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. 

Standard
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.”

Standard
Bivocational, Brokenhearted Theology, California, Church, Equipping, Leadership, Meaning, Ministry, Ramblings, Resurrection, Urban, Worship

Gratitude #3 – Kairos Hollywood

I don’t think I was looking for you when I found you, but maybe I was.

We walked in, weary from six months of shopping around on Sunday mornings for a place to learn, a place to worship, and a place to call home.

We were not looking to move to Hollywood. We were not looking to enter into a season of bivocational ministry (we didn’t even know what that meant). We were not looking for a reason to stick around Los Angeles after finishing up grad school.

But somehow we found those things and more when we found you.

frA creative and eclectic community.

Risk takers and question askers.

Open to ideas and input.

A piece of clay willing to restart the potter’s wheel when a new shape was more conducive to faithfulness on mission – even when painful and disorienting.

It was a Saturday morning and I was sitting beside the little pool in our student housing apartment. My phone rang and it was JR, asking me if I’d be interested and able to preach the next day at our Kairos gathering.

It had been about a year since we had first walked in the doors. Sure, why not?

Psalm 80 was the text, and I spoke about lament as a communal practice. Restore us, not restore me. This is about us, together. Mistakes and gifts, pain and grace all swirled about in the mixing bowl of life together in community.

I broke some rules I’ve since set for myself. I used too much Hebrew. I spoke too long. I used a lot of umms and you knows which, umm, I still use a lot. You know?

shadowcommunityBut you let me speak. You were encouraging, you pushed back, and we kept moving forward.

And you let me lead. Or, more accurately, you challenged and expanded what I thought leadership was, and then invited me into that.

You are the type of community that does not pedestal its pastors. Sometimes I had the mic and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I answered and sometimes I questioned. You did the same. It was always a conversation and never a monologue.

I was a pastor but I was also a husband and a dad and you didn’t ask me to put those things to the side for any greater cause. The cause was simply our life together and inviting and seeing how God worked in our midst. To be a dad, a husband, a friend, an employee, a neighbor, a patron, a servant – these were all deeply embedded in my job description as a pastor in our community. 

The greatest compliment I received during our season with you, Kairos Hollywood, was not about speaking, counseling teaching, administering, budgeting, hosting, or teaching. It was that the three of us who were called to equip, lead, and pastor the community, equipped, led, and pastored alongside. Not from the front, not from behind a microphone or podium, not from a high and lofty place above – but alongside.

So I am grateful to you, Kairos Hollywood (and, also, to our brothers and sisters in Kairos Los Angeles churches across the city) for helping me find my voice, for allowing me to guide, equip and shepherd, for showing me that to pastor is to walk alongside.

I’m grateful for who you are – a group of people centered on Jesus, listening to the voice of God and responding in the faithfulness made possible through the power of the Spirit.

Standard
California, Family, Future, Meaning, Ramblings, Urban

Gratitude #1 – Los Angeles

20140706-133752-49072562.jpg

Angeles Skyline, 5:23AM

Los Angeles, you’ve won my heart.

Despite the frequency you get bagged on by those who live outside your borders (and even more so by those who reside within your borders!), you are a class act.

You’ve exposed me to new tastes and flavors. Bibimbap, boereks, pad kee mao, burrito mojado and boba. Some of the best and worst coffee I’ve ever tasted.

You’ve given me an appreciation for cultures, languages, and people groups from across the world. Where I previously heard unfamiliar noises and sounds, now I hear Armenian, Thai, Korean, Chinese, Tagalog. Beautiful languages spoken by our beautiful neighbors – distinct and unique in the everydayness of Angeleno life.

You’ve shown me the beauty of well-constructed buildings and the redemption possible with the crumbling walls of poorly-constructed buildings. From city centers and pop-up shops to subversively-scrawled poetic prophecies. You’ve shown me that graffiti can be art, that abandoned pallets cry out to be repurposed, and that place-making is a necessary and holy calling.

You are iconic, full of images and symbols. We’ve lived in the shadows of your fame, seeing both the beauty and the brokenness and learning to live and love in the midst of it all.

You are a city of lost boys and a city of dreamers, but you are also a city in which dreams become reality. You are the city where many of our dreams – for community, for family, for a neighborhood – took root and blossomed.

Los Angeles, you’ve been home and, for that, I’m grateful.

Standard
Brokenhearted Theology, California, Crazy Bible, Equipping, Global, Green, Meaning, Ramblings, Resurrection, Urban, Worship

I Stand In the Goodness of Dirt

I was looking over a draft of a personal narrative theology I began constructing a while back. I didn’t get very far, but the draft opens with this simple line:

I stand in the goodness of dirt.

We are a mysophobic people. We don’t like germs and we don’t like dirt. We fear those things because we’ve given them the power to make us unclean.

So we shower. We scrub our hands. We control our climates – heating and cooling with machines – to avoid sweats and shivers. We rinse, wash, spin and then rinse, wash, and spin.

We apply chemicals on the parts of our body most prone to smell. We “plug it in, plug it in for freshness with a new spin” so the air around us stops smelling like…us. We seal off doors and windows. We pay for new cars so that our car can smell like a new car instead of an old car (which smells like…us).

We only shop at clean and shiny stores where we can buy clean and shiny food. We want to eat meat but do not want to see eyes or blood or feet or beaks. We scrub, scrub, scrub our fruits and vegetables. No dirt for us, just clean and shiny food.

Somewhere deep down we’ve equated being dirty with being unclean in its fullest sense – defiled, unworthy, bad.

So we scrub, scrub, scrub.

I guess what I’m saying is that we’ve forgotten where and what we come from.

The ancient Hebrew stories of beginning (which have been compiled into a book we call Genesis) start with God calling the universe into being and, in that brand new universe, cultivating a garden. Planted in that garden and given life through God’s own breath was אָדָם – a creature formed from and named after the dust and dirt and soil of that first garden.

In the beginning, God created dirt-y and dust-y humans and it was very good.

I just finished reading Sara Miles’ latest memoir (which I really enjoyed…check it out): City of God: Faith in the Streets (Hachette, 2014). In it, she explores her neighborhood – San Francisco’s Mission – through the lens of Ash Wednesday’s call to remember dust and ashes, to remember the cycle of life and death, to remember our humanity.

How often we forget our humanity. How often we forget the gift it is to be human. How often we forget to stand in the goodness of dirt.

The story of Christianity is ‘good news.’ Too often that goodness has been construed through a lens of escape.

Escape from our bodies, escape from this earth, escape from the dirt and the dust.

The goodness of the Christian story lies not in escape but in embodiment.

This embodiment is an invitation into the freedom of realizing and embracing who we were created to be.

Crafted in the Imago Dei, being transformed into the Imago Christi so that we might experience the redemption and glory of a dust creature living in right relationship with the one who calls forth and forms life and beauty from the dirt and names it good.

Standard
Brokenhearted Theology, California, Family, Future, Global, Meaning, Ramblings, Urban

There Are Stars in Los Angeles

When we first moved to Los Angeles, we never saw any stars. We saw some celebrities, but I’m not talking about that kind of star.

Los Angeles is one of the world’s great cities, and great cities have great lights. The lights of Los Angeles are beautiful; I love flying back here in the evening because as the plane descends, I descend with it into the endlessness of light.

We live in the shadow of the iconic Griffith Observatory. Sitting atop the Hollywood Hills, the concrete structure is brightly lit at night and, from it, you can see our giant of a city and her magnificent lights sprawling as far as the ocean to the west and as far as you can see to the east and south.

But lights cause luminous pollution – the fancy word used to described the effect of non-natural light on our ability to see natural light. Bright city lights do not diminish the natural light of a Red Giant or the flash of a meteor; bright city lights diminish our ability to correctly perceive that natural light. The lights of a city, in a sense, distract us from the lights of the universe.

Human eyes are amazing. As an environment darkens or brightens and our eyes’ rods and cones adjust, what our eyes see as “black” changes, recalibrating to the ‘new normal’ of our ambient surroundings.

It takes between twenty and thirty minutes for eyes to fully adjust to darkness. Each minute we wait, we can see exponentially more as we give our eyes more time to calibrate to the lights shining amidst the darkness. In darkness as opposed to sunlit conditions, the human eye is up to one million times more sensitive to light.

When we first moved to Los Angeles, the city lights were too bright, and we never saw any stars. 

We are approaching the eight-year anniversary of our move to Los Angeles. Last week, I was outside in the evening with Everett. He pointed up and, in sleepy-eyed wonder, exclaimed “Dada…stars!

Sure enough, I looked up and two bright stars twinkled overhead. He and I spent more time gazing into the luminously-polluted skies high above our home in northeast Los Angeles and, gradually, our eyes adjusted to the reality of the universe blanketing us in light-amidst-darkness.

There are stars in Los Angeles.

To see many of them it’s taken eight years of slow adjustment. But they have been there the whole time, and they will continue to shine once we are gone.

Standard
Brokenhearted Theology, California, Church, Contemp Culture, Equipping, Eucharist, Global, Leadership, Meaning, Ministry, Narrative, Peacemaking, Pedagogy, Prayer, Ramblings, Resurrection, Spirit, Urban

Poetry and Place: Listening to Your Neighborhood’s Voice (Part 2)

Last fall I spent a week in the Mission District of San Francisco and spent time exploring and listening to that neighborhood. Part of that week was spent learning 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.

The product of that experience was a poem – the colors scream – but also a desire to recreate the experience and invite others to listen to their neighborhood’s voice in all its beauty and brokenness.

This month, I’ve been meeting together with a group of friends who are exploring and experimenting with our neighborhoods and our role as a neighbor in that place. Our “homework” the first week was to map our neighborhood/place and spend time listening, exploring, and creating some kind of artistic response to what we heard/saw/tasted/smelled in that place.

Here’s a poem I wrote inspired by my place:

Image

walk up, time to see the day
the neighborhood awaits our presence
in its beauty and in its pain

vacant lots, echo chambers
locked up toys and runners
runners in pink, runners in green
big runners, small runners
costumed runners, laughing runners
all just passing through

‘the spirit of God is upon me’
her voice cuts through
the runner’s drone and the drum’s resound
her words call out, I am recognized
‘be careful,’ a Siren sounds

to protect my child or 
protect this stranger?
the cruelest of choice
a Siren sounds, ‘be careful’
our wheels roll on
my heart lingers

the lilies of the field
the lilies of the field
and the birds in the air
will they be okay?
will she be okay?
will we be okay?
a Siren sounds

East Hollywood, California // April 2014

 

Standard