My Son’s Faith

As a parent one of my greatest desires is for my children to become thoughtful adults. I want them to have a strong faith, a faith they can own for themselves, and a faith that will help them navigate life’s obstacles. Last week my youngest son called me. He had a theological question. For those of you who do not know me well I am a self-described theological nerd. So being asked to help my son process a theological question sent my heart aflutter!

He was writing a response to someone’s statement about Ephesians 5:22 where Paul says, “Wives be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.” According to his fellow classmate this verse was clear proof that the church should reject the temptation to allow women to be leaders in the church or family.

We talked for about 30 minutes. Then he said, “Dad, give me some time to think a write.” Here is his response:

I think the relationship between Christ and the church is a relationship about mutuality. Christ is always inviting people to himself. The choice to follow is always on the individual. To assume “authority” means dictatorship is a misunderstanding of both Paul and Jesus. Jesus is not the churches dictator not is the man ever called to be a dictator.

If we are serious about reflecting Christ in marriage than it should be a relationship where both parties have an equal say in what goes on. Christian relationships whether in the church, the context of marriage, or peers should always be mutual and invitational.

If a person is going to read Paul than read all of Paul! It doesn’t take long to discover that there are contradictions all over the place. In Ephesians Paul talks about women submitting to husbands but in Galatians Paul claims that there is no male or female in Christ and that we're all equal so how then does that fit in?

As people studying theology we can't just look at one verse and assume that we know what its saying. Look at everything, where was Paul and why did he write those things? Paul was not writing to CBC students for intro to Christian theology, 2017. Christ certainly should have authority over our lives and influence the way we do things and decisions we make, but that's just it, Jesus was about love and caring fellow humans not having dominant authority.

Christ invites us into relationship of choice and mutuality and that ought to be how the marriages we enter in reflect.

When it comes to the topic of women in leadership I believe we have been living in a society where the male bias has dominated for far too long. God is not just father but also mother. Her love extends to everyone and I believe She is changing the world to a place where women need to hold just as many leadership positions as men do and the idea that there needs to be a "man" of the house is passing way. Some of the most brilliant pastors I know are women and I wish for a world where there's more of that.

As have reflected on this conversation, it began to dawn on me how significant his DOOR experiences had been, particularly his Dwell year in Miami. For Quinten his time as a Dweller gave him a space to work out his faith for himself.

If you are a parent, grandparent, or mentor to a young adult reading this- know that a gap-year away from college and home may be the greatest gift you can give to your young adult.

Beautifully Complicated

Last week my wife and I drove from Denver, CO to Hesston, KS. The majority of this drive took place on I-70. We left at 5 AM and the first few hours of the Colorado portion of the trip were in the dark. As the sun rose I began to notice billboards, both the homemade and professional versions. Many of these signs proclaimed something about the Christian faith:

Abortion stops a beating heart

You will die, then meet Jesus

Where will you go when you die?

Jesus is real

Smile, your mom chose life

Then there was the coffee break moment. As we approached the one Starbucks between Denver and Hesston, there was a “White Jesus” floating in a wheat field.

Rita and I went to Kansas to attend a funeral. A friend had lost his battle with cancer. He had just turned 40 and left behind a wife and two children. A few years earlier his sister, a mutual friend, and I drove our motorcycles from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas and back. It was an adventure that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Now I was driving I-70 reading one liners about a Christian faith I claim, and wondering why my friend was dead.

If we were traveling to Kansas for any other reason I doubt I would have even paid attention to the billboards. These signs and their attempts at reducing the Christian faith to a one liner that could be read as cars passed by at 75 miles per hour began to feel offensive.

Christianity at its best is a deeply complicated experience. On this particular day my feelings towards God were not at their healthiest. Children need their parents; why would God allow a father to die before his job was done? Grandparents and parents should not have to attend the funerals of their grandchildren and children.

We arrived in Hesston and made our way to the church. Hundreds of people came. As I silently watched the family come in my internal questioning of God only intensified. About halfway through the service my friend’s wife and siblings came to the front and shared the story of his life. In the retelling of my friend’s life story, a story of God’s faithfulness, mercy, and radical love also emerged.

Later on as more stories were told over a meal, I began to reflect on this Christian faith I cling to. The truth is I have moments where God and I are on the same page, followed by moments where I wonder if God is even present. There are times when I think I have my Christian ethics figured out only to be confronted with people of faith who don’t see the world like I do.

The Christian life, when lived honesty and without one-liners, is complicated. At its worst it is frustratingly complicated and at its best it is beautifully complicated, but always complicated. As much as I want to make it simple, God keeps complicating everything.

Individual or Community

There are moments in my life that I remember with amazing clarity. One of these happened in 10th grade. An evangelist from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association had come to town. This was such a big event in our small town that the local churches had to rent the high school gymnasium. Wednesday was “youth night,” which meant no hymns. A night of contemporary Christian music followed by a sermon for young people. I still remember Mrs. Davis approaching David and me before the service began. Apparently God had spoken to her and we were supposed to go forward at the end of the service. She then proceeded to lead David and me to the second row. To this day I cannot recall anything about the service other than when the preacher asked the congregation to sing “Just as I am.” For three verses Mrs. Davis stared at us; by the fourth I went forward. Eventually the preacher called the spiritual counselors forward. Soon there was a hand on my back and we were lead into a special room just off the gymnasium. The walk was excruciatingly long. I wasn’t quite sure why I went forward, other than to avoid the wrath of Mrs. Davis.

Once we were in the room I sat across from my counselor. He asked why I came forward; again, I cannot recall what I said. The end result was that I heard about four spiritual laws and prayed for Jesus to forgive my sins.

That night shaped my understanding of faith and Jesus. Christianity had something to do with my sin life. If I accepted Jesus, then I would be made clean and could spend eternity in heaven. This idea was and still is comforting. To know that God desires to forgive my sins is life-giving and freeing. To this day I find hope in this message.

As I grew beyond 10th grade this understanding of sin and salvation began to feel incomplete and small. There is a significant element to sin that is structural. And the “I just need to confess my sin to Jesus” approach doesn’t adequately address this.

Racism doesn’t just come forward at church, pray a prayer, and go away. Corporate greed that has decimated family farms, emptied retirement accounts, charged outrageous interest rates, and chosen profits over health care doesn’t disappear after a prayer.

More often than not it seems like the church has turned its back on structural sin. It is easier to have a gospel that is only me and Jesus. Focusing on structures is hard work. It will disrupt our lives, interfere with our comfort, and push our faith out of the church and on to the street.

Jesus came for humanity, not just the individual. Our Holy Scriptures are about the people of God. Justice isn’t just for me, it is for all. The church needs to be about revival for all and prophetically confronting sin at every level.

Defining Moments

Abraham Lincoln had a defining moment at Gettysburg when he began his speech, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation…” Martin Luther King, Jr. had one August 28, 1963 when rallied a nation with his dream.

President Bush had a less than stellar one on May 1, 2003 when he stood on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln with a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished.”

In my city of Denver, quarterback John Elway had his moment on January 25, 1998 when he led the Denver Broncos to their first Super Bowl championship, beating the defending Green Bay Packers 31-24.

Defining moments are interesting and memorable events. They can cut two ways, either reminding us of courage and greatness or of foolishness and failure. I suspect that all of us desire the first and fear the second.

The truth is all of us are more than one moment in our lives. None of us should be defined by a single event. Each of us are far too complicated to be defined by a single act, whether great or foolish. There is an interesting human tendency to elevate those who have done great things to a god-like status and demonize those caught in foolishness.

Although we are at the front end of 2017, it seems that this is going to be a year of giving space for a fuller story. I don’t want to be a person who defines and pigeon holes others based on a particular moment, whether that is a moment of greatness or of intense foolishness.

Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel, reflected, “When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.”

In 2017 I want to be a person who knows what it means to both give and receive Amazing Grace.

On Earth as it is in Heaven

My favorite line in the Lord’s Prayer is “on earth as it is in heaven.” The idea that Jesus wanted this life on planet earth to be a reflection of heaven has been a source of hope for me. I might go so far as to say it is the basis of my conviction that humanity is moving towards an ethic of kindness, inclusion, and generosity. Then November 8, 2016 happened. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, this past election cycle uncovered and exposed some of the darker sides of humanity. I have friends and co-workers who are legitimately afraid of what might happen to them. Over the period of a few hours on that Tuesday judgment, hate, and fear was normalized. In my city of Denver a swastika was recently spray painted on the door of a local elementary school. The news regularly reports about re-empowered hate groups.

Have we taken a giant step backwards? My initial reaction was a resounding yes. I am beginning to wonder if that is really the case. Is it possible that the only thing that changed on November 8 was the shattering of my insulated world?

Hate, misogyny, judgment, and distrust didn’t just suddenly emerge on November 8. On that night my privileged political perspective was given a reality check. In a sense I had a 2 Kings 6:17 moment, where Elisha prays that the eyes of his servant would be opened. In that particular case the servant saw the armies of God. In my case I have been reminded that the world is larger than my particular echo chamber.

Can I, can we, still take seriously Jesus’ words – on earth as it is in heaven? Yes, now more than ever. It is time for people of all faiths to demonstrate to the world that we can respect each other, that we can live together without resorting to violence. It time for the church to be about inclusion, not just the politically correct type of inclusion but a radical inclusion that takes seriously the humanity of everyone.

My youngest son is in Bible College. I have enjoyed reading his papers and watching him struggle with his own faith. Recently he was asked to write a reflection on a passage in Galatians. He chose Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer salve or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” In his reflections he wondered what Paul might have written if he were around in 2016. My son thought it would go something like this:

There is no longer Christian, Jew or Muslim,

There is no longer straight, gay, queer or transgender,

There is no longer liberal or conservative; Republican or Democrat; American or foreigner,

For we are all humans created in the very image and likeness of God.

This election exposed some scary things. It is now time for people of faith to start being the hands and feet of Jesus. Just maybe we will all be around to witness heaven right here on earth!

Revisiting Finding Nemo

The election is over and progressive Americans are in shock. This wasn’t their expected outcome. Now what? As a white, straight male I want people to know that I am not a racist, hater, Islamophobic, or misogynist. If you were to look at my social media feed there are lots of ways that people who look like me are trying to say, “I not who you think I am.”

This week my mind drifted back to one of my favorite Pixar movies, Finding Nemo. It tells the story of a father’s love for his ever maturing and adventurous child. One day in a fit of frustration with his father’s overprotective nature, Nemo ventures away from the reef to touch the bottom of a fishing boat. He is captured by a scuba diver and taken away. The rest of the movie tells the story of Marlin, Nemo’s father, and Dory, an unexpected friend, as they search for Nemo.

One of the first characters they meet is Bruce the shark. Marlin and Dory are immediately brought to an AA-type meeting for sharks. The gathering begins with a pledge “fish are friends not food.”

As I have been replaying this scene in my mind, one question keeps surfacing. When a great white shark tells a small fish that he has become a vegetarian (read – I didn’t vote for him), who has to have the faith that the relationship will work out? Bruce can change his convictions at any time and without any warning. What assurances do Marlin and Dory have that Bruce will stick to his new diet?

Since last Tuesday those of us who are white have been exposed. How do we demonstrate that we aren’t racist? I can no more quit being white than some of my staff can quit being people of color, women, or gay. I never asked to be born with the power and privilege that comes to me simply because of the color of my skin. But I still have it.  Is it possible that under all my best intentions there are still whiffs of unconscious racism and privilege?

Should I wear a safety pin? Maybe. Will that make you safe? Maybe.

In many ways to be white is much like being Bruce, a great white shark. When we reach out to others asking for forgiveness, seeking reconciliation, and honestly desiring relationship, it is critical to never forget who we are – sharks, people with access to power and privilege.

Just because I reach out to a person of color, a woman, or a GLBTQI person with an honest desire to be friends does not immediately mean that I have quit being scary. It is important to never forget that it takes a tremendous amount of faith to look past the teeth of a great white shark and see a potential friend.

Hangover

“When they go low, we go high.” Nice words, but this morning they seem a little too optimistic. Here in the United States of America, going low won the day and the next four years.

We just elected a president who started his campaign by describing an entire people group as rapists, thieves, and drug dealers. Over the course of his candidacy he made it OK to objectify women thereby creating moral space for misogyny. Now he is calling us to unite, to come together as one. How does this even happen? I don’t even know how to approach my fellow believers who justified their vote by saying, “well he’s a baby Christian.”

I work for organization that has hired Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, immigrants, and people from the GLBTQI community. They are terrified and not figuratively. The fear is real; it is based on actions and statements made by the candidate. Their very humanity and lives have been brought into question.

I don’t know how to come together. How do you hold hands and sing Kumbaya with someone who denies your very right to exist?

Where are the people of God in all of this? Where is the church?

Too many church leaders, who tend to look like me, white and male, have sacrificed the gospel of Jesus for a shot at power and dominance. The best way to do this was to rewrite Scripture so that the only things that mattered were prayer in school, abortion, and homosexuality. Loving God and loving people have become side issues. As long as we have someone in our camp who hates who we hate, then we can look past the misogyny, the racism, the sexism, and the fear mongering. All of this has brought us to today, November 9, 2016.

I do not know what the future holds; today I am pretty pessimistic. But maybe it is time to remember that people of faith have always been most effective and prophetic when they find themselves judged, misunderstood and in the minority.

23 years of being pushed, challenged, and prodded

November is an important month for me. It is my New Year. In August of 1994 I joined the ranks of the unemployed. Three months earlier I had submitted a resignation letter to the church where I was working. As I look back on that time it seems clear now I wasn’t being very strategic. My wife was pregnant with our first child, due in September. She was employed, so we would find a way to figure things out. Finances would be tight but we would make it. That plan made sense until September when Rita received notice that she was going to be laid off. By October we were new parents of a baby boy and unemployed. It was a stressful time. On November 1, 1994 the local DOOR board hired me as the new DOOR Denver director. I never imagined staying at DOOR for more than 5-7 years. Here I am 23 years later, still at DOOR. Both our boys have only known me as a dad who works for DOOR.

For me November is a month of reflection and evaluation. When I look back over the two plus decades I have been at DOOR there are a number of reasons why I have stuck around.

I get to work with a group of people who are always challenging me to reexamine my stereotypes and religious prejudices. DOOR’s staff and board leadership come from all kinds of backgrounds. We have the “decent and in order” Presbyterians, the peaceful Mennonites, a Quaker or two, a few Pentecostals, some inspired Lutherans, and more than a few folks just trying to figure out where or if they fit into the denominational landscape. That is only one way to describe DOOR. We are women and men; Americans and immigrants; theologians and artists; gay and straight. We also hold many racial identities- African American, White, Hispanic, Puerto Rican, Chicano, Caribbean, and Asian.

One of the major benefits of working in a diverse environment is the inherent permission to examine, reevaluate, and question my faith perspective. Prior to DOOR, I was a pastor. As a pastor one of the unwritten requirements is to have a solid unshakable faith. While other people could question God, it was my job to be the steady reassuring voice. Over time this began to destroy me. My primary reason for resigning in 1994 was a complete loss of faith in God.

I came to DOOR because I needed a job and the bills needed to be paid. What I have received has been so much more than a source of income for my bills. DOOR became a place where God became real. There is a freedom in pursuing a faith and a God who has no respect for my stereotypes. Working alongside people who do church differently (read: anyone who is not Mennonite) has been enlightening. Praying, laughing, and crying with people of different sexual orientations, cultural backgrounds, and theological perspectives is a contestant reminder that at best I see through a glass dimly.

For too long people of faith have confused “one way” with “everyone better go the same way.” What I have begun to uncover after 23 years is that each of us is a unique individual made in the very image and likeness of God. And God, in God’s grace and mercy, has helped me to walk my path, my one way.

22 years

At the end of this month I will celebrate my 22nd year of leading DOOR. Back in 1994 my plan was to stick around for 4-5 years and then move on. Very quickly this job became more than a stopping point figure things out. Co-workers became friends and neighbors became family. What follows is one of many stories about what keeps me coming into work every day. “I am no longer going to be embarrassed about where I come from and who I am.”

Anna Martinez said this was her biggest take-away from her summer as part of DOOR Denver’s Discern summer staff. Anna and her family have been my family’s neighbors for 20 years. We live in a center city neighborhood which has experienced multiple transitions. Some people think of where we live as the “ghetto.” This had been a cause of great embarrassment for Anna.

Over the summer as she lead groups around the city and her neighborhood, Anna took the time to tell stories about where she lived. Anna was instrumental in educating our DOOR participants about her culture, neighborhood, and family. This work planted a seed of self-esteem. Anna, a young woman of 17, had found a sense of self-worth and pride for her culture, neighborhood, and background.

Discern participants from each DOOR city have similar stories. Over the past decade we have hired and worked with over 400 Discerners like Anna. In 2017 we want to expand our Discern program. Our goal is to double our annual participants and expand our Discern program beyond the summer to a year.

Thanks to you, 2,156 youth and young adults were able to participate in our Discover, Discern, and Dwell programs this year. On behalf of them, thank you for making a DOOR experience possible.

Your partnership in this endeavor is key to any success. Would you be willing to make a special donation of $50, $100, $1,000, or whatever you can afford to help us expand the reach and depth of this program?

We simply can’t do it without you. Your financial support will make a real, lasting impact in the lives of young adults like Anna.

Please, click here to make your donation now.

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A Civil Rights Tour and lesson in Leadership

My job requires me to spend a lot of time thinking about leadership. I oversee a ministry with programs, staff, and board members in five states. Keeping everyone one the same page while providing the space to be unique and creative is a constant challenge. Last week I was afforded an opportunity to join with a group of collogues on a Civil Rights tour through Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. I have spent the better part of the past two decades reading, reflecting on, and educating myself about diversity, race, and civil rights. This was my first time going to the locations where history was made in the 1950’s and 60’s.

We visited Kelly Ingram Park (formerly West Park) the staging ground for many demonstrations and catty corner from 16th Street Baptist Church the site of September 15, 1963 bombing where four young children were murdered. I walked through the Freedom Ride Museum and heard the stories of the riders, who prior to joining the ride, filled out their wills. They were riding for change and knew that the price might be their lives. In Montgomery I heard the story of Rosa Parks, a strong yet humble women whose single act of defiance, refusing to give up her seat to a white man, set in motion a set of events that would change the south (and north) forever.

In Selma we visited Brown Chapel and walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Later we heard firsthand accounts of the Bloody Sunday, the turnaround Tuesday, and the Selma to Montgomery marches.

In Mississippi Roscoe Jones sat with us and shared his story. In 1964 he was friends with James Chaney, one of three civil rights leaders who were murdered. Their story was retold in the movie Mississippi Burning. Roscoe was supposed to be the fourth person in the car. Events conspired in such a way that he was unable to join them. As a result Roscoe lived and his friends were brutally murdered by the KKK.

This tour shook my soul at many levels. Two things continue to stand out for me. The first was the age of the leaders and many of the protestors. They were young. Somewhere along my journey I began to assume that mature, wise, and prophetic leadership was something that only came with time. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, Rosa Parks, and a host of other peers (foot-soldiers) were all in their 20’s and 30’s. They stepped up and led. They were not limited by their youth.

Second, these leaders were not part of the legitimized and elected power structures of the day. They had no access to these structures. Their legitimacy came from the grassroots. They prophetically spoke truth to power and in the end the official powers of the day began to make space for these young, brave, grassroots empowered leaders.

The work and mission of the Civil Rights leaders is far from over. This “ism’s” of prejudice and judgment are still alive and well.

There are lesson that need to be remembered. First, it is the youth who will lead the way. Those of us who are older need to find the humility to make way for leaders who are young and reckless. Second, change, real change, will always emerge from the bottom. Those of us who are in legitimized leadership positions would do well to remember this.

Assumptions and Book Titles

“It is nice to find someone who agrees with me.” This was the second comment my seat-mate made within a minute of sitting next to me on the plane. Her first comment was a question, “What are you reading?” Without verbally responding I held up the spline of my book, it read “White Rage.” In general I avoid airplane conversations. I was hoping she would take a quick glance and focus on her iPad. Instead she reached across the aisle, tapped her husband’s arm, and said, “Look at what he is reading.” For a second time I raised my book spine. This is when the second comment came. At this point I was starting to get confused. The full title of the book is The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide – White Rage. Carol Anderson, the author, carefully and thoroughly revisits the history of the United States, particularly as it relates to race. She makes a convincing argument that every racial advancement from Reconstruction to the present is met with an equally powerful white rage designed to circumvent and keep people of color in “their place.”

It was interesting to find myself in a conversation with this couple that assumed I was another white man fed up with all the whining by people of color and Black Lives Matter. It slowly downed on me that the spine of my book could be understood in multiple ways! I had a moment of wanting to correct their assumption about my choice of reading material. In the end I chose to just let the conversation play out.

It was fascinating to listen in on an unedited conversation about how people of color just need to get with the program. After a short time I was saved by the safety announcement. This allowed me to put my headphones on and focus on reading for the rest of the flight.

I have continued to reflect on this encounter. Why does there seem to be such a lack of empathy or understanding by white folks for anyone who is different or who challenges our assumptions? The daily protests around our country advocating for Black Lives Matter or by our First Nation brothers and sisters in Standing Rock, ND against the building of a pipeline through sacred lands should be a cause for pause and reflection.

We need to find ways to move beyond the assumptions and values of the white privileged class. Reading the Bible only through the lens of northern European white theologians has done the church great harm. It has colored, more often than not negatively, our understanding of Jesus, the Church, and our role in society.

Five years ago I made a commitment to read three theologian authors of color for every white theologian. This has proven to be a valuable decision. It has helped me to gain a wider understanding of who Jesus is and our role as believers in the world.

When words aren’t enough

Last week I found myself standing at the front of a church, officiating at a double funeral for a mother of two and a 14 year old boy. I struggled to find words of comfort. As an intern during seminary I remember officiating at my first funeral. I met with the family of the deceased. Their first words to me went something like, “I’m glad she’s gone. She was a grumpy and mean woman.” It was my job to share a mediation and eulogize this wife and mother. Somehow I found the words to say.

Last week was different.

The mother died due to medical complications. The boy ended his own life. These children of God were connected to each other in deep and mysterious ways. The woman was there at the birth of the boy. Her family and the boy’s family played, worshiped, and shared family meals together. They were proof that family is more than blood.

So I found myself standing in front of the church, searching for words. There is a temptation that preachers face at moments like this. We want to say, “They are in a better place” or “All things work together for good.” But even preachers know that these words are hollow. A 14 year old boy should be at home with his parents. A mother of two children needs to be with her family.

There were no neatly packed sermons with three simple points. As much as this theology nerd hates to admit it, there are some questions that will not be answered. Like Job of long ago, our whys are met with a deafening silence. When words fail or have the potential to ring hollow the only option is to make space. Make space for tears. Make space for anger. Make space for frustration. And make space for silence.

The Road Trip Diaries – Farmer’s Sausage

There are certain smells that I love. Fresh baked cookies, a spring rain, and green chile season in Denver. I have come to love the smell of roasting green chile peppers. 20 years ago I didn’t get this obsession with roasted peppers; today the smell reminds me that my meals will be just a little spicier for the next year. On August 21 I was reminded of another smell, one that had begun to fade just a bit. We had been invited over to Rita’s aunt and uncle’s home in Surrey, BC. It was Sunday mid-morning and we were about to be treated to brunch. I was especially excited for Miguel because he had never experienced a Canadian Mennonite brunch. I was expecting some Low German waffles, white sauce, and bacon. As we sat down a faintly familiar smell filled the room. A plate of famer’s sausage. Over the years Rita and I have looked for an American version of this delicacy, but is doesn’t exist in the USA. Farmer’s sausage is as unique to Canadian Mennonites as roasted green chile peppers are to people from the Southwest.

On that day as I enjoyed more farmer’s sausage than is appropriate, I was transported back to my youth. A few days later as Rita and I began the drive back to Denver I began to reflect on how my life had changed since moving to the USA in 1988. Neither of us expected to stay on this side of the border more than the three years it took to complete seminary. Now both of us have spent more time in the USA than in Canada. We have raised our boys and made friends. We have found a community and neighborhood to call home. This is where my wife is winning her battle with cancer. Down the street from our house is the church where I was ordained. None of this would have happened if we weren’t open to new possibilities.

Denver was never in my plans. Today I cannot imagine my life without Denver, DOOR, His Love Fellowship, or our neighbors. I still love and appreciate where I came from – those smells are important. I am glad that I have had the opportunity to experience new smells and come to appreciate them as my own.

This personal journey has also informed my faith journey. I am grateful for everything in my past that has informed my understanding of faith and life. I am equally grateful that I have come to enjoy other expressions of the Christian faith. It is only when we are open to a God who wants to do new things in our lives that we can begin to value the vastness and diversity of the Christian community.

The Road Trip Diaries – Welcome Home

August 19th was a big day. Quinten, our youngest, was going to cross over into Canada and begin studying at Columbia Bible College. I had spent most of the previous month reminding Q that he needed to get his paperwork in order. After all he was a US citizen about to study in another country. The most important item he needed to have, after his passport, was proof of payment. Immigration Canada wanted to know that he had enough money to cover all his schooling and living related expenses. Everything was in order. Ten miles before we crossed I had Rita, Kyle, and Miguel all ride in one car and Q and I rode in his car. As we approached the border Rita was in the lead car. After a few minutes they let Rita go and we proceeded forward to be processed. We handed the immigration official our passports. He looked at my Canadian passport, then looked at Q’s American passport. After a few minutes he asked if my wife was driving the car that just passed through. I said yes. The he asked what to me seemed like a rhetorical question, “your wife is a Canadian as well?” I nodded. He went on, “your son is planning on attending college in Canada?” We both said, “Yes.” Our passports were handed back and we were directed to the immigration office for further processing. I asked if there was a problem. His response was an unexpected. He said, “Well your paperwork isn’t correct.” I started panicking. Before I could get into a full-blown panic he said, “We cannot give your son a US student visa, because he’s a Canadian!”

We proceeded to the immigration office and it was reaffirmed that because Rita and I are Canadians, our children are also considered Canadian, regardless of where they were born.

I have often wondered how the thief on the cross felt when Jesus declared, “Today you shall see me in paradise.”

Unexpected citizenship.

Unexpected welcome.

An unexpected welcome home.

There is a world of difference between hanging on the cross facing death and crossing into Canada. But the feeling of unexpected welcome is universal.

For those of us who are enduring the 2016 political season here in the USA, it does not feel like a time of welcome or unexpected citizenship. I worry what happens to us as individuals, community members, and residents when our world view starts to be shaped by fear and distrust of the other.

Almost a decade ago our family stated attending a new church. On that first Sunday we didn’t know what to expect. We were coming out of a difficult transition. This church was different; most significantly it wasn’t Mennonite. It was a Denver Westside Hispanic congregation. We were one of a handful of Anglos in church. Despite all these differences we were welcomed, adopted, and given “citizenship.”

This is what it means to be Christian. Welcoming people in and seeing strangers as family.

The Road Trip Diaries – Alone

My next few blogs grow out of a 3,670 mile road trip August 18 to 26. The purpose of the trip was simple. Quinten, our youngest, was going to college in Abbotsford, BC. Why not turn this into a family vacation? Kyle, our eldest, and Miguel, our neighbor who is like a son, also agreed to join us. On the morning of August 18th we headed west – 2 cars, 5 drivers, and the wide open road. I am not sure what I was expecting, but this trip stirred up a whole lot of memories, emotions, and reflections. For those of you who have not had to opportunity of driving through states like Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Wyoming, it is hard to describe how vast the wide open spaces are. We had lots of time to talk, sit in quiet reflection, and wonder about the future.

I will start with the last day of this epic journey. Rita and I pulled into the Flying-J in Cheyenne WY, the final stop before arriving back at home in Denver. It just so happened that this was also our first stop on the way to Abbotsford 8 days earlier. On this last day there was 1 car and 2 people, just Rita and me. Quinten was in school. A few days earlier I had dropped Kyle and Miguel off at SeaTac airport in Seattle. Kyle flew to Stoney Point NY for a week of orientation after which he would be going to Chicago. Miguel flew back to Denver for work.

As we pulled into the Flying-J, all kinds of emotions started welling up. Last year Rita and I experienced a type of empty nest. Both our boys left for a year of service but in my mind they were going to be moving home at the end of their year. As I drove up to the fuel pump it hit me. My boys are growing up, they are going their own way, and they are becoming the adults we always hoped they would become.

So I was happy and I was sad. On the trip from Cheyenne to Denver I found myself driving a bit slower. I wasn’t ready for the empty house we were about to encounter. Last year was a year of preparation, so there is sense in which Rita and I have some experience with an empty house and a quieter life. However, this time it feels permanent. I am confident we will adjust to this new reality. For now I am going to be sad and grateful. Sad because I miss my boys. Grateful because I am happy with how they have turned out.

Making a difference

This summer was my 22nd working for DOOR. I have had the opportunity to witness many amazing things. DOOR has grown from a Denver-only program to a national network. Over the years we have hosted more than 41,000 participants, representing most states and many Canadian provinces. I remember when purchasing a pager so that people could get ahold of me quickly was the height of technology. I felt so important with a pager hanging from my belt! Today the cell phones our staff have can do almost everything and connect to people in so many different ways, from a traditional phone call to Snap Chatting.

Through all of these years, one thing has remained the same. People come to DOOR to serve because they want to make a difference. This is one of the primary reasons why I have stuck around for over two decades; I want to make a difference.

In recent years a fundamental shift in my perspective has caused me to ask a new set of questions. For decades, and probably longer, a common assumption about mission and service was that communities need people to come to serve and do mission. Without their service, needs would go unmet.

Groups come to DOOR’s cities to make a difference. They serve at soup counters, help with summer day camps, sort food for distribution, and fix-up the homes of the needy. This is all important work. It isn’t unusual to have group leaders want their groups to do more or work harder. In their minds doing more and working harder is what makes a difference.

What I have begun to observe, I am sure this was true 22 years ago, is that people want to serve food to the hungry, but they don’t really want to know why people are food insecure in the first place. When the question does get raised, it is raised in a strangely rhetorical way that says I know the answer. The answer is quite often tied to popular stereotypes. The poor are poor because really they are lazy.

When our city directors suggest that soup counters, poor quality housing, and the need for tutoring programs have their roots in systems and structures designed to keep the poor needy, the responses are interesting.

Talking about why seems too political. People want to come and serve, but they don’t want to confront all the ways they may be participating in a system that keeps the privileged in their position of power and ensures a permanent underclass. Folks choose to serve in programs like DOOR because they want to do some good in the world. They don’t come to find out they may be the problem.

The hard work of making difference isn’t taking a week off and going somewhere to serve. The real work is looking in the mirror, owning how we participate in a system that ensures and reinforces poverty, racism, classism, and sexism and then choosing to work for change so that all people are treated as if they are made in the image and likeness of God.

Service or Social Justice?

There is nothing quite as inspiring as morning coffee, toast with honey and peanut butter, and conversation with a good friend. This past week, all of this fell into place during a trip to Chicago. The conversation started innocently enough. I asked about a conference my friend had attended. It was clear that he was not impressed. According to him the theme was justice but all they could focus on was service. I must admit that initially I did not understand his point. In my mind service and justice might not be exactly the same thing, but they are closely related. To put it mildly, I got schooled.

For him service, although important and needed, is only a Band-Aid. For example we need people to help out and serve at after school programs, foodbanks, drug rehabilitation programs, day cares, drop-in centers, and homeless shelters. This list is only a start. It is the opportunity to serve at various helping agencies and social service programs that has been at the heart and soul of what DOOR programing offers.

In my mind service was a pretty important priority for Jesus as well. So I wasn’t understanding the frustration.

Then he made the transition. Service is what we do to help folks who have been left behind by a system that doesn’t care. There is a sense in which service makes me, the service provider, feel better about myself, my life, and my privilege. And it provides some temporary relief for those who have been abused and treated unfairly by the system.

The work of justice asks us to challenge, change, deconstruct, and rebuild the system. Justice work asks questions about fair wages, access to health care, and housing costs. It is concerned about affordable childcare and quality education for all. It examines how people in power wield their power and demands that no one be judged or treated differently because of where they live, the color of their skin, or their religion or orientation. Working towards justice requires that we embrace the complexity of the world we live in.

There is a tendency among people of faith to keep things simple. It is relatively easy to feed people or offer after school tutoring. It is quite another thing to make changes to assure quality education for all children.

This summer our Denver program eliminated one of its service days and replaced it with a gentrification tour. During this tour our groups are exposed to the realities of gentrification on the Westside of Denver. Many of our participants appreciate being asked to think about the injustices that come with gentrification. There is also a growing segment of folks who are horrified that we would expose good people who came to do service to issues of justice.

I am grateful for a breakfast and conversation that satisfied my stomach and challenged my soul. Could it be possible that service without justice is just self-serving?

Empathy

In a normal year I like to watch the news and I especially like the political round tables. Lately I have found myself switching channels. Debates seem to be less about ideas and more about bullying. A few weeks ago I watched a debate between some Republican and Democratic pundits. I was intrigued by the Republican who attended a United Church of Christ congregation known for being very progressive. Before long I was both disappointed and sucked in. This man was railing against his church. The Sunday before his pastor had said something about white people being racist, simply because they are white. This is not an unusual claim and from my perspective is also correct. Whenever I am in conversations where this is brought up the room either gets deftly silent or a slow defensive anger begins to grow. Either way the white men and women in the room do not react well to be called “racist.” Their responses to this take a number of approaches. There is the, “I judge people by how they treat me, not their skin color.” Or the, “I have never said a racist thing in my life.” There is also the friend approach, “I have friends of color, they have never called be racist.” My personal favorite, “I voted for Obama.” If you have been in one of these discussions chances are you could add many more responses. The point to all these responses has something to do with never having joined a hate group or used racist language. From a certain perspective they have move to a place beyond racism.

As I have thought about that pundit and reflected about conversations I have been part of, I wonder if what many white people are lacking is empathy. According to Google, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  More often than not privilege and power becomes a barrier to empathy.

White privilege affords me the freedom to only understand my world, my context, my feelings, my Christian values, and my responses. And all of these “my’s” get to be considered the standard of how everyone else should respond.

So when a person, particularly a person in power, says “I don’t judge people until I know their character,” that says something about privilege. It assumes that the other person will treat me with enough respect so that I don’t have to run in fear. My brothers and sisters of color do not have this privilege. All too often they are judged simply because of the color of their skin.

As a white person I get all the privileges of being white. My world view is the standard. My Christian faith is correct. My freedoms are the first to be preserved. Living in this world means that I benefit from structures designed to make my life better at the cost of making things more difficult for people of color. This is racist.

Changing this system, working towards a world where people are judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin will take a whole lot of work. A good first step is recognizing that “Black Lives Matter.”

Where will I stand?

It seems to me that a new line was crossed last week. First, two public encounters with police were caught on video resulting in two dead African American men. Then in Dallas, five police officers were gunned down. If your social media feed is anything like mine, it blew up. Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter. For each hashtag there are leaders of faith who claim their perspective is the right perspective, the Christian perspective.

As a person of faith myself, I want to know where we go from here. Standing on the sidelines and just hoping this will blow over does not seem live a viable or moral option. People are dying, and this needs to stop.

I wanted to write something last week. All I could do was stare at a blank screen.

When I read John 3:16, I discover a God who cares about all people. Jesus was sent for the world. In Philippians 2 there is a song about Jesus emptying himself of all his divinity, taking on the very nature of a servant, and dying on the cross. When asked to describe pure religion, James said it had something to do with how we care for the powerless. When Jesus was spoke to his followers about violence he talked about turning the other cheek as a creative non-violent way of resisting the power structures. This was a cornerstone strategy of the civil rights movement as led by Martin Luther King, Jr. When Jesus stood before Pilate and the religious leaders facing and receiving violence, he never lost his cool, never returned violence for violence. On the cross Jesus offered forgiveness to his executioners and an invitation to a fellow cross-mate.

I look at Jesus and try to imagine how he would respond. I see a person who loved without exception. This same Jesus knew that the only way to measure our commitment to all lives had something to do with how we treated the powerless and disenfranchised among us. Quite simply this is the heart’s cry of Black Lives Matter and all the movements that proceeded it.

This I why I choose, as I believe all people of faith and good conscious should, to stand with Black Lives Matter. It not about valuing one person over the other. Rather standing with Black Lives Matter is the most radical and Christ-like way we can demonstrate a commitment to the intrinsic value of all lives.

Safety – 2016

If you are a regular follower of my blog, you already know that one of our Discern staff was involved in a shooting last week. One of my first responses was to send out a prayer request and write a blog to tell the story and update everyone. None of this is unusual in the life of DOOR. When we need prayer, we ask. The support has been incredible. There is nothing like knowing people from around North America are praying. There is another side to being so public about dramatic events in the life of DOOR. People who are getting ready to participate in our Chicago program are also reading these updates. This results in phone calls. Although the question comes in different forms, they all boil down to this – is your program safe for our youth?

I spent 15 years as a youth worker. So I am familiar with the questions parents and concerned leaders ask. My regular response is, “DOOR has been around for 30 years and we have yet to send someone to the hospital because of an interaction with the local community.” It is not uncommon for participants to visit the hospital because of altitude sickness (a Denver issue) or because someone slipped and fell. At DOOR we take the safety of our participants very seriously and do everything in our power to avoid a crisis.

The more theological side of me always wonders about the safety questions. I am not sure that Jesus ever said that Christianity offered a life of safety. Jesus did, however, talk about cross bearing.

This time the safety question has taken on a new emotion. You see, my oldest son, Kyle, is serving as a Dweller in Chicago. So when I was asked about safety it wasn’t a theoretical question. My wife and I literally have our flesh and blood on the ground and in the middle of the question. So, is it safe? I can say without hesitation that I unequivocally trust our staff with the well-being of my children (the other son is serving in Miami) and all the DOOR participants across all of our programing.

At its best a DOOR experience will change your life. Mikey and the rest of our Discerners are real people who are faced with challenges from racism to violence at a much higher rate than most of us. Participating in DOOR provides a space to give witness to these realities and then a challenge to go home and work for real change.

An update on Mikey: Anthony is healing and possibly going home this week. Mikey and the rest of the Discerners are doing well but it was evident from some art therapy that they are feeling heavy around this issue of gun violence and how it impacts them every day. One of DOOR’s unplanned costs is in the area of mental health. We would like to provide Discerners like Mikey with the opportunity to see a therapist. As we all know mental and emotional healing is part of the journey towards wholeness. If you would like to contribute and support the mental health needs of our staff would have faced violence please donate:

Make checks payable to DOOR and write “Health and Healing Fund” in the memo line. Mail to 430 W 9th Ave, Denver CO 80204.

Donate online at www.doornetwork.org/donate. Indicate the donation is for the “Health and Healing Fund” in the donation designation field.