Brokenhearted Theology, California, Contemp Culture, Crazy Bible, Meaning, Ministry, Ramblings

“But, are ya still preaching the gospel?” and other solicitous questions

We just moved and, apparently, with moving comes solicitors.

no-solicitors-allowed-1444909We’ve had people come to the door asking about everything from security systems (You do plan on protecting your family, right?) to cable television (With us, you’ll get a bazillion channels!), and, tonight, we had a visit from bless-their-hearts church people that just wanted us to know they are starting up a new gospel preachin’ church in the neighborhood and, if you don’t attend a gospel preachin’ church, would you like to come and visit?

They handed us a tract covered in stars, stripes, regal eagles, and “God Bless America”s.

Between the move, toddler-dom, less-than-ideal-sleep, and 25% of the adult ankles in our house sprained, all amidst the piles to unpack and organize, I feel like my energy and interest in engaging solicitors has been minimal.

Tonight, we were having post-dinner family time – dancing, laughing, and listening to records (Gershwin) – as the solicitors approached.

Hi, we’re just here to let you know about our new church.
Oh, hi.
Do you have a church you go to?
Uhh, yeah, actually, I’m a pastor.
Oh, where are you planting your church?
It’s been around for a while, it’s called Open Door.
Oh, you get a lot of young folks, then?
Yeah, I guess.
But are you still preaching the gospel?
Uhh, yeah.
What is it?
What is what?
The gospel.
Oh, I think we both have answers to that question.
Only by the blood of Jesus!
[Tired smile.]
And no works, right? You don’t preach works, do you?
Sorry, we were having family time, so I think we’re actually going to go back to that now. Have a good night.

There’s all kinds of commentary to add here – about my response and what it should or could have been, about door-to-door church invitations, about the strange-but-all-too-common bedfellows of patriotism and religion.

I sometimes wish I had more energy to enter into constructive dialogue with these solicitors (their questions, how we might differ on our understanding of the gospel and where we might agree, how there is more about Jesus than his blood that is good news, etc.).

But, at the end of the conversation, I decided I would rather spend my energy dancing with my family than picking theological nits with strangers (err, brothers and sisters in Christ?).

Thoughts?

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California, Family, Meaning

Your Blood or Mine?

The elevation was increasing as the snow continued to fall. The freeway slowed as we approached the chain restriction check point.

We pulled off to the side of the expanded shoulder, a parking lot of slush and semi-trucks. A small army of men in fluorescent-orange and -yellow snowsuits with vests reading “Chain Installer” moved about, diving into the slush and stretching odd assortments and varieties of metal over the wet, slippery tires of sedans and mini-SUVs.

I dread tire chains. I dread putting them on and I dread driving with them on, not so much because of the speed restriction (which is annoying) or the constant hum and vibration (which is annoying) but because they represent the risk of driving in unknown conditions: the roads are terrible; put metal spikes in your tires and maybe you won’t drive off the cliff.

I rolled down my window to ask one of the jumpsuit soldiers where I should pull in to install my chains.

Doin’ it yourself?

Yeah.

Then I don’t care. Over there, out of the way.

Oh. Of course. Jumpsuit guy is there to make some cash, not to help out of the goodness of his heart or some great initiative funded by my tax dollars.

I pull over next to my friend whose white SUV still carries what looks to be a foot of snow packed on the roof of his car.

From the backseat: their car needs a haircut!

The SUV doesn’t need chains, but my friend knows I’m dreading this and he offers to help before we head over the mountain pass back home.

As I step out of my car into the slush, I’m grateful to not be alone amidst the hazard lights, fluorescent jumpsuits, and stench of idling eighteen-wheelers.

When’s the last time you did this?

A long time ago.

Me too.

We each take a side, unrolling my cheap bought-them-on-the-internet-for-twenty-dollars-on-sale-used-once-and-returned tire chains, which are not so much chains as they are small little discs of metal attached to a thin wire that may or may not fit around my tire.

I am not convinced these will actually help in snow and ice, but that is not why I bought them. I bought them to get me past chain restriction checkpoints. I am confident they will do the trick.

A fluorescent jumpsuit: You sure you have the right size?

I am sure of very little at this point, and I perceive the sneer and constant eye of the jumpsuit footmen, ready to take a short stack of cash in exchange for my dignity.

For a moment I consider it. At least it would be finished quickly.

But I remember my three-year old, who is straining in the car seat to get a view of his dada putting chains on the tires so our little silver hatchback (the “adventure car”) can brave the mountain pass.

In his imagination, which is only thinly separated from reality, this is just another part of our hero’s quest. This is a great adventure and, while he is told to stay in the car, I am his proxy, preparing our car to slay the dragon.

I cannot abdicate my duties and, while I am not sure what is at stake here, I sense it involves a curious and potentially volatile mix of honor, pride, ego and self-respect, so I squat down near the tire and try to figure out how to put these damnably-frustrating contraptions on.

I recall the conversation I had in the front seat ten minutes prior, in anticipation of this side-of-the-road ordeal.

I wish I had gloves.

You have some right there. Won’t those keep you warm?

No, I don’t care about being warm. I just need to be able to grip and use my fingers.

Oh. That makes sense.

I unroll the chains by the driver’s-side tire as my fearless friend does the same on the opposite side.

They go on the front tires, right?

Yeah.

For a moment, I slip out of my body and survey the scene from above. I have this odd realization that I am a grown up. A man. A husband. A dad. I am terrified and thrilled at the responsibility and weight of this.

I slip back into reality as both my friend and I fumble around on our respective sides, occasionally peeking over to see how the other is doing. I call him over to my side, to see if together we can tightly fasten this twisted necklace of metal to my tires. My hand slices across a sharp edge on these high-economy-low-functionality tire chains of mine. A patch of red instantly paints across my slushy hand and drips onto the slushy roadside below.

My interior monologue grows increasingly loud and deprecatory.

You look like an idiot.
You have no idea what you’re doing.
Those guys are laughing at you.
Why didn’t you buy decent chains?
Why are you trying to drive your Prius across a mountain during a blizzard?
Don’t you know you’re going to drive your family off a cliff?

I have to back up the car a few inches so we can attach the chains, and I hop into the car.

From the backseat: Dada! Are our chains ready to go?

Not yet son.

From the frontseat: Oh, I see why gloves would be nice.

Yeah.

We finish up my tire and move across the front of the car to the other side.

My friend kneels down, pulling the chain taught so we can fasten it and finish the job.

I notice the blood on his hand.

You too? I’m glad it wasn’t just me. I’m sorry about this.

It’s okay. I’m actually not sure if it’s my blood or yours.

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Contemp Culture, Meaning, Narrative, Ramblings

The Slow Suicide of Donald Draper

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From the first season, the opening credits of Mad Men told us how this story would end.

Our eyes are drawn to a silhouette slowly falling to his death. Even with the dishevelment of gravity, the silhouette is incredibly well-kept, almost calm. Slim-fitting suit, neat tie, a graceful free-fall past the icons and idols of advertisement and consumption.

So calm, so graceful that you almost forget the silhouette is falling.

Almost.

Mad-men-title-cardThe credits close with the same figure, cigarette lazily at his side, no longer falling, simply an observer. Waiting for the inevitable to occur. An object in motion stays in motion, a body falling continues to fall until it hits rock bottom.

Much has been written (eloquently, thoughtfully, truthfully, beautifully) about the closing of Mad Men’s story. I love a story that leaves room for our own. The best stories are so intricate and true that we find ourselves inside of them, leaving us wondering how much, if any, distance there is between fact and fiction. I love the thick, stubborn nature of redemption – that even in the most tragic characters, even in the most tragic circumstances, there lies the potential to find hope. So I’m grateful for those who saw redemption in Mad Men.

But the silhouette is falling and, in Mad Men’s closing scene, Donald Draper hits bottom.

The bottom isn’t the concrete of a New York sidewalk or the barrel of a smoking gun or the bottom of an oft-filled tumbler.

That’s what I expected. That would have been too obvious.

The bottom is a return to the thin illusion of happiness.

The bottom is a return to the suicide-in-progress that has slowly unfolded since the opening credits of Episode 1.

The writers saved us the dignity of watching the gruesome end.
Our cigarettes can still hang lazily from our fingers as we watch the fall with a curious ambivalence.
We can hum a catchy jingle while waiting for the train.

But don’t we all know how this story ends?

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Global, Meaning, Peacemaking, Ramblings

Immigration as Crisis, Immigration as Opportunity

Immigration is one of the most polarizing issues that presents itself today. It’s the stuff of debate and divisiveness more often than open-minded dialogue. We have mental pictures or words and labels that spring to mind to describe and identity the 41 million immigrants who live in the US. We’re astounded by the large number (11-12 million) without documentation.

For some, the state where I live – California – is the butt of scornful comments and jokes. We have the largest number of immigrants in the country, the largest share of an immigrant population when compared to the overall state population, and the largest absolute growth of immigrants compared to the state population in the entire country. More locally, the Bay Area is particularly affected with immigration as we have high profile touch points everywhere, from immigration courts in San Francisco to detention centers in Richmond to the incredible diversity of neighborhoods in Oakland and the Monument Corridor in Concord. Immigrants – lots of them – live in California.

http://www.ibtimes.com/immigration-reform-2014-48-percent-americans-oppose-obama-executive-action-poll-finds-1726342

This past summer the media focused on the large insurgence of unaccompanied minors from Mexico and Central America attempting to enter the US. This summer a similar wave of unaccompanied minors is expected.

Listen to that phrase – unaccompanied minors. Recognize that in most other contexts we’d just call them kids.

I spoke with a local leader who catalyzes faith communities into the local story of immigration who shared a story of a child who, at the age of 14, came to the Bay Area from Guatemala to work in order to financially support his mom and little sister. He’s 14. He’s been in and out of immigration detention centers. He’s told he needs to be in school but, without work, he’s not able to support his mother and little sister. This is the reality of his story right now.

At Open Door, we talk about the dream of seeing heaven and earth woven together again here in the east bay and beyond. Seeing that dream come true involves caring well for those whose lives and stories are shaped by the immigrants’ journey. Seeing that dream come true requires each of us – regardless of our status, birthplace, or documentation – to recognize how our lives and our stories are shaped by the immigrants’ journey.

There is far less distance between “them” and “us” than we often admit, and immigration is something we need to talk about. But we can’t to just talk about it as a current political crisis. It’s a bigger story than that.

There may be 12 million in our midst without legal residence status, but 98-99 percent of us living in the US have a story of immigration in our lineage. As often as we like to forget, all but a very small percentage of us are here because of immigration.

As followers of Jesus, we are invited to see not stranger, immigrant or “other” but neighbor, sister or brother. One of the more common Greek words in the New Testament for immigrant or sojourner is the same word that would be used for neighbor, from the same root as our word parish. The stories of immigration that surround and encompass us are lexically and intimately woven together with our ability to care for a place and fulfill what Jesus called the Greatest Commandments (Matthew 22).

We can’t simply think of immigration as a crisis.
Immigration is a reality that shapes all of our stories.
Immigration is an opportunity for faithfulness and formation.

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California, Global, Meaning, Narrative, Peacemaking, Ramblings, Urban

Hollywood, Your Neighborhood, and The Great Material Continuum

My wife, Krissy, is in the midst of a beautiful writing project which is giving voice to stories and lessons and joys and heartaches from the last few years of our life. She wrote this piece last year while we were living in Hollywood and it resurfaced for her this week as she’s been processing through #TheLentProject Extras Purge this week with our friends at Open Door.

The Great Material Continuum (Krissy Kludt)

When I was younger, I bought few clothes, and I kept them forever. I still had clothes in college that I had worn in middle school. I had a closet full of things at my parents’ house that I never wore, but kept just in case they would come back into style. Sometimes things do: in high school, Nikki and I gave my dad the hardest time about his too-tight jeans, begging him to get something looser; ten years later, jeans got skinny again. As my dad put it, delighted, “I lapped myself!”

When we moved to Hollywood, I found a new system for clothing. Trends change more quickly here, and thrift stores have an abundance of (almost) current fashions. In Wisconsin, Goodwill has mostly XXL T-shirts; in LA, it’s full of Forever 21, H&M, and Urban Outfitters. Angelenos acquire more often, and they get rid of things more often. I found myself inheriting clothes from friends all the time, many days wearing entire outfits that were cast-offs of Abby’s or Bethany’s. Rather than “keep forever, never buy,” my new motto was “hold all things loosely.” I, too, acquired things more often – at yard sales or thrift stores or from friends – and I got rid of things I stopped wearing, trusting that I wouldn’t regret it.

Dave and I have our geeky moments, and in one of them a couple of years ago, we watched a whole lot of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. If you are less geeky and therefore less familiar with Star Trek, you may not know about the Ferengi aliens and their pseudo-religious belief in economics. The closest they have to a god is their belief in the Great Material Continuum. They call it the “Great River,” believing that all places have too much of one resource and not enough of another, but that all material things flow in the “Great River,” eventually ending up where they are needed. (Ideally, of course these material things flow through the Ferengi and provide them with plenty of cash along the way.)

I have started to believe in the Great Material Continuum. I cannot tell you how many times I have needed something, asked for it (or not asked for it), and waited until it came to me. I needed clipboards for school, but not badly enough to go out and buy any. (This was in our early Fuller days when we lived and paid for Dave’s school on my new teacher’s salary, and cash did not feel particularly abundant.) One day we helped some friends move, and they were throwing out a box of clipboards. I’d wanted an old wooden chest for years, and one day one appeared at a yard sale next door to HomeState. Dave needed more pants, and one day he found a pair of H&M jeans on the sidewalk in his size. It happens to us all the time. I am starting to believe that what you need will come to you if you are willing to wait.

One of my (Dave's) favorite sidewalk finds

One of my (Dave’s) favorite sidewalk finds

There is an economy in East Hollywood of which we were once completely unaware, but we began to observe it and participate in it. There is an economy beyond that of cash and credit cards, when you begin to look.

A few weeks ago there was a family sitting outside of Burger King across the street from us with several large suitcases. They had two small children with them. It is unusual to see homeless kids in our area, so I assumed they had some other story – ended up in our neighborhood off the metro, waiting for a ride from friends, something like that. It turns out they had just gotten off the Amtrak from West Virginia, and were waiting until Monday (this was Saturday) for the homeless shelters to open for intake.

I brought them diapers and a few groceries, sat on a suitcase and chatted with the mother. Their son wore the same sized diapers as Everett. My heart broke for this mother. Our instinct to take care of our children is so strong, and this family was struggling so much to do so. I prayed with them. While I sat with them, one man gave a few dollars to the little boy, a woman dropped off cereal and juice, and another man called the police for them, assuring them that the police department could probably get them into a shelter that night. These people were strangers here, and so alone, and yet their most basic needs were being met by the people walking by.

The next night we went to the Manna Room after our church gathering. The Manna Room is a food pantry that brings in and sorts almost-expired, dented and otherwise unsellable Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s food, and it opens for the church on Sunday nights. After Everett was born and I left my job, we were tighter on money than we had been in a long time, and we were grateful for this abundant provision. Some weeks we found more in the Manna Room than others; some weeks we needed more than others. On this week, we had bought groceries for several people besides ourselves. That night, the Manna Room was overflowing, full of things that were on my list for the grocery store, where I was headed afterward: pesto and goat cheese and diced tomatoes and fiber cereal for Everett. I was full to the brim with gratitude.

We live in an economy of grace. Somehow, our needs continue to be met, again and again, in the most unexpected ways. When I worry I’ve overspent our food budget for the month, the Manna Room happens to have everything we desire. Just when I think I don’t have energy left to make it another few hours until Dave gets home, Everett decides to take a three-hour nap. When my house is a disaster and I haven’t had a moment to think and Everett doesn’t seem to want to ever nap again, one of our housemates shows up and plays with him in our yard so I can do the dishes and sit down for a few minutes.

An economy of grace is an economy of abundance. When we live out of abundance, like the loaves and the fishes, what we have multiplies. We have enough time, enough food, enough money. We have more than enough love.

Am I the woman – the mother, wife, child, friend – I wish I were? Not even on my best days. But I live in an economy of grace, an economy of abundance, and in that economy, by owning my own insufficiency, I become enough. When I choose to live in the economy of grace, when I do the hard work it takes to believe in abundance, joy grows within me, sending roots down deep into gratitude. I have enough. Roots soak in nourishment from that fertile soil and send stems skyward. I have more than enough. Leaves unfold, open to the sky. By grace, I become enough. There will be space enough for growth. There will be room enough for love. There will be time enough for revelation.

One day I stopped to chat with a homeless woman named Amariah who lives in the park up the street. She told me she needed toenail clippers and a jacket, and asked if I had either to spare. She told me her story. Then she pulled me over to her pile of belongings and asked what I needed.

“I don’t need anything; I have enough,” I said.

“How about shampoo? Do you need shampoo? When I get it I pour it out into smaller bottles and give it to the other women in the park. I asked the salon over there if they needed it, but they said no. I gave it to them anyway.”

I smiled, “That’s ok, I really don’t need anything.”

She started rummaging through a suitcase. “Here,” she said. “Take these.” She handed me a pair of jean shorts.

“Really, you don’t have to. I don’t need anything.”

“Take them. They’re nice – they’re Lucky brand. If you have two, you’re supposed to give one away, so that’s what I’m doing.”

I didn’t tell her that I was walking back home from Goodwill, where I had tried on several pairs of shorts without finding any that fit.

“We’re neighbors, you know,” I said to Amariah as I hugged her goodbye.

“No,” she shook her head. “We’re sisters.”

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Books, California, Church, Contemp Culture, Equipping, Future, Global, Meaning, Peacemaking, Quotes, Race, Ramblings, Reading Reflections

The New Jim Crow (Reading Reflections, Part 1)

A group of us at Open Door are moving through a Circle focused on the black-white race divide in the East Bay.

One of the resources offered to provoke thought and conversation is Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness. As I read through it, I’ll be posting some of the thoughts, quotes, and questions I encounter.

First, some foundational terminology:

Jim Crow: Historically, the series of laws and policies allegedly implemented to maintain social and economic order (“separate but equal”) in the aftermath of the Civil War and Reconstruction

Undercaste: “a lower caste of individuals who are permanently barred by law and custom from mainstream society” (13)

Racial caste system: “a stigmatized racial group locked into an inferior position by law and custom” (12)

Mass incarceration: – Broader than our physical prison system, Alexander talks about mass incarceration as encompassing the “larger web of laws, rules, policies, and customs that control those labeled criminals both in and out of prison” (13).

And some quotes from the Introduction and Chapter 1:

“The plight of African Americans is that a huge percentage of them are not free to move up at all. It is not just that they lack opportunity, attend poor schools, or are plagued by poverty. They are barred by law from doing so.” (13)

“The War on Drugs, cloaked in race-neutral language, offered whites opposed to racial reform a unique opportunity to express their hostility toward blacks and black progress, without being exposed to the charge of racism.” (53)

“Once again, in response to a major disruption in the prevailing racial order – this time the civil rights gains of the 1960s – a new system of racialized social control was created by exploiting the vulnerabilities and racial resentments of poor and working-class whites. More than 2 million people found themselves behind bars at the turn of the twenty-first century…banished to a political and social space not unlike jim Crow… The mass incarceration of communities of color was explained in race-neutral terms, an adaptation to the needs and demands of the current political climate.” (56-57)

A few thoughts:

Though Alexander harshly criticizes Republican policies (driven to extremities by the rhetoric and posturing of campaign politics), she also labels Clinton as “more than any other president” responsible for creating “the current racial undercaste” (56).

This book is not playing the game of partisan politics/ideology so much as critiquing the entire enterprise of empire as it’s played out throughout American history. It’s a pretty scathing assessment and I’m unsure (and eager to see) how Alexander proposes solutions and steps forward in the midst of a system that is seemingly being described as irreparably broken.

Thoughts? Questions? Oversights? Objections?

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Books, Brokenhearted Theology, California, Contemp Culture, Future, Global, Meaning, Peacemaking, Ramblings

What To Do When the World is Crumbling Around You

Following up on a recent conversation, I wrote an article where I swirled up some thoughts on zombies, Cormac McCarthy, ethics and the book of Revelation.

In light of recent world events – the immigration crisis, the war zone in Gaza, etc. – I’ve been asking myself this question again and again:

When the world is crumbling around you, how will you choose to live? 

Here’s a few teaser paragraphs from the piece I write – Zombie Apocalypse and the Perseverance of Ethics – with the rest posted as part of The Antioch Session on my friend Zach’s Patheos blog.

Living in Los Angeles, a common fear is that “The Big One” could strike at any moment. In Southern California, “The Big One” is shorthand for a massive earthquake that would (will?) devastate our cities and our life together. In addition to earthquakes, our proximity to Hollywood means we like to write, create, watch, and talk about the Zombie Apocalypse that could (will?) wreak havoc on life as we know it.

Whether Zombie Apocalypse, a global climate crisis, “The Big One,” economic collapse, or a combination of all four, end of the world scenarios are popular fodder for movies, books, television shows, internet conspiracies, and lunchtime conversations.

I was recently in such a conversation where bunker hideouts, resource stashes, and escape plans were discussed. (We were talking specifically about global collapse as a result of climate change, not Zombie Apocalypse (though I do not deny those things could be linked).) Some creative and elaborate ideas were suggested involving desert meetup spots, secret permaculture gardens, and tips and tricks for living off (what’s left of) the land.

What surprises me most, when having or overhearing conversations about apocalyptic scenarios, is how many people would abandon the ethical principles they proclaim in times of peace – pursuit of the common good, love of neighbor – to instead chase after survival for “them and theirs.”

Read the rest over at The Nuance.

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