Friday, August 22, 2014

Lamenting in Luxury and Laughing at God's Promise

I was in a folding chair sunken into tho the sandy beach of Ocean City when I first read about the murder of a black youth named Mike Brown by a white cop in Ferguson, Missouri.

The beach.

In the comfort and security of family and friends, with our only disturbance being over-zealous young lifeguards and their whistles, I remembered racism is far from dead and the Civil Rights Movement far from over.

I was drinking my coffee on the front porch as I perused articles on my iPhone about increasing persecution and genocide of Christians and other adherents to minority religions in the Middle East, most notably in the mountains of Iraq. I wondered what the earliest Christians would say to them- and us- in the horrific wakes of modern martyrdom?

My porch.

I was at the dining room table and eating dinner with my family as we live-chatted a friend of ours via Facebook messenger. She is a young Orthodox-Jewish woman with two kids and a husband who works in pediatrics outside Gaza, caring for both Palestinian and Israeli war victims. They live nearby Tel Aviv. Our courageous friend shared with us how she lives in daily fear, moving from living room to shelter multiple times each day. It was 2 a.m. Israeli time and she couldn't sleep.

We were eating dinner at our dining room table.

I was on a plane with a group of youth headed back home from Honduras as I reflected on the Child Refugee Crisis. Thousands of unaccompanied children were fleeing Central American countries, like the one I just freely left, in search of safety and security their families could not provide. You can read a glimpse into their experience in Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazrio.

I have been reading it- at home.

I am not sure if the world we live in is becoming increasingly dark and the despairing groans are louder now than in generations past or if our sensitivity to global issues is greater due to social media and the ease of access afforded by modern technology.

It's probaly a combination.

What I do know, my heart aches with intensifying pain every time I turn on the television, scroll through Twitter feeds, or open that news app I am confident will have more bad news than good news to report.

I cry when I talk to friends in Honduras or Tel Aviv. I get angry out of solidarity when I read posts by my black friends, some who are pastors, who shed horrific light on racism that continues to plague our nation, churches, and local police forces.

I lament. A lot. But my lamenting is in luxury and privilege. I grieve in security and safety. I can pick and choose the issues that tug at my heart strings, even post videos of buckets of ice water being dumped on my head, because my life is not in jeopardy.

But the lives of my friends are. My brothers and sisters in the faith, even though I may not know the names of those who call the Iraqi hills and sanctuaries home, do live in fear.

Their laments come from a very different place. They lament in fear and oppression.

The same is true for those in Ferguson, Tel Aviv, and regions surrounding Tegucigalpa.

Maybe that's why I laugh. I don't laugh in joy. I laugh with the cynicism of Sarah- at God's promise.

""And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, 'After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?'" (Genesis 18:10-12)

I wonder, how long, O Lord, will you forget us- them- forever?

I pray God's covenant, one that nudges us towards golobal reconciliation and new creation, would no longer be a mere theological teaching point or carrot dangled in front of grieiving parents who claim Jesus as Lord.

I pray for the day to hasten when our mourning turns to dancing.

I pray for the weapons of war in the Middle East and Missouri to be turned into agricultural tools of the harvest, promoting growth and vegetation versus injustice and segregation.

I pray God's covenantal promises would become our reality. The whole world's lived experience.

I pray for the kingdom Jesus preached about, lived out, and died for the sake of, would be resurrected within each of us and all around us.

I pray our prayers of how long would be transformed into jubilations of about damn time.

But I wonder if God is saying the same to each of us.

How long, O children, will you hate each other forever? Will you forget the image each of you bears and the love each of you have been invited to share?

Will you choose prejudice over conversation, greed over generosity, power over communities and countries where all are welcome as though they have always belonged?

Is God saying to us, this blogger included, it's about damn time?

Because it is.

So as one who laments in luxury, I covenant to commune with those who do not. I commit to learning real stories, researching possibilities for change and transformation, surrounding myself with diverse voices and convictions, and echoing the cries of victims of all forms of violence, marginalization, racism, poverty, oppression, and any and all manifestations of evil near and far.

I am not sure what this will look like or even where to begin, but I know it's time.

It's about damn time.

"Promise-making God, I get Sarah's laughter. It's the sad snicker that covers a cracked heart. Faith withers when life feels wrung dry and past it's best-used-by date. For all who feel life has passed them by and find that faith comes hard, create through your Holy Spirit the laughter of love, the faith that your promies are true, and the hope that in Jesus the best is yet to be. Amen

---from Seeking God's Face by Philip F. Reinders

Relaated Links:

Not as Helpless as We Think. 3 Ways to Stand with Those in Ferguson by Rachel Held Evans

PCUSA Office of Public Witness & Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson on Ferguson and Gun Violence

Good News and Bad News in Honduras

Is There a Nonviolent Response to Isis? (SoJo.Net)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Beginnings of #icebucketchallenge: Reflections from a Charitable Cynic

Let's be clear, I hate the New York Yankees. I despise the Evil Empire at the core of my being. I lump them right up there with insurance companies and cable television.

Then there was Lou Gehrig.

When I was in high school, I did a report on this pinstripe-wearing icon of both sports and medical research. I had a friend whose father passed away due to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and wanted desperately to know more about what took his young life and raise awareness among my peers. The setting aside of hatred of the Bronx Bombers was hardly a sacrifice compared to the horrific nature of this disease now known by the Yankee legend's name.

The Iron Horse had set the mark of most consecutive games played, 2130 straight, until he could no longer play the sport he loved and mastered because of the effects of this disease. The record stood for over fifty years until an Oriole by the name of Cal Ripken, Jr. broke it in 1995.

I was there.

While Gehrig was not the first to succumb to this mysterious neurological disorder, the first baseman became the face and name of the disease. Doctors and researchers alike invested increasing amounts of time, money, and advocacy in search of a cure for Lou Gehrig's Disease or ALS.

This quest continues today. It's simply gotten colder and more creative.

See the beginnings of #icebucketchallenge

I was cynical of #icebucketchallenge when my Facebook news feed became dominated by short videos of friends and acquaintances dumping buckets of ice water on their head. I also was anxious about being guilted into donations, reminiscent of old-school chain letters from the 90's.

I don't like forced charity. I cringe at new means to generate on-line narcissm. Trend drives me cray cray.

Slacktivism is no different.

I also felt #icebucketchallenge was a new way for teenagers and adults alike to sport their latest swimsuit attire, or lack thereof, for the whole on-line world to see.

So I hoped I would not receive a nomination. But I knew it was in vain.

I also knew my cynicism was, too.

So with my wife and kids' help, I took the challenge. Afterall, I want my children to embrace playful and more intentional, dare I say risky, social movements.

Sure, there may be better ways to generate awareness, raise funds, and advocate for victims of variety of causes and charities. But cynicism is not one of them.

So even if you do not have the funds, I challenge you to watch the video below, make a video of your own, and consider what other causes you'd like to champion.

Then get creative. Become an advocate. Get to know others who suffer at the hands of a wide variety of illnesses related to physical and mental health.

Because when you know victims, your cynicism begins to fade and compassion takes center stage.

Even if the most famous victims wear pinstripes.


Helpful Resources

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Good News (and bad news) in Honduras: Partnership and Child Refugees

Our team was packing for our morning flight when friends from Tegucigalpa popped in for an evening surprise. They wanted to cap off a week of service, play, worship, and shared learning with some cake and conversation. As we celebrated year four of the growing youth-to-youth missional partnership between the Presbytery of Honduras and the Imago Dei Youth Ministry, one of the leaders offered an honest reflection and bold request.

"When your family and friends google Honduras they will learn about murders, poverty, corruption, and difficulties with education. Please share with them the good news about Honduras, too."

So, here's the good news.

Honduras is a beautiful country. The landscape and vegetation begs the question, is this what Eden was like?

Honduras is saturated with passionate churches whose members demonstrate what can and should happen when God's people share the burdens of one another and hold all things in common.

The youth of Honduras are eager to engage broader visions of what it means to be called a community and congregation at the forefront of God's mission in and for the world. These same young people are even asking questions about how to begin conversations about justice advocacy, peace making, and social development.

I also have strong friendships with Hondurans who long to become pharmacists, oncologists, engineers, and social workers so they can improve the country they call home and the livelihoods of those whom they call neighbors.

Hondurans also know how to have a good time. Want evidence? Just check out the video of our week together.

Now for the bad news, in case you did not already know.

Honduras has become synonomous with instability, injustice, drug trafficking, police corruption, economic distress, political perversion, and a national government unable to make significant dents in any or all of the above. This beloved nation, and my home away from home, has even earned the dreaded title, "murder capital of the world."

You could say Honduras is a developing nation whose socio-political development is slow at best.

These are all reasons why unaccompanied children are fleeing at such a rapid pace. Despite the rumors to the contrary, Honduran parents are sending their kids on dangerous pilgrimages to surrounding nations like the United States not as hopeful immigrants but as desperate refugees.

While we may be tempted to once again use these young ones, to whom the kingdom of God belongs, as pawns in another political game perpetuated by the media, the issue at stake here is not immigration reform.

Well, not entirely.

We are talking about a refugee crisis. Many Honduran parents believe there is lower risk in shipping their children off to either a neighboring nation or one a flight away versus remain in their neighborhoods where violence is on the rise.

So while we may want to focus on American legislation and rash policies and procedures for deportation, you can't cure cancer with Tylenol. If we make this issue only about us as Americans and our bent in one partisan drection or another, parents of these children will not stop their pursuit of the safety and future of their children. They will just find other and, quite possibly, more detrimental alternatives.

That's because, by and large, these families are not looking for American citizenship or tax-free employment, rather praying for relief and rescue of their kids whom they love. Which means our focus as individuals and communities, churches and politicians, must become the growing tumor of violence in Honduras that breeds on internal socio-political corruption and results in unaccompanied child refugees. We must also explore ways to exercise hospitality and extend international pastoral care until a cure is found.

If we make this about anything else the result will be catastrophic, leaving thousands of children as victims of a poorly played political game.

I can't imagine news any worse. I want good and even better news for Honduras. So do my friends.

Helpful Resources

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Declaration of Interdependence: Early Reflections on Honduras Youth Partnership

"If we embrace the notion that all of life is interdependence, then we must believe that everyone is our neighbor- regardless of race, social status, or geography."

Bruce Main, Why Jesus Crossed the Road

One of my greatest joys as a youth pastor is being able to learn alongside teenagers. As I type this, I sit at a table with three other youth intensely journeling about their experiences as mission partners with friends in Honduras. These three young disciples, along with the many others who have served here each summer since 2011, have taught me a great deal about love, curiosity, generosity, faith, Scripture, love, and what it can and does look like when we follow Jesus locally and globally.

They have taught me even as I have strived to teach them. We have leaned on one another.

As a youth pastor, I have learned to value interdepedence. Actually, I have declared it as an essential element of Chrisitan identity, community, discipleship, and mission. Youth and adults alike need each other as those who profess faith in and covenant to pursue a crucified and resurrected Jesus who is in the process of making all things new and right.

John H. Westerhoff is right, "One Christian is no Christian, for we cannot be Christian alone- we are created for communuty" (Will Our Children Have Faith 38).

Interdependence is one of many reasons Imago Dei Youth Ministry has been a part of the Honduras Youth-to-Youth Partnership since 2011. We hold the conviction that we not only need one another in the suburbs of Philadelphia, but also our brothers and sisters in places like Honduras. We need our "copartners in grace"* and the faithful witness of our friends who live in a cultural context different than our own. We need their unashamed commitment to the gospel, incarnations of genuine community throughout their national Presbytery, extensions of generous hospitality to visiting friends, and creative zeal as they develop new initiatives to care for their own and elevate the voice and passion of young people.

They also need us.

They need us not only to assist in fundraising for their creative projects, but also to remind them the church does not exist for self-serving purposes alone. They need us to remind them the church exists as an agent of personal, social, and systemic transformation. They need us to share our understandings of the kingdom and how we see the pursuit of justice as exercises in neighborly love. They need us to encourage their own pursuits of change within their congregations and communities who have silenced the voice of younger generations for far too long.

We actually need each other.

So this week we once again declare our interdependence. As we serve alongside one another in the construction of a retreat center and Eco-stoves, pray and read Scripture before and after soccer games, discuss critical issues of unaccompanied children fleeing to the U.S.** and others facing homelessness and addiction, and contemplate what it can mean to enhance conversations beyond summer trips, we remember we belong to one another and the God who made us both.

We may live miles apart, but we are still each other's neighbors. Actually, we are more. We are an interdependent family still growing into a shared identity and purpose.

This family is a young one, mostly made up of teenagers. Their communities depend upon them. Their churches depend upon them. I depend upon them. We all depend upon one another.

We cannot be Christian alone.


"If there is no friendship with the poor and no sharing of the life of the poor, then there is no authentic commitment to liberation, because love exists only among equals. Any talk of liberation necessarily refers to a comprehensive process, one that embraces everyone."

Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation



*Karl Barth translated Philippians 1:7, in reference to Paul's partnership with the churches in Philippi, this way, "I bear you in my heart as those who in my imprisonment, as also in my defense and declaration of the gospel, are all my copartners in grace" (Epistle to the Philippians).

**Learn more about the thousands of children fleeing Honduras in search of refuge from the violence and corruption within Honduras:

***Read also: