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Sitting at the Unlikely Kingdom Banquet

neighborhood christmas party

As I scanned the room electric with people from such vastly different backgrounds, yet interacting in such dynamic ways, I couldn’t help but seeing this as a snapshot of the Kingdom Banquet Jesus describes in Luke 14.  All having been invited because of some personal connection with someone in our community, I talked with a New Age Spiritual Director, a Jewish Atheist, a local newspaper reporter, an expecting mother who had recently experienced divorce, a bunch of guys who we play sports with from our local community center and many, many others.

Each year we (part of NieuCommunities) host a Neighborhood Christmas Party in Golden Hill.  It is a time to celebrate and gather all of the dynamic relationships that have been budding forth in our neighborhood.  As a covenant community living on mission, our small band of Jesus followers has exponentially extended its influence through shared commitments of listening, submerging and inviting.  As the “Green House” (what we call a big green Victorian home that serves as one of our community hubs) filled with guests, it was clear that this was the culmination of what God was faithfully doing in and among us as we sought to be good news in the neighborhood.  Stories were being shared among those that otherwise may never interact and God’s Story was unfolding as a direct result.  This was a place where God’s dreams for humanity were becoming reality; a thin place.  Somewhere heaven and earth are only thinly separated.

Christmas Party 2

There is a profound connection between the act of extending an invitation and the work God has in store for all Creation.  When we invite, we are reflecting the characteristics of God’s Kingdom.  An invitation is the doorstep of a restoration to community.  With Jesus, God’s restoration project came to a culmination in the inaugurating of a Kingdom that would extend and be available to all people in all places.  Whether simply inviting a friend from the local coffee shop to a Christmas party or extending the radical invitation of Jesus apprenticeship to an aspiring leader, God’s heart and plan is revealed through the inviting posture adopted by his people. 

“The Neighborhood Became our Classroom” – Part 2

NieuCommunities Group Pic

In my last post, I explored why we are to take seriously our role as Good News in our neighborhood.  As pilgrims participating in the Mission of God, it isn’t always about going farther around the world; more often it is about going deeper in your current context.  In order to be Good News in our neighborhood we have to know the good and bad news of its past/present.  The neighborhood must become our classroom.

The faith community I am part of (NieuCommunities -- see pic) took this seriously and began to research the story of our neighborhood, Golden Hill.  Through interviews, library research and connecting with local businesses, we discovered a dark past that explained much of its current dysfunction and brokenness.

As a neighborhood that received societies unwanted (homeless, addicted, immigrant, etc…), Golden Hill was termed a “dumping ground.” Further, it experienced fatal violence on a regular basis that stemmed from gang activity.  Looking through past newspaper archives, it wasn’t uncommon to see 3 or 4 murders in any given week.  Largely a symptom of the societal oppression and violent actions of the previous two dysfunctions, domestic violence was rampant as family structures deteriorated in such a volatile environment.

Having been known as “Heroin Hill” as recently as 7 years ago, it was becoming exceedingly clear why Golden Hill has some of the issues it does today.  To be Good News in this neighborhood, we are called to step into the dysfunction with the transforming hope of Jesus.

But we are not alone.  Through the history of Golden Hill, there were individuals and organizations that didn’t give up on being Good News in their neighborhood.  They chose to be seeds of hope in a field of brokenness.  Resilient citizens that started half-way homes for those that filled the “dumping ground.”  Community centers and urban farms for the members of broken families.  Instead of painting over gang graffiti with white paint, they hired artist to paint murals that told the story of the neighborhood.  As a band of Jesus followers who are shaped by God’s Mission of redemption and restoration, we simply join in the chorus of Good News that is already playing in Golden Hill.

Our neighbors across the street are a sweet older couple who have lived in Golden Hill for 13 years.  They are Jewish atheists and are fascinated by our community of Jesus followers who have moved into the neighborhood.  Over a recent meal with them, and a handful of other neighbors, they said, “There’s something different about you guys.  We used to have great community here in Golden Hill, but it’s been awhile.  I think it’s coming back.”

I pray they saw the Good News.

What if every Christian viewed their neighborhood or suburb as a classroom?  What if we all began grassroots movements of community engagement with the Good News of Jesus?  What does this mean for the Church and how do we mobilize such movements?

 

“The Neighborhood Became our Classroom” – Part 1

I was recently praying along side a few other people in our missional community when a picture developed in my mind of what the Good News might look like in our neighborhood.  Trusting that the Holy Spirit is already present and embracing our vocation as mediators between God and humanity (of which Jesus passed on to us when he was resurrected as King of the Kingdom), I could see our band of Jesus followers walking through our neighborhood and each place we entered the Good News was extended and seen.  People were drawn to the Story they could see being lived out in our lives.

Grocery store; Good News.

Park; Good News.

Half way homes; Good News.

Refugee community; Good News.

Liquor store; Good News.

Back ally’s; Good News.

The Good News was spreading like a holy virus in our community through the hands and feet of those Jesus’ called to take up their cross and follow.

In this context, what does it mean to follow?  If the Good News is truly good news, shouldn’t our greatest desire be to share this Good News (through word and deed) to those we live among; our neighbors?

For this picture to be made real, it required that we be present in these contexts.  Not to only pray for these people and places, but to walk alongside them.

So often we get in our cars and drive away to go “do ministry” somewhere else (I’m looking at myself), when our neighborhood is in desperate need of healing and reconciliation.

It’s not about going somewhere else; it’s about being present right here.  It’s not about going farther; it’s about going deeper.

My friend Mark Scandrette and his family live in the Mission district of San Francisco.  He recently said,  “When we moved to the Mission, the neighborhood became our classroom.”

To advocate for God’s Shalom (peace, salvation, healing, reconciliation); to be the Good News, we have to also know the bad news of our neighborhood.  We have to know what stands in the way of Shalom (chaos, desperation, brokenness, pain).

I think of Paul having conversations with religious leaders and local business people while walking the streets of Athens in Acts 17.  He engaged in hands on study of his context before speaking into their story.

As a faith community commitment to submerge deep into our neighborhood (Golden Hill) with the hope of Jesus and his plans for renewal, we (NieuCommunities) have turned our neighborhood into our classroom.  Through study in our local libraries, interviews with long standing citizens, engaging local business owners and joining neighborhood councils, we are starting to get a glimpse of how to engage the story of Golden Hill with the redemptive Story of God.

As followers of Jesus who have joined in God’s Mission, we aren’t always going to be called to go far, but we are always called to submerge deep.  We are all missionaries in our own context.

So what does this look like and where might it lead?  Have you made yourself a student to your neighborhood?

I will unpack some of the tangible realities through the telling of a couple recent stories in “Part 2” on Friday.

 

8 Words That Broke My Heart

Having traveled through numerous Arabic speaking countries in the past few years, Janny and I have grown to enjoy the language and culture.  A couple months ago we drove to El Cajon, about 30 minutes east of San Diego, for a doctor’s appointment and noticed that all the signs were in English and Arabic, rather than the usual English and Spanish.

As we sat in the waiting room I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation of the couple next to me.  It was a conversation I would have rather not heard and it broke my heart.  They were complaining about the signs including Arabic and the more they talked the more heated they got.  At one point, the wife said, “First it was Mexican, now it’s Iranian sh*%.” She went onto say even more “colorful” stuff that I won’t include here.  I couldn’t believe my ears and I was torn between tears and rage.

San Diego is a Sanctuary City which offers a home and fresh start for international refugees.  El Cajon has the second largest Iraqi refugee population in the U.S. as they host tens of thousands of people who have been displaced by the current war. The neighborhood adjacent to us is home to an equally large number of refugees from war torn parts of Africa.  In fact, numerous people who we serve with in NieuCommunties have walked alongside these families for 2 years to teach them English and assist them in integrating into a very new culture.  Just a couple weeks ago, Janny and Ruby (my wife and daughter) spent the day playing games and running relays with the refugee kids in this neighborhood.

These are God’s children and they have gone through stuff that I can’t even imagine. Many have lived in slums trying to escape death and persecution for 20+ years waiting for approval to move to the U.S.  They haven’t experienced a day of peace in their lives.  Once they get here, they have 8 months of assistance and then they are on their own.  Not knowing the language and culture, the odds are stacked up against them and many end up homeless.  The last thing they need are the prejudices of those like I ran into in the doctor’s office.

When we employ such polarizing rhetoric, we not only violate American ideals (other than Native Americans, we were all immigrants at one time), we fracture God’s dream for humanity.  When we understand Jesus’ attention for the Samaritans (Israel’s unwanted “half breed” after Assyria took the Northern Kingdom), we see that if He were on earth today He would be sitting at the dinner table with these modern refugees.  Reality is, in the lives of His followers, Jesus is on earth today and we are to take a seat at the table.

Are we going to sit at the table or remain in a bubble that only drifts farther and farther from the heart of God and the model of Jesus?

Thinking back, I mainly feel sad for the couple at the doctor’s office.  I am sad that they are aren’t sitting at the table and enjoying the feast of God’s diverse Kingdom.  And honestly, I know I have prejudices of my own I need to work on before I can point fingers at them.

Pic: Picture we took of a stop sign in Casablanca, Morocco.

Life in a Neighborhood Where People Get Shot

Moments after posting my last blog discussing the symptoms of a system that promotes a false ideal, I heard that two men where murdered a few blocks from my house.  Those of us that have intentionally moved to Golden Hill to be the presence of Jesus to this community know its history and the violence that is still active here.  With that said, even we can become insulated from its reality.  We ALL walk these streets everyday, it is our home and the place we are raising our children. One of our NieuCommunities staff, Jon Hall, reflected honestly and beautifully on our role in this neighborhood when he wrote this email to a group of us the day after the shooting:

Some of you may know that last night there were two men, a father and son, shot and killed at 30th and C streets. Last night I saw the police lights flashing up my street as they blocked off the stretch of 30th, between B and C. It’s not uncommon for stuff to happen there, so I wasn’t really alarmed. As I went outside to see what was up, I ended up in a great conversation with my neighbor, Mike. I had no idea the tragedy that had unfolded a block away.

This morning, I read a blog post by Jim Wallis in reference to the shooting the other day of Gabrielle Giffords, a congresswoman out of Arizona. Wallis knew Ms. Giffords personally, and asks his readers, as Christians and members of the same national community, “What is our role in this?”

He goes on…

“A central calling for Christians is to be peacemakers. Peace, we understand, is not simply the absence of current conflict, but the presence of a just community. In the midst of tragedy and violence, I believe this means every Christian must ask themselves: “How am I responsible?” What more can we do to bring peace to this world as the Prince of Peace has called us to do? What are the situations and environments that allow this kind of hate and violence to grow? How can I not only stop conflict, but also be a part of bringing about a just community that displays the positive presence of peace?

Wallis references that, when things like this happen in your own neighborhood, it takes on a different reality. I know what he means. Rob posted today on Facebook a prayer that, in light of this murder in GH, we can make a difference. Good thoughts for us to consider, for sure.

I walk that stretch of 30th often, usually with Rover in tow (or him leading me, more accurately). I know many of you often walk the streets of Golden Hill as well, and the reality that we live in a neighborhood where things like this can happen can be sobering.

While I haven’t seen any media reports that say that this is gang related, I have had a few recent encounters with groups of guys that fit the appearance of gang members, including a bit of a creepy encounter 2 weeks at 30th and C. It’s given me a heightened sense of the reality that we live in a neighborhood that isn’t the picture of safety and comfort, yet is a neighborhood that I belong to, and it to me. And it’s made me wonder, as Wallis asks, “What is our role in this?”

Here’s the Wallis post: http://bit.ly/eQ3PsD

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