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, 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, 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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