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, California, Contemp Culture, Meaning, Ramblings, Travel, Worship

On Being Tiny in an Enormous World

Richard Serra, "Band"

Richard Serra, “Band”

Yesterday I stood with my son before this massive work of art – Band by the sculptor Richard Serra.

Band stands 13 feet tall and stretches 70 feet long and about 40 feet wide. Band weighs about 366,000 pounds.

The room containing Band is massive with no distractions – white walls and ceiling, focused lighting and a brushed concrete floor. And yet you do not notice the size of the room. The only thing you see is Band.

Serra comments on the enormous scale of his piece:

You might find yourself in a space where you think you have been before, but you realize it is different and you don’t know quite why. And then you find yourself in another space, and you think it’s the outside of the space you have just been in, but it’s not. Or you think it’s the inside of the space that you just left, but it’s not. If you continuously walk the piece, what you anticipate and what your memory allows you to foresee don’t always conclude to be what you suspect.

What is true for the experience of Band is true for my experience of the world.

Being tiny in the presence of an enormous world results in “what you anticipate and what your memory allows you to foresee” coming up short. We just cannot suspect and conclude and predict what will transpire or unfold around us.

That is the mystery of being human in the world we inhabit.

Brokenhearted Theology, California, Contemp Culture, Global, Green, Meaning, Narrative, Peacemaking, Prayer, Ramblings, Resurrection, Travel, Urban

Poetry and Place: Listening to Your Neighborhood’s Voice


I spent the last week in San Francisco for an intensive week of study and experience (and food and coffee!) for my doctoral program.

Part of our “homework” was to spend a few hours exploring a neighborhood in order to

hear the sounds of the streets

listen to the voices of the people

taste the city’s flavor

see the sights of everyday life

feel the sidewalks, the fabrics, textures, the pain and the beauty of a place

recreate the voice of the neighborhood with a bit of poetry.

So we paired up and dove into exploration mode. And it was awesome! Temples and tastes. Artwork and addictions. Pirates and playgrounds.

Here’s the poem of place, hope, and presence that emerged from my exploring.

The colors scream there is hope and beauty in this world
The colors scream there is no hope and no beauty in this world
Who made the colors? Who made hope? Who made beauty?
And who am I and who are we?
We are the colors and the hope and the no hope.
We are the no beauty and the beauty.

The colors scream and ice cream. Bourbon and cornflakes.
Child’s play, sweet dessert and healthy start.
Shattered bottles, shattered lives.

If this then what? If Flannery’s Christ-haunted South then what?
What haunts this place and what haunts my place?
Where are the local haunts and who are the local specters?

The colors scream and I scream.
Where are you? I am here? Where are you?
Two voices. Then one.
Where are you? I am here.

The colors scream.

Mission District, San Francisco // October 2013

What do you hear in your neighborhood? What do your streets speak?

California, Green, Travel

Hiking the East Fork (photos)

Had a great hike in the San Gabriel East Fork today.

Beautiful river. Sharp cactuses. Bighorn mountain sheep.

So grateful to live so near mountains and wilderness.

Brokenhearted Theology, California, Equipping, Future, Global, Green, Meaning, Quotes, Ramblings, Reading Reflections, Travel, Urban

Wendell Berry and the Heartbreak of Commitment


The quote above comes from the essay American Imagination and the Civil War where Wendell Berry writes of the commodification of our land and natural resources – the soil, the trees, the grass, the air. Berry argues we can no longer afford to take these resources for granted because they are already being taken (sold, destroyed, bulldozed, pillaged).

Berry says “no place is free of the threat implied by phrases [like growth, industry, capital, etc.].”

He writes “nothing now exists that is so valuable as whatever theoretically might replace it.”

In other words, we will destroy anything and everything in the name of progress, mobility, and change.

wendell-berryI am grateful for Berry’s prophetic call to care for our land and resist commodification in the name of progress. His work has been a major influence on my thinking about place, land, creation, and the role of humanity in the midst of it all.

At the risk of detracting from his intentions here, reading this essay also led me to think about community and relationships. Just as heartbreak is inevitable for those who care for a plot of land, so is it inevitable for those who care about and commit to a place – a neighborhood – a community.  Berry’s words can be read as a prophetic statement against the transiency of our communities and relational life together.

If you commit to a place or a neighborhood or a community, your heart will be broken. It is easier to leave than to be left, and those who commit to a place are the ones who are left over and over again.

But brace yourself for the heartache, because I believe it’s worth staying.

If you can’t commit for a lifetime, at least commit for a few years. Tell people you’re committed to your neighborhood and invite them to do the same.

Dig in your heels. Make a life for yourself in a particular place. Find, create, and root your family in a neighborhood.


Brokenhearted Theology, California, Contemp Culture, Global, Meaning, music, Quotes, Ramblings, Reading Reflections, Travel, Urban

David Byrne Loves Cities and Rides a Bike (and So Should You)

I’ve been reading David Byrne’s (of Talking Heads fame) Bicycle Diaries and it’s really quite good. The book is a journal/memoir of Byrne’s travels around the world, particularly those thoughts and insights inspired by choosing to bicycle around the world’s cities rather than taking conventional methods of transportation.

The book is not just about riding a bike, but is really broadly about culture and, specifically, the culture of cities. Byrne describes cities as living organisms, alive and breathing and adapting to the needs and demands of their inhabitants.

Byrne writes this in the preface:

Where is all this going? I’m optimistic these days. I envision transformed cities, often with more people on the streets, people who aren’t made to feel that they are intruders, secondary to cars. I note a resurgence in neighborhood unity and have a sense that many of us are learning to slow down and enjoy life a little more.

Six years ago I wrote about biking in Pasadena and the world of difference you experience when you view your world from two pedal-powered wheels:

It is amazing what you miss when you drive in a car. You can drive around and get where you want to go quickly, but you don’t really understand the surroundings in the same way that you do pedaling on two wheels.

I typically bike to the north of our apartment. The roads aren’t as nice and parts of it are uphill, but there is nothing like biking early in the morning past a small Mexican bakery and smelling whatever is being baked, watching tired mothers walking their laughing children to school, or biking past the Argentine meat market and not having a clue what Argentine meat is like. Lawns are covered with colorful flowers and fruit trees. As I bike through, I feel like I am part of the landscape and the community – another color, smell, and face to add to the mosaic of senses. I love the people and the smells – I love this area.

On the way back, I often bike towards the Rose Bowl, entering very wealthy neighborhoods. In this area, children are driven to school, there are no fresh baked goods to smell – only dumpsters and garbage cans pushed into the road away from the beautiful houses that sit a good ways off the road – and I quickly notice that there are no people around. The only faces I see are hidden behind sunglasses and tinted windows. The lawns here are identical – neatly trimmed and sparse. The roads are wide and well paved, allowing a good deal of distance between my old road bike and the expensive foreign cars driving past. In this area, I feel isolated and removed – an intruder without sunglasses to hide behind.

I love the vision of transformed cities and a resurgence in neighborhood unity. That’s why I do what I do where I do it and hope to find more ways to explore the city I live in and participate in the real growth and change of a place – my neighborhood – as it stretches and grows and becomes a better place for healthy, flourishing communities of people.

California, Global, Green, Meaning, nature, Ramblings, Travel

60 Feet Under the Sea

This past weekend, my friend Ryan and I completed our Open Water Scuba Certification. It started two weeks ago with a day in the classroom and a day in a pool, and then culminated in a weekend trip out to Santa Catalina Island (off the coast of Long Beach).

I’ve been fascinated by scuba diving for a long time but, until recently, never thought seriously about trying it myself. When Ryan mentioned a desire, I vocalized my interested and, within a few weeks, a Groupon appeared offering a scuba certification package that we decided to jump on.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect from the whole experience, but was not at all disappointed. It was (and is!) an absolutely amazing experience.

  • The instructors and dive company (PCH Scuba) were awesome. Highly, highly recommend them if you’re looking to get into diving.
  • I expected Catalina to be over-touristy and pretentious, but actually really enjoyed the island and town of Avalon.
  • The folks in our class were great (and hopefully will be future dive buddies!).
  • The ocean at the Catalina Dive Park was amazing; swimming anywhere from 20 to 60 feet below the surface through giant kelp forests with an amazing assortment of aquatic life (including a giant eagle ray we saw swimming ten or fifteen feet in front of us!) was breathtaking (not literally, since the number one rule of scuba is never stop breathing).

Here are a few pictures from the weekend and, below those, a video I found from another diver’s trip to the dive park we spent our ocean time in.

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