause to give our lives to!

Smoking What We’re Growing: 8 Things That Happen When We Live (or Don’t Live) What We Talk About

1009756_10151692062394929_1314313101_nI was down in Mexico a few years ago for a gathering of peers who are leading faith communities around the world. It was a rich time of conversation, encouragement and visioning. 

Walking through a local Mexican neighborhood between sessions, something struck me. While those of us in the Minority World (often called the 1st or Western World) are thinking and talking about our theology, most of the folks in the Majority World (often called the 3rd World) have no choice but to simply live into their theology. Talking about our theology, faith and practice in lecture halls, church buildings and conference rooms is a luxury that the vast majority of Jesus followers in the world have no opportunity to participate in. 

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is reality. And those of us with this luxury better own up to it, because it is easy for us in the West to think we have a corner on the market of theology, which we then project (whether consciously or subconsciously) onto the rest of the world. But whose to say theology built in academia is any more valid than theology build in the realities of everyday life?

When I’m hanging out with my Jesus following friend who lives and serves in a West Bank refugee camp, it would make no sense for me to debate atonement theories, eschatological interpretations or the latest “hot button” issue. There is no time for my friend to concern himself with those things when right in front of him people are committing suicide from depression, going hungry on the streets and feeling the endless effects of war. My friend believes in the crucified and risen Jesus and is doing anything he can to live out the Jesus’ story in the place he has been entrusted. 

In this context, theological debates not only seem secondary, they seem like a distraction from faithful life and practice. 

Now, I’m NOT saying that academia, study and debate are bad things. No, they are essential for a robust faith than fuels the community of God for mission in the world. Personally, I am enlivened by academia and some of my most formative development has come about in this context. With that said, the classroom of real life relationships -- with those who live and practice in context FAR different than my own -- have been much more significant to my development than any lecture, book or debate. 

In short, I would argue that our theology must be as much formed and informed by everyday practice than it is by academic research. Now, I know there is no prefect balance here, but those of us in the West would do well to at least keep this in mind as we speak and write in our somewhat insular reality. 

Since I had this realization on the streets of Mexico, I have committed to only/primarily communicate “lived content.” “Theoretical content” is somewhat easy to come up with, it doesn’t require a lived expression and, to be honest, there is already WAY too much of this floating around. I want to be known for smoking what I’m growing (I’m sitting in Denver as I write this, so this metaphor seemed especially relevant. Don’t be offended).

As communicators (and we are ALL communicators whether we like it or not), producing “lived content” is an act of discipleship. We have to submit our words to the lives we are actually living as we stumble toward Jesus. 

Are we to be marked by our compelling words and thoughts or by our transformative actions embodied in the realities of everyday life? I don’t think it’s an either/or, but a both/and. 

Lists seem helpful, so here you go:

Damage of Communicating Only/Primarily Theoretical Content

1. We fall victim to a war of rhetoric. It’s easy to have strong opinions if they are divorced from embodied practice in the realities of everyday life. Think of all the ridiculous “debates” we see on social media that not only take away time from real life advocacy, but create the illusion that we are actually offering something constructive and helpful to the community of God. For example, it’s easy to “talk” about abortion or war or whatever. But are we walking with the single mothers who are most prone to abort their babies or just telling them not to do it? Are we only calling out militarism in our culture or actually living out an alternative?

2. Theoretical content is removed from reality and its implications for our global village. What happens as a result is we come out of our “classrooms” (seminary, churches, etc.) with all the “answers” and begin to project our words and opinions on others. It is not formed in the context of relationship and it is not only narrow-minded, it is destructive. 

3. Creates in us a false identity of who we’ve convinced ourselves we are rather than who we actually are created to be. When we talk more than we live, there is a temptation to form our identity around what we think or say rather than who we were created to be in the world. 

4. We live through others opinions of us rather than through a rooted set of practices that create space for us to live out true self and calling. When we communicate more than we live, we will inevitably open ourselves up to the opinions of others, whether positive or negative. If we aren’t rooted in everyday practice, it is easy to begin to believe we are who others say we are rather than our true identity as sons and daughters of the Father. 

Gift of Communicating Lived Content

1. Keeps us rooted in a community of practice. We can’t “go rogue” and begin to live an autonomous life than produces a bunch of content that hasn’t been refined by the fire of real life. 

2. Holds us accountable to lead with a way of life rather than an articulate vision. There are ALOT of good communicators today. While that is a gift, it can also be a curse. A good vision is only as good as the positive implications it has on the lives of those around us. 

3. Ignites the imagination and practice of those who hear you communicate. The world and the Church is STARVING for content that is actually being lived out. There are more resources based on theoretical proposals than ever before. What we need are stories that inspire and practices that sustain for the long haul.

4. Ultimately, we get to actually experience and live life to the fullest. Our most faithful expression of following Jesus is not spoken, but embodied. 

Producing “lived content” is not only my commitment, it is my struggle. And I don’t think I’m alone. Will you link arms with me and stumble forward together?

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.

 

 

 

 

Christians and Muslims: Shall We Dance?

HouseofHopeKidsThere is no doubt that the global relationship between Christianity and Islam is strained.  Although both are monotheistic faiths (religions that worship only one God) who share much of their history and family lineage (all the way back to Abraham), there have been many political, cultural and social realities over the years that have driven their followers away from each other rather that towards one another.  
 
Many Christians quickly associate Muslims with terrorists who instigate heinous crimes among unknowing civilians in the West. 
 
Many Muslims quickly associate Christians as power hungry imperialists who kill hundreds of thousands of civilians in the Arab world to benefit their political agenda.  
 
While these events have tragically happened in our lifetime, they CANNOT be our primary lenses through which we view one another.  Not only is it inaccurate to the majority of the followers within each faith, it is reduces our ability to pursue genuine relationship.   
 
When we buy in to the political rhetoric, polarizing ideology and blind prejudice we lose our ability to have a divine imagination for what God desires for humanity. When we fail to view others primarily through the lens of a shared humanity and as co-image bearers, we miss out on sacred Kingdom moments.  We lose our ability to be agents of reconciliation and miss out the some of the best work God is seeking to do in and through his people.  
 
What Do We Do?
 
We listen 
 
When in doubt on how to better love someone with a different worldview or religion than you, it is safe to say that our first response should always be to listen.  Whether we admit it or not, we have all acquired presuppositions, stereotypes (some accurate; others not at all) and expectations that we project onto people.  We must first choose the posture of a humble learner who willingly sets aside misinformation we carry with us so we can begin to reform our worldview in light of genuine, human interaction.
 
We choose relationship
 
When you physically know and have relationship with someone of a different faith, it changes everything about how you understanding and engage the faith and its followers.  When we fail to allow for the nuance and complexities that exist in real time interactions we undermine and undervalue the dynamics of real life relationship.  You will quickly find that those with the strongest opinions who demonize and stereotype others are the very same people who don’t have any interaction or friendship with the people they demonize.  As they should, relationships offer the type of grid through which we can genuinely love and be loved.  
 
We seek forgiveness 
 
We have to come clean with the fact that the worst of our faith has radically misrepresented the best of it.  We are all part of a faith family and when your racist, war-mongering uncle does something hateful to your neighborhood, whether we like it or not, he represents the rest of the family to those around us.  In the same way, the worst of Christianity and Islam has often been given the most attention and created the most divide.  We have to acknowledge our inherent complicity and seek forgiveness.  I don’t know how many times my Muslim friends have apologized for the terrorist acts of their religions’ extremists.  My friends are embarrassed and assure me that the extremists don’t represent Islam or the majority of it followers.  In the same way, I have to acknowledge the ways my faith family has demonized, fueled hatred and violently imposed itself on those in our global village.  It is in the posture of forgiveness that we become equals and can begin to move forward in friendship.  
 
We Dance
 
I recently invited some of my friends from America (with The Global Immersion Project) to meet some of my friends in the Middle East who run a non-profit in the West Bank that promotes peace and reconciliation among the youth of Palestine.  Their staff is made up of both Christians and Muslims and they not only work together hand in hand under a common vision, they are like brothers and sisters.  This video gives a small picture of what unfolded in the exact place where hatred, fear and violence are “supposed” to rule.  Rather, peace, common joy and new relationships stole the day.  Such is life when we move forward as people who celebrate a common humanity.  
 
What happens when you get Christians and Muslims in the same room around a common vision of reconciliation?  Well, we dance…
 

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