Stop trying to be right

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With all the current chatter about “alternative facts” and fake news, it’s becoming increasingly clear, as if it wasn’t already, just how insanely divided we are.  In so many political/social conversations it seems that we’re totally incapable of seeing things from another perspective.  Our biologically driven tribalism which has programed us to see the world in dichotomies of “us verses them” has been hijacked by marketing, religion, and politics much the same way they use our need for sex, food, and love to sell products and heard us like cattle.   We’re pitted against one another, blind to our absolutism and personal biases that keep us from seeing nuance or finding common ground.   We’ve been divided and conquered.

In all of this, we’re convinced that our side is right and those guys are wrong.  We post videos, articles, and studies that back up just how wrong they are and prove just how right we are.  Our rightness of position, belief, and perspective seems so clear to us.

But what if we were chasing the wrong idea?

What if the impulse to be right is actually what’s wrong with us?

What if our hyperbolic generalization of the “other” has actually made things worse?

What if trying to be right isn’t the best way?

There is a different ethic I’ve been mulling over in light of our current predicament that I think we must consider.  It comes from some ancient writing between a faith leader and a community of people that he helped lead.  In this context, there were fierce divisions between folks from different socioeconomic, ethnic, and gender demographics.  Whether or not you consider yourself a person of faith, I think these words are worth heeding:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20, emphasis added)

Part of the Christian proposal is that the deepest divisions between humanity and the Divine have been reconciled, and because of this, humanity is then invited to become agents of reconciliation.  Reconciliation comes from Latin and means to bring back together broken things.

This is quite different than the ethic of our current predicament which implores us to be agents of rightness.

I wonder what would happen if our highest call, virtue, value, or ethic shifted from trying to be right all of the time on any given issue towards trying to be reconciled with our neighbor, Facebook friend, and world.

What would it look like if reconciliation became our first impulse rather than trying to tell “them” why they’re wrong?

How can we call out injustice while emphasizing reconciliation? 

That seems like a question worth wrestling with.

So wherever you are at politically or spiritually, experiment with this.   What practical ways can this be played out? Here are a few ideas, but I’d love to add to this list:

-Begin to see people on the other side as an extension of yourself rather than the enemy.
-Recognize that you are limited in your own bias.
-Ask lots of questions.
-Try not to speak hyperbolically in ways that vilify the other side.
-Find common ground.
-Be quick to apologize and concede when necessary.
-Don’t generalize entire groups of people.
-Think about what your end game is- is it to convince the other person they are wrong, or to walk the path of love?  Be honest about this, but also willing to adjust depending on new information, relational capital, or a changed heart.

My bottom line is this: I think that reconciliation is a higher calling than being right.  How this gets fleshed out is something that may take a lifetime to work through, but I think it’s worth it- just look at where our attempts to be on the right side of things have gotten us this far.

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On our bodies, especially us guys

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My wife recently turned me on to a book called On Living by Kerry Egan which is a collection of stories and life lessons from a hospice chaplain surrounding her work caring for folks who are in their final stages of life.  Included in her reflections are many of the expected realizations that being near death brings: love more, stress less, life is to short to have regrets, etc.   It’s incredibly humbling to remember how much we take for granted and just how precious life really is.

Out of all the stories I’ve read so far, one chapter in particular hit home for me.  The chapter is called “if i had only known, i would have danced more”. In this chapter Kerry recaps some of her interactions with a woman named Cynthia who shared about one of her life-long struggles and regrets; her relationship with her body:

“Everyone told me- my family, my school, my church.  When I got older magazines and sales girls and boyfriends- even if they didn’t say so out lout.  The world’s been telling me for seventy-five years that my body is bad.  First for being female, then for being fat, and then for being sick.” (p 56).

Kerry, the author then goes on to share that out of the numerous regrets that her patients have confided in her, the regret of hating our bodies ranks as one of the more devastating:

“There are many regrets and many unfulfilled wishes that patents have shared with me in the months or weeks before they die.  But the time wasted spent hating their bodies, ashamed, abusing it or letting it be abused- the years, decades, or, in some cases whole lives that people spent not appreciating their body until they were so close to leaving it- are some of the saddest.” (p 56)

As I read through her reflections, I found myself deeply resonating.  Growing up as an overweight kid, I’ve never liked my body or the way I look.  While I’ve had some victories loosing weight and establishing some healthier habits, I still carry a deep sense of shame and guilt when it comes to my body.  Some mornings I wake up after having a big meal the night before, or having a late night snack when I didn’t need it and feel the need to confess or repent.  Usually when I look in the mirror at my body I feel sadness.

When I look at our world today and think about all of my friends, I think our relationship to our bodies is sicker than we probably realize.  So many people I know have similar experiences to mine, and our culture is obsessed with telling us we don’t measure up in some form or another.  Whether we know it or not, we measure people’s worth by their appearance, especially women, but it’s also very common to body shame men, and in some ways more accepted.  And as a man, I think it’s less acceptable for me to struggle with these insecurities, but I know that many of us do.  Probably all of us.

So here is the deal.  It’s my experience that we’re all feeling this whether we’re out of shape or we’ve got the body of a model.  If you struggle with how to relate to your body however you identify, know that you’re not alone.  I’m sorry for the ways I’ve made fun of others bodies and I confess that I deeply struggle too.   If you’re a guy and you carry these emotions, know that I’m right there with you.  I’ve met so many guys who feel like these emotions are not valid because it’s not manly to be insecure about your body.   From height to hand size, from weight to voice depth, from hairline to penis size (yeah I said it), so many of us guys are deeply insecure and feel ashamed and guilty for being that way.  To that I call bullshit.

As Kerry closed out her chapter, she quoted the same patient, Cynthia, “Even though I’m fat, even though I’ve had this cancer for twenty years, and I haven’t had any hair in I can’t remember how long- even though all of that, I don’t hate my body. They were wrong, and they always have been.  I think because I thought I was going to die for so long, I figured it out.  And that’s why I’ve been happy anyway.” (p 60)

My hope for myself and others is that we can altogether learn to be honest about our bodies, and empower one another to celebrate what little time we have with them.

There is a lot more that can be said here theologically including discussions on what it means that we were created in the image of God or the fact that in Christ the divine embraced our material bodies, redeeming them and showing us that our bodies are not to be shamed but embraced as vessels of love, but I’ll just close with few words from an ancient prayer that captures most of that:

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made….”
(Psalm 139:14)

 

 

 

Some thoughts on race, church, and being a white pastor from a facebook convo.

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The other day a friend of mine tagged me in a post he made hoping to stir some discussion and get some feedback.  I really respect this person and was more than happy to spend  a little time responding.  After I shared some thoughts, he then asked me to make them more public.  So that’s what this is.  I guess I just do what I’m told.  Also this felt timely in relation Monday’s holiday in honor of Dr. King.  We’ve got a long way to go in these discussions, and I pray that a spirit of love and justice will continue to grow in our communities.

Just some context- my friend is a guy named Aaron Roy who serves as Pastor at Living Hope in Richmond California.  He’s  good dude and I’ve always learned from his example and friendship.  Below is his original post followed by my response a some back and forth.  I’ve made a couple corrections for the blog just a heads up:


Initial Post:
Aaron RoyAaron Roy
with Bobby Marchessault and 97 others.
January 12 at 3:25pm · Richmond ·

For those who know me you know I am passionate about ethnic reconciliation and unity. Thats why I address it so much. Please bare with this long post and interact with me on this. There is a great ethnic divide problem whether some want to admit it or not.
Anyway… I want to ask for your help. Not trying to bait anyone or cause controversy. But someday I do want to write a book about The Gospel and Ethnic Reconciliation. So this would be helpful. Here goes…

… Would you please do a short cultural assessment of your life?

Could you ask these questions please…
– Does my life involve people who don’t look like me and come from a different culture?
– Am I being formed and shaped by deep relationships with people who are of a different ethnicity?
– Is my church a place where there isn’t ethnic diversity?
– Have I ever sat under the leadership (pastor, teacher, boss etc.) of someone who is of a different ethnicity?
– Have I/Do I confide in and seek counsel from someone who is of a different ethnicity than I?
– Is my only interaction with different ethnicities on TV or through political news stations?

Again please just help me out here. Please do an honest assessment even if it stings a little. I am trying to be a part of the solution and not the problem. Just to put my cards out there… I believe that a part of the problem is isolation. When we isolate ourselves ethnically/culturally and have no interaction with those who dont look like us, we cannot help but develop a “supremacy” mindset that divides instead of unites. All this to say that if you are isolated from other cultures/ethnicities then you only see the world through a narrow lens and therefore are incapable of appreciating “difference” and celebrating the diversity of God’s creation.

Please do the assessment and tell me what your thoughts are. No judgement just bridge building and discussion. This is what helps us come together. This is for all people not just one people group. I tagged a diverse group of 100 of my FB friends but please know for some reason they wouldn’t let me go over that? So if your not tagged please chime in anyway! Thoughts?

P.S. Many are saying privately which is cool as well.

My Response:

Chris Scott Chris Scott Aaron Roy appreciate your heart and love/agree with/learn from pretty much everything you post. Here are my brief answers.

– Does my life involve people who don’t look like me and come from a different culture? YES, though I’d love more.
– Am I being formed and shaped by deep relationships with people who are of a different ethnicity? YES as well as different faith, political, generational, and gender perspectives.
– Is my church a place where there isn’t ethnic diversity? No, miraculously, God has really formed a lot of diversity in our community, though there is always room to grow. I think our decentralized/community model has helped. This is in spite of my own shortcomings and the fact that I’m a young white male.
– Have I ever set under the leadership (pastor, teacher, boss etc.) of someone who is of a different culture? Yes.
– Have I/Do I confide in and seek counsel from someone who is of a different ethnicity than I? Yes.
– Is my only interaction with different ethnicities on TV or through political news stations? No.

I was sitting with a middle aged African American gay many from our church yesterday and we were talking through much of this. As a white guy, I know that part of my role in modeling the kingdom is owning my privilege and listening/following more than I lead. I was super fortunate to be a part of a BLM clergy cohort last year that was really formative and the only time I’ve ever worn a clerical collar was to stand behind my black pastor friends at a BLM demonstration. Also, I’m a part of the Alameda interfaith council where I get the chance to learn from other faiths. Though I wish I could be closer to you and other pastors locally, I am really grateful for the connections I do have.

I think for a lot of other white pastors/peers it’s uncomfortable to enter into the spaces of pain because it means recognizing our privilege and also recognizing the way the church has so often made things worse and more segregated.

Anyways, would be excited to chat more about this sometime in person. Appreciate your example and heart!

Aaron Roy Aaron Roy Thanks bro for your transparency. I appreciate your time to fill this out. Would love to kick it man.

Chris ScottChris Scott For sure. Let’s make it happen. I’m really grateful for the ways I get to engage this stuff but know I have a long way to go.

Aaron RoyAaron Roy Also would love for you too spell out a little bit more what you said about dismantling privilege and what that process looks like for a “white pastor”… Good stuff!
Chris Scott Chris Scott Aaron Roy Well, it’s a process I’m admittedly still learning and I think there are lots of aspects to it. I think it starts in our own hearts/spirits where we spend time listening, praying, studying, and befriending people who can inform us. Growing up here in the bay area I was fortunate enough to have many friends and be around lots of people who were different than me so a lot of this was a part of my upbringing- a value for inclusiveness and an awareness of a deep need for more racial/social justice. Sadly, this heart (which I think is inseparable from the gospel) often came across as “liberal” to many of my fellow christian friends.

Like I mentioned , for me dismantling my own privilege starts inside, so I think we need to do whatever we can to first acknowledge the need to change and take some self inventory on where we each have our own advantages in life. Then I think we need to spend time learning and listening. I’ve found the books The New Jim Crow, Slavery by Another Name, and Between the World and Me to be really eye opening. From a christian perspective books like The Color of Christ, and Divided by Faith to be important as well.

One of the odd things about evangelicalism is that it often perpetuates the divides between white/black in major ways and its in its own best interest to maintain the status quo rather than get into the actual deep roots of racism within. For instance a popular concept from the church growth movement called the homogeneous unit principle on one hand justified churches to cater to one type of people and grow quickly, but on the other hand made us more divided than before. So in my opinion underneath the success of megachurches is subconscious fear of the other and isolation from racial issues. They also perpetuate things white savior mentality and the model minority fallacy.

Alright you got me going- that wasn’t really what you were asking. But learning and confronting those issues is important gospel work that those of us who come from privilege need to do.

I think once we’ve done the work internally, we can then join in the work externally.

For me that means I speak openly about my privilege when in platforms other white people can hear. I’ve found that to be really important. So I say that up front at Oak Life often. This also happens in other network/groups I’m a part of when I get the chance. As a pastor in our community it also means I need to meet people where they are at and walk with them in the process because different folks are at different places. I try to make public my sentiments about this when I can

Also, our community tries to be as decentralized as possible- so our leadership team is made up of a rotating group of women and men who are technically the boss of the church. This feels weird typing up but it might give you a picture of how we’ve tried to “dismantle” and work through some of this: Our team breakdown is 3 white males, 1 white female, 1 asian male,1 african american male, 2 african american females, 1 latino female. Two of these members are LGBT as well. This is a decent representation of our community in that the biggest demographic is white, but I wouldn’t call us a white church. Up front we try as hard as we can to reflect our diversity in our community as well. When I speak (which is probably 60% of the time) we have a lot of space for conversation and questions, I try my hardest to quote non-white male theologians, when I show pictures for Jesus or folks from the Bible I try to find non-eurocentric pics, and we regularly host gatherings for this conversation to happen in various forums. One ‘mantra’ we’ve started saying a lot about the gopsel and the kind of church we want to be is that ‘Jesus embraced the margins and disrupted the center’. So I often say that if your in the center and a part of our community, we might make you uncomfortable Conversely, if you’ve been marginalized by the church, we confess our sins and we need your forgiveness and to the best of our abilities, you are safe with us.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there but to summarize:
– do the heart work
– learn, listen, and study
– engage in the external work

As a pastor:
– deconstruct white supremacy in the church by openly calling it out
-allow the community to be led by a plurality of voices from various perspectives
-walk with people where they are at and trust that God will transform them.
-lead by example by joining in groups, movements, gatherings, etc that are working to heal and reconcile.
-confess my own stuff, seek forgiveness.

Like · Reply · 1 · 23 hrs · Edited
Chris Scott Chris Scott Oh and for folks who aren’t big readers I’ve found this podcast to be really, really transformative: http://www.theliturgists.com/…/episode-34-black-and…

Aaron Roy Aaron Roy Chris Scott wow. Man this is awesome. I would encourage you to post this man so folks can see this other than in my comments section. Very thorough and so good. I do believe that shared leadership in the church dismantles not only privilege but it is the NT model.

Here

In your eyes the face of God is felt
No dogmas parallel
To your skies, the harmonies of heaven
Our fabrics fail and fight
To keep these bodies warm the same as you
Home within your mystery
Embers glow of death and resurrection
Forever burning still

In your voice the tragedy of faith
No words articulate
The beauty that’s veiled inside the ordinary
Life is ordination
The firmament and everything in between
Pathology’s religion
A tangled mess, the stunning fog of love
Holds us closer still

In your touch a paradox divine
skin and bone and wine
The spirit of life that breathed us into being
Near enough to be named
Who am I to taste this grain, this body
The feast that never ceases
Nourish us until forever’s over
Until forever’s over

In this place we were free
To find out where you hide
And like light we cannot see
Still the darkness flees

2016 Book List

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Last year was the first time in my adult life I didn’t have a bunch of required reading for some sort of academic program.  So in order to keep my reading muscles from atrophying I’ve made it a life goal to read at least as many or more books each year than the year before.  In 2015 I read 22.  This year I polished off 24.  Just barley made the cut.

Below is a list of the words and pages I wondered through over the last 12 months.  A majority of them were audio books, so that might be cheating-but I’m counting them.  Deal with it.  I’ve learned that while I love reading, I’m actually kind of a slow, but when it comes to listening to audio books, I can pound through them with decent retention.

I’ve noted my favorite books of the year with three of these ***.   Also, I’ve included an amazon link and a brief sentence or two recap for some context and for my own documentation.  The aim of this post is for my own benefit- so that I won’t forget.  I tend to do that pretty often.   Where was I?

Looking over this stew of titles you’ll see a range of topics mostly in the realm of spirituality with some definite themes of deconstructive and contemplative Christianity, but also a few pinches of Anthropology, Sociology, and memoir.  It’s interesting how each year has different themes.

Alright, here they are:

***God is Disappointed in You, Mark Russel & Shannon Wheeler
This was one of my favorite reads because of how funny it was.  Imagine Louis C.K. retelling the entire Biblical narrative section by section.  Folks who are a little more conservative with the Bible might find this a bit too edgy, but I found it creative, honest, and frigging hilarious.

The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker
This work by Becker is part psychology and part philosophy.  Basically, it’s an exploration of the human condition.  Ernest proposes that the fear of death is one of the main human drivers at the root of why we are the way we are.

Confessions, St. Augustine
I had read Augustine’s classic memoir a few years back for a Patristic Theology course, but picked it off my shelf again randomly.  Confessions is a foundational book for many reasons and I’ll probably revisit it again in the future.

***The Bible Tells Me So, Peter Enns
Gosh I liked this read.  Essentially, Enns deconstructs some of the more recent and fundamentalist approaches to the Bible and then reconstructs them in a modern, academic, and faithful way.  At the end of the book I found myself more drawn to God and with a broader understanding of the scriptures.  For anyone who’s wrestled with questions surrounding the nature of the Bible, whether we’re supposed to read it literally or literarily,  or why it seems to carry so much weight to Christians, this is a great book.

How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist, Andrew Newberg, Mark Waldman
Coming from a scientific framework, these authors examined the affects of a God-belief on people’s brains.  I think folks coming from both a theistic, or non-theistic background would find their findings super interesting.

The Great Spiritual Migration, Brian McLaren
In his most recent work, McLaren casts a vision for the future of Jesus-centered faith movements in a refreshing, hopeful, ecumenical, and inclusive way that I think should be considered by anyone connected to this thing we call “church”.

***Finding God in the Waves, Mike McHargue
Out of all the books on this list I’m pretty sure I  recommended this one more than any other book.  In his first literary effort, McHarge tells his story as a scientifically minded individual who came from a fundamentalist background, left the faith when the inconsistencies of what he had been taught couldn’t be ignored any longer, and then ended up coming back to faith in a more robust, rich, and broad way.  Mike is a really smart dude and I’d recommend this book to anyone who’s a person of faith with questions or anyone interested in the big questions.  In the end he lands in a place of mystery yet grounded in science and logic.  Learning how he holds those things in tension is a much needed conversation for our day and age, and I can think of lots of folks who would benefit from this book.

Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor
Barbara Brown Taylor’s aim in this book is to embrace the areas of life that aren’t as glamorous and also move away from a faith that is addicted to activity, hype, and triumphalism.

An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor
For many folks spirituality exists only in places like churches and in outwardly ‘religious’ activity.  In An Altar in the World, Taylor seeks to expand our experience of the sacred to every day life and every day experiences.

Attempting Normal, Marc Maron
Cynical, honest, depressed, and hilarious.  If you like Mark Maron, you’ll probably like this book.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari
This was a very in-depth exploration of the human story from an evolutionary perspective.   Harari does a great job using story as a way to make millions of years of history accessible and engaging.  If you’ve ever wondered about the evolutionary roots of human behavior or would like an intro to the subject, Sapiens is worth checking out.  Since my undergrad was in Cultural Anthropology, this was a great refresher.

Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World, Miroslav Volf
Like the subtitle asks, this book explores the benefits of religion to a modern globalized world.  Volf is a world class thinker, scholar, and theologian who’s ideas carry a ton of weight for me.  Folks interested in current events, ecclesiology, international policy/politics, etc, would enjoy this book.

Things Hidden, Richard Rohr
I’ve always loved Rohr.  In Things Hidden, the Richard explores some of the central themes of scripture in his typical contemplative and non-dualistic approach.  Like the Peter Enns book above, this is a great read for anyone seeking to broaden their experience with the Bible.

Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Such a classic book – I don’t feel like I really need to say much about it, so I won’t.

***Leading with a Limp, Dan Allender
Probably the best book on leadership I’ve read.  Typically I don’t like leadership books because they always seem like repackaged redundancies from people trying to build their own brand.  Allender is the opposite, and he does an amazing job capturing a counter-intuitive and Jesus-y feeling style of leadership.  While this book is kind of about leadership, I think its wisdom would appeal to really anyone.

Sabbath, Dan Allender
Great book on something that I think our culture deeply struggles with.

Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism, Deborah Jian Lee
Challenging to read yet so pertinent to our current moment.  In this book Lee explores the ways that the Evangelical church has marginalized many and how those on the margins are actually reinventing our faith tradition in much needed ways.  I think Lee’s voice and argument is incredibly important to the church, especially in the year of the Trump election which revealed the American church to be more in love with nationalism and patriarchy than the Kingdom of Heaven.

Water to Wine, Brian Zahnd
This book tells the story of how a conservative evangelical pastor found himself on a spiritual journey that led him to a broader, richer, and more ecumenical Christian faith expression.   I’d recommend this one to anyone who’s deconstructing American evangelicalism but still finds themselves deeply drawn to Jesus.

***Grounded, Diana Butler Bass
Wrote a whole book review of this one, so I’ll just link it here instead of saying much more about it.

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
Great fictional story written as a letter from a dying pastor to his son.

The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, David Dark
I can’t remember how I discovered Dark, but I’ve grown to really like his writing.  He’s got a gift for turning a phrase, uses humor well, and is versed in culture and literature.  This book is all about embracing the questions as a fundamental human/spiritual experience.

Life’s too short to pretend you’re not religious, David Dark
Here Dark seeks to expand the definition of being religious to more than just traditional religious practice and experience.

Is God to Blame?  Gregory A. Boyd
In classic Boyd fashion, this book is a rich exploration of theodicy, or the question of where God is in relation to the evil and suffering in the world.  While I enjoyed his ideas, I’ve still never read a book that truly answers these questions in a satisfying way.  What I’ve found is that some things can’t be fixed or answered, only carried- and that’s what our faith offers us- a God who gives us presence and solidarity amidst all our trails.

The Orthodox Heretic, Peter Rollins
I’ve always enjoyed Rollins’ provocative and thought-provoking work.  This book is a collection of short stories and parables that carry deep spiritual meanings.

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Gifts for the Refugee God: Advent Reflection #5

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 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”  Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,  and remained there until the death of Herod. ” – Matthew 2:13-15

The Christmas story tell us that Jesus was born displaced as a result of a mandated registry or census.  Soon afterwards he and his parents were then forced to flee their homeland to avoid imminent danger.  The Gospel accounts describe that Egypt was the location of their refuge, which carries a certain amount of historical irony for a Jewish family and speaks to the urgency of their situation- that their best option was to flee to the place where their ancestors were once slaves.

Precisely how long their reverse exodus in Egypt lasted is a little bit of a mystery.  Some think that Jesus and his parents were in Egypt for a few months, and some argue that it may have been upwards of seven years.  Either way it’s a peculiar and unique experience that God was incarnated into refugee status.

Being a refugee is something that most of us will not have to experience in depth, but far too many in our world will.  As 2016 comes to a close, our world will be home to somewhere between 65-70 million refugees, more than any other point in history- even the years surrounding WWII.

Where is God in the midst of this?

What is God doing?

In my short years engaging in faith work I’ve found myself with those in difficult to comprehend poverty, hanging out in homeless camps under freeways, at leprosy hospitals in the jungles, alongside women recently rescued from a life of being trafficked and raped, weeping with distraught parents who’ve lost a child, across the table from friends going through divorce, marching alongside protestors decrying injustice, at the bedside of the ill and depressed, holding conversations with terminally hooked addicts, worshiping with people who’s faith is illegal, at the graveside with grieving families, and in the tents/huts/makeshift shelters of numerous refugees.

I don’t share any of that to brag.  In fact, in most of those contexts I’ve felt out place and totally unequipped to offer anything helpful.

The reason I share it all, is because in so many of those moments, somehow and somewhere I’ve also sensed the still small Love that anguishes alongside us and is big enough to hold all of our pain, anger, and loss.

Part of the insanity of the Christmas story is that God became a refugee.  God is somehow right there, right now with those 65 million human beings who are fleeing to their own Egypts.   And it’s only because of this narrative that I’ve found myself in those difficult spaces in our world- because I’ve been trying to follow, imperfectly in many ways, Christ.

Because of all of this, I can think of no better way to celebrate the birth of Christ than by giving his fellow refugees some support.  Jesus said in Matthew 25 that whatever we do for “the least of these” we do for him.  So according to God incarnate, if we choose to gift our time, talent, or treasure to people like those in our world have fled their homeland to just to survive, we’re in a very real sense giving to Jesus.

So this Christmas, please consider donating to Partners Relief and Development.  They’re one of a few organizations working in Syria, with refugees from Aleppo, and also with refugee’s from Myanmar.  They’re friends of ours and I can’t speak highly enough about their efforts.

I know this might sound trite- but maybe think of donating to them like you’re giving Jesus, the refugee God, a birthday gift.  Again, that’s actually how he said it works.

Click here to donate to help provide immediate aid in Syria.

Follow Partners’ work on Facebook

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The Divine Displacement at the Heart of Christmas: Advent Reflection #4

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Syrian Refugee Camp

One of the most prominent themes of the Bible is displacement.

Throughout the text displacement is seen in many forms: nakedness, slavery, exile, wandering, occupation, homelessness, captivity, and more.

Over the years even the Bible itself has become displaced to me.  It has fled from its cozy bookshelf home as a neat and tidy answer book, and become a category bending collection of ancient texts more complicated and beautiful than I can fully describe.  It’s new terrain is the mystery and messiness of raw human life as it grapples with the divine.

I’ve grown to take comfort in the the questions and tension that the Bible creates in the soul of its audience because these dynamics are part of its power and also a window into our own experience.

That’s why the theme of displacement in our sacred text is so important not to overlook, because this experience is part of the sacred text of our human story.

Displacement is as common in our contemporary moment as processed food or pollution.  Everywhere I’ve traveled around the world, I can buy a bag of Doritos and taste exhaust fumes.

In the same way the experience of displacement is omnipresent.  From gentrification in urban centers to the global conflicts that have caused tens of millions to become refugees- open up any recent news publication and you’ll be quick to find a story documenting the lives of people who have been forced out of, priced out of, or perpetually with-out, a stable home.

And it’s not just on societal levels.  Each of us, if we’re honest with ourselves carry a sense of being out of place.  We’re constantly trying to find belonging in our work, our relationships, our houses, our legacy, or our image- but underneath it all we’re still haunted by the fear that we’re alone, unknown, soon to be forgotten, or without a real place to belong.  And so we often fake our confidence and act like we know what we’re doing.  All the while we’re terrified that some one will find us out, and the truth of our displacement will be laid bare.

What then do we make of the claim of Christmas, that the Divine also became displaced?

Consider the account of Christ’s birth in Luke 2 which tells of God’s entry into human history as being born in a barn to parents were politically displaced.

Or the events of Matthew 2 which describe how young Jesus and his family were forced to escape to Egypt in order to avoid death.

Or St. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 2:8 which describe the economic displacement of Christ- that he, though rich, became poor for us.

To me, this Advent season, as so many feel displaced, the claim of Christmas has become more urgent than ever.

What is the claim?

That God became displaced.

That God enters into our displacement.

That God is found among the homeless, the refugees, the lost, the wanderers, the exiles, and all of us resident aliens.

That God transforms our state of displacement into a home.

That we are invited to follow this example and become displaced for the sake of others.

That Christmas truly allows us to become people who don’t belong, centered around the beautifully out of place baby Jesus, for the sake of those who don’t belong.

That is good news right there….

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