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. 

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

The Fuzzying-Up of Facts and Finding Wisdom’s Way

When I was a boy, we used, in order to draw oft’ the harriers from the trail of a hare that we had set down as our own private property…drag a red-herring, tied to a string, four or five miles over hedges and ditches, across fields and through coppices, till we got to a point, whence we were pretty sure the hunters would not return to the spot where they had thrown off (William Cobbett)

Misdirection, bombasticism, and the fuzzying-up of facts seem to be sending all of us ‘over hedges and ditches, across fields and through coppics.’

I’m not an epistemological foundationalist but neither am I a relativist.

It’s an honest and worthy struggle to dig in to what is real.
But it is a struggle.

I’m worried we are being invited to ignore what is real for the sake of what is interesting (to draw on the previous post, quoting David Foster Wallace).

May we carefully listen.
May we closely discern.
May we strongly object to fabricated falsehoods.
May we see beyond charades, smoke, and mirrors.
May we not lose sight of the Real.

May we find wisdom’s way.

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

I (do not) believe in the god named Scarcity.

I like to think I don’t believe in the god named Scarcity, but the last few days have reminded me that my subtle allegiances to Scarcity are surprisingly strongly-held.

Scarcity peaks around a corner when all the wrong lights flash on my car’s dashboard (you know those lights – the ones you have to flip through your manual to find out what they mean and they say “stop driving your car right now and take your car to the dealership,” even if you’re not sure how to get to the dealership if you stop driving your car).

The whisper of Scarcity is heard when bills (even expected bills) all show up on the same day.

Scarcity doesn’t strictly operate in cash but shows up in the deluge of meeting requests, pressing deadlines, and wasted minutes or hours of a long commute.

Scarcity laughs at the seemingly-endless buzzing drone of notifications, pop-up reminders, and unread messages in your email inbox.

Scarcity says the water is rising and you’ll never find dry land again.

Scarcity’s song’s melody begins with “There is not enough. You do not have enough.” and rises to the refrain of “You are not enough. You will never be enough.”

Scarcity invites me to surrender to fear, to give up, to prey on myself and others.

I rarely, if ever, have strong, mountaintop, “Come to Scarcity” moments.

But the draw, allure, and movements of Scarcity are more subtle than that.

Some days I actually do believe in this god I don’t believe in.

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Brokenhearted Theology, Contemp Culture, Equipping, Eucharist, Global, Meaning, Narrative Theology, Peacemaking, Ramblings

Guide Our Feet on the Path of Peace

This past Sunday’s lectionary reading from Luke had us hear the words of Zechariah, a man whom I imagine was familiar with personal longing and societal brokenness.

As a priest of an exiled people, I imagine he was weary and tired of infusing hope in desperate and exhausting circumstances.

I imagine he regularly faced those who invoked fear and violence and rallied for exclusion of the other and the call to take up arms as the biblical and Godly way of faithfulness.

I imagine he himself wavered between succumbing to fear and holding on to hope.

And I imagine he experienced both trembling and relief as “he was filled with a fresh wind from God” (Luke 1:67) and proclaimed with prophetic confidence that God’s good news would “guide our feet on the path of peace” (Luke 1:79).

The path of peace, not the path of war.
The path of peace, not the path of self-defense.
The path of peace, not the path of retaliation.
The path of peace, not the path of exclusion.
The path of peace, not the path of violence.
The path of peace, not the path of fear.

Not the path of Christian university presidents.
Not the path of politicians.

The path of peace
following the Prince of Peace
who would welcome the stranger as family
before casting them away and closing the door,
who would lay down his life
before ending the life of another.

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Brokenhearted Theology, Crazy Bible, Global, Homiletics, Meaning, Narrative Theology, Peacemaking, Ramblings, Resurrection

The Three Migrations of God

You’ve probably heard it; I can almost guarantee it.

It’s been called the most overused piece of music in history. Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is an iconic composition, comprised of twenty-five movements using medieval imagery and poetry to explore themes of fate and fortune.

But you probably wouldn’t recognize it if you heard one of the twenty-three middle movements. Most are obscure and unknown to a popular audience, but the opening and closing movements  – O Fortuna – have been used in countless commercials, campaigns, and scores. Like I said, you’ve probably heard it.

But have you really heard it, if you’re only familiar with a single movement of a multi-movement piece?

Each of the twenty-five movements of Orff’s masterpiece look, sound, and feel different as they move from beginning to middle to end, but it’s all Carmina Burana. Only a few measures of the piece have become memorable, but it’s the movement throughout the entirety of the composition that makes it a masterpiece (if you have an hour and four minutes, check out this recording. It’s terrific.).

When you think of movement, you might think about Carmina Burana. Or you might think about airplanes and transit. Or you might think about dance.

Movement is a necessary and vibrant reality of life – to be alive is to move.

I believe in a God who is living, which is to say I believe in a God who moves – a God who migrates! The scriptures unveil the story of this movement-God who is revealed through three migrations.

The First Migration is the Movement of the God who inhales and exhales.

The Scriptures’ opening words proclaim that “In the beginning, God!”

In the beginning, before anything else happened, God was.
God existed.
God filled the expanse.

The Poet of Beginnings does not suggest we imagine anything, in the beginning, but God.

In the beginning, when God began to create, there was inhale (Go ahead and inhale. Feel the rise of your lungs and the contraction of your belly.) and there was exhale (Slowly let it out – as your chest sinks and your stomach settles, call out a name, sing a note, breathe a breath).

When God began to create, creation was called into existence with voice and life was breathed into the first humans. This is the first migration of God, the movement of the God who inhales and exhales.

The Second Migration is the Movement of God to God-in-Flesh.

The opening chapter of John’s Gospel is a work of mystic-poetry, describing Jesus as the Word that spoke creation into existence, the Word that was both Life and Light. That Light, John writes, came down to the people of God, making a dwelling (a tabernacle, a roaming outpost of the holy – light, life, beauty) in the common place of their neighborhood.

Studies of human movement will often talk of the dual factors of push and pull. A person is pushed from a place, often because of less-than-desirable conditions, and pulled to another, because of a hope or promise or hint of something better.

This second migration of God, though, reverses that push/pull. The Word moves from a place of God-dwelling to the place of dust and dirt. The Light migrates into darkness.

The Third Migration is the Movement of God as Wind and Whisper.

Acts 2 records the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the people of God.

Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.

This movement, the third migration, is a return to the God who breathes, yet in this movement God is described as the essence of breath itself. Breath is a movement that happens naturally, often without thought or conscious intent or noticing. Yet it is movement.

Throughout Acts, we see the Spirit moving outward beyond the bounds of Jerusalem following Jesus’ mandate to go outward to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. God-as-Wind-and-Breath beckons the early Jesus followers from the upper room to the ends of the earth. This Wind and Whisper of God is a force of movement and migration.

The church has struggled for centuries to adequately name the experience and portrayal of God-as-immigrant painted in the scriptures.

Early on the church landed on the idea that there’s one God but three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit. This three-yet-one reality has been described with the Greek word perichoresis.

peri: ‘around’ like perimeter or periscope
chorei: move, advance, go, or to dance like choreography

This is our God, a God of Movement, a dancing God.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Remember that God is not an eternal throne sitter in some palace far away, but a God who roams untamed in our world. This is a migrant God we follow, one who crosses boundaries and hops borders and moves down and out and in and up. This is a God who cannot be put in a box!

The story of the Scriptures – and our story – is a story of movement. We’re not to long for the olden days but to move ahead into the woven-together world God is making. The end of the story is not Eden, but Eden surrounded by a beautiful city, a new city.

God’s moving, and we’re invited to join in on that movement!

I put these thoughts together as part of our exploration of the Immigrants’ Journey at Open Door. 

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Brokenhearted Theology, Crazy Bible, Equipping, Eucharist, Meaning, Narrative Theology, Ramblings, Resurrection

The God Who is Altogether Different

Way back when, in the days of patriarchs when cities were a novel idea, gods were said to roam throughout a city – their city – providing resources and protection in exchange for devotion, loyalty, and sacrifice. Move past the city walls, however, and your chances of being heard by your city’s god quickly decreased. Like a wireless speaker or walkie-talkie, everything’s dandy until you move out of range. The signal weakens and distortion creeps in until there’s no reception – just white noise.

So you pick a spot (thereby picking a god), set up camp and stay put.

And if you had to leave and venture out to another city, you hoped to (your) god you wouldn’t run into (their) god lest you face the wrath of (some) god.

I imagine that this notion of a place-restricted god – a localized deity –  shaped what those early listeners heard in the words of the first chapters of Genesis.

The story begins with a god carefully crafting a beautiful garden in which to dwell. A plush and pleasing home for any deity, made particularly good after the garden is populated with creatures formed from the very dirt they were created to care for. In the cool of the day, as the story goes, the god would walk alongside the creatures (no doubt, the reader thinks, in order to remind them of the rules they were to follow and the chores they were to accomplish and how lucky they were to live in such a garden under the care of such a god).

“Adam and Eve” by Marc Chagall (1912)

Despite these daily reminder-walks, the creatures rebel. They cross the creator of this garden by disobeying a specific and clear directive. Surely, the reader thinks, surely after such an act, these creatures – these mud slaves – will cease to be in relationship with this god. Surely they’d be lucky to even survive such an act of defiance.

As would be expected, their disobedience does upset the garden-god and they are kicked out of the paradise-place.

The reader chuckles.
Serves them right
.
That’s what you get when you piss off your god.
With no god to protect you now, you’d be better off dead.

But we keep reading, and we are surprised.

Yes, the dust creatures are kicked out of the garden. But the god they crossed offers them gifts of grace – animal skins fashioned into clothing. Warmth and protection from the elements, a covering for their shame. The God of the Garden chooses not to abandon this ongoing creation-development project that launched with so much promise.

The God of the Garden leaves that paradise-place, pursuing the creatures – the family fashioned from the earth by wholly muddy hands – into the rugged wilderness.

You’ve disrupted the design, but I will design a fresh start for you.
You’ve stepped off the garden path but I will prepare a new path.
You’ve walked your own way, but I will walk that way with you.

This is not what gods are supposed to do.
This is not a short-range god of limited coverage and localized concern.
This is not a quick-tempered god shallowly appeased.

This is a god who is altogether different.

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