The Global Immersion Project

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. 

Listen to My Interview with Morgan Freeman from the Holy Land

A few months ago, I had the incredible opportunity to do an in-person interview with one of the most iconic figures of the silver screen, Morgan Freeman. As anticipated, his presence was both stoic and warm and his voice as silky smooth as imagined. I’m just disappointed I didn’t ask him to record my voicemail message. Alas, we had a great conversation about themes in his recent National Geographic Channel show, The Story of God. You can read the interview and my reflections on it in this article.

Fast forward a couple months and I heard from his team about doing an audio interview with Morgan while I was leading a delegation through the Holy Land…because there is no more appropriate location to discuss the different ways religions view God than in the place where Jews, Christians and Muslims find a common home. So, while overlooking the Sea of Galilee in Northern Israel, I was able to fire up Skype and record this conversation I had with Morgan and his colleague Lori McCreary (Executive Producer of The Story of God and Madam Secretary). We talk fear of the “other,” multi-faith understandings of God -- and how that impacts our common call to love our neighbor -- and a handful of other fascinating topics. Listen in by clicking on the recording below the picture. Enjoy! 

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Why Neighborhood Matters: Christian Conferences, Consumption & Everyday Life

IMG_1152As I sat on my porch overlooking the streets of my urban neighborhood and the sparkling lights of downtown San Diego, I thought to myself, “There is no place I’d rather be. THIS is where life happens and where peace is made real.”  

Just 30 minutes before, I had gotten off a plane from a 24 hour trip to Chicago for the Justice Conference where Jer Swigart and I co-hosted the Faith and Peace Track representing our organization, The Global Immersion Project.  

The time was incredible as the room filled with pastors, leaders and practitioners from countries spanning the world who created a dynamic environment of collaboration, excitement and activism. The mysterious and enlivening story of Jesus was palpable. 

As we taught through our content on Everyday Peacemaking, we told story after story of ways peace -- which we define as the holistic repair of relationship -- is not only being realized in the midst of global conflicts, but on the streets of our neighborhoods. With each story I told about my kids, wife and faith community (all whom have committed to live the Jesus Way on the streets of our neighborhood of Golden Hill), I was stirred more and more with gratitude for the gift of a community of practice.

Teaching, training and inspiration matter, but only in so much as they move us to everyday practice in place. That is the discipleship challenge. Jesus wasn’t one who gave a sterling sermon, got folks fired up and then retreated to the hills (although he would do that too). Jesus LIVED the content he taught in the muck and messiness of everyday life on the streets of his Galilean neighborhood. 

We live in a culture that values hype. It may be the best intentioned hype in the world, but if it only stirs excitement for a one-off experience and doesn’t train and mobilize people into the not-so-glamorous realities of everyday life, I question whether it does more harm than good. 

When we strive for some lofty “ideal” that never translates into reality, we’ve missed the point. And, that’s why a neighborhood and community of practice is a necessity for everyday discipleship (peacemaking). Our neighborhoods (whatever the may look like!) are the context in which the Jesus Community is called to embody the Resurrection life in a broken world.  

The day after I got home from the conference, my community came together for our weekly worship gathering that rotates between our homes in our neighborhood. We spent the whole evening pausing to reflect on different places in our neighborhood where we have seen and experienced God’s kingdom made real in both the beautiful and broken realties of everyday life. We looked at pictures and shared stories that have come to life in our rec center, local parks, back ally’s, yoga studio, coffee shops and front patio’s. 

It was a cathartic experience. When you’ve given yourself to a place year after year, it is easy to get discouraged and forget how much life has transpired and how much transformation taken place.  

In that moment, I thought, “I’m all for participating in conferences…but they must remain a means to an end that looks like transformed people and places.”

So, let’s celebrate moments of collaboration, teaching and training while putting them in their rightful place as a means to fuel our everyday life and practice. Just like anything, Christian conferences can become yet another opportunity to simply consume for consumptions sake. Sadly, that actually distracts and demobilizes the Church from being the Church. 

Friends, we were made for so much more than a one-off high. And, the world desperately needs the Jesus Community to live into its vocation as an instrument of peace every single moment of every single day in the unique contexts we inhabit.  

What a gift to come together and celebrate our common hearts and vision. Now, let’s go get after it. 

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NOTE: Pic is on our patio with my wife 34 weeks pregnant with twins!  

The Tragedy of Self-Appointed Prophets

Woman-yelling-in-megaphoneThe world is swirling with issues.

Picking up my phone and opening my news app each morning is being met with more and more dread each day.

When something hits the news, it is fascinating to watch people jump onto social media and begin “yelling” out their answers for how to heal our broken systems.

Of course, there is almost always at least two completely different opinions for how these problems should be fixed, which typically leads to people drawing lines in the sand, picking their stance and not budging. Relationships often fracture and a polarized a world gets more polarized, rendering it immobilized for the work of reconciliation.

Whether it’s on our Facebook page, Twitter feed or around our table, I assume most of us can think of an interaction where this unhelpful and potentially destructive reality played out.

So, does this “yelling” of our opinions actually help heal the broken systems and the people whom those systems are breaking?

I’m all about using our voices to call out injustice. By offering a critique of power and a hope for those on the underside of it, the ancient prophets did this beautifully throughout history.

But, in a globalized, virtually interconnected world, I’m concerned we have too many self appointed prophets (which, by definition is NOT a prophet), and not near enough practitioners. Far more constructive than a verbal or written argument is actually doing something.

I don’t think the world needs more armchair advocates…especially when our arguing or defending leads to the fracture of real life relationships. I’m not saying we all need to passively waltz around the world’s issues. No, I’m proposing we actively engage them in two ways:

1. Healthy, constructive discourse that doesn’t require we all agree to remain in relationship 
2. We spend less time talking, and use our best energy to actually do something

What this world needs are people who are willing to role up their sleeves and get dirty. And not for a week or a month or a year, but for the long haul.

The world needs people embedded in the center of these conflicts equipped with the practices that make for peace. These people don’t have time to debate solutions on social media because they are already hard at work making the solutions a reality. They don’t have to transplant themselves to the center of the issue, because they are already embedded in it. They don’t have to seek the approval of their constituency, because it’s not about their reputation, it’s about the flourishing of those they have been called to serve.

They are sharing meals with the forgotten in their neighborhood.

They are building lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with those of other faiths who we are often taught to fear.

They are sitting at the hospital bedside of the family who is suffering loss at the hands of unjust people and systems.

They are in the churches, schools and homes of our black and brown communities to listen, learn and support.

They are in detention centers and deportation shelters to pray with and look in the eyes of those in our society’s shadows.

They are encouraging and walking with our faith and political leaders as they navigate the potentially compromising positions of power.

It’s a way of life that is costly. It is not glamorous. And it often comes without our desired outcomes being met in the short term and, potentially, not even in the long term.

This is the work of a trained, strategic and intentional community of Jesus followers who are prepared to move to the center of our society’s conflicts with the weapons to transform rather than destroy. It’s the gritty, subversive and costly work of peacemaking.

More than ever, I believe the work of peacemaking is discipleship. It’s the long hard road of the cross that will lead to the flourishing of others and allow our deepest calling to meet the worlds deepest needs. May it be so. 

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NOTE: The work of The Global Immersion Project is to train and mobilize the kind of people I describe. We call them Everyday Peacemakers. To learn more or participate in one of our international or domestic trainings, go here: http://globalimmerse.org

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.

 

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