Brokenhearted Theology, California, Contemp Culture, Food, Future, Global, Meaning, Narrative Theology, Ramblings, Resurrection, Travel, Urban

Resurrecting Ghosts

If you walk across the US/Mexico border into Tijuana, you will likely cross a large pedestrian bridge moving from the border to a tourist-y downtown section of Tijuana. As you walk across the bridge, you cross the Tijuana River which, at this spot, is a concrete channel with a deep vein down the middle and slowly sloping walls. The channel is large enough that cars could drive along the river on either side of the vein – a massive concrete basin that, both times I’ve walked across, sits mostly empty – a little water but nothing else.

But it wasn’t always empty.

At some point the concrete river bed was a living, breathing neighborhood, called El Bordo. The population of El Bordo was largely men and women deported from the US into Tijuana. Most were not from Tijuana and may have never been in the city before. Some were not Mexican, some didn’t speak Spanish. But they made a home in the concrete channel of the Tijuana River. There was no where else to go.

Sometimes community pops up in the most unlikely spaces.

It wasn’t the best neighborhood in Tijuana. There was crime and drug use. Many residents could not find work. The channel served as a concrete quarantine for those who made their home there. There was not much hope. The word ñongos was used to describe the area – a problem, a blight. Those who lived in los ñongos were the unseen, the walking dead. Some called them ghosts.

Samuel Pérez waged peace on behalf of the ghosts living in El Bordo first by seeing them and immersing in their lives. He walked their streets, he heard their stories, he took seriously their hopes and dreams. He recognized that no vision for flourishing in Tijuana could overlook El Bordo. Samuel’s work and passion involves agriculture and environmental sustainability, so he worked with the neighbors in El Bordo to construct dozens of raised garden beds in the middle of this concrete city. He saw humanity in their faces and advocated on their behalf.

The ghosts were beginning to breathe.

Samuel described the transformation of some of these neighbors – “they were becoming like humans again.”

My heart raced as I heard Samuel’s story, a story of resurrection happening in this place I was standing.

He did not belabor the point, because despite the miraculous recovery of life Samuel witnessed, the story took a sad turn. El Bordo was cleared out by la policía, possibly because El Bordo was impacting the flow of tourist dollars from the US into Mexico. What good could come out of El Bordo? 

Samuel said he did not know where the former-ghosts were now living; the garden beds had been destroyed. What was once a community beginning to breathe again now existed as a stark and empty concrete channel.

God have mercy.

May we become the people who learn to see ghosts.
May we become the people who speak in valleys of dry bones.
May we see breath enter dust and begin to breathe.

May we witness not only to the resurrection of Jesus but the resurrection of the world.
May we witness resurrection in the neighborhoods that have gone unseen.
May we witness resurrection in the neighborhoods that we call home. 

Brokenhearted Theology, Equipping, Eucharist, Food, Future, Global, Meaning, Peacemaking, Ramblings

Trampolines and Potlucks: Neighbor Love as the Necessary Way Forward

This will likely strike you as naive, idealistic, narrow or too simplistic. It’s probably some combination of all of those and a few more platitudes that you can think up. 

But since we live in a world where the best, brightest, most logical and most researched ideas do not always work (or, worse, cannot be agreed upon), maybe there’s space for a hunch that a simple and local hypothesis might play a role in navigating our world out of crisis and chaos.

Neighbor Love as a Necessary Way Forward

In light of the Syrian refugee crisis and in light of terrorist attacks in Paris (and elsewhere, but the West is primarily concerned about the West, so mainly Paris), countries, states, cities, churches and hundreds of other defined- and boundaried-groups are asking whether or not to receive the other — those who are not, in one or many ways, anything like “us.”

Many are choosing to say “no, no way, not here, not you,” and, in doing so, raise an ideological wall that may be just as effective as (if not more than) a physical wall in keeping the other out.

Part of my vocation is to help people understand, embrace and practice the Way of Jesus not for the sake of a particular, bounded set of people but for the sake of the world. This vocational calling arises out of a strong conviction that the Way of Jesus is an invitation into a better life not just “for us and also for them” but “for us because of and through and for the sake of and so that we might no longer see them as them.”

So when Jesus invites us to love our neighbor, I hear an invitation into a subversive, world-changing posture that is radically local and yet, when practiced locally, holds an uncontainable potential to spill out and ripple good throughout the world.

In a world where rejection of neighbor is the loudest story being told, neighbor love is a necessary way forward.

Safety Nets and Trampolines

A few of my friends have written and organized around the concept of neighborhood as a fabric of care. At the most basic level, this fabric of care acts as a safety net – when you need something, another can provide it; when another needs something, you may be able to provide it. Entering into the story of a neighborhood as a loving neighbor can provide support in the face of very real needs.

But beyond this safety net, a neighborhood fabric of care can also act as a trampoline, of sorts. When we extend and receive love from our neighbors, our life will not only be more ‘secure’ as we resource each other’s needs but more space is created to love, welcome, rest, and radically extend care to others.

There’s not just a safety net to rely on, there’s a trampoline to play on.

Set-Course Meals and Potlucks

Another helpful image is the contrast between a potluck and a set-course meal.

At a fine meal with careful preparation and specific invitation, it’s not easy to add space for an unexpected guest. The tone of conversation, the timing of the courses and the size of portion is precisely prepared to last for a planned amount of time for the planned list of guests.

Scarcity dictates the nature of this meal – from the place settings to the portions, there is just enough for those at the table. Scarcity, here, serves a purpose, providing a sense of safety, security, and intimacy, but the nature of this meal is restricted to those with a place at the table.

moroccan-feast-1328138At a potluck, if someone shows up unexpectedly, you invite them in. Whether or not they brought anything tangible with them, their presence is welcomed. Food, space, timing and provision are both flexible and abundant. The warmth of the shared meal is extended to all who show up. At the end of the night, which may have gone on several hours longer than planned, there is an abundance of leftovers and laughter.

There is room in our world for both of these meals, yet it seems when it comes to neighbor love we often default to the scarcity of a set-course meal rather than the abundance of a potluck.

What if…?

What if we began to live out of abundance in our neighborhoods and with our neighbors?

What if we lived into and contributed to our neighborhood’s fabric of care not just as a safety net but as a trampoline that, with laughter and excitement, we easily and often invite others onto?

What if, literally and figuratively, we began to host potlucks more often than set-course meals?

Might we…?

Might we begin to see those outside the borders of our family, neighborhood, city, religious enclave, or nation-state as those to invite rather than those to exclude?

Might we find ourselves as the recipients of unlikely invitations at unlikely tables?

Might we begin to blur the lines between ‘our space’ and ‘their space,’ them and us?

Might we begin to see a way forward globally as we act locally?

What do you think?


Brokenhearted Theology, California, Contemp Culture, Food, Future, Global, Green, Peacemaking, politics, Quotes, Ramblings, Technology, Urban

11 Local Practices to Address the Global Climate Crisis

My father-in-law is a scientist – a very good scientist at a large research university – whose research and work focuses on the intersection of plant/insect responses to changing climate conditions. He will occasionally send an email about his work or about a recent headline regarding global climate change, and this past week he sent a few alarming articles along with some of his own comments:

I’m very sorry to be such a downer; I wish as much as anyone that this would all go away. But the science is undeniable. And the choices before us now are to “mitigate, adapt, or suffer.” Human society will do all three, but the sooner and more effectively we do the former, the less we will experience the latter. And not so much us, but those with few resources around us (it’s a matter of social justice) and those who follow us (it’s a matter of intergenerational justice).

I’m a localist. I believe that how we perceive reality is primarily shaped by what lies within walking distance of us. I believe relationships develop when real people gather around a real table and share real food with each other. Isimpleearth believe change happens when real people in real places address a real problem with real shared action.

Yes, we live in a globalizing world and I don’t deny the necessity of global awareness.

Yes, we live in a digital age and I don’t deny the impact of technology on every aspect of our lives.

Yet…we’re bodied creatures that occupy real space in local places. So I’m with Wendell Berry when he writes:

Global thinking can only be statistical…Global thinking can only do to the globe what a space satellite does to it: reduce it, make a bauble of it. Look at one of those photographs of half the earth taken from outer space, and see if you recognize your neighborhood. If you want to see where you are, you will have to get out of your space vehicle, out of your car, off your horse, and walk over the ground.

On foot you will find that the earth is still satisfyingly large, and full of beguiling nooks and crannies.

As a localist, it’s difficult to hear about massive global issues – especially a crisis like global climate change. Our own individual contributions (to both the problem and the solution) seem so small and insignificant. And whether we want to believe it or not, the problem is enormous.

NBC writes on the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, specifically noting that:

  • the issue is not global warming, but climate change.

“Some places will have too much water, some not enough, including drinking water. Other risks mentioned in the report involve the price and availability of food, and to a lesser and more qualified extent some diseases, financial costs and even world peace.”

  • global climate change is getting worse.

“We are going to see more and more impacts, faster and sooner than we had anticipated.”

  • the hardest and first hit are those already most vulnerable.

“Climate change will worsen problems that society already has, such as poverty, sickness, violence and refugees, according to the report…While the problems from global warming will hit everyone in some way, the magnitude of the harm won’t be equal, coming down harder on people who can least afford it, the report says. It will increase the gaps between the rich and poor, healthy and sick, young and old, and men and women.”

  • the window for constructive correction is quickly closing.

“We have a closing window of opportunity,” she said. “We do have choices. We need to act now.”

In light of a massive global crisis, what are we to do, especially if (like me) you think real solutions must originate locally?

Here are 11 local practices that, directly and indirectly, can serve as a starting place for addressing the global climate crisis:

  • Know your neighbors.
  • Know your neighborhood businesses.
  • Spend more time outside than you spend online.
  • Spend time connecting to people in your place rather than placeless pixels.
  • Minimize the distance your food travels to get on your plate. (You can eat kale, carrots, and onions but you cannot eat grass.)
  • Choose a lower rung on the food chain.
  • Maximize the life cycle of all products you use.
  • Wherever possible, begin your use of a product in the middle of its life cycle (i.e. buy used).
  • Dread driving; love biking or walking.
  • Control your climate through your wardrobe, not central air/heating.
  • Because real sustainability can only happen through community, invite others into all of the above.

Thoughts? Pushbacks? Other local practices you’d suggest?

About Me, California, DIY, Food, Ramblings, the Ridiculous

Turning Green Beans Into Coffee (My First Shot at Coffee Roasting)

After a friend of mine had a strange dream in which I requested her help to make coffee using canned green beans and rice and another friend made me an excellent cup of coffee using his home-roasted beans, I decided to buy some green beans (coffee beans, though, not the Jolly Green Giant variety) and attempt to roast them.

After receiving many recommendations to roast outdoors because of the smell, being the contrarian that I am decided to roast inside using the oven roasting method outlined here – partially because I didn’t think it could smell that bad and also because I didn’t feel like getting out our backpacking stove (because, you know, that would be so much work).

While I’m not sure my coffee beans will be any good (they are a bit light and uneven because I tried roasting too many at once), the house didn’t end up smelling too bad. And I didn’t burn anything down.

Here’s the process in pictures:

Books, Brokenhearted Theology, Church, Contemp Culture, Equipping, Eucharist, Food, Global, Meaning, Ramblings, Teaching, Urban

Bread and Wine as a Paradign for Ministry

At the Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples on the night he was betrayed, Matthew’s gospel records these words spoken by Jesus upon the breaking of the bread: “Take and eat. This is my body,” and these upon the sharing of the cup: “Drink from this, all of you” (Matthew 26:26-28).


In Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, he offers comment and instruction on the community’s Eucharistic practice indicating that this practice given by Jesus to his disciples at their last supper together had become a regular practice of the first Christian communities. For these early Christian communities, partaking in these elements was, at a minimum, a simple yet meaningful reminder that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). 

The Eucharist is a simple practice involving the simple elements of bread and wine. The focus of my first large DMin project was looking at the Eucharist as a paradigm for ministry in northern Los Angeles, with the idea being that while the Eucharist is a simple and common practice of the church, it can provide a pivotal and profound paradigm for ministry in a particular place and time.

I posted the project bibliography a few weeks ago and over the next few days I’ll post some snippets of this project that ties together bread and wine, torture and irony, Hollywood and hipster culture.

Tomorrow’s post: Liturgical Imagination: Torture, Culture, and Eucharist

Food, Green, Meaning, Ramblings, Resurrection, Urban

How Does My Garden Grow?

Everybody’s been asking me for a garden update. (Not really, but it felt like the right way to start this post).

I’m a bit behind schedule and my plants haven’t been growing as fast as I’d wanted. I was supposed to harvest my radishes a week ago but they just don’t seem like they’re ready yet, so I’ve left them in the ground to grow a bit more. My peas never sprouted so I’m trying again, but fear even my second attempt is refusing to break into the sunlight. My carrot corner is strangely void of carrots, save two, so I tried a second round of planting focused on more radishes and beets.

My lettuces are a force to be reckoned with and we will have salad greens growing out of our ears before too long.

The poppies haven’t popped yet but I can tell they are getting stronger each day. I also scattered some sunflowers to bring a bit of joy to the outer edges of the garden. They are just now sprouting and I look forward to tracking their continued growth over the next few months.

As always, my succulents are strong and healthy. I am thinking of entering some of them into local competitions but I don’t want to pressure them too much.

Also, I added a chair to the back garden so I can sit and watch everything grow.

Here’s a few pictures:

Brokenhearted Theology, Church, Family, Food, Meaning, Narrative, Prayer, Quotes, Ramblings, Resurrection

Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist (book review)

There are too many books written and marked as “Christian – General” or “Christian Inspiration.” I have read a good number of these books, and I used to like many of them. But eventually you realize that many of them are rather boring, unoriginal, and poorly written. My co-pastor Greg and I like to quote Tolkien when we talk about preaching: “Sermons – they are bad, aren’t they?”

And I feel the same about Christian books. Most of them are bad, aren’t they?

But every once in a while I’m gratefully surprised to encounter a truly good book that’s both Christian and inspiring (though I still cringe at the thought of calling it “Christian Inspiration”).

Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine arrived at my house on a Tuesday and I write this on a Wednesday after setting aside my other pile of reading to finish Bread and Wine.

It’s really good.

The book piqued my interested after seeing the trailer (how silly is it, that books have trailers? Maybe not so silly, I guess, since I watched it and was interested in reading the book.). I’m in the midst of a writing project focused on the Eucharist along with some church discussions about the role of food, hospitality, and sharing meals together so I figured a book focused on food with eucharistic undertones in the title might be interesting on multiple fronts

Niequist writes about the importance of meals in developing and maintaining relationships, celebrating life’s joys and processing tragedies, loss, and sadness. Her writing is honest and beautiful. I marked up more pages than I anticipated and shared several parts with my wife and friends.

Parts of my own life feel fragile and delicate right now, and sharing several sections of the book with my wife, we both found ourselves a bit choked up and teary-eyed at the way Niequist links food, family, and the roller coaster of life’s emotions. She’s right that food is not just about food – it is a window into the way we go about loving and living and celebrating and grieving. Food is obviously physical but undeniably spiritual.

A few snippets to share with you:

I want my kids to learn firsthand and up close that different isn’t bad, but instead that different is exciting and wonderful and worth taking the time to understand. I want them to see thesemlves as bit players in a huge, sweeping, beautiful plan, not as the main characters in the drama of our living room. I want my kids to taste and smell and experience the biggest possible world, because every bite of it, every taste and texture and flavor, is delicious. (98)

Food matters because it’s one of the things that forces us to live in this world – this tactile, physical, messy, and beautiful world – no matter how hard we try to escape into our minds and our ideals. Food is a reminder of our humanity, our fragility, our createdness. (250)

I want all of the holiness of the Eucharist to spill out beyond the church walls, out of the hands of priests and into the regular streets and sidewalks, into the hands of regular, grubby people like you and me, onto our tables, in our kitchens and dining rooms and backyards. (252)

One final thought: this book is marketed for a female audience, maybe more than I wish it had been. You’ll see it and feel it looking at the cover, flipping through the recipes woven through the book, and in some of the language used (you probably won’t catch me reading this in the bathtub, despite the back cover’s invitation!). That said, food and hospitality and the messiness of life are hugely important for people of faith and I think this book does a terrific job engaging and challenging readers on those topics. I hope the book is read by men and women alike!

Note: An early copy of the book was sent to me by the publisher and I have done my best not to let that impact my review.