Suffering

Problem to Fix or Opportunity to Embrace? 3 Ways to Care for Unaccompanied Minors

IMG_0672A couple weeks ago, Mexican and USAmerican leaders gathered at Friendship Park -- the wall between us -- representing millions of Christians throughout Mexico and the United States by offering a prayer on behalf of the 60,000 unaccompanied minors detained on our border. As I stood in this sacred prayer circle that extended across our shared border, I thought,“This is what the Church looks like when it takes seriously it’s call to care for the ‘least of these’ as part of our citizenship to a kingdom that knows no borders.”

While some Christian’s view the arrival of these children (many of whom are fleeing actual or pending violence) as a burdensome imposition -- welcoming these kids with protests and hate speech -- others are rightly viewing this an opportunity for the Church to be the Church and reflect Good News to some of the worlds most vulnerable. These kids can’t be viewed as a threat to our abundance, but the very people we are to care for out of our abundance. 

Thankfully, I have had scores of folks in the Church asking what can be done. Another way it has been asked is, “How can we welcome the children in the same way Jesus did?” 

Here are three tangible ways: 

1. Seek to Understand the Human Plight 

Few understand the gravity of the situation these kids are fleeing from. Whether physical starvation, hopeless depression, violent war or a gang reality, these kids are traumatized before they ever begin their journey to the United States. It is in that place that they begin one of the most dangerous journey’s imaginable from Central America to the United States. The vast majority of the girls who make the journey are either killed, raped or sold into sex slavery, while the percentage of boys who experience similar horrors isn’t much lower. With this in mind, imagine how they feel when they finally make it into the United States! While 60,000 have made it, scores of others haven’t. These kids need attention and care, so when we welcome them with hatred and signs to “GO HOME,” I can’t imagine how that adds to their trauma. Further, I can’t imagine that’s how Jesus’ would have his Church treat the strangers and children among us. 

READ: Enrique’s Journey 

WATCH: Which Way Home

2. Meet Those Behind the Headlines

This is not an issue to remain in the walls of political power or on the mouths of political pundits filling our news outlets. Because this is a humanitarian issue, we must meet the humans behind the headlines and debates. There are detention centers and shelters in cities all across the United States where these kids are being held as their future hangs in the balance. Go and meet these kids. Play soccer. Share a meal. Hear their story. 

Just a few weeks ago, we (TGIP) brought of a group of US teenagers to a shelter here in San Diego to spend time with these teenagers from Central America. While it took a few minutes to break the awkward “hello’s,” these kids bonded as equals. They were no different from one another, they just had dramatically different stories. After hours of soccer, games and sharing tables, the common humanity was all any of us could see.  

GO: Southwest Key is the largest network of shelters in the United States and are located in multiple states. Also, you don’t have to search long to identify a detention center in your city. 

3. Act According to Your Convictions

Having gained both an academic and experiential understanding of this crisis, there are plenty of ways to take action. Here are a few suggestions for you and/or your community:

  • Foster/Adopt: There are now organizations and ministries facilitating the foster and/or adoption process of these kids. This is a VERY tangible way for the Church to be the Church. Imagine if we weren’t waiting for the government to care for these kids, but taking action ourselves to solve this crisis by opening our doors and hearts?
  • Donate: Search organizations who are caring for these kids and offer your finances or material resources.
  • Advocate: Call your representative and tell them the Church supports the care of these children and that this crisis must be viewed as a humanitarian crisis politically.
  • Educate: Invite those closest to you and the leadership within your Church to academically and experientially educate themselves on this issue.  Offer them tangible steps towards redemptive engagement.

In the way that Jesus opened his arms to children when those in power told him to do otherwise, may the Church open its arms to the children on our doorstep who are so desperately in need of love, dignity, healing and hope.

 

A Benediction of Hope

BorderPrayerIn a world currently enduring so much violence, pain and trauma, it would be easy for us, the People of God, to stick our head in the sand of discouragement.

Instead, let’s pray this together:

May we daily submit ourselves first and foremost to the rule and reign of Jesus, praying, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

May we, the people of God, choose to live fueled by the hope Resurrection rather than held captive by the fear of death. 

May we, the people of God, choose to rightly place our allegiance in Jesus and his kingdom rather than become slaves to the kingdoms of this world.

May we, the people of God, choose to embrace the way of the Cross and freely give away power for the flourishing of others as we join God in the world he is making. 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as our human family endures a season of trauma, may your image rise in each of us so that we can offer and receive love in the most unexpected people and places.  Amen

(de)Escalating Violence and the Human Story in Israel/Palestine

Jerusalem-Day3-145I was sitting in the airport the other day listening to yet another account of the current events unfolding in Israel and Palestine. Almost mechanically, the lips of the news anchor spilled out words like terrorists, extremist, escalating violence, detention, kidnapping, hatred, protest, etc. 

It was as though they were telling a story of some otherworldly reality that had virtually no human implications. It was all the stuff we are supposed to hear about the Middle East, so it successfully affirmed stereotypes, assumptions and prejudice.  

In hearing all this, I was deeply troubled and saddened. Since the most recent violence flared up with the kidnapping of three young Israeli’s a few weeks ago, I have been in touch with my friends who actually live, work and play in the midst of this reality that is so often spoken of in the callused, mechanical way of the news anchor. 

In the context of genuine relationship, I asked one Christian Palestinian couple how they are holding up in light of everything. They said it has been horribly difficult as many of those around them experience so much pain and injustice in the form of detentions, home invasions and even death. It is becoming hard not to hate. 

Continuing, “But we know that if we turn to hate, we will lose our soul.” After quoting their morning reading of Martin Luther King Jr and the words of Jesus in Matthew describing their call to love their enemies and forgive those who persecute them, they closed with the request, “Just keep praying.”

Another friend, a Jewish Rabbi, was recently on a bus with his family when the windows shattered and a molotov cocktail was thrown inside. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Rather than pursue the myth of redemptive violence, his “revenge” took the form assembling an interfaith prayer gathering in Jerusalem for the peace of the city. 

My friend, John Moyle, recently described an interaction between an Israeli and Palestinian family who have lost loved ones in the conflict:

Earlier today, two Palestinian friends of Oakbrook Church joined five Israeli friends of Oakbrook in a visit with the family of Naftali Fraenkel, one of the three Jewish students who was murdered in the West Bank a few weeks ago. A circle of chairs was arranged so that the group could speak together in a more intimate setting. Hundreds of other people waiting to greet the family circled around this gathering to listen in on the conversation. Many people were significantly moved by both the sincere gesture of sorrow by the Palestinians and their warm reception by the bereaved Jewish family. 

On the way out, the aged grandfather came out to shake their hands, and a couple of lines about hope for peace were exchanged. The grandfather asked, “Do you have hope for peace?” One Palestinian responded, “I lost my brother in this conflict. I got shot by a settler … and I dream of peace. If we lose our hope we lose the chance to live.” The grandfather listened, his eyes welling up with tears, and he swayed closer and closer towards his Palestinian guest. A sparkle of light, a place where two hearts touched. A very powerful moment. 

In the midst of conflict, the prophetic presence of peacemakers is stronger than ever. Within the Just Peacemaking paradigm (developed by a mentor of mine, the late Glen Stassen), the only way to slow the building cycle of violence is to choose practices of de-escalation. In other words, until someone is willing to respond to an act of violence with a lesser degree of violence (or none at all!), things will continue to get worse. 

This is why, in the face of building violence, there is no more radical, prophetic or heroic action than that of choosing not to get even, but getting creative in love. When people have every right to be angry and seek revenge violently, choosing to deescalate violence through creative initiatives for peace tells us that another world is possible. A world with a King who was enthroned not through violent revenge, but through taking violence upon himself for the flourishing of others.  

What are the implications?

You may lose the war. You may not get the results you want. You may get killed.

But as my friends said, you will keep your soul. And, maybe, just maybe, this will lead the “enemy” to de-escalate as well. There are plenty of historical examples of mutual de-escalation not only on an individual level, but on a national level in times of war.   

As the cycle of violence builds in Israel/Palestine through acts of revenge and retaliation, we must shine a light on those who are intentionally choosing to put their lives on the line through actions of de-escalation. We know that hate breeds hate and violence breeds violence, but we trust that the seeds of love returned in the face of hate and violence will root deep into the soil of renewed relationship.

In the end, we trust that Jesus, the peacemaker, is still at work. In fact, I believe he is speaking louder than ever to the world through the faith of committed peacemakers embedded in this conflict. In a world that magnifies the acts of hatred, violence and division, we must acknowledge their faithfulness and celebrate the redemptive work that is unfolding as a result.

Together, let’s pray for the peacemakers. And pray against the myth of redemptive violence and it’s destructive ends. Most importantly, let’s choose to act like these remarkable people in the conflicts we find ourselves in right here at home.   

RESOURCES:

This is a moment where those of us in the West have the responsibility to expose ourselves to diverse media outlets. There are major agendas at play and we must be savvy in how we construct reality. Here are a few articles that offer some nuance and hope in the midst of a difficult reality. 

Best overview of the current crisis I’ve read. “As a Jew Living In America, the Past Week Has Changed Me Forever.”

The most beautiful interaction that has come out of this crisis. “Slain Israeli teen’s uncle consoles murdered Palestinian’s father.”

Another remarkable interaction. “Families of Slain Israeli and Palestinian Teens Turn to Each Other for Comfort.”

Short video of the mother describing her reaction to her son, a U.S. Citizen, being detained and beaten without conviction by the IDF.

 

Raising Girls In A World Where They Are Less Than Human

I have two daughters. 

They are little spark plugs of utter joy and complete chaos. They make me laugh. They make me cry. They remind me to view the world through child-like wonder. They remind me that I am not what I do, but who I am. They teach me what selfless love actually looks like…everyday…day after day…early morning after early morning…nasty crap diaper after nasty crap diaper. They make me realize how much I have to learn about parenting and our place in the world. 

Most every night from the moment they were born, I have quietly held them in my arms or rested my hand on their back while they sleep and prayed for them. 

I pray for their continued breath. I pray for their development as little, unique human beings. I pray the Spirit of God to fill them and empower them. I pray the Lord’s Prayer over them. I pray for them to be protected from evil. I pray for them to love those who aren’t often loved. I pray for them to live confidently into who they have been created to be, free from the pressure of imposed reputation and expectation. 

I pray for their past, present and future. 

In learning to love these little girls, I began to ask more and more questions about the place of women in the world, in the Church and in everyday life. So many realities that I could have ignored in the past (not that I should have!) are now front and center as I think of my babies becoming little girls who become women apart of a diverse global village. 

IMG_7749As in most things (parenting, theology, the Church, hospitality, etc), my wife, Janny, is about two years ahead me in asking these hard questions about the place of women in the world. Watching her study, teach and advocate on issues pertaining to the flourishing of women, I have been convicted, challenged and inspired.

Evaluating my own complicity and ignorance led me to realize that for a guy who advocates so strongly for the value of a global kingdom worldview, I am radically narrow in who I consider authorities in my life. In other words, most scholars, thinkers and practicioners I have studied are white males. No offense to my white male friends (thankfully I dodged that label with my Scandinavian heritage…I’m technically a “pale male.”), but I needed to spend a lot more time learning from the life, teachings and perspectives of women around the world. As a father of two girls, a husband and global citizen seeking the shalom of God in and among all of humanity, I have no choice.

So, this year I have committed to intentionally learning from women (authors, teachers, neighbors, etc.) any chance I get. In fact, The Global Immersion Project Learning Lab I’ll be leading to Israel/Palestine this Fall will solely focus on the role of women peacemakers in the Holy Land.

As I began to crack the surface and open my eyes to the plight of women world-wide, I quickly discovered that many scholars, faith leaders and advocates would consider the treatment of women as the leading injustice in the world. From rural villages in the majority world to urban centers of the West, when there is dysfunction, brokenness and abuse, it most often falls on women.  

The dysfunction, brokenness and abuse isn’t reserved to far off villages or traditions, it extends to our doorstep. From systemic poverty to sex trafficking to employment prejudice to disempowerment and shame within the Church.  

RoseBdayParalleling my learnings, my little girls continue to grow, develop and form their view of the world, God and humanity each and every day. Our youngest, Rosie, recently turned one and we invited our close friends, neighbors and family to celebrate and bless her young life. 

Our community surrounding us, I rested my hands on her sweet little head and prayed this blessing over her life:

Rosie you are so full of life, wonder and innocence. I bless you to live fully into the unique woman God has created you to be. I bless you to be one who is not only empowered, but one who empowers. I bless you with the gift of walking with a community that daily stumbles toward Jesus and participates with him in healing a broken world.  

In a world where women are often demeaned, discredited, abused, oppressed and treated as less that human, I bless you with the courage to be one who reassigns dignity to those who have lost it. I bless you to be a voice for the voiceless. I bless you to have an eye for injustice and move boldly toward it with the practices that make for peace. 

Rosie, my sweet daughter, I pray that you will lead the way in teaching me, us and the whole world what it means to live into who you were created to be while giving yourself to the flourishing of others. 

RESOURCES:

Here are a few resources that I have read/watched recently that have been especially impactful. 

Jesus Feminist -- Rather than offering cynical critique, Sarah Bessey simply invites us to full life in Jesus. The most hopeful, constructive and compelling book I’ve read in years. 

Half the Church -- Helpful theological reflection on the role of women in the Church past and present. Further, a good introduction into the plight of women world wide and the opportunity for the Church to be mobilized as an instrument of peace.  

Half the Sky -- This documentary offers first hand exposure to the global inequality of women. It is so jarring, it makes the film hard to watch. Which is why it’s so important we are exposed to it. 

 

Women, Child Birth and What it Means to be Fully Human Again

Prayer for Baby ChaseMy wife, Jan, was 8 days past her due date when the first signs of labor finally kicked in about 5am. Being past your due date is no fun (keep in mind, I’m a dude talking here, so I really have no idea how hard it really is) as you start to wonder, 1. if this little creature will actually EVER arrive and 2. if your labor will be have to be initiated by powers outside of your control, namely lots of drugs and stuff. After our first babe (Ruby) decided to make her triumphal entry on the very LAST day before we would had to make some hard choices about the road forward, we were praying baby #2 would come along a bit sooner. 

As the contractions strengthened, we celebrated that this was the real deal and Janny locked into this sacred, super-human state of focus and determination like I’ve never encountered.  

Strong. 

Steady. 

Quiet.

At peace. 

It was surreal. Of course, I was a ball of anxiety, fear and anticipation wrapped in the cloak of a “secure support partner.” About 80% of her laboring happened at home when we finally got in the car to head to the birthing center. Trying not to hit the breaks, speed without getting a ticket and keep my mouth shut, we pulled in and got all settled in for the grand arrival. 

Again, surreal. 

Confidently instructing a handful of us on how to support her, Janny was stoic. Not long after we got to the birthing center, our little Rosie arrived in my arms (quite literally!) and we snuggled as a family of four for the first time. 

As I began to process what had just unfolded in front of my eyes, I was struck by the sacredness of the whole birthing event. A women is able to grow a baby inside of her body (with a TINY bit of help from a man), have a full grown baby come out of her body and then offer it all the resources it needs…with her body. 

There is something sacred to this and I don’t think it gets celebrated or near the attention it should. 

When God created humanity, we were made in God’s image. The very nature of God was inscribed on us as God had serious plans for the role humans would play in the Creation Story. There was no sin. No fallenness. No vision for us to become subservient to the constructs that would be assembled around us. In fact, to be fully human was to be quite divine. 

Of course, we know there was a break in the Story. Selfishness, infidelity and violence started to corrupt what was originally created to be in perfect union with God. 

While our faith tradition affirms the reality of sin, it also affirms the reality of God’s image and design being central to who we are as humans. After the Reformation (think John Calvin, Martin Luther and a lot of angry church folk), this portion of our tradition didn’t get as much press, but it is just as true as ever. 

That brings me back to what I saw and experienced in that birthing center. I got a glimpse into a rightly ordered creation. I saw -- quite tangibly -- the way God created us to function…and it was remarkable. It was worship. It was a reminder that the God who created us hasn’t given up on us. No, in fact, he is still very much with us, we just need to have the eyes to see it.

One of our dear friends and neighbors is a couple weeks out from her due date. After losing her first baby a few months into her pregnancy, these moments leading up to arrival seem a little extra sacred. Having lost our first baby at 5 months along, Janny understands the mental, emotional and spiritual weight of carrying a baby to term after such a tragedy. 

As such, Janny transformed our upstairs bedroom into a little haven of blessing, encouragement and renewal. With candles lit and soft music streaming quietly through the space, she invited this woman over for a facial. Having gotten her friend settled into this space, Janny started to reveal a series of surprises that turned an ordinary facial into an experience with the divine. 

One of our other friends came in the room with her harp and began to play next to the bed. Then, one-by-one, women from our faith community came into the room and offered blessings over mom and baby. Instead of leaving after their blessing, most stayed and began massaging her feet and arms and belly. 

Tears were shed, burdens were carried together and the hope of new life became palpable. 

I often talk about the idea of a thin place; a physical space where heaven and earth seem to collide. A place where God’s kingdom is made real.

In this instance, it was a place where we got a glimpse into what it means to be fully human again. A place where God’s intended design actually came about. 

In a world where heroism, success and order are most often defined by men projecting their insecurities on society, I thank God for women. And for far more than childbirth (that just happens to be what deeply moved me recently).

For their leadership.

For their compassion.

For the way they show us what sacrificial love actually looks like.

For the way they guide us to the stuff that actually matters most.

For they remind us that rightly ordered humanity isn’t about who holds the most power, but who is most willing to give it away for the sake of another.

Because, for me, women show us how to be fully human again. 

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