Immigrants, take America back!

The cover of Atlantic Magazine this month asks if America can put itself back together again. Convoluted thinker that I am, I wondered where this “again” came from and where (or who) some people want to take America “back” from (of course some of us know that it is on the brink).

When was America “together” in the first place?  If there was a time when this country was not on the brink, your ancestors may have missed it.  Some of mine were in “the home country” until the Gold Rush, and others didn’t come until the 20th Century.  On the other hand, maybe some of yours were already here.  That’s possible if you are from an old California or Texas family with a Spanish last name family, but then maybe “America” was about to invade them. Continue reading “Immigrants, take America back!”

On living a charmed life—gift #1—thanks to you!

Lois and I have been entrusted with gifts and privileges over the years.  Such things may come ultimately from God, but they are delivered through people like you.  Two special gifts  came this month and reminded me why we say “entrusted.”  We get gifts so we can use them responsibly.
The first gift was when we found an old recipe book of Brazilian recipes from a women’s meeting on our first visit back from from Brasil.
Let’s go back a few steps:  Before we got married, we decided to be missionaries.  A year after tying the knot, we moved to Brazil — 25 and 23 years old!
Leaving for Brazil

We started our family in Brazil, and then raised our daughters in Guatemala.  Some people thought we were really dedicated—giving away our lives—but we always thought we were on the receiving end, getting many more good things than we ever gave up.

The recipe book, and the prayers of friends
The first gift I got this month was an old recipe book with only five recipes.  It’s old, and typed on a typewriter.  We aren’t exactly sure when this little booklet was made. The introduction includes language that often made us feel uncomfortable because it implied that we were doing something particularly special.  It also made Brazilians out to be poor and needy, and our friends in Brazil were very much like us.  Sometimes our friends nurtured ideas of Brazil that was might have been more consistent with the Amazon jungle than with the very urban context of the two cities we lived in.  Not only was the jungle 5 hours away by plane, the cities we lived in were amazingly modern, in some ways beyond what we had experienced in the USA.  São Paulo (15 million people then) was enormous and an industrial powerhouse .  Curitiba (3 million) was a great city to live in, and a global standard setter for good urban planning.
What made this booklet a gift was also in the introduction.
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Something more important than the mis-conceptions about who we were and where we lived, was the willingness of our friends to make special efforts to pray for us.  We were the privileged ones because we were on the receiving end of the prayers of many more people than anyone we knew.  Many still pray for us.  We get all the benefits.
Its mysterious to some, but God seems to pay attention when people turn to him and cry out for help on behalf of others.  We were those “others” for whom our friends cried out to God.  It’s not like bad things never happened to us.  But it is true that the bad things never STAYED bad.  People we hardly knew kept talking to Him about us.
I have attached a link to the entire cookbook.  It has five great, and simple, recipes for Brazilian food that we still love to this day.
How to use this gift responsibly?  I think the answer is hidden behind the second gift I received recently, and I will post about that in the next couple of days.
But using this gift responsibly begins by saying THANK YOU!
You have made a huge difference in our lives.  All the joyful pictures and family joys that we post on Facebook, are because of you.  The skills we have now and use to serve others — Lois helping students at the High School to find their way to College, and me, standing as an ally for Latin Americans as they enter a world of conflict, oppression and need in the name of Jesus , so that they can offer blessing and well-being and encourage others to follow Jesus—these are special skills and we have them because you gave us a context in which to grow and develop them.  Thank you.

Learning to Listen to the Bible

From time to time I get to teach a class at ELET (Escuela Latinoamericana de Estudios Teológicos) in El Cerrito, California.  Most of my students are immigrants.  They are hard workers who, after a hard day of work, come to spend a couple of hours and work hard to pay close attention to the text and let the Bible examine them.

I am learning to keep a blog where I hope to keep my Students engaged.  To be honest, I still can’t figure out if it helps them, but it sure helps me gather my scattered thoughts and focuses me on helping them listen to the Bible.

One of the things that has surprised me Continue reading “Learning to Listen to the Bible”

Christian targets.

Last week I overheard a conversation between Kenyan Christians and Nigerian Christians about decisions they would have had to make when people they know are targetted to die because they are Christians. What kind of world they want to create by their response?

A lot of Christians in the United States claim that they are also targeted by opponents.  Some see in this a growing “persecution.” Continue reading “Christian targets.”

Language of the colonialists

Reflections on my way back from Southern Africa.

While I was in Zambia, I visited the village of Mantanyani with Johanna Rohde, a long-time friend of our daughter Emily who is working there with Peace Corps.  I was struck with the gentle leadership of the village provided by Elliot the Headman, who appears here with his wife Silvia.  IMG_3461His job and heartfelt commitment is the well-being of the people of his village.

Johanna and I took a side trip to Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River, where I was struck by the huge contrast between the everyday live of Mantanyani compared to the very European/American tourist life around Victoria Falls. IMG_3470It is easy o see here how Colonialism has enduring effects on the the lives of people even though the legal formations of the colonial empire have been removed.

In my visit to Zambia and Victoria Falls, I witnessed first-hand how the enduring power of colonialism continues to define the relation of people to other people, and to keep us Northern Europeans in positions of power (and being waited upon). I felt ashamed that I have not worked harder for justice. What will it take to make it possible for the world to be enriched by the contributions of people and their languages that have been pushed to the margins? Their marginalization is colored by those who have claimed to be at the center or by those who, like me, are located in a “center” we were born into. Our experiences of the world are supported by others who were born at the “margins” as defined by that center.

Victoria Falls appears more like a site in European History, than as a location in African geography. It’s full of white people enjoying the Falls and the stories about Livingstone and the colonial period, while being served by Zambians who cannot afford to enjoy the place.

I am hoping someday humanity will find a way to communicate with each other that will reflect better the languages in which humans know and serve the King of all the earth. Meanwhile we seem to be stuck using the language of the colonialists. Here I am writing in English.

Thinking clearly — in Caesaria Phillipi.

When I think I see clearly, that is when I am most at risk.  Clarity is overrated. It’s not useful fuel for that “inner light”, nor is it a good guide our choices.

I obviously have a problem with pride. I find it hard to tell pride from a victory that needs celebrating.  When I feel self-satisfied, it can be predictive of something destructive that affects me and people around me. I can tell when I come home and tell Lois what happened–she’ll know if we should celebrate or if I am bragging.   I still need to learn how to enjoy the victories, but not to make a big deal of them. Since it is always God who empowers, the victories can be meaningful.  I should be able to accept the gift, and move on.

So it is when we think we see clearly.  It is easy to get overconfident in our ability to live by what we see.  It doesn’t take long before we start acting stupid. Last year, my favorite baseball team, each time they started reading good press about them, seemed to start loosing games that they should have won. Then they got into a slump the couldn’t get out of.

Seeing clearly is no preparation for the un-expected, out-of-our-control transformative events by which the story moves forward.

So it was for Peter, James and John in Mark 8:22-9:41

I almost put pictures in here to draw readers into the story of the disciples seeing clearly.  But the pictures that are on the internet made it hard to identify myself with the story.  I need to see myself in that progression in which their eyes were opened, they understood about Jesus, and then they got all hung up with being the smart ones — “who is the greatest?”.  The problem is that in all the pictures on the internet they are wearing ROBES! Even when I get out of the shower–let alone when I interview for a job–I don’t wear a robe.  

jesus_heals_blind_man2 peters-confession Transfiguration_of_Christ_Icon_Sinai_12th_centurychild1

Truth and Easter week

In a world of Liquid Culture, many evangelicals, particularly in the USA and Europe, are protesting that “truth” is losing out.  Some, particularly moved by their concern, “take a stand” to “fight for the truth.”

In a week that focuses on the death of Jesus it is appropriate to think about truth in relation to his death.  The night before he had Jesus executed  Pilate asked Jesus:  “what is truth?”

Many different opinions about how to answer that question, and why it matters come down to us through the ages. The question came up again this week also in the context of the death of Jesus.

Bill O’Reilly’s book, “Killing Jesus”, now made into a documentary, caused a reader of the review of the film, in Sojourners to make the connection again.  One person asked  whether the Muslim actor who played Jesus is “still a practicing Muslim or is he a Muslim converted to Christianity” and she pointed out that it was important to her because the film was “done by Bill O’Reilly I worry its not a truthful depiction of our Savior.”

In the text about Pilate:  Jesus does not use words to answer Pilate’s question.  Pilate is, rather, portrayed as asking his question in response.  Jesus has already said that he came to bear witness to the truth.

Pilate questions Jesus’ claim to “bear witness to the truth.”  Is he making his own claim on truth?  Was Pilate turning truth into a philosophical idea:  timeless and valid everywhere?

Pilate may have been revealing his ideas about truth—that truth is a function of power, or that it is propositional.  But neither of these options is consistent with what John, the author of this gospel, seems to want us to get out of this story.

First of all, if Pilate is asserting his power to define the truth, he fails.  Pilate is remembered beyond the time and place of his question, not because he represented the power of the Roman occupation of the Jewish homeland, but because he executed one who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah.  He is remembered not by how he would have answered the question, but because of what happens next regarding Jesus’ claim to the truth and to his Messiahship.

Second, no answer to Pilate’s question appears as a propositional statement that can impose itself on all times and all places. This story about Jesus, just like all the other ones in the gospel, is selected to tell what happened at a particular time and a particular place. John tells us that his intention is to tell events as a “testimony” to the truth.

Neither Jesus nor John gets philosophical about truth. Rather, John says on the witness stand of history, that  Jesus truly accomplishes something when he is executed, and that we should pay attention to that.

Since Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, perhaps this quote from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks might help us in our own pursuit of truth:

“Biblical truth, [is] a truth that cannot emerge at once but only through the experience of formative events, is a movement from acts done by God for the sake of human beings, to acts done by human beings for the sake of God.” To Heal a Fractured World p. 157

John is inviting us into this story, in which the truth is in the outcome: God does what God says he will do, despite all the ways power and the powerful conspire against him.   And that is better than what we can say about ourselves.


Thinking about what drives me….

I am intuitive

I am at home in Latin America

I am very aware of the world and its issues:  politics, economy, geography, travel

I am a networker—a connector of people

My people skills include:

  • Listening
  • Affirming goals and visions of others, helping them turn those into effective action.
  • Able to say: “I am on your side.”
  • Encourager.  I take Barnabas’ ministry as my model.

I am usually workin on multiple projects and to think and plan strategically about several at the same time.

I get involved in visions before they turn into projects (i.e., before they become concrete), and I can work on them until they turn into proposals.

I have good insight into political and administrative relationships, combining savvy with a definite impatience for getting through to resolution.

Change is a big part of who I am and the way I live.  I am adaptable.  I want to change the world.  I am idealistic and process oriented.

I am comfortable among the very poor and I have not found it difficult to slip in an out of politically tense situations.

I grow by connecting.  Latin American Christians have changed my life.

Religious genocide outcries

Outcry about Christians being wiped out in Iraq and Syria.  I have prayed asking God for ways to protect them, particularly the children.  I have even wondered if the long history of persecution of Christians might ever reach me, and what would I do?

Outcry about Israeli children killed by Hamas missiles.  Jews have experienced persecution and genocide over and over again throughout history.   Israelis feel threatened by the bombs and rhetoric of Hamas, especially when innocent Israeli children are killed.  They don’t want to be victims any more.

What surprises me right now, though, is that in many places in the world it is Muslims who are being massacred.  I don’t hear any outcry about Muslims who are victimized.    Why the silence?

Me, the WEA and the Mission Commission

I work on the Leadership Team of the Mission Commission (MC) of the WEA — World Evangelical Alliance.  This is not a role I ever thought I would have, particularly given my perspective as a “critical insider” in the evangelical movement.  But I have been doing this, now, for about 2 years, part time.  I spend my time serving the rest of the MC team by focusing on strategies for communications and resourcing the work of the MC.  So it involves a lot of meetings and not a whole lot of the kinds of things that most of us would link to service in the way of Jesus.   My work in MC does not directly involve me in service to people in need, public speaking, or trying to get other people to follow Christ.   Sometimes that causes an identity crisis for me:  why not do something more directly engaged with the real problems of real people?   I deal with that crisis in two ways:  first, by engaging in my local community here through other things I do and, second, by understanding the full cycle of what the MC means.

For me, being in the MC is a unique vantage point from which to see how the world is changing. The most exciting changes are the ones that are fruit of the work of the Spirit of God.  The Spirit takes Jesus’ followers from everywhere and engages them in the lives of people they might otherwise avoid, and then calls both to adopt His love for “the other” as the basis for their way of living.  My friend, Paul McKaughan, from when I went to Brazil as a college student has said about the MC, “There is no more geographically or culturally diverse group of leaders than the Mission Commission of the WEA. This is a place where 2/3’world leaders help each other and interface with us in the West.”  It’s true.

Last week I was in Sweden for a small meeting of what we call network leaders.  A hugely diverse group of people from around the world shared a common table and tried to hear from God through each others’ lives during three days.

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As for what the MC means, I think this text, though rather long, captures some of it:

The Mission Commission (MC) is an intergenerational global community of mission leaders who aim to inspire, advocate and strengthen thousands of practitioners of God’s mission agenda around the world.

The 250 Mission Commission Associates (MCA’s)–leaders from 85 national movements who send and support 300,000+ missionaries from evangelical churches in over 100 countries–include mission leaders from both new old and new sending contexts.

Three basic strategic considerations guide  the MC Leadership Team,

  1. The gospel moves forward based on relationships.
  2. MCA’s catalyze national, regional and global mission movements and networks.
  3. The resulting new missions resources are for the global church.

Thus, when we gather as reflective practitioners in dependence upon the Spirit we address crucial mission issues, together–through research, gatherings, and cooperative projects–and for application to concrete ministry contexts.

The relation of MC to WEA

According to its 1951 charter from WEA, the MC should “promote closer coordination and cooperation between missionary societies in different countries where greatly needed.”  It was to be a fellowship, a missionary subset of the churches, denominations and national alliances affiliated with the WEA.

The southward shift in global Christianity made coordination and cooperation between existing missionary societies seem almost provincial.

New missions movements led by reflective-practitioners of mission are the source of new experiences and understandings of Biblical mission from diverse cultural contexts. They are resolving practical challenges for doing “mission from the margins” that are quite unlike the ones faced by missionary societies that grew out of the strong economic and geopolitical position European and American evangelicalism!

Rather than being a subset of the WEA, the MC seeks to mobilize leadership for the entire constituency of the WEA to engage in mission.  The MC attempts reflect the Spirit’s commitments to mission beyond the WEA constituency.