Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dispatches from The Trek (Pt 2)

March Something, somewhere out over the Atlantic:

In the line for check-in, a balding man in a cowboy hat shouted complaints about everything. My one prayer for my boarding pass was that it place me as far away from that grumpy old fart as possible.

So far, so good. We are an hour into an eight-hour flight from Atlanta to Frankfurt. The heavyset (Iranian? Romanian? German?) passenger next to me carries the weight of a fairly interesting conversation.

He discusses his kids, kayaking, travel, and the lessons he has learned at his job as a VIP tech support guy. His thesis seems to be, "take care of yourself first, and your family will follow."

I hope he's right, although as I nod and mumble assent, I think of the 40-plus kids at our afterschool program, and I know that they can't follow me on this adventure. Sometimes you need to have a go at The Mountain without any thought to who will follow, and why.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dispatches from The Trek (Pt 1)

Note: I am currently heading to Mount Everest Base Camp in Nepal. I will be posting dispatches from the trip whenever I get the time. Here are a few snippets I wrote on the plane.

I say goodbye to Ruthie first at the door.

We embraced through the morning leading up to this farewell, the silver hands on the red clock inching toward departure. Here a hug. There a hug. As Jarrett sipped his coffee. Passing one another in the hallway. An arm reached out, my kiss on her hair, her head nestled in my shoulder.

I feel guilty for leaving, but the trip to Everest has been paid for, and Ruthie agrees that it is the thing to do.

She walks out the door prepared, and I wonder if I should follow her to the car, but I stand instead smiling and waving in the living room as she pulls the door into its frame with a thud.

I run to the patio door, but the key to the two-sided lock hangs in our bedroom. Too far to grab and return. I pound on the glass. She hears, sees, and waves.

We installed the lock to slow down the smash-and-grabbers who struck last time we weren't home. It occurs to me as I watch her pull away that this is the first time the threat of violence has seperated us instead of drawing us together.

When I was a kid, my parents said during one of our hundreds of departures for boarding school that it is easier to leave than to watch someone else leave. Since her cost on my adventure is high, I watch her drive out of the parking lot as a small form of penance, thankful for a chance to be the one who is left, if only to make it a little easier on her.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Bloodstains in our hallway and on the sidewalk this morning:

My prayer: Our Father in Heaven, may your Kingdom bring peace to this neighborhood. We have no other hope.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Kingdom (Song from the Archives)

I went back and reread some of my old writing tonight. Very little of it appeals to me now, but this song that I wrote with Jonathan Kotulski, one of my closest friends and my favorite musicians, still resonates with me.

In fact, if I were to pick a theme song for everything I have done and seen since moving into Atlanta's International village, it would be Kingdom. Here are the words:

I’ve seen your glory in the gutters
I’ve seen your blood upon the street
I’ve seen hand upon the widow
And your fire upon the meek

And the aliens, though strangers
Hold your kingdom on their tongues
And the children, when we shush them
Hold your cries within their lungs

Oh Redeemer can you help me
To believe that you can
Keep your kingdom here within me
Just as you have with these

My love I’m prone to sell it
To the gods of Babylon
My heart and my frail body
Will be broken and soon gone

And the aliens, though strangers
Hold your kingdom on their tongues
And the children, when we shush them
Hold your cries within their lungs

Oh Redeemer can you help me
To believe that you can
Keep your kingdom here within me
Just as you have with these

And when your crow comes
And life rattles from my bones
And my flesh falls from my spirit
May your kingdom take me home

Oh Redeemer can you help me
To believe that you can
Keep your kingdom here within me
Just as you have with these

A Few Things about Pain and Love

I sat across the table from a friend I hadn't seen since I was 18. He and his girlfriend came into our neighborhood to reconnect, and we sat over a dinner of dal, pratha, and mixed grain rice, talking about how God had shaped our lives.

At one point, I mentioned that I wouldn't wish our life on anyone. This was true in its own way, but it bears some explaining.

I spend a lot of time talking and writing about the beauty of living a life defined by the love of Jesus. We have made a serious gamble on the idea that we were created for love, and that our lives are best invested in loving God and our neighbors.

I believe that this is true. But what I was thinking about when I said this, is that apart from God's activity, and His faithfulness in bringing fruit out of the chaos around us, our life is stupid.

We live as aliens in our own country. It is hard to know our neighbors, and knowing them, it is hard to trust them. Someone broke into our house when we were gone. Another kid we invited into our home keeps stealing from us. One kid writes on our door. We are always on call for the neighborhood, and we carry burdens much larger than our shoulders were made to bear.

But the fruit of a life like this has been good because God brought us here and wrote a rich story from our struggles. Apart from that, we're a sinking ship.

So while I can't go back to a comfortable life, and while, knowing what I know, I wouldn't want to, I wouldn't wish the circumstances that I face on anyone else. I'd hope that everyone I know can find fulfilling, moderately challenging jobs and make piles of money. Sincerely.

Of course, God calls us to where he wants us, and I wouldn't wish a life outside his will on anyone, either, so it's hard to know what I would wish upon anyone.

This whole post is getting rather confusing, even for me. Basically, readers, may God guide you to the life that he wants for you. But before you dive into ministry of any kind, count the cost. And the cost is high.

Expect to be molded into the kind of person who would put her/himself on the cross for her/his neighbor. And the kind of pain it takes to train us to love that much is great. I've only seen its fringes, and it's already almost too much to bear.

Monday, March 14, 2011


"Fuck you white crackers" "Fuck ---" "--- is Gay"

If any of the above language offends you, just try finding it on your door, directed at you, written in the hand of a student who you have invited into your home, taken to a local bike co-op, played soccer with, and generally treated with as much care as if he were your own.

These are the things a teenager in our neighborhood has been writing on our door about us in sharpie, on and off, since we asked him to apologize for calling a younger kid a prostitute.

Each time these things have appeared on our door, we've cleaned them off, wrestled with our anger, forgiven, and reached out to the guy.

I realize that it seems petty, but this is what we have given our lives to, and it's been rejected by one we care about.

Then, tonight, when we think all this stupid rage has died down, we find the following:

I've been guilty of writing complex, inconclusive stories on this blog, but here's this one, straightforward and simple: Every time this kid writes on our door, I feel hurt, hated, and enraged. And I want to forgive, and I want to be like Jesus, but it gets harder every time.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Rethinking Radicalism: A review of my previous post

For those who haven't yet read my friend Tim Isaacson's thoughtful response to my last post, here's what he said:

Have you had any conflicting thoughts about the experience? It doesn't sound like you do - which is totally fine. I'm trying to figure my inner-turmoil out and having a difficult time doing so. I mean, the up-side was huge. I'm trying to figure out what was off-putting for me. Or, rather, what was off-about-me that had me excited about some parts and wary of others. Any thoughts?

Actually, Tim, yes.

In fact, in the days following the post, I did a lot of re-thinking. I'm going to walk through my current thinking on this and see if it gets me anywhere. It's going to sound more like an argument against a current bill, but it's moving toward a response to your question.

The Georgia House's vote in support of HB 87, while invisible to most Georgians, was felt very clearly among the kids in our neighborhood. Many of them are aware of it, and it's quite possible that whoever wrote "Fuck you, white crackers" on our door today did so partly in response to that law.

When I think about the law, I realize something: It will probably never make it to the enforcement level. The federal government will probably sue Georgia, the state will get locked up in costly litigation, and even if they win, working down to enforcement will be a massive, expensive task.

Then there's the fact that the economic forecast for a state that passes and enforces such a law is pretty bleak. Labor costs go up, raising the prices on pretty much everything, businesses shut down, tourism wanes, and a huge chunk of the populace who don't pay income tax but still pay sales tax, rent, and grocery bills, will disappear quickly. The jobs that open up are difficult jobs that pay little money.

So, practically speaking, there will probably be no economic upside to this bill, although it will cost GA millions on almost every front.

If that is so (and it pretty clearly is), then why would the politicos vote for it?

The republicans voted for this to look courageous to their constituents. And this is where this law got me to re-think my interest in engaging immigration on a political level. Politics are a big, crooked machine, far detached from the individual lives they affect.

Being one who believes in the power of the kingdom, I have become wary of throwing my shoulder into the work of a system that is corrupt to begin with, that see-saws in its decisions, and that rarely, if ever, has any space for love in its workings. Government is the exact opposite of the kingdom I claim.

Then I thought about what we do. Introducing these immigrants to the host culture. Building good will. Showing love. Defying stereotypes. Feeding the hungry. Nurturing. Treating aliens with the dignity that the kingdom demands. These are all things that have a powerful impact in the lives they touch.

So it may be that one who loves in small ways will be inclined to care about the national stuff, but working with the government and its laws is murky and can be dreadfully distracting for ground-level guys like us.

Perhaps it is good to speak when issues arise, but I for one am prone to let the grand arena of politics and ideas distract me from the work I am specifically called and equipped to do: loving my neighbor.

So I still hope to be a radical, but my focus must remain squarely on the neighborhood work. On living and loving alongside immigrants. If I do speak to the political issues of the day (an aggravating, exhausting process), I must do so out of conscience and I must quickly turn back to my neighbor, lest I lose focus on love.

I have no idea if this is what bothered Tim, but it bothers me. My thinking is like a pendulum on this issue of faith, hope, love and politics.

Any of my readers want to question or add to this conversation? I could use your help here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Slowly Radicalized

I realized yesterday, as I sat in on a meeting of Georgia Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (GIRRC), that somewhere over the course of the last year, I have started to transform into a radical.

When I moved into this neighborhood over two years ago, I did so out of spiritual convictions, not political ones. I did not have an opinion on what should happen or what should not happen as far as immigration law. I only knew that I had been called by Jesus to care for the needy, and so I went to a neighborhood where I could do so.

Upon arriving and immersing myself in the neighborhood, I heard some disturbing stories. These immigrants are truly refugees. Life under threat from the ongoing drug war back home is untenable. The poverty, violence, and corruption that these immigrants have fled is equivalent to the situations in Bhutan and Burma.

Upon arrival in America, these survivors find themselves hatefully unwelcome. I see families with whom we work for years suddenly torn apart and left without income because a father or mother or aunt is pulled over and doesn't have proper documentation. America has internment camps for these immigrants which have worse-than-prison conditions, where women and children are held captive. I learned of these camps when people we knew were taken there.

Searching for a way to speak on behalf of these immigrants, out of love for the young people who would gain hope through the DREAM Act, I wrote a concerned letter to two of my congressmen, only to learn that they were committed to making life as hard as possible for my international neighbors. As if they hadn't already suffered enough.

So I still do the same basic work of caring for those in need and discovering with them what the Lord's love can do in our lives. But I have become actively concerned with the way we as a nation treat these people. In fact, I think of it as the deciding moral issue for our country in this generation.

It is my hope that our nation will follow the Lord's heart- I would love to see them work out His love for the aliens in our land, and to invite them to contribute to and partake in the American Dream. While I have little hope in our partisan political system, I still believe that if I love, I must use what resources I can to care for these kids and their families. So from here on out, my votes, my hands, and my speech will be offered in love for the Ends of the Earth who have come to our doorstep.

And while I cringe to count the cost, I will be as radical as I need to be in pursuit of seeing this love realized on a national level as well as in the lives in our little neighborhood.