Great Again

I am writing this on an airplane bound for Washington DC.  It’s hard not to think about elections and the future.  In politics, finding good tag lines is important. Regardless of where you stand politically there is no denying the power of “Make America Great Again.” As I travel the country I have seen signs, shirts, and red hats promoting this message. Like many I have also begun to wonder about the word “again.” When exactly was America great? Spending too much time reflecting on this question can be somewhat depressing. There are certainly great moments: the moon landing, the 1980 miracle on ice, and King’s march on Washington with his “I Have a Dream” speech. I suspect that each person reading this can come up with many moments of their own.

I am also someone who has worked with youth and young adults for the past two decades. I worry that all this emphasis on “again” is interpreted as a critique of emerging young leaders. Making America great again says something about going backwards and reclaiming a mythical past glory.

Is it possible that greatness is already present among us? When we talk about “again” what we are really doing is discounting and disempowering what makes this country great.

If you want to see the possibility of greatness, find out what our young adults are doing, particularly young adults of faith. In my work I have the privilege of a front row seat, watching greatness happen every day.

There young adults working for change at all kinds of levels. They seem to instinctively know that the past cannot repeat itself. There is a sense in which the world is both bigger and smaller. Isolating ourselves from one another is not going to work. Our common humanity will have to outmaneuver our political differences. Shared resources mean life and the pursuit of happiness for all. Advantages for the few are destructive and just plain selfish. Our young people know that intolerance, whether for religious or political reasons, only leads to hate, mistrust, and violence. If we want safety and security we are going to have to do the hard work of loving and forgiving each other.

I agree that I have the privilege of living in a great country. If we really want to move from greatness to awesomeness then let’s find a way to follow the leadership and vision of our young people first.

Quinten, in his own words

This year both of my boys will be spending the next 12 months in another city with DOOR’s Dwell program.  Kyle, my eldest, will be in Chicago and Quinten, the youngest, will be in Miami.  This also means my wife and I became empty nesters this week.2013-12-27 13.01.42 My wife and I have been asking ourselves lots of questions lately.  Did we do a good job?  Did we make the right decision to raise our children where we did?  I suspect that the answers are still a few years away.  Yesterday Quinten wrote his first blog. I read it on the airplane and cried.  You can read more about his year by clicking on this link. In the meantime here is Quinten, in his own words:

How to start? I find myself sitting in the most iconic American town I’ve ever been in, surrounded by people the look exactly like me. It may seem weird, but white people cause me to feel uncomfortable. I grew up in a neighborhood in Denver where I was one of the only white persons, and where I was immersed in minority culture ever since I could remember.

My parents intentionally moved into this community to, I believe, give my brother and me a different perspective on social understanding of the world. We weren’t just observers of the social injustices, we lived it, experienced it, and felt many of the feelings that are associated with those issues. As a result my comfort and interaction with white people reflects that of the community I grew up in.

Now why am I in this town with these people? Why did I choose to do service with people who don’t have a strong connection to the people that were going into serve? And through this week I’ve had to question whether my own experiences are authentic or not. I find myself stuck on a sort of cultural border with part of me trying so desperately to embrace one culture and identify with that, and bound to another based on reasons that I’ve never been able to control and a mentality of disconnection to the people I was around. How do I navigate through my confusion, and how do I identify myself?

I think I may never find the answers to those questions. But what I can do is open myself up to more cultures and experiences; open my perspective to a wider view of the world, and just maybe cultural boundaries can be lowered enough that I can see all around me.

My next year will be spent living with people from the very culture that causes unrest in me. I am going to break the barriers of my own fear through intentional community.

The DOOR-Cloud

Apple has the I-Cloud, but my place of employment has an even more impressive cloud! This past week the DOOR summer kicked off.  The 10-12 weeks following the Memorial Day holiday, DOOR hosts approximately 2,500 Discover participants in 6 cities.

After almost 18 years it is tempting to fall into a “look what I have accomplished” mentality.  More than 30,000 people have participated; many have made significant faith commitments as a result of a week with us; leaders have been empowered.   Claiming all of this as my own not only leads to arrogance, but is dangerously wrong.

Hebrews 12 talks about a cloud of witnesses.   These are people who have gone before us and walk with us, offering wisdom, correction and encouragement.  Without this cloud of witnesses effective authentic ministry is not possible.  If I am going to brag about anything, it is the “DOOR-Cloud.”  This cloud includes the visionaries who first began thinking about structured service trips in 1985, years before youth mission trips were on anyone’s radar screens.  Then there are the gatherings of 2005 and 2006 when we brought together all our local board members of color and asked them to help DOOR be less racist.  These were not easy meetings.  It is never fun to confront individual and institutional racism, but the courageous work of these men and women helped us to better understand the radical inclusiveness of the gospel.

This cloud also includes former and current staff.  There are the women of DOOR who have fearlessly and compassionately lead even when men have questioned the legitimacy of their call.  We have immigrants who have endured insults and unwelcoming attitudes, yet they have loved and cared for participants in ways that mirror Jesus’ love for us.  We have gay staff members that have been told that they are somehow outside the reach of God’s grace yet in spite of this they have loved and cared for the very people who are condemning them.  We have staff of color who have endured both subtle and blatant racism and still they have not let this ignorance and mean-spiritedness stop them from reaching across racial barriers and seeking places of understanding and friendship.

For 18 years I have been surrounded by the DOOR-Cloud.  If you count yourself as part of this group, thank you!