Jesus Wept- In Defense of DACA

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me” Matthew 25:35(b)

It is the easiest parts of the Bible to understand that are the hardest ones to live out. As the Trump administration prepares to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) I have a hard time seeing how Christians would support this action. If anything, people who seek to follow the ways of Jesus should be on the forefront of advocating for rights for Dreamers.

DACA

Immigration is tricky in the United States. In a nation where everyone is from somewhere else, we struggle with what to do about those who desire to do the same as our ancestors.  I’ve spent time building homes in Tijuana and Tecate, along US and Mexican border. I’ve had interaction and spent time with people who live in these communities. The welcome and hospitality is consistently excellent (and biblical). This past Spring, our group meet Eddie. Eddie lived across the street from where we were building. He made it a point to open his home to us each day for bathroom facilities and for rest from the sun. He played music for us while we built. He cut up enough fresh mangoes for twenty-five people each day. I don’t know if Eddie was familiar with Matthew 25, but he sure did know how to live it out. He spoke of the family who had moved to the United States for better opportunities. I remember thinking how I hoped they had been treated equally as well in the states as we had been treated in Mexico.

There are currently 800,000 Dreamers here in the United States. Chances are you know at least one, two, or twenty in some form or fashion. They are neighbors, friends, and colleagues. I suspect that if you took a snapshot of any group of 800,000 people here, you would find that the Dreamers compare very well using the traditional metrics of success. For example, ninety-five percent are either working or in school. In the the wider church I serve, Dreamers offering some of the best ministry the church knows today. Our church will be less whole if DACA is ended. Our nation will be less whole if DACA is ended. Dreamers illustrate the best of what the United States offers not a problem that needs to be solved.

Later in Matthew 25, Jesus points out the consequences for not welcoming the stranger are steep. Rejecting the stranger amounts to rejecting him. While I do think that the ending of DACA by this administration is cruel and has much to do with racial resentment and prejudice, it is not my politics that informs my thoughts. It is my faith. It is my understanding of how Jesus calls us to live that urges me to speak out. A world in which Dreamers are deported is a world that is taking a step away from God’s dream for us. The deportation of Dreamers brings another scripture to mind- “Jesus wept.”

My Top 5 List(s) for 2016

It’s been a difficult year for many with such a divisive election, a spirit of fear hanging in top-5the air, and the loss of so many cherished people that made a mark on culture and society. Perhaps the end of year lists that get published this time of year will bring us some collective joy. Here are a few of my top 5s. For something to be considered I had to read it, hear it, watch it, or see it myself. I’ve got two kids under the age of eight, so that limits some things (you’ll notice that when we get to the movies.) Each list is in no particular order, just Top 5. Here we go

Top 5 Television Shows I Watched

This is Us- the power of hope amidst the complexity of our relationships. I’m not afraid to admit I’ve shed a tear at almost every episode

Stranger Things-What’s not to love? 80s nostalgia, Winnona Ryder, and a mystery that keeps you on the edge of your seat

Blindspot- This replaced The Blacklist as our guilty pleasure weekly thriller show

Gilmore Girls Revival- It was great to be transported back to Stars Hollow once again. I only wish that I could have banter as witty as Lorelai and Rory

Black-ish- Continues to feature some of the best social commentary that makes you think and laugh at the same time. Props to Anthony Anderson, who has come a long way from his days on Hang Time

 

Top 5 Albums I Heard

Chris Stapleton, Traveller– The man who made us remember what actual country music sounds like

Margo Price, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter- See above, except exchange man for woman

Drive By Truckers, American Band- Not afraid to take on the tough social issues of the day against a backdrop of powerful southern rock. Somehow made their best album minus Jason Isbell

Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to the Earth- The awe and wonder of someone witnessing their first child’s birth is captured perfectly in this record. Don’t miss his version of Nirvana’ In Bloom

Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book- A record built around the artist’s faith, gospel harmonies mixed with powerful instrumentation

 

Top 5 Movies I Watched (realizing I need to see more movies)

Hell or High Water- I’m not a big fan of Westerns, but this was one solid film. The story of two brothers who will do whatever it takes to save the family farm

The Man Who Knew Infinity– A movie about math, that’s really about more than math. Our friend Ken Ono worked on this fantastic story about the power of possibility. Jeremy Irons gives a performance that is pretty close to perfect.

Zootopia- Remember that I have an 8 year old and a 5 year old. This animated feature is for all ages, teaching us that we are not divided into predator and prey, but we are one.

Spotlight- Yes, I realize it came out last year, but I just saw it a few weeks ago. Wow, a sobering, powerful film.

Captain America: Civil War- Everyone loves a good superhero movie and to me, this was one of the best

 

Top 5 Books I Read

The Great Spiritual Migration, Brian McLaren If you want to know how Christianity will be practiced (and in many ways is now), this is an excellent and challenging read.

Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson- A look at our justice system and how unjust it is towards many. A clear call to fix our broken (in many ways) justice system

The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni- I will utilize the learnings from this book for many years. Why do some organizations succeed while others fail? The key is culture and organizational health.

The Road to Character, David Brooks- There are deeper values that shape all of our lives. This books challenges us to rebalance the scales between our “resume virtues” and our “eulogy virtues”, using the stories of well-known and not so well known people.

Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance- A look at the lives of those who come from rural Appalachia, the challenges they face, and the perspective they have.

I’d love to know what you think of my list of hear what you would put on your Top 5.

All the best to you and yours in 2017

The Work of Christmas

This appeared today as the Christmas Day devotion for my congregation. Sandy Springs Christian Church.

 The child is here, and through him the whole world rejoices. I think we love Christmas Day so much because the world stops. We have some time to simply be. What a wonderful gift! Tomorrow, life will begin again, in more than one way. For you, what will be different now that the messiah is here? Will we rejoice at the new possibilities that are born through this child? Will we celebrate the new life offered through the messiah? The angels sing, the thrill of hope is real, a weary world rejoices– now what are we going to do?

The gift of Christmas calls us to be different. All of our expectation and preparation will be nullified if nothing in our lives and the world changes. Our reality is not unchangeable and the birth of a messiah is all the proof that we need.

Something I read every Christmas Day is Howard Thurman’s poem The Work of Christmas Begins. I share it with you now as it perfectly lays out our work following the gift of a messiah:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

Merry Christmas!

Membership Has No Privilege

Am Ex

Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me. 24  All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will save them.  Luke 9:23-24

I read church signs. I think its a professional hazard or something. Some signs are great, some are informative, some are so ridiclous that they are funny (and I assume most find them that way as well. One small church near us had “Stop, Drop, and Roll Won’t Work in Hell on their sign one day. I am hoping that didn’t attract a lot of visitors.”)

Today, I saw a sign that literally stopped my in my tracks. I quickly pulled into this church’s parking lot to make sure I read the sign right. Unfortunately I did. “Membership Has Its Privileges.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why people don’t go to church and what our congregation can do to change people’s minds and hearts about church. We are beginning a new Sunday evening service at the end of February called The Table. We are committed to the truth that there is a place for everyone at the Table.

Perhaps the Church (the big “C” church) is our own worst enemy. That sign reminded me of many people’s perception and even their reality about the church. Church is an exclusive club where the select few receive special privileges. Take it even further. The Christian faith is an exclusive club where those who believe the right way receive special privileges. Privilege is defined as” a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.”  Privileges elevate one over another or over many. If I join Costco and you don’t, I have the privilege of buying three gallons of ketchup and you don’t.

If you read the Gospels looking for some privilege of following Jesus, you might be disappointed. On several occasions, he mentions taking up your own cross and following him. He mentions losing one’s life (at least losing one’s so called life.) More often than not, he goes out of his way to go places no one else would dare go. “He had to go to Samaria.” No one has to go to Samaria. But Jesus does. Would you? Would I? No privilege to be found in Samaria. However, there is life to be found.

The church can offer the gift of being a part of an inclusive movement for wholeness.

The church can offer the gift of being able to find our true self and God’s true calling upon our life.

The church can offer the gift of being unconditionally loved as well as teaching us how to love unconditionally.

The church can offer the gift of grace and radical welcome

The church can offer the gift of a real and meaningful life.

If you want privilege, get an American Express card. If you want to lose your life so that you may find your true life, well Jesus has some ideas about how to find that.

3 Resolutions for the Church

The following are three resolutions for 2016 that I offer for the Church universal. While this is no means an exhaustive list, it’s hard to work on more than three items of transformation at once. I also believe if we get these right, we will get a lot of other things right as well.

 

Be Civil, Nice, and Respectful of One Another

2016 is an election year. The former political junkie side of me still gets excited. The current clergy side of me is fearful. I’m fearful that the way we talk to one another about political matters will continue to encroach on how we talk to one another in general. Most clergy also hear the following comments in most presidential election years-“you are being too political” or “you are not being political enough.” I believe people are curious as to  what Jesus would have to say to our land today. I suspect most of us wouldn’t like it as much as we think. While we can argue about whether Jesus was political or not, one thing is certain- Jesus was contextual, and I am sure the election will be at the center of many a conversation. I pray that our candidates are civil and respectful of one another. I pray that our conversations are civil and respectful. Let’s remember that we when talk about candidates and their supporters, we are talking about real people. Let’s remember that when our government makes decisions, real people are affected.  We are all first and foremost not Republicans, Democrats or other- we are beloved children of God. That’s the glue that holds us all together. The church can be a model for how people of different opinions talk to each other.

Draw our Circles Bigger, Not Smaller

Our land is growing more diverse and one of the benchmarks for healthy churches is a commitment towards diversity in all forms- gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious background etc. For some, the reaction has been to close ranks and to attempt to draw lines of who is in and who is out. I am reminded that no matter how big we draw our circle, the circle drawn by God is always bigger. When it comes to welcoming all, we are never ahead of God. God’s mission for the church includes everyone’s gifts and graces. When we are busy judging, we are wasting precious time that we could use loving others. Let’s recognize that everyone is just as important as we believe ourselves to be in the eyes of God.

Leave Fear Behind

We live in a world where the threat of terror is real, fueled by extreme ideology. We cannot allow this fear to fuel how the church lives and loves in the world. We cannot allow fear to cloud how we respond to basic human suffering, as it has with the refugee crisis. Do we want the Church’s witness to be that fear is more powerful than love? At the very least, can we engage in meaningful interfaith conversation, seeking to understand, rather than jumping to blanket conclusions? One of, if not the most, faithful things the church can do, is bear witness to the truth that love is more powerful than fear. We can never be the people God creates us to be coming from a place of fear.

The First Birth Annoucement

Advent 2015We love to get birth announcements in the mail. The announcement usually arrives with a picture of the baby, the proud parents and sister and brothers’ names and their weight and height. For a baseball card comparison, it’s life’s rookie card. Jesus’ parents didn’t have to send out a birth announcement because of an angel of the Lord did so for them. I am bringing you good news of great joy.

Do you know the rest of the announcement? It’s important stuff. “Do not be afraid, for I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.” Eugene Peterson calls the birth of Jesus “an event for everyone.” We focus on the good news for us and our lives, but what about for everyone else. Not to mention that the very first words after the birth of Jesus are “do not be afraid.”

As we open gifts on Christmas morning, are we also willing to open our hearts and spirits? Are we willing to embrace that the birth of Jesus is good news for all the earth? Are we willing to quit letting fear rule our thoughts and actions?

Our land today is ripe with fear and misunderstanding and all of the bad fruit that fear and misunderstanding produces. Perhaps I am a bit naive but I still believe that we are stronger together than we are apart. I believe there is no “us” and “them” but only “we.” As a follower of Jesus, I am concerned that if we will not work for and stand up for peace, then who will.

Very soon, a word of hope will be spoken into our anxiety and fear. Are you prepared to receive and believe this word? It was the first birth announcement.

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all people.”

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

I get it. I really do. The recent terror attacks abroad and the Syrian refugee crisis is a tough issue. Our elected leaders have a really difficult task, in terms of deciding how to balance welcoming people into our country while maintaining a level of security that protects our nation. I get it. The terror needs to stop and the people committing it need to be brought to justice. The world needs peace and security. Continue reading “Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room”