Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Faithful Rain

One thing that I am going to miss about this house is the sound it makes when it rains.

We do not have an attic here, so when I am sitting at my desk upstairs, I am literally a foot away from the rooftop. The constant pecking at the roof is very soothing to me, as I combat a sore throat, impending essay deadline, and the anxiety of handling all of the logistics and financials in relocating this week.

I have always been drawn to storms.

Our first winter living on the Oregon coast was during 1996 and El Nino storm pattern. We lived in a 2-bedroom house on top of a hill that overlooked the ocean (for anyone who went to our wedding, it was between the hill we sat on and the field we had people park in). This sounds like a peaceful, relaxing setting, except when you factor in 90 mph winds, inches of rain daily, and a house which was built/maintained with a lot of "volunteer" labor. We had two sliding glass doors (which the wind blew around), an opening underneath the house facing the ocean (which the wind blew up through the flooring), and a wood-burning, iron fireplace (which the wind blew down and suffocated any fire).

Still, I would love to go running down the hill in the face of the rain and wind and be pummeled by nature. I would come back home muddy, swollen, red-faced, dripping wet, and exhausted. There was some comfort in being able to interact with nature as a tangible force. The earth is not simply scenery to be observed, but has a life unto itself that is meant to be explored.

We would have storms every winter and I would enjoy them, but none were ever quite as thrilling as those when we lived in the little shack on top of the hill. It was only two winters before we had out house built in Cloverdale, inland from the ocean bluff.

The other storm which looms in my memory is a stretch of the rainy season when I was living in Kenya. It was a bit out of season as it usually runs roughly March-May and this was in July. The building that I lived in was completely covered with metal roofing, and my door faced into the center of the building, creating a cacophony of sound from each drop that fell. With regularity, the entire sky would light up with a flash and the rumble of the thunder would shake the night air. Even the crickets would stop their chirping to respect the sky.

This storm was a reminder of my insignificance.

I had come to Kenya with wide-eyes and an open heart to do something (anything, really) to address issues of HIV-AIDS within a community. I had become involved with an organization doing a phenomenal ministry of rebuilding ruptured lives and was thrilled to be living an adventure in ministry. In the months leading up to this storm, I had been teaching at the high school, presenting curriculum in the Democratic Republic of Congo, walking the streets of Mathare in Nairobi, guiding teams from the US, coordinating a VBS, preaching a circuit of local churches, and loving the kids and families who we were able to serve.

For as much as I was able to do, however, this rain did so much more.

In a district dependent upon the cultivation of maize, beans, and peas, the rain is a necessity for the presence of life. What I was doing with a small handful of people, the rains were doing for an entire region. Not the same, I know, since rain cannot pay school fees or provide medicine, but it does give the tangible reminder of the provision of God, and in turn, hope.

Even though I was not a farmer in Ukambani, the rain gave me a reminder of home. A mother and father on the other side of the earth in Oregon, a wife living in Central America. A brother studying in Oxford. All of us separated by distance. Yet God's provision is to bring them all near to my heart. To establish community among his people in whatever locale I may find myself. To be reminded that I am never alone, because ultimately he is with me. This awareness of God's provision is laying the groundwork to be able to withstand future adversities. Knowing God is with us, we have ridden the swells of graduation, marriage, new chapters in life, new jobs. We have plunged the depths of estrangement from family, loss of work, unknown illnesses, and death.

At the dinner table, we pray thankfulness for the meal which we have, conscious of how God continues to provide. On most nights, it feels like an hollow repetition, a ritual phrase, but the awareness has penetrated my mind and allowed me to see God's faithfulness in so many ways in spite of the challenges which we face.

On most nights, my prayers coil like smoke and vanish into the night. But, on nights like tonight, the rain answers back.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Happy Thanksgiving.

364 days out of the year, thankfulness seems like a foreign concept. We are inundated with marketing blitzes, commercials, new products, all designed to prey upon a sense of dissatisfaction with our present situation. There is a dark sense of foreboding that Black Friday sales seek to quench any sense of thankfulness with sheer, unabashed, unapologetic materialism. With all of the scheming that Black Friday planning requires, we don't even get a full 24-hours of gratitude before we pick up the chains of consumerism.

Beyond Black Friday, there is a perpetual dissatisfaction with life that we are sold solutions to through newer cars, bigger houses, better appliances, and shinier jewelry. This will come into clearer focus as we enter the Christmas season. Our own bodies are treated as commodities, as we are sold self-improvement techniques, diet plans, gym memberships, and promised a life of perpetual youth. This chase after an aura of affluence is especially apparent in Orange County, but representative of the country as a whole.

To live in a posture of thankfulness is one way in which the life in commitment to the way of Christ is in opposition to the dominant culture. Each week, we gather together and are reminded about how we have been invited into a relationship with God through the life and teaching of Jesus. This grace is nothing that we can earn or improve, but simply accepted with gratitude. The relationship grows deeper, surely, but the commonality between Christians is that they are on the journey together, all undeservedly.

Comparatively, all other blessings are subsidiary and secondary to this relationship. I am thankful for many things today: family, friends, fulfilling work, opportunity tot attend school, our economic situation, a growing community at Rock Harbor Fullerton, and health. I remember these things today for Thanksgiving, but my desire is to remember through the rest of the year and to let this seep into my consciousness and live out of a reality of abundance, relationship, and grace rather than dissatisfaction, competition, or inadequacy.

So today, but more importantly tomorrow, December, and the coming year, what does it look like for us to live in the posture of thankfulness?

Friday, November 12, 2010

To re-orient our identity

We all have had songs stuck in our heads (for Dayann yesterday, it was a medley of Lionel Richie’s All Night Long and Strangelove’s I Want Candy… Her mind is not a playground for the timid) and these songs can seriously affect the way that we think throughout the day. If you have a good song, it is like the soundtrack of your life that keeps you moving.

My brother posted a line from a song that means a lot to me. The simple lyric opens up the rest of the song and the melody keeps replaying through my head. This song re-orients my life to the subject and brings me back into rhythm with the community seeking the kingdom of God. Even though it was written in the 18th century, its simplicity continues to speak powerfully…

O to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be!

Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;

here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.

This past week in our life group, we talked about the messages that have shaped our identities. Parents, siblings, teachers – knowingly or not—form the manner in which we view ourselves and that baggage can take years to unpack. Whatever is ingrained in us, especially negative, becomes our default response for interpreting our circumstances. If someone doesn’t return a phone call and I don’t know why, it is probably because they found better friends and moved on from me (or so the rationalizing goes). Maybe my experience of meeting thousands of people over the summer during camps established this thought pattern? That experience is not in itself, negative, but can affect my relationships negatively if I am not consciously aware of it moving forward. What do I think what Dayann doesn’t return my phone call or God is silent in prayer (as is often the case)?

The ongoing work of the spirit of God is in developing us into a people who are utterly renewed into the reality of life in relationship with God. This requires reshaping (and reversing in some cases) those images we have inherited and indulged. This is the reason to study scripture, meditate on the gospel, listen to each other’s stories, pray in earnest, and join a community in song. The combination of lyric and melody allows the penetration into our heart, soul, and mind, allowing us to respond in faithfulness with all of our being.

What has shaped your identity (whether positively or negatively)?

What methods are best suited to re-enforcing your true identity as a child of God?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Crucified Culture

This past Sunday, I was asked to teach at Lake Elsinore Christian Church, in place of my friend, Trevor Smith. He has been teaching through the epistle to the Galatians and I continued his progression into chapter three.

A word about the church in Galatia, reading through the epistle (which doesn't take long. Go do it. I'll wait…), Paul is obviously upset. Something has happened to this church while he is away that has supplanted the message that he taught them when he was present. No small part of this may be the result of what Peter writes about in one of his epistles, "Some things Paul writes are difficult to understand. Irresponsible people who don't know what they are talking about twist them every which way. They do it to the rest of the Scriptures, too, destroying themselves as they do it" (2 Peter 3:16, one of the "other" 3:16's worth memorizing).

After establishing his position as a trustworthy communicator of the Christian message in chapters one and two, Paul begins chapter three with some fire:

"You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened, for it's obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. His sacrifice on the cross was certainly set before you clearly enough.

"Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God's Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren't smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!"

The issue that Paul is taking the Galatians to task for is constructing a different image of Christ than the one which was presented when the originally believed. Specifically, they were now believing in a Jesus who had not been crucified. That is what I want to ponder for a few moments, is what difference it makes to believe in a Jesus sans crucifixion.

Images of Jesus abound, and the manner in which we view him will determine the response that we make to his life and teaching. There are several perspectives that do not require any element of crucifixion. Jesus never actually existed in history, but is the mythological creation of a community, in the same vein as King Arthur or Robin Hood. Jesus was an ethical and moral teacher the demonstrated compassion for the poor and neglected in society. Jesus was a political leader who sought to revolutionize the underclass (meek, poor, etc.). Jesus was a prophet/spiritual leader who taught an understanding of God in relational terms. Jesus was an apocalyptic Jewish rabbi who was mis-identified by his followers as a messianic figure.

To reach the above conclusions is perfectly reasonable, considering the assumptions that one begins with and the basis of evidence which they choose to believe.

The importance of Jesus being a crucified leader is essential to Paul in this instance because it cuts to the heart of the issues disabling the Galatian church. In each chapter of this letter, reference is made to Jewish influence upon the Christian community: Paul's practice of Judaism (1:13), description of Peter's hypocrisy in practicing Jewish customs selectively (2:11ff), reference to Abraham (3:7), reference to Hagar and Sarah (4:21ff), the symbolism of circumcision (chapter 5), and 16 quotations or allusions to Hebrew scripture.

The teachers in the community were teaching a gospel life that had co-opted Jewish cultural values. Jesus was, after all, Jewish, so to follow after him would entail living like him in every way possible. Jesus is presented as one who fulfilled the fullness of Jewish religious/cultural expectations. To be crucified, however, would have repudiated the honorable life that he had built under Jewish practice. To follow after a crucified leader would negate all of the hopes and dreams assumed by the Jewish culture. The execution was a shameful demonstration of the powerlessness of the god of Jewish nationalism to keep his promise to the descendants of Abraham. To call the death of Jesus a disappointment would be an understatement, perhaps debasement would be a better term.

This is why a non-crucified Jesus can be so appealing. It allows us to respect the life and teaching of Jesus without having to confront the difficulty in reconciling that with his demise. In my own development, I spend much more time reading and preaching the gospel of Luke and Jesus' teaching that is directed towards social inequality and oppression.

What is still lurking in our hearts is the desire to replace the call which a crucified Jesus has on our lives with the fulfillment of our cultural values and definitions of success.

This is where an unfortunate translation issue steps in. In verse three, the word sarx is used in contrast to the word numa. Numa is in reference to the Spirit of God, so good Platonist disciples throughout history have translated sarx to be flesh, with a sinister connotation. The New International Version even supplies a note reading: "In contexts like this, the Greek word for flesh (sarx) refers to the sinful state of human beings, often presented as a power in opposition to the Spirit."

But what if we can translate sarx to mean our particular culture-- culture which is neutral but has the capacity for both positive and negative. This is more in line with the translation of the passage above (which is a reason why a chose the translation to quote, and another example of how every translation is an interpretation) and provides us with a framework to deconstruct our own cultural influences in the attempt to form a coherent, cognizant Christian expression of faith.

A crucified Jesus does not measure up to any culture's expectation of greatness. The images of success in our culture (sports icons, CEOs, politicians, entertainers all) are images of triumph over adversity and exceptionalism. This grandiosity would ridicule the man who was executed shamefully outside the gates of Jerusalem. And so it is appropriate that Jesus developed a "cult following" as acceptance by the mainstream culture was incomprehensible.

And so we can choose to live by the Spirit of God, leading us to a knowledge of God through the roadblock of a crucified leader, or we can live by our culture which demands that we perform continually. But in light of what God has done for us in reconciling us to him, what can we possibly hope to add? God's response to us has already been established in the crucifixion event and the fork in the road that we have is whether we reject this image of Christ or allow him to redefine our values, behaviors, and beliefs that we have inherited in our cultural systems.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Justice Acheived!

There is so much to say on the subject, but I had an incredible reminder of God's faithfulness this week.

We have been praying our sister's brother in-law, John. Details withstanding, he was taken to jail for being involved in a fatal hit and run traffic accident involving multiple vehicles. The kicker in the story is that this took place in Senegal, where there are some differing standards of due process, investigation, and law enforcement. After 6 days of waiting in jail, he was determined by the state prosecutor to be innocent and the pending charges were dropped.

This video is of his homecoming to the international community in which he and his family live and work:

What this brings up in me is an image of God's justice. Not a punitive picture that is deducting from our souls what little we have left, but one who restores back to right, who sees clearly enough to see where we have deceived ourselves and strayed from who were created to be. Even in justice, God's grace and generosity reign supreme, as he renews us into the image of Jesus. Each person is a complex equation of inheritance, experience, and indulgence, but God sees through the layers and understands us. Even more than simply understanding, he sees all of us and responds in love.

Justice was achieved, not by punishing the one guilty of the hit and run, but also in dealing correctly with the life of other people involved. The image of God that we journey after, the one that we want to love with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, the one that Jesus told us about, we have to be able to trust him to make those decisions about us and to see clearly what is true about us.

We are declared innocent. We are set free. We are welcomed home into the community of freedom whose lifeblood is based in the unbounded grace of God. And this flows from the example of accomplishment of Jesus' death and resurrection.

A word from 2 Corinthians 5:

Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.

Because of this decision we don't evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don't look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We're Christ's representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God's work of making things right between them. We're speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he's already a friend with you.

How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.

Today we celebrate justice with the Van't Land family, Dakar Academy in Senegal, the Wolfe family, and all those brothers and sisters around the world who have been mindful and prayerful concerning John this past week.

"Christian" Military Service: A Possibility?

A friend posted a link to this article by Greg Boyd, "Does Following Jesus Rule Out Serving in the Military if a War is Just?" and I happened to have a sleepless night.

I recommend reading the article, but for those with no time to spare, but enough time to spare to read my journal, here is a quick synopsis (with apologies to Dr. Boyd). Two opposing sentiments in the New Testament: teaching regarding non-violence, presence of military personnel but no clear denunciation of their career. After reviewing the pertinent texts, he writes "The above cited texts show that the Gospel can reach people who serve in the military. They also reveal that John the Baptist, Jesus and the earliest Christians gave military personal “space,” as it were, to work out the implications of their faith vis-à-vis their military service." This ambiguity should be respected by those who are prone to make declarative statements regarding Christian ethics.

Boyd continues to ask "what about just wars?", which is an issue which I will not take up at this time, but deserves the attention of any thoughtful Christian.

The section entitled "How do we know when a war is 'just'?" is the most revealing to me. After describing the complexities involved in determining whether a war and its component parts are justified, he posits that due to the unknowable nature of motivations, tactics, and outcomes, it is better to abstain.

Forgive the block quote, but he writes better than me:

"Do you know – can you know – the myriad of personal, social, political and historical factors that have led to any particular conflict and that bear upon whether or not it is “justified?” For example, do you truly understand all the reasons your enemy gives for going to war against your nation, and are you certain they are altogether illegitimate? Are you certain your government has sought out all possible non-violent means of resolving the conflict before deciding to take up arms? Are you certain the information you’ve been given about a war is complete, accurate and objective? Do you know the real motivation of the leaders who will be commanding you to kill or be killed for “the cause” (as opposed to what the national propaganda may have communicated)? Are you certain that the ultimate motivation isn’t financial or political gain for certain people in high places? Are you certain that the war isn’t in part motivated by personal grievances and/or isn’t being done simply to support or advance the already extravagant lifestyle of most Americans? Given what we know about the corrupting influence of demonic powers in all nations, and given what we know about how the American government (like all other governments) has at times mislead the public about what was “really” going on in the past (e.g. the Vietnam war), these questions must be wrestled with seriously."

The assumption throughout this article is that participation in the military is an individual decision made by a potential enlistee. Although the nuance of "not resisting being drafted into war" attempts to widen the scope of inclusion, our modern military is a form of incentivized volunteerism that can serve to preclude the ethical dilemma from those who choose not to participate. The military-industrial complex, however, touches almost all aspect of our culture. To engage in any commerce involves interacting with companies that supply, market, employ, or benefit from military action overseas and domestically. By participating within our American culture, each person tacitly supports the acts of military aggression funded by our governmental representatives. As participants within our culture, we all share responsibility for the actions of our enlisted forces overseas. Our culture has decided the criteria for which wars are justified, and the cultures criteria most certainly would not coincide with what is taught by Christ. The question, then, is how to live an ethical life in imitation of Jesus our teacher within a culture that does not honor his teaching.

For many, including most professional ethicists and myself (an armchair ethicist), military engagement is a hypothetical situation. As followers of Christ, we are called to be faithful to God within our lived reality, not a hypothetical situation. (A different note for a different day may discuss what non-violence means in my context.) This is where the culture of the Kingdom subverts the kingdoms of this world. If we exist within a cultural framework that persists in military force, is there any way to remain innocent? I do not think that there is. As such, we need to acknowledge our complicity and ask God and our neighbors for forgiveness. It would also serve propriety to discontinue the "Christian" modifier to this or any country. This is not to suggest a nihilistic fatalism in regard to military force, but to own our role as participants in and shapers of our culture and respond faithfully and appropriately within our immediate context. This may mean voting, demonstrating, abstaining, or acting.

Lastly, I do not think that "bearing the sword" is an adequate descriptor of violent force. The standard issue rifle for the American military is the M4, a "gas-operated, air-cooled, magazine-fed, selective fire firearms with a multi-position telescoping stock" . In contrast, "A sword is a long, edged piece of forged metal, used in many civilizations throughout the world, primarily as a cutting or thrusting weapon and occasionally for clubbing". Both are designed to efficiently minimize an opponents muscle use while causing the interior blood level to decrease beyond a lethal limit. The difference between these two forces are the effective range. Modern warfare has depersonalized the use of violent force and turned people (with the shared, full range of life experience) into targets, enemy combatants, terrorists, and other ambiguous, unidimensional terms. "Us" vs. "Them", for control of the world. (A particularly insightful read on the subject is Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society". As a West Point psychologist, he researches the interior mechanics that exist when one person ends the life of another and how these mechanics have changed throughout modern military history and influenced society. If you’re interested, it's on our bookshelf.)

To quote Boyd's article again, the alternative to this reality of life is to subvert our predominant culture for the Kingdom of God. "To belong to this kingdom is to crucify the fleshly desire to live out of self-interest and tribal interest and to thus crucify the fallen impulse to protect these interests through violence." (I am in the process of writing a sermon that looks at the term "flesh" in Galatians as the neutral, human element of culture, rather than a sinful nature and draws conclusions for how the church should respond.) To rephrase, as followers of Christ, we look to execute our cultural desire to live out of self-interest and tribal/national interests…and their protection through the use of violence. For every person involved, whether in fatigues in Afghanistan or in Fullerton, introspection is necessary to determine how we will live faithfully in the manner we were taught by Christ.

Grace is also ever necessary.

(I am seeing my brother Kyle this week, who served with the United States Marine Corps. I am looking forward to his take on the subject. I am also concerned for the safety of my brother's brother, MJ, currently beginning a deployment in Iraq.)

Cross-posted at

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Apparently Wednesday is French Dip night in the cafeteria at Fuller. This conclusion is based on my research last week and tonight, so I'm not ready to publish my dissertation yet.

I've been thinking lately about the rhythms that I have in my life. The one I've been thinking about most is at work. Barring emergencies, Monday is a day to be on the phone with prospective clients, Tuesday and Wednesday we interview potential clients, Thursday is a day for checking references and deliberating, on Friday we move in approved clients and introduce them to our program. This regularity allows our staff (and me, in particular) the stability to plan our effort accordingly.

My weekly rhythm is to have a nap and then church on Sunday, life group (since yesterday) on Tuesday, and football on Saturday.

Larger rhythms in my life include the seasons and, in the garden, planting and harvest. Even though my life is not dependent upon these rhythms, they serve as a way to mark the time that has passed between one moment and the next. Children are born (Ethan to the Olara's!) and the temporal life is ended (Brother Joel! Sister Marilyn! Alive in triumph!). Sunrise, sunset.

This regularity gives my time structure and keeps me from floating indiscriminately and then having to react to crises in emergency mode. They allow me to give shape to the myriad of things that happen in my life and assign meaning to events. Taking hold of my life rhythms allow me to plan for the future and give traction to my intentions. I intend to be a good student, diligent worker, loving husband, and faithful follower of Christ-- these things will not happen accidentally but will grow out of my deliberate growth within my rhythms.

For those whose lives are always in a state of crisis or directionless, maybe the rhythms need to be examined.

Knowing how easily my life can slip into following the flow, I have spent the last six weeks deliberately waking up an hour early to have a cup of coffee, read, and pray. I am currently re-reading Dallas Willard's Divine Conspiracy (and it makes much more sense the second time). I've also worked through Eugene Peterson's Tell it Slant and Thomas Keating's Reawakenings and four pounds of coffee beans so far.

What rhythms give definition to your life?

How can you build upon your rhythms to have regular time to spend in the presence and pursuit of God?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Starting Lifegroup Tonight

Tonight we start lifegroup through our church. That is a small group of people forming an intentional community meeting together once a week for the next few months for spiritual formation. For the last four weeks, I have been attending a launch session designed to introduce people to the ethos of this communities way of doing community. In the process, I have become the leader of our group. Part of the power that comes with being a lifegroup leader is being able to email the entire group and reminding them to bring their curriculum materials tonight (I read somewhere that this is where Joseph Stalin got his start too…). My role is to facilitate the discussion that comes out of the curriculum and provide direction from week to week.

This is the first small group leadership I have been in since college when I had charge of a formation group. From time to time, I have flirted with the idea of a bible study at our house but for whatever reason it never fleshed out.

Anyway, for the next few months we are going to be examining topics of identity, belonging, and mission, so if my posts seem to follow that vein, please know why.

When I think about being involved with a small group for spiritual formation, I think of three distinct times in my life. First would be a bible study that I led while I was in high school (I must have been a junior, since my brother Zaq was there and he is a year older than me) before school at the coffee shop in Cloverdale (for those incredulous readers, yes, we have a coffee shop in Cloverdale. It has pictures from hunting trips on the walls, but they still serve espresso).

Second is the Sunday School class that my dad taught while we were in high school. It was here that I was introduced to Marcus Borg's Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time and the academic pursuit of the historical Jesus as well as Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship. We also took a Sunday School field trip to the library at Northwest Christian University to research and prepare for a youth Sunday. For all practical purposes, my pop was (and continues to be) a badass at stimulating pertinent spiritual conversation and reflection. He also knows how to work a chainsaw, so watch out.

Thirdly was a group of guys who met for a semester to talk about their integration of faith and share communion together. I worked at Panera at the time, so it was really easy to get good bread. This fellowship solidified some relationships that I continue to count among my closest today and led me to do some things that I otherwise would not have done. (One spiritual exercise I remember was to ask forgiveness from three people I have wronged. Took a tremendous amount of humility.)

Do I expect this lifegroup to have the same impact upon my spiritual development? Not necessarily. But it does have that possibility of introducing me to someone who can challenge me to grow and expand my perspective of life in obedience to the teaching of Christ. It solidifies our involvement with a community of faith so we can grow deeper in faithfulness to the unfolding kingdom of God.

I am excited for the next few months in getting to know new people and seeing each other along on the journey of our discipleship. If anyone feels adrift in their spiritual life, I would recommend getting connected with a group like ours in a church where you are comfortable and finding life within those relationships of people looking for authentic community and growth.

(I'm still thinking about the possibility of a bible study at our house in order to go deeper in exegetical work and interpretation. If anyone has any input, give me a call.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cleaning up some old links...

I was surprised to be cleaning up an old blog where I had been posting over the last year by the number of readers blogger told me I had in India, Japan, Lebanon, and Portugal.

I am not going to be posting there anymore, but wanted to provide the links to the materials if anyone is interested and I did not want to lose them into the abyss of the interwebs. I had a lot of fun writing them, maybe you will have some fun reading them?

16th Century Iberian Context for Mission: The Foundation for the Imperial Missionary Encounter in Caribbean America

Christ as Ancestor in the African Perspective: An Illustrative Reading of Colossians 1:15-20

Finding a Place Among the Displaced: An Image of a Vulnerable Jesus

Non-Western Biblical Interpretation for the Western Church

And some book reviews on the emergent church...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Movement of Crooked Branches

I had some extra time today before class started and I was able to take some time to pray. I walked toward the center of the Fuller campus and found a bench to sit down on. Directly in front of me was a tree and I decided as my prayer to meditate on the livelihood of the tree and let it speak to me concerning something of God's work.

I had to calm my mind from its rational process and also block out the people walking around me.

My mind went in several different directions and then settled on one observation.

In this tree, all of the branches spiraled in crooked directions, full of knots, hitches, bends, and scars. There was no beauty of form, symmetry of design, or balance in the branches. But the tree moved in one direction: up. And the branches had one orchestrated movement: directing their leaves toward the sun's light.

I saw this tree as the image of my life in Christ and the journey of discipleship. What is seemingly a life of disorder, imbalance, and knotted crookedness finds its life in its continual journey upward and the conscious decision to pursue the source of light and life relentlessly until it is found.

Jesus said, "I am the world's Light. No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live in". (John 8:12)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Tonight we are making dinner with friends. What I like about this is how everyone chips in to contribute. I made bread (more specifically, I made a whole wheat bread with bulgur and crushed oats. I even milled some of the crushed oats to make some flour since we were running low). Audrey brought ghee (a type of clarified butter) and few other ingredients to make velvety pumpkin soup with bleu cheese and bacon. Lynda and Tim brought by spinach and peppers to make salad, and actually Tim gave us the pumpkin a few weeks ago from which we made the soup base.

To me, this is an image of what community looks like. We each bring our parts but what makes it come together is the work that we each put in to make our ingredients something nourishing. We don't have a trough full of ghee or a plate full of spinach, but each part, in conjunction with the others, contributes toward the whole. It is not simply the sum of the individual parts, but the ways in which they interact (yeast rising, soup simmering, bacon frying) that bring the flavors to life.

I have seen meals where each item is prepared and served in isolation from each other. Think of elementary school where each food source has its allocated portion on the static tray. This has all of the trappings of a meal, yet it is really just a collection of foodstuffs. It is the same with people in my life, there are some who I am near out of necessity or geography, yet I do not intend to interact with them in any meaningful way. In fact, I prefer the separation. There is a threshold to my capacity for meaningful relationships so some people will just be left wanting. To see the whole of life as isolation, however, nulls the possibility for community, the same way that green beans will never compliment the half-white/half-wheat grilled cheese sandwich that resides adjacent, it will only make the bread soggy. Ingredients, like people, are not meant for isolation, but meant for interaction and development into something different from what they once were.

To think of people as ingredients in community also takes into consideration the varied paths that bring us to the table together. All of the ingredients had their own road to travel before arriving in the kitchen. Some were grown locally (like the pumpkin from Tim's backyard) and others imported to the United States from abroad (does anyone know any local growers of bulgur wheat?). So too, the five of us sharing dinner are all coming from such drastically different places in our perspective on life, community, and purpose. Yet after the assembling, preparation, simmering, and serving, we become something together (if even for an evening) that we could not have been apart.

It does not surprise me that a considerable number of Jesus' interactions were around a table at a meal. Maybe that was the best way to get his disciples to shut up for a few minutes and listen to him. Or maybe he understood what was essential to our shared need and common response. The human appreciation for taste and the revelry that comes from sharing the elements. In any way, if that was Jesus' method of community-building and ministry, I am all for it.

By the way, it was all delicious. If anyone wants to get in on some community/dinner-making, you'll have to make a reservation...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I had an awesome day today.

It started at 7 this morning when I took my camp chair and mason jar of coffee (Thanks, Lynda) and went to sit outside of the DMV. Wonderful morning that it was, I spent an hour waiting in line with people who were equally enthused to be encountering the bureaucracy within. I expected the doors to open at 8, and was in the middle of folding up my chair when I heard someone read a sign that was posted: Wednesday hours, 9:00am to 5:00pm. So another hour I set down to wait.

Later in the day, I left work to head towards Pasadena to start my class for the quarter at Fuller. The class starts at 6, which means I have to leave before 4 to beat the traffic. Or so I thought.

I am spoiled to get to work so close to my office, there is only one intersection that I ever have to wait more than one car to proceed. Taking the 57 North, however, placed me squarely in the thick of traffic congestion. On more than one occasion, I exclaimed (in my best Gob Bluth impression)"C'mon!". Traffic and I are not friendly co-habitants.

Now that I am arrived safely on campus and settled comfortably in the library, I realize how mundane and routine those occurrences really were. A lot of my life seems like waiting though. I wait for Dayann to come home from work, I wait for my clients to show up for appointments, I wait for my tv shows to be on, I wait for payday. I have times when I’m anxiously waiting, like in a hospital or for a phone call.

For as much waiting as we do in life, there is also the time we spend waiting on God. As much as I hate traffic, I at least know I'm moving somewhere, with God, no such reminders.

Especially in prayer, I find myself stuck waiting because the things I talk to God about do not have easy answers. Someone with dissociative disorder, another with anxiety and obsessive compulsive behaviors, a couple in an adoption process, a man I respect looking for a kingdom cause for employment.

I was reading this morning from Luke 18:

1-3Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. He said, "There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: 'My rights are being violated. Protect me!'

4-5"He never gave her the time of day. But after this went on and on he said to himself, 'I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. But because this widow won't quit badgering me, I'd better do something and see that she gets justice—otherwise I'm going to end up beaten black-and-blue by her pounding.'"

6-8Then the Master said, "Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won't step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won't he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?"

Being told to pray consistently and never quit sounds like pounding my head against a wall to try and make a window. In his interpretation however, Eugene Peterson expresses the everything that the judge in this parable is-- callous, capricious, inattentive, self-concerned, drunk on power yet impotent for justice-- God is not. Our prayers do not go up to an overcrowded inbox for God to respond to when he gets our number. God is not inconvenienced by our petition (as self-centered as it can be at times) but cares intrinsically for us to be in harmony with ourselves, others, our environment, and with Him.

God has shown that he is the one who initiates relationship and reconciliation before he have it in our mind. He creates and provides for the pleasure of humanity, he introduces himself to a particular tribe of people and reveals his will, he shows up in the neighborhood and lives as Jesus, his spirit shows up in the community that seeks his grace and truth. This is what is distinctive about the Christian faith: that God has uniquely shown up in Jesus and invites humanity into a relationship with him as he renews creation.

So this is our dilemma, we believe that God wants to relate, restore, redeem, but why won't he take care of the things in my life that are so broken? I don't care (so much) about being stuck in traffic, but people I love are really hurting and I could use God to show up a little.

Short answer: Waiting on God is not easy. If it were, we would not be in possession of the psalter which repeats the refrain, "how long will you forget me? How long will you hide from me?"

So I wait...

Monday, April 19, 2010

16th Century Iberian Context for Mission: The Foundation for the Imperial Missionary Encounter in Caribbean America

From the last decade of the 15th century, Europe would be welcome the discovery of a new continent, and with it the opportunity for the expansion of empire and Christendom. Those nations most immediately suited to seize this opportunity were the naval empires of the Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal. Both royal houses were firmly aligned with the Roman Catholic Church and assumed an imperial mandate to expand the authority of the church along with political and economic growth. The missionary endeavors which the Roman Catholic Church would embark upon in the formative years of European global exploration would set in place the foundation for overseas evangelization strategy and reverberate in the methods of other European nations and leave an indelible impact on global Christianity. Understanding the social context for this initial push in overseas missions can put into perspective the successive waves of zealous missionaries and their understandings of Christendom, imperial authority, and the sanctified use of military force which would come to mark the interaction of the church with the newly colonized lands.

The interaction between Iberian Europe and the American continent began in 1492 when Columbus encountered the islands of the northeast Caribbean Sea. Prior to this landing, however, the religious context of the European peninsula was changing. Once home to the empire of the Moors and a haven for the Jewish Diaspora, the year 1492 saw the forced expulsion of Jews from Spain and the annexation of Granada, a final stronghold of Muslim society. A second expulsion, this time of Muslims, was decreed by Isabella in 1502. (Duiker 2004:359) These events followed in the manner of the Castilian inquisition of the 1480’s which attempted to purge Jewish and Protestant influences from the region. The Iberian culture came under the rule of the Roman Catholic Church as its most prominent leader, Queen Isabella of Spain, influenced the region. As one historian, Adrian Hastings, writes, “the identity of Castile, as also of Portugal, had to a quite considerable extent been forged by the long ‘crusading’ wars which had little by little re-established Christian rule throughout the peninsula. The spirit of crusade, intolerant, aggressive, insistent upon a uniform political-religious orthodoxy triumphed above all under Isabella” (2000:328). Her zeal for her people to come under the authority of the Catholic Church would drive her both to acknowledge the citizenship of the people living in newly discovered lands and also to allow oppressive retaliation for withholding conversion.

The addition of the American territories to the geographic understanding of Europe was an unprecedented event which brought new religious and political crises. It had been established by the Pope Nicholas V in the Romanus Pontifex (January 8, 1455) that the areas of global exploration, at this time viewed as inland Africa and Asian territory, would belong exclusively to Portugal, with the right of any resources discovered, access to trade routes, and authority over people inhabiting the land (Ehler 1988:12). The westward edge of exploration at the time of the Romanus Pontifex was Cape Verde, of the coast of Western Africa. With the possibility of a new continent, Spain was given preference for imperial expansion and tasked with evangelization by a different Pope who was familiar with the Castilian royal family. This combination of political and religious responsibility was given in the hope that as additional peoples came under the authority of the Castilian court, they would, in turn, be subject to the authority and spiritual direction of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Alexander VI issued this document, known as Inter Caetera, on May 4, 1493, less than seven months from the first landfall of Columbus. This enlarged the Portuguese territorial claim, but solidified the right of the Spanish crown to occupy the Americas, own its resources, and evangelize its peoples.

After establishing a colonial presence in the Caribbean islands, two concepts would form the basis of both military engagement and missionary endeavors: the encomienda and the requerimiento. In the years preceding the encomienda, most colonial leaders had found justification in the Inter Caetera to enslave the indigenous people and had little oversight from superiors who would disagree with their practices. The encomienda was a social structure which aided the European expansion while maintaining the obligation to the pope to evangelize the indigenous populations.
Queen Isabel’s preference for the native peoples was that they been viewed similarly to free low vassals living in Spain. For this, the crown could expect a small tax and in turn provided land rights and legal protection to its citizens. The governor, Ovando, recognized this classification of the indigenous population as detrimental to his organization attempt and did little to implement it until ordered to do so. While the encomienda did expect colonists to pay the indigenous workers, it also established a precedent that allowed colonists to force indigenous people to work so that they could be influenced by the Europeans to accept matters of faith and practice. Isabella writes on December 20, 1503, “Therefore I order you, our governor, as soon as you see this letter, to compel and force these Indians to deal and converse with the Christians on that island and work in its buildings and gather gold and other metals and do farm work and maintenance for the Christians who live on that island…” (in Koschorke 2007:285). The hope of this edict was for the native population to live alongside the European settlers so that they would be influenced and educated to become strong subjects of the Catholic Church and the Castilian crown. Another concession made to Governor Ovando was that the taxes owed by the indigenous people be paid to the colonists rather than to the European capital. This perpetuated the lack of economic oversight and allowed the land-owning colonists to continue to oppress their servants (Meier 2001:5).

As the colonists expanded their territory in America, the encomienda was not sufficient to meet the economic and political needs of the Europeans. Yet since the indigenous peoples were citizens of the Spanish empire military action would instigate a civil war. This legality was amended, however, in 1513, when the concept of the requerimiento was instituted in cross-cultural political engagement. The requerimiento, or “notification” was ordered to be read aloud to inform the indigenous population of the divine right the Spanish held on the land and offered the subjected people an opportunity to lay down arms and accept their position. The edict described the authority that the pope had on earth and that he had given the territory to the royal Castilian house. This declaration absolved the colonists and Spain of the responsibility for military destruction (Meier 2001:8). To refuse Christianity was to refuse the authority of the royal house which had been established by Catholic Church. This refusal would, in effect, be seen as a declaration of war since the people were claiming possession of lands which had been granted the Spanish crown.

The context which produced these two concepts, the encomienda and the requerimiento would dictate the legal, societal, and religious interaction between the Europeans and indigenous people in the Americas for generations. In time, critical voices would speak out against the injustice suffered at the hands of the evangelizing empire. Progress would be made, although the societal rift between the groups would remain. The imagery of the conquering Christian empire would stain the reputation of the church for centuries and take its place among the actions of Inquisition, Crusade, and the African slave trade which peppered the era. The notion of Christendom and the absolution of a nation’s oppressive means to achieve conversion would come to mark the synthesis of evangelism and imperialism. From this context, however, would arise voices which spoke of a liberating gospel for all peoples and a desire to preserve the cultural heritage and dignity of the people of the Americas.
Duiker, William and Jackson Spielvogel. 2004. World History, Volume II: Since 1400. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Group Publishing.

Ehler, Sidney. 1988. Church and State Through the Centuries. Cheshire, CT: Biblo-Moser Publishing.

Hastings, Adrian, ed. 2000. A World History of Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing.

Koschorke, Klaus, ed. A History of Christianity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, 1450-1990. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing.

Meier, Johannes. 2001. “The Beginnings of the Catholic Church in the Caribbean” Christianity in the Caribbean. Armando Lampe, ed. Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Christ as Ancestor in the African Perspective: An Illustrative Reading of Colossians 1:15-20

In every culture, people have co-opted terms to describe the manner in which to best represent Christ. To the Jewish mind in the first century, he was seen to fulfill offices from the nation’s covenantal past—titles such as prophet, priest, and king. No single term adequately described the totality of Jesus, so the combination was used to try and convey the totality of who Jesus was and how the church was to understand his life and mission. For those living in the Western world, the role of Jesus is inherited through centuries of debate concerning his divinity and centrality to the Christian message. The titles which the church bestows upon him, Christ or Lord, have lost significant meaning because they have become synonymous with Jesus himself due to frequent usage. These terms have a rich meaning and, in their original context, conveyed a dramatic connotation. In contexts where terms have become stagnant or have no frame of reference, existing terms must be utilized

This essay will examine an African perspective on the role of Jesus, that of ancestor, and demonstrate this understanding through the illustration of Colossians 1:15-20. The goal of this exercise is to understand how a non-Biblical title for Jesus may communicate truth about his position among his people.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

Titles such as “firstborn over all creation” place Jesus in a category of universal ancestor, as all of humanity descends from him. Examining the Lukan genealogy reinforces this notion, as the author draws the physical lineage of Jesus back to the creation of the first man (Dietrich 2002:61). The significance of the firstborn also conveys a place of prominence among other ancestors. As the elder brother of other ancestors, he has the role of spiritual authority, community mediator, and protector of the clan (Pope-Levison 1992:102-3). This understanding places him as the representative of God to the world.

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

In addition to having an eminent relationship to creation, the text continues (in verses 16 and 17) to describe his action in creation, stating that “by him all things were created…all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together”. While other texts will convey the pre-existence of Christ, the understanding of ancestor places him as an integral part of the spiritual reality, not only as an originator, but as one that represents the meaning for creation and the unity of all things (“in heaven or on earth, visible and invisible”) He becomes the key to understanding the meaning of creation and the community’s relationship within it.

The African worldview does not categorize the world in terms of Western dichotomies of natural and spiritual, but rather views all of creation—near and far as well as past, present, and future—as belonging to the continuation of a common spirit. This spirit-world includes the presence of ancestors and distinguishes significance for future descendents. (Pope-Levison 1992:94)

And he is the head of the body, the church…

To continue the thought of the previous section, as Christ holds all things together, he also holds together the church. Jesus as ancestor establishes him as the head of the community which descends from him. In this instance, it is not his physical descendents, but those who have followed after him in faith through a new covenant with God. Nyamiti notes that the traditional (read Western) approach to Christology has focused entirely upon the person of Jesus and not the connection between him and the church. He writes that they have “paid almost exclusive attention to the Head, but not to the whole of Christ, Head and members” (Nyamiti 1984:48, in Tennent 2007:126). Ancestor Christology frames the church as the continuation in the spirit-power of Christ expressed in the community which has followed him. The person of Jesus is thus the defining and formative personality which the community is seeking to replicate in their life together.

The significance of recognizing Jesus as a common ancestor can also begin to address cultural and ethnic tensions that exist within the African context. Broad differences between different regions of the continent as well as differences due to nationalism, tribalism, and ethnic prejudice can begin to be addressed by the local church when it frames its existence in originating from the same source. This invites participants into a new and larger tribal affiliation which supersedes the former distinctions that divided them. This terminology also reinforces the right that the African church has to belong to the global church, as they can trace their roots back to Jesus himself, rather than trace their faith through the missionary efforts of Westerners. In speaking to their Nana Yesu, or Ancestor Jesus, the imagery in the collective mind of the church is reiterated that Jesus can speak to the African heart without Western translation (Bediako 1998:110).

…he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have supremacy.

A reading of the gospels will reveal that life after death is not unique to Jesus. Before the resurrection of Jesus, there is described the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mt. 9:23-26; Mk. 5:38-42; Lk. 8:49-55), Lazarus at Bethany (Jn. 11:43-44), and a crowd of saints at the time of Jesus’ death (Mt. 27-52-53). Again, for Jesus to be the firstborn does not necessitate chronological position, but designates importance. In the question of Jesus’ relationship as ancestor to other cultural and spiritual ancestors, his position as firstborn establishes his authority over them. He has become the “proto-ancestor” who more fully illuminates what the traditional ancestors sought to convey.

To understand Christ as “firstborn among the dead” in the ancestral sense affirms his continued presence within the practical life of his descendents. He is not relegated to an ethereal existence, but inhabits the tangible life of the community as he directs its life and provides a template for what it means to live a faithful life. Not all physical ancestors receive this distinction, but as they are established as prominent ancestors, they possess this spirit. “An ancestor’s ‘re-instatement establishes his continued relevance for his society, not as a ghost, but as a regulative force for the social relations and activities that persist as a deposit, so to speak, of his life and career’” (Bediako 1997:219).

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all thing, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Ancestor Christology also takes seriously the role that Jesus has as the mediator through whom God acts through in relation to creation. God, in his supremacy, cannot directly approach the lesser levels of creation, nor can humanity interact directly with the Supreme Being. Jesus as ancestor inhabits what has been termed a “second tier” between the two groups and represents each to the other (Tennent 2007: 123). This ancestor earns this capacity by living a life that deserves veneration. As Bediako writes, “…Christ, by virtue of his Incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension into the realm of spirit-power, can rightly be designated, in African terms, as Ancestor, indeed Supreme Ancestor”(1997:217). To view Christ as ancestor reminds his descendents of his continued relevance for interpreting life and provides the example of what it looks like to fully live the life that is purposed for creation.

In beginning to examine the manner in which ancestor can be a term to communicate the role of Jesus and his relationship to the church, we affirm the need for the gospel message to be translatable to differing contexts. These local theologies can more adequately form the minds of the local church because they inhabit existing worldviews. This essay has taken a broad look at a general concept pervasive in much of African traditional culture, although every context will present possible templates upon which to present an image of Christ that is understood by the minds and hearts of the people. From this place of resemblance, the uniqueness of Christ can begin to be expressed in a contextually appropriate manner.


Bediako, Kwame. 1997. Christianity in Africa: The Renewal of a Non-Western Religion. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

_____. 1998. “The Doctrine of Christ and the Significance of Vernacular Theology” International Bulletin of Missionary Research. 22, no. 3 (July 1998): 110.

Dietrich, Walter and Ulrich Luz. 2002. The Bible in a World Context. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing.

Nyamiti, Charles. 1984. Christ as Our Ancestor: Christology from an African Perspective. Gweru, Zim.: Mambo Publishing.

Pope-Levison, Priscilla and John Levison. 1992. Jesus in Global Contexts. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Finding a Place Among the Displaced: An Image of a Vulnerable Jesus

The four gospels contained in the New Testament offer very little information related to the early life of Jesus. This is understandable, as the purpose of these documents is not to provide biographical writing (in the contemporary sense) but to communicate the message and ministry of Jesus, with special emphasis on the significance of his death and resurrection. What material we do possess of Jesus maturing life relates either to the events surrounding his birth (Matthew 1:1-2:12; Luke 2:1-40) or an instance of Jesus’ appearance among the scholars in the temple (Luke 2:41-52). One other aspect of the early life of Jesus is regularly lost among these more memorable stories, the account of his family’s escape to Egypt. With a casual reading, it is easy to overlook the significance of the latter half of Matthew 2. This event in his life, however, may prove especially poignant for a growing number of Christians who see themselves reflected in the situation thrust upon the holy family.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, there are an estimated 10.5 million people considered refugee or stateless in 2009. Additionally, 4.7 million people are registered as refugees under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (“Refugee Figures” Accessed 1/30/2010). This number dramatically rises when it expands to include those displaced within the borders of their nation or those lacking accessibility to responsible government. For reasons that vary from economic, religious, political, tribal, or legal, a sizable portion of the world would consider themselves to be without a home. The absence of land-rights, abuses of indigenous people groups, economic disparity, and existing social structures contribute to the context which presents displacement as the preferred option for survival.
Gutiérrez has defined poverty as being “socially insignificant due to ethnic, cultural, gender, and/or economic factors” (2009:323). Refugees and displaced people easily fall within these parameters, as they have been removed from significant aspects of their life and livelihood. The response of the West has been to establish consolidated shelter to provide the basic necessities of life. E.J. Choge, writing the definition for Refugees in the Dictionary of Mission Theology writes, “life for refugees in the camps is very dismal. They depend on handouts from these huge organizations. They suffer every kind of alienation and deprivation, including loss of homeland, loved ones, and sometimes even life” (2007:331).

To recognize the tremendous vulnerability of Jesus and his family should serve as a reminder of this reality that is experienced throughout the world. In these contexts, God is not absent or aloof, but has demonstrated the depth to which his incarnation in Christ extends. For the evangelist and pastor among the poor, this text illustrates a shared experience between Christ and them. God himself is not unaware of the difficulty inherent in being torn from family, nation, and livelihood due to political oppression. Facing the pressure of Herod’s impending mass infanticide, Joseph discerns God’s message to resettle in a foreign land. Joseph is equally unsure about returning to the region even when he learns that Herod has died. To construct a timeline utilizing Luke 2:42 as a chronological point would picture the formative years of Jesus spent fleeing to Egypt, settling in an immigrant community, uprooting, emigrating back to Judea, and then re-settling in another ethnically diverse immigrant community in Nazareth before turning twelve.

Further pushing the point, the Matthean author identifies this event in the life of Jesus with the words of Hosea, “out of Egypt I have called my son”. This reference frames Jesus in line with the character of Moses (similarly spared from the mass infanticide of a despotic ruler) who led the people of God from captivity in Egypt to the Promised Land. This connection is not lost on those similarly seeking freedom from oppressive circumstances. God’s action in the exodus is considered normative for those who have developed a theology of Liberation in response to contextualizing theology to their contemporary circumstances. With this perspective, “usually the marginalized or oppressed group relates itself to the Israelites in their achievement of freedom from bondage in Egypt and their resulting autonomy” (Tate 2008: 315-6).

For the displaced person, reading this account in the gospel presents an image of Christ that would have understood their poverty. De La Torre imagines that Jesus felt similarly to him as his family was also forcibly emigrated for political reasons. This reading closes the gap between the idealized message of the gospel and the situation in which they find themselves. Because the displaced can identify with Jesus in his poverty, there is the possibility for them to identify with the message of his ministry and meaning of his death and resurrection. The Christian life is not reserved for the triumphant in the world, but for those who are longing for God to provide rescue from their vulnerability. “To understand Jesus from the social location of the poor is to create sacred space where the marginalized can grapple with their spiritual need to reconcile their God with their struggle for justice and dignity” (De La Torre, 2003: 109).

The attention to this aspect of Jesus’ life also affirms the worth of the world’s poor, both within themselves and for those in relation with them. “In addition, solidarity with the poor also sets forth a fundamental demand: the recognition of the full human dignity of the poor and their situation as daughters and sons of God.” (Gutiérrez 2009: 325). The consistent mind cannot allow for the degradation of a person due to their economic status while simultaneously esteeming Christ. This is made more explicit in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25, but the image in Matthew 2 should graphically demonstrate that it is not a stretch to imagine Jesus in need as a stranger needing shelter, clothes, and food. This is also true for how those experiencing poverty due to displacement view themselves. They are not forgotten or ignored by God, but uniquely similar to the character presented in the incarnation. “Because he experienced the cultural bias of being from the margins of society, oppressed and poor people, including those of color, are able to find solidarity with their God” (De La Torre, 2003: 111).

For the Western church which lives in luxury relative to the poverty of instability experienced globally, as well as the privileged stable surrounded by poverty, this reading of scripture is necessary to convey an element of discipleship missing to the interpreters that would identify Christ’s path with upward social mobility. Texts such as Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 2:11, and a myriad of first covenant instructions on how to welcome the stranger take on an added reality when considered alongside the lived experience of millions of people around the world.

Choge speaks of this group of Christians when she writes that they “do not understand their own true identity as refugees and pilgrims, otherwise they would be ready to respond to refugees more positively. … They are vulnerable people and this is the reason behind God’s concern and clear biblical instruction on how we should treat strangers and refugees” (Choge 2007:331). Beginning with the unexpected notion of God choosing to live among people in such poverty forces the global Church to take seriously the value of these households in God’s perspective and the values that ought to guide the people of God in relating to a world in need.

“Refugee Figures.” United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. Accessed 1/30/2010.

Choge, EJ. 2007. “Refugees” in Dictionary of Mission Theology.

De La Torre, Miguel. 2003. Reading the Bible from the Margins. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Gutiérrez, Gustavo (Robert Lassalle-Klein, trs.). 2009. The Option For the Poor Arises from Faith in Christ in Theological Studies 70 no 2 Je 2009, p 317-326.

Tate, Randolph. 2008. Biblical Interpretation. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishing.