Lips Sewn Shut in a World of Fence Builders

Photo Credit: CNN
From CNN: In one of the most extreme protests since the start of the refuee crisis, about 10 men trapped on the Greek-Macedonian border have sewn their lips shut to silently oppose being blocked from continuing further into Europe.

What I'm saying is, people will move. You can't stop that.

It's a divine thing on the one hand.  God is the first first mover of peoples. His original "fill the earth" command (Gen. 1:28), was very clear.  And a simple look back at the world through the lens of Acts 17:26 to see that it is God who determines the times and places where people should live should be enough to convince us that He is not interested in a static world of the permenanent ethnic enclaves. God is interested in filling the world with his image bearers and to do this so that people can reach out for him and find him.  More on that another time.

And then there is evil and sin and the Enemy and all which keeps arising which pushes people away from their homes -- the war and the killings and the disease and the poverty and the genocide and the environmental disasters and so much more.

There is no stopping it.

You can put up walls and fences.  They will only exacerbate the problems.

In a world of ever-accelerating people movement, the one who builds the highways will prove very wise.  The one who builds the walls, history and the Kingdom will prove to be foolish and cruel.

What is meant by highways? Channels (implications for legal, physical, economic, technological infastructures) of preferred movement which governments create and organizations and businesses support and leverage.  But such highways are never built by those who are in love with the status quo and protecting what they have -- those who are unwilling to adventure and risk for the chance of a better world.  Those who see migrants burgeoning at the borders as sub-human takers and threats can see no good in opening the gates.  But if you have eyes to see the throngs as bearers of the image of God, each one laden with more intrinsic beauty and value than the entire Rocky Mountains -- if you can see that, you will run to lay asphalt for a new and glorious highway.

Oh build the highways!

I want to run to the man in the photo above and cry out to him.  Why are you shutting your mouth? Some have said they don't want to hear what you have to say.  Such do not speak for me.  Let me hear your story.  Let me hear your wisdom.  Let me learn from you about how to be strong and wise and resilient.  Let me cut those threads!  I want to hear your voice.


Challenging Extremism: The Conversation that Needs to Happen

You know what's funny?

My very strongly pro-immigration views and constant challenges to radical hospitality have earned me the reputation of being some kind of Islamic-sympathizer with flimsy theological positions about the nature of God.

It's funny and sad, but I get it. It is far easier to just sign up for someone else's pre-packaged ideology than to wade into the nuance and grayscale of real life and mission and the Kingdom.  Let me ask you, when Christ commanded us to love our enemies and Scripture fleshed it out with talk of turning the other cheek and giving them our cloak and feeding them -- what exactly do you think that looks like?  What exactly do you think it means to have an enemy?  It's more than just a fued with your neighbor about lawn care.

So, a friend of mine sent me this video put together by Muslims calling for an honest conversation about "Radical Islam".  Now, I know almost nothing else about the group that produced this, but, I can tell you that it is well-crafted, well-reasoned and compelling.  And I agree exactly with the conclusion -- we need to be able to have an honest conversation about this. I agree that political correctness can hinder good communication (but I also believe that it is extremely valuable for good communication). Sadly, an honest conversation will never happen during an election year.

I don't take it further to conclude -- as some surely would after viewing this video -- that we need to block Muslim immigrants.  First of all, and this is a subject to consider at length at a later time, anyone who thinks they can effectively restrain the tides of human migration in our day are fooling themselves.  People are on the move and will keep moving.  Shaping and guiding and leveraging that movement is the key.  Recall those viral YouTube videos of Black Friday stampedes at Walmart -- you know how people are. Pressure keeps building and eventually breaks through.  Highway strategies can prove very effective.  Blockades are almost always disasterous.

I have a friend -- perhaps a former friend now because of our radically divergent views on this -- who insists that my head is in the sand when it comes to Muslims.  But, I've actually been threatened with violence, lived with Islamist neighbors who knew we were missionaries, and on one occasion had to wear a disguise because of threats against a public event I was helping lead.  I know that there are Muslims who would enjoy killing me (and I also know I am am small potatoes).  I know there are some in my country and city.  I don't want them to do so.  But you know, it  doesn't change the fact that when I see a Muslim family around, I am drawn to them -- I want to have a conversation and get to know them.  I feel love for them.  If they move in next door, I rejoice greatly.

But I digress ... I do that a lot.  Here is the video I mentioned.  It is worth your time to watch:


Dumb Okies Like Me: A New Relfection on America's Greatest Migration

Image Credit: USDA
Today, a historical reflection followed by three principles and three prayers.

The "Dust Bowl" environmental conditions of the 1930s -- a period of extreme and prolonged drought and dust storms affecting especially Great Plains states like Oklahoma -- resulted in the displacement of 3.5 million Americans.  This represented the largest internal migration event in the history of the United States.  

As Oklahoma families struggled to survive in the "dirty thirties", word gradually began to spread about a better land far away.  Consider:

California! California! California! To the Okies the word "California" was magical, describing a place where they could go to better their lives. It was said that thousands of workers were needed to harvest a hundred different crops -- peaches, pears, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, apples, oranges -- the list seemed endless. It was said that no one ever went hungry in California because lush orchards were everywhere and people just helped themselves to whatever fruits or vegetables they wanted. It was said that no one ever got sick out there, ever, and it was big news if anyone died in California before their 200th birthday!  -- Jerry Stanley, Children of the Dust Bowl

Of course, the dark reality was that these promises of paradise were empty and migrant families reached California only to find exploitation, hostility, violence, and hatred towards "dumb Okies".  

As I consider again this part of my home state's history -- I don't think I've given it much thought since high school -- I do so with a mind towards modern displacement stories:

1. Displacement happens for all kinds of reasons and there is really no people group or part of the world that is immune. The number of Syrians that have fled their homeland now far exceeds the total number displaced by the Dust Bowl.  As of writing this, the UNHCR has the total at above 4.3 million.  When in the West we hear of displacement events we tend to think of it as a developing world issue.  But, the Dust Bowl was only a few generations ago and included people that were a lot like me -- maybe even some relatives.  Smaller displacements happen all the time.  It is very foolish to think of displacement as something that could never happen to me.  There is an old Dust Bowl tale of a California child who observed some migrants picking cotton in a field and commented to his father, the owner of the field, "Daddy, those Okies almost look like real people when they stand up on two legs."  Dear God, help me to see myself in the face of every refugee I meet -- we really are the same, whether I see it or not.

2. The promise of a better life somewhere else is still proclaimed wherever people are vulnerable.  I have seen so many examples of this.  I knew of Rohingyas that were migrating en masse to a certain Midwestern city because of the promise of jobs only to find the celebrated factory closed upon their arrival.  I've heard Bhutanese friends tell of the great opportunities in Buffalo and then Oakland and then Pittsburg and now Columbus.  I've heard women tell heartbreaking stories of moving from the village to Kampala because of the promise of a job or a place to stay with relatives only to be exploited and forced into sex work.  I have Nepali friends in Dubai who moved there because of the grand promises of job recruiters only to find themselves in oppressive debt to those same recruiters upon arrival.  Sometimes these promises of greener pastures are told by well-meaning relatives who simply long to reunite the family and will bend the truth in order to accomplish that.  Other times there is intentional and malicious deception spread by oppressors who want to exploit and enslave the vulnerable.  The mission of managing expectations and protecting migrants from exploitation is holy, thankless and difficult.  I have not sorted out how to do it well, but I pray that while mine is just one of many voices my migrant friends will hear, let it at least be truthful.

3.  Too often the world's pilgrims find no welcome.  I can begin to imagine now the feelings of my Okie ancestors who encountered "Okies Keep Out" signs posted seemingly everywhere upon completion of the arduous weeks or months-long journey across Route 66.  Now every, single day my newsfeed has several stories of similar unwelcome.  It may be a presidential candidate in the USA pandering to some rather racist group by spouting anti-immigrant rhetoric or any number of horrific stories of hostility towards refugees in Europe.  It seems like every day I see a new image of refugees crowded at some fence line in Europe.  Meanwhile, I celebrate the nation of Uganda which is currently hosting greater than half a million refugees!  On a recent trip I found myself waiting for my flight at the gate in Dubai.  Glancing around the seating area I noticed that many people where holding the distinctive white and blue plastic bags emblazoned with the letters "IOM".  These were refugees!  I decided to make my way around the room to greet them.  I sat down with one husband and wife from Afghanistan who were on their way to Texas.  We talked for a while and before departing I felt the need to tell them the truth.  "Not everyone will be happy for you to come to America," I said.  "But I am happy.  I welcome you.  I am very glad you are coming to live in my country."  Feeling a heart of welcome to refugees and immigrants is grace.  It must be grace because I have some really awful sin in other parts of my life.  So, since it is grace, I give thanks for it and ask God to increase my welcome and my hospitality.  How can I go to greater lengths to welcome the sojourner?  Lord show me. 


We Know the Shrine is Void: Sacralizing the Status Quo

I had a friend that once was going in a different direction -- a radical one.  The life they were pursuing was selfless and Kingdom-oriented and hard and unpopular.  Their family and many normal people opposed them.  Then, something happened and they changed course.  Recently, I was talking with this friend and listening to their description of their job and life.  They felt happy, content.  The job was easy and they had friends.  Their family life was good.  They had just bought things like a car and a house.  They had cute little children running around.  We didn't talk about the past -- about what they once said they wanted to be and do.  As I listened I felt discouraged as I realized that I had nothing at all to say that could "tempt" them back to the radical path.  If comfort and contentment are what you want and the Kingdom is no longer interesting to you, I simply don't know how to compete.

And then I think about how the Church basically celebrates this kind of life anyway -- sacralizes it through media and books and bad movies and ridiculous Christian book stores and endless pats on the back and retweets of all the right things.

Years ago I stood in a field in Memphis and heard preacher-types tell a bunch of young people (I was one of them) to go and be martyrs for the sake of the Lord Jesus.  They didn't tell us not to take them too seriously -- which, I think, in retrospect is what they might have meant.  I did take them seriously and its a bit too late to turn back now.  I have often felt like Peter in John 6 after the Jesus had alienated thousands of people with a really weird sermon that seemed to be about canabalism -- "Where are we going to go, Jesus?" 

I read somewhere recently the phrase "sacralizers of the status quo".  I don't recall from where I read it, but it stuck.  I've been mulling it over and find it almost haunting me.  Then, I turned to Kipling (which I do sometimes when I can't sleep) and read this:

L'Envoi (Departmental Ditties)

The smoke upon your Altar dies,
    The flowers decay,
The Goddess of your sacrifice
     Has flown away.
What profit then to sing or slay
The sacrifice from day to day.

"We know the Shrine is void," they said,
     "The Goddess flown --
"Yet wreaths are on the altar laid --
     "The Altar-Stone
"Is black with fumes of sacrifice,
"Albeit She has fled our eyes.

"For it may be, if still we sing
     "And tend the Shrine,
"Some Deity on wandering wing
     "May there incline;
"And, finding all in order meet,
"Stay while we worship at Her feet."

I know the scene of Kipling's poem both in the literal and metaphorical sense -- as did he.  There is little difference between the two in terms of their danger and appeal.  Keeping up the cult of an absconded deity is much easier than going after the Living One.  Keeping up the vanity of the status quo is much easier than trying to change the world -- and nearly everyone else knows it!  And once someone or many people have decided upon the status quo as the preferred thing -- and then developed a means for sacralizing it through innoculizing spurts of activism, religious sentiment, and first world theologizing -- well, it is very difficult to drag someone away from that Altar.  Very difficult indeed.


An Open Letter to Syrian Refugees

Photo credit: Borderless 2015
Dear friend,

I originally wrote this "open letter" two years ago as the refugee camps were filling and Western nations were beginning to consider resettlement.  Now in the United States,  in the wake of recent terroist attacks, there are many who are afraid of you and political candidates score cheap points by promising to block your access to my country.  Still, our president has promised to open our borders to thousands of you and that process has already begun.  

I recognize that the odds of you reading this are not good.  Many of you are tightly packed in refugee camps that are ill-equipped to provide you with adequate food, water, medicine, housing, and more.  Others of you are somewhere along the refugee highway between Syria and Europe or even already resettled in a Western nation.  Still, you are on my heart today and I wish to say something to you.  And, insha'Allah (God willing), this message might reach one or two of you.  My message is simple:

I am a citizen of the United States of America and i welcome you here.

Today, I am praying that President Obama's plans to thousands of you in our nation will succeed.  I want you to come.  I am deeply saddened by what you have had to endure and by the conditions that you are even now enduring.  I am not considered rich by my country's standards.  But, I have so much compared to you and I am willing to share.

I am willing to share my money, my time, my nation, and my life with you.  And, if the Lord opens the door for you to come as refugees to my country I promise to do everything in my power to welcome you. I want to greet you at the airport, take you grocercy shopping or to medical visits.  I want to help you learn English (though you probably already speak it fluently) and I want you to teach me your language and culture.  I want to spend time with you as a friend and invite you to my home. I will listen to your stories if you are willing to tell them to me.  Not only this, but I will mobilize and equip as many people as I can to do the same.

Some of you will be concerned that I will try to convert you to Christianity. I should say first that I would never put it in those terms.  But, let me be as honest as possible.  The Lord Jesus (Isa al-Masih), has changed my life and has given me an overabundance of love, peace, and hope. It is impossible to keep this to myself.  I've not had to suffer like you.  But, when I have suffered, he has been a constant presence and help.  He has always saved me.  So, I will certainly pray for you in His name.  And I will tell you about His life.  And, if you desire to follow Him, I will teach you what I know about how to do that.  But, even if you don't. I will still love you and serve you with all my heart.  Indeed, I must do this because the love of the Lord Jesus compels me.  When I teach you English or pick you up at the airport or take you shopping or eat a meal in your home -- this will all be because of His love.

I cannot promise that every American will welcome you in this way.  Many will not.  Some will even be afraid of you.  But, I will not be.  I want you to come!

We have a famous statue in our country called "The Statue of Liberty".  You may have seen a picture at some point.  On the statue is an inscription which reads as follows:

Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, 
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

This is the heart of our country and also the heart of the Lord Jesus.  It has become my heart as well.  I hope you will come.  I hope America can become your home and I hope you will become my neighbors and friends, my brothers and sisters, my uncles and aunties.  

Blessings and peace to you,



Standing in Solidarity: Considering the Case of Larycia Hawkins

Photos of Larycia Hawkins wearing her headscarf via Facebook

News headlines today in Chicagoland are featuring my own beloved Wheaton College and their decision to suspend (or place on "administrative leave") one of the their professors who made some controversial theological statements in a recent public announcement that she would wear a hijab during advent in solidarity with Muslim women.  Here is the story as reported in the Chicagoist today.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me remind you that I am a graduate of Wheaton but I don't know Dr. Larycia Hawkins and have never met her.  Her original Facebook post that has generated so much controversy can be read here.  Let me make a few observations:

1. Standing in solidarity is good -- Hawkins cites a popular YouTube video, "Women Wear Hijabs for a Day," in the comments of her post suggesting that the video played a role in inspiring her decision to wear a hijab during Advent.  Take a look:

I have nothing but respect for the desire to stand in solidarity with Muslim women in this way.  My wife and both former and current teammates of mine have done so on multiple occasions.  I, myself, have had similar experiences in what may be called "cross-cultural dressing" and can testify that it can be done in a way that is respectful, appreciated by the "other", and enlightening.  Given the fact that Christ himself engaged in a kind of cross-cultural dressing (enfleshening) in his Incarnation, Advent seems to be an especially appropriate time for something like this.

2. The time is right for Christ followers to stand in solidarity with Muslims -- I don't need to remind you that we are living in a time when hatred toward Muslims is en vogue.  From the typically leftist Rob Lowe:
To the famous Trump vow to block all Muslims from entering the United States, it has become way too acceptable to be anti-Muslim.  When followers of Jesus stand in solidarity and express their love and welcome for Muslims, this is a good thing that should be respected and imitated.  My friend, Justin Long, has provided a really excellent article on why we should love Muslims and extend hospitality to them (especially to migrants).

3. Dr. Hawkins confused the issue by packing some muddy missiology into it.  In my opinion, Dr. Hawkins should have made this about solidarity with Muslim women and left it there.  Instead, she inserted questions about theology/missiology that made it very difficult for the Wheaton College administration.  By declaring that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, she was taking a position that certainly can be defended but is nevertheless easy to misunderstand.  I have spent a lot of time in those missiological waters and I know enough about them to make me want to ask the professor exactly what she means by that.  Indeed if one of my own staff members made a similar public statement without a careful explanation, I might have to take a very similar course of action as the college.  To be sure, there is a sense in which her statement (and Pope Francis' statement) is true, but there is also a very real sense in which it is false.  Let's put it this way: Do Muslims worship the God of Abraham? They would say yes.  Do Muslims worship Jesus who is the God of Abraham?  They would say no.  Islam wholeheartedly rejects the divinity of Christ and the triunity of God even while affirming the spiritual heritage of Abraham, Isaac, Jabob, and Moses.  If someone asks if Muslims and Christians worship the same God, the only reasonable answer is, "it's complicated."

My point is that this is muddy water.  Followers of Jesus should spend time in such waters, but bringing that mud into a question about love and solidarity is unnecessary and unhelpful.  I don't blame Dr. Hawkins for being a bit out of her depth here (she is a highly accomplished political scientist and not a missiologist), but it is also difficult for me to blame the college for the steps they have taken.

I hope that Dr. Hawkins will have the opportunity to clarify herself on this point and that Wheaton will reinstate her and affirm her call for solidarity.  I myself affirm it with the reservations I've mentioned above.


A Fresh New Look

The blog has just undergone a facelift and name change. Gone is "the Ramblings" and here to stay is "Borderless Blogging". It's a new day and I needed a fresh start. All the old posts are still here, by the way, but there is going to be much more coming. Stay tuned!


Enough with the Huddled Masses Already!

The world has gone mad with it's increasingly hostile approach to migrants. We cry for walls and fences, turn back boats and ship people off to dead end camps and hidden away detention centers. We put a gag in the mouths of those who would cry out for justice and trumpet out an exclusive invitation only to the best and brightest. Meanwhile the base of the New Colossus, must be deeply dust-covered. Brush it away and read the inscription that must have been written by some strange and alien civilization:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"


3 Skype Calls that Killed a Beautiful Film

Photo by Ed Araquel - © 2014 Egoli Tossell Film/ Co-Produktionsgesellschaft "Hector 1" GmbH & Co. KG/ Happiness Productions Inc./ Wild Bunch Germany/
I recently watched a little known film called Hector and the Search for Happiness which starred the always funny Simon Pegg in a Walter Mitty-esque story of one unfulfilled man's search for life's true meaning.  The story unfolds as London psychiatrist, Hector (Pegg), takes a surprising whirlwind journey around the world, making notations and sketches in his notebook along the way in order to discover what makes people happy.  The parallels to the far superior film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, are obvious and plentiful.

In the case of Hector the filmmakers don't reach the heights of Mitty in terms of cinematography, which is sad since it can hardly be blamed on budget given the existence of the Hindi film Highway which kills them both in that regard and does so with less money than either.  And I bring up cinematography -- or a filmmakers ability to know beauty when they see it and capture it skillfully -- because it hints at Hector's greatest sin -- it's blatant ethnocentrism.

Unlike Mitty and definitely unlike Highway, Hector doesn't know a non-white human when it sees it.  All it knows are stereotypes -- Chinese are monks and prostitutes; Africans are sick kids, simple villagers, and violent thugs.  We do get some tender moments from an ill-defined, terminally ill Muslim woman, but she too is merely a vehicle for showing us that Hector is a better guy than he realizes (we don't know here nation of origin or language but we do get a nice, cliche "how you say ..." moment).

Here's is where the ethnocentrism really shines.  Several times, Hector video Skypes back to London to talk with his girlfriend, Clara.  In these calls, he begins by telling Clara where he is.  Here is the summary:

Call #1, "I'm in China!"

Call #2, "I'm in Africa!"

Call #3, "I'm in L.A.!"

Do you see what I see?  A bit of Google research will help you know that Hector is actually in Shanghai and then later somewhere in Tibet.  Of course, this several day overland journey is never explained in the film nor are we told the names of these locations.  Because, after all, China is China.  It is the land of mystical monks living in the mountains and abused prostitutes living in the cities.  Even one potentially important moment of conversation between Hector and his prostitute friend regarding a group of migrant laborers is glossed over with a superficial observation of the comparative happiness of the laborers in the context of frowning, wealthy businessmen.  Ah, yes, poor people are so happy.  I should point out that one character in the China act of the film gets a fair amount of development -- a wealthy, white British business man.

So, China is China.  But at least we aren't saying that Asia is Asia.  Which is exactly what we get from Hector's second call.

"I'm in Africa!"  Yes, he is.  But where?  We are never told.  It appears that most of the African scenes were shot in South Africa, but it isn't necessarily supposed to be South Africa.  It is an intentionally undefined African nation.  Local languages are not captioned or identified.  Nor are cities for that matter or local dishes or, really anything.  Of course, we learn the names of a local white NGO worker and get to hear about his calling and even his sexual orientation.  We also get to know quite a lot about a local drug dealer who gets a healthy amount of character development. We even get to know about his wife's mental health problems.  Of course, he isn't African but rather a transplant from Latin America or Spain (we aren't told which).

The Africans who do get lines in the film are some simple villagers who spend their day's eating "sweet potato stew" and partying, cruel thugs who kidnap and imprison Hector, and, of course, sick African children.  This is Africa.  And Africa is Africa.

There is also the inexplicable journey of Hector from Shanghai to South Africa which involves a final flight on a comically rickety propeller plane upon which passengers are freely smoking and holding livestock in their laps.  Since there are multiple major airports throughout South Africa served by many fine airlines, one wonders why Hector must fly on this clearly unsafe plane.  I'll be the first to admit that Emirates and others don't use their best planes on flights in and out of Africa, but this is just silly.  Clearly, the filmmakers want to emphasize very clearly that Africa is underdeveloped and unsafe.

Africa is Africa and Africa is bad.  Not without its charms, like elephants grazing and fun dance music, but bad.

So we come to the third call.  In which Hector reports to Clara that, "I am in L.A."  He we get lots of lines and names and character backgrounds -- after all, the characters are white and Western.  They live in nice houses and happy children and go to fine colleges.  I don't need to say more.

China is China.  Africa is Africa.  But when we get to the West, we get to know names of actual cities.  What filmmaker would ever dream of Hector reporting to Clara, "I'm in North America!"

Do a compare and contrast and see how Mitty and Highway portray peoples and places.  These other films are flawed but truly beautiful and not only show us how rich and unique various ethno-linguistic people groups are but also do a fine job of searching for and finding out some wonderful and insightful things about happiness.

Hector, to be fair, doesn't miss this entirely.  An eccentric old professor at the end of the film tells his students to not worry so much about the pursuit of happiness but rather the happiness of pursuit.  Yes, that is a turn of phrase worthy of the Sphinx (cf. Mystery Men), but it isn't wrong.  That is basically what we learn from Mitty and Highway but I am not convinced that Hector gets it in the end.  He is closer, but the very fact that his life-changing journey is reduced to ethnic stereotypes and a notebook full of platitudes suggests that he hasn't enjoyed the pursuit much at all.

Friends, pay attention.  As I once read in a qualitative research design methods textbook, "There are some who say that the most important step of any journey is the first one.  There are others who argue that the most brilliant and resplendent step is the last.  But, in fact, it is all the steps in between that make the journey.  Be present for every step."

There is it, and if Hector was paying attention, he would have had the chance to learn this lesson earlier when his NGO friend said, "There is a difference between being here and being here to be photographed being here." Yes, that was a good line and worth watching the whole movie just to hear.  So, while Hector feels more like a short-term mission team came home and tried to make a movie about the meaning of life, it's not without its insight.  Or at least, insight can be drawn from this leaky cistern.

If you want to be happy along life's journey, start by being present for every step and don't take too many selfies.


For Example, let's end Rohingya Suffering

Photo courtesy BBC World
So, here is an example of what I'm talking about.

Most people have still never heard of the Rohingya peoples, but for those of us who have been in refugee ministry for a while, we have heard of their plight for years.  I still remember the shock and joy of discovering an entire, large apartment complex totally filled with Rohingya refugees in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.  I don't know them well, but whenever I hear an update about their plight, my spirit groans.

I'm not going to tell their story here but to say that they are the ultimate people without a country.  They are South Asians who have spent the last few generations in Burma thanks to the post-abolition policies of Great Britain who semi-forcibly reshuffled the peoples of the world through their ghastly system of indentured servitude (which alone is enough for the entire world to call the UK to step up and solve the Rohingya problem that their greed is ultimately responsible for creating).

But I digress.

Yesterday, I mused about Grey's Anatomy (which is playing in the background as I read through the morning news and blogs) and how TV series' writers with a vision only as big as the world seem to have great difficulty in writing about changing the world.  It's far easier to write about a great character getting killed off in a car accident than to imagine them actually realizing their potential to make history.  In trying to inspire our newly arrived set of summer interns, referenced this and hoped to convince them that God isn't like this at all.

Perhaps it is the logical outcome of my evangelical generation's upbringing that we either give in to the numbing influences of the prevailing culture or finally throw off the restraints of small-mindedness -- to rebel against the drop-in-the-bucket kind of thinking and utterly give oneself to actually changing the world.  Those early days of Piper and the Passion Conference Posse must finally take on flesh and dwell as uncomfortably as the Hulk in a china closet in this basically status quo world of trendy protests, je suis whateverisms, and awareness campaigns that never do anything.

So for me.  What I do now when I hear about the Rohingyas is I start to ask myself, "What is the plan to actually solve this problem?  Why can't I be the one who makes it?"  Because I'm sick of assuming that I can only do my part!  If I am content to only do my part, transformation won't come because by now I realized that the vast majority of people will never do their part!  Some won't because they cannot.  Others won't because they simply don't care.  At 37, I know that I must do the part of thousands if things are going to change.  And I know that while I came to the Lord's table empty handed at first, I've been at the table so many times for so long that I can only blaspheme Him by the suggestion that my hands are still empty.

I can change the world.

Indeed, the one who has written in his book all the days of my life before even one of them came to pass intends that it should be.

So, Amen! May it be!


Keep McDreaming! You Won't be Written Off.

Photos Courtesy
So, I have to confess now that I am a rather huge fan of Grey's Anatomy.  I have no excuses and some of you will definitely think less of me after having just read that.  I'm okay with that.

Recently, an original character on the long-running TV series was written off in a horrible, fatal accident.  Grey's creator, Shonda Rhimes has gained bit of a reputation for killing off cast members.  This one rather upset me.  I scoured blogs and news articles for an explanation.  Why kill Dr. Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd?  Why?  Yes, I even cried a little.

I was more upset when my favorite character, Sandra Oh's unforgettable Dr. Christina Yang was written off a season earlier.  Fortunately for her, she didn't die.  She moved away to some amazing European medical research center with limitless funding and potential -- to change the world and yet never be heard from again.

And there is my point.

Characters Yang and Shepherd were portrayed for season after season as aspiring to and encroaching upon genuine historic medical greatness.  They were going to print hearts and map brains and otherwise save millions of lives.  And then suddenly, a car accident or a move to Europe and we are asked to forget about them and focus on those mere mortals left behind.

I think true greatness must just be really hard to write about.  Inevitably the explanation comes from TV writers that sounds something like, "We just felt like there was nothing else for us to do with this character."  After several seasons of exploring a variety of relationships, and scenarios and adventures, the writers feel they have done all they can do with that character.  That they've explored every angle.  That they've rather painted themselves into a corner.  The character must die or they must venture into greatness off screen and achieve it in a way that doesn't disturb the little universe we've created.

Read that last line again.

That's what a vision as big as the world will get you -- writer's block after a few seasons.  Eventually you conclude that there is nothing else to be done with Derek or Christina or Frasier or with any of Daniel Larusso's girlfriends (still stings).  Though you may be a screenwriter with a fictional universe of your own creation and though you literally have a blank piece of paper in front of you, when your vision is only as big as the world, it is difficult to write about it changing.  

Photo Courtesy

Speaking of Fraiser.  At least they tried.  Some 20 years of stories written about my all time favorite TV character and at the very end, the writers essentially admitted their limitations when they had the beloved Dr. Crane read from Tennyson's Ulysses:

We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

How glad I am that God isn't like that! He never runs out of stories or angles or adventures or dreams for my life.  He knows how to write about greatness.  He knows how to write about changing the world.  He'll never get to a point with me where he shrugs and says, "Well, I think we have done just about all we can do with you."  There is always another season.  The show is always renewed and every time I think I've just gotten through the climax of the tale he is authoring in my life, he repeats, "That was just the beginning."


Propaganda Piece by @SwarajyaMag Falsely Claims 80% of Bhutanese Refugees have Converted to Christianity

Image credit: Swarajya Magazine

[NOTE TO READERS: I have just changed the settings on my blog to disable anonymous comments.  I know that will discourage conversation on some level.  However, I find it a bit unfair to all critics to hide when I'm not.  For those of you who want to dialog personally, you can email and I will eventually respond]

[UPDATE: Swarajya has updated their article to change the 80% figure to "large number". Of course, unless they have also updated their research methodology, their argument hardly gains weight.  Also they have yet to amend the other terrible errors in the piece I discuss here.  I doubt they will.  Too much ego involved.  The author has dismissed me as a "pastor" going "ballistic" instead of engaging my critique of her article. I hope she will do the right thing and withdraw her article. I know it can be difficult to get published and Swarajya is a magazine that can amplify one's voice a lot, but if what you are saying is false, you are only amplifying error.  It seems hat Ms. Singh is doing important work in the realm of climate change and clean water access.  I fear that evidence of faulty research on display in this article will cast doubts on her credibility elsewhere.  I hope she will choose the greater good and retract.]

I can't help but respond to an article that is being shared widely from the Indian social issue and current affairs magazine, Swarajya.  The piece is provocatively entitled, "Persecution to Proselytization: Bhutanese Hindu Refugees in America" and is authored by Sahana Singh.  Poor journalism is always sad, but I always feel worse when it comes from a nation for which I am constantly rooting.  I want to say to India, "PLEASE DON'T LET THIS PASS FOR JOURNALISM!"  Let me hit the highlights:

1. 80% of Bhutanese Refugees have Converted -- Singh quotes "anecdotal" statistics in claiming that 80% of Bhutanese refugees have converted to Christianity since arriving in Houston, Texas (USA).  Let me just say, that I can't imagine a scenario in which unnamed, "anecdotal" sources can be considered worthy of inclusion in a journalistic article.  How does Swarajya print such a figure? How does Singh include it in her article?  If a journalism student came to me with an unnamed, anecdotal statistic in an article, I would immediately give her a failing grade.  This is just inexcusable!

Now as for the figure itself, we are talking about a level of inflation difficult to imagine.  In reality, not more than 5-10% of the Houston Bhutanese community would identify itself as Christian and this includes those who were already Christian before arrival in the USA.  And, while I will protect the anonymity of my source, I will tell you that it is from a Bhutanese Christian living in Houston who is heavily involved in community development activities.  I also know demographic researchers on the ground who haven't published their data yet, but who would laugh at this 80% figure.  Actually, I can't wrap my head around the type of person from Houston who would even give such an estimate.  Perhaps the number came from someone who didn't understand mathematics or maybe the source was intentionally trying to mislead Singh or else was pranking her.  But she says, "anecdotal numbers".  That's plural! Are we to believe that multiple people gave this figure to Singh and that none of them are willing to go on record?  Actually, these aren't even "anonymous" sources, which would indicate that she spoke with someone who asked not to be named.  They are just unnamed anecdotes.  Which means, Singh could have gotten the number from one of my baristas in Uganda. Or she could have just made it up.  We have no way of knowing.  All we do know is that it is utterly false.

2. Houston as the epicenter for Bhutanese Resettlement -- Singh compounds the egregiousness of her 80% fabrication by calling Houston the city which has "absorbed the largest number of exiled Bhutanese".  There is no sense in which this is true!  First of all, no serious study has been conducted to determine the population of Bhutanese refugees city by city in the United States.  There are figures that resettlement agencies have but these only consider initial points of arrival.  The Bhutanese are highly mobile and secondary resettlement is very common.  There are a lot of Bhutanese in Houston. But also in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Akron, and a hundred other cities across the United States.  But, Singh needs to inflate the role of Houston because of her incredulous 80% "numbers" which come from unidentified sources there.  This gives her justification (but only in her own mind and apparently in those of her editors) to lead the article with this shocking sentence, "About 80% of Bhutanese Hindu migrants in the US have been converted to Christianity."  What is really shocking is that anyone should consider this to be legitimate journalism.

Of course most of the article is devoted to Singh casting Christian organizations in a bad light by claiming that while the Indian Hindu organization, Sewa, is busy teaching refugees practical life skills, the American Christians are offering money and gifts to Bhutanese people in order to convince them to convert.  Here, I suspect, is the real motivation for Singh's writing.  This old "rice Christian" attack is a tired sensationalist strategy of isolationist Hindus which has nothing at all to do with true dharma and which hinders efforts by sincere Hindus, Buddhists and Christians to engage in inter-religious dialog and partnership for community transformation.  To be sure, there is the occasional Christian group that is guilty of this kind of religious baiting, but the Bhutanese Hindus should be insulted by Singh's suggestion that so many of them would be so easily duped by such worn out tactics.  I know many Bhutanese of various religious stripes, and precious few would fall for this kind of approach.

But, of course, Singh is just simply making stuff up.  From 2008, when the Bhutanese began to arrive in the United States, it was overwhelmingly the case that Christian organizations, agencies, and churches were the first responders.  English classes, job classes, computer training, business coaching, tutoring, family counseling, and much more were made available for free in nearly every city where the Bhutanese landed and the volunteers who provided the help were almost always directly or indirectly connecting through their local church or a Christian agency.  And, almost all of these very same agencies, churches and Christians will be the first in line to welcome the next wave of refugees be they Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, or Muslim.  To say that this is not the case betrays a truly blinding ideology of hatred toward the religious other that any sincere Ishwar Bhakta would quickly reject as antithetical to a Hindu worldview.

Sadly, Hindu organizations, even the very well-funded ones, were very slow to get involved with the Bhutanese refugees.  Indeed, today they largely stay aloof.  The city where I live (Aurora, Illinois) has a medium-sized Bhutanese population which is about 98% Hindu and Buddhist.  There are three Hindu temples in the city and except for one or two social events over seven years, these organization have remained entirely uninvolved in the affairs of the Bhutanese community.  Now, we see arising in almost every city Bhutanese-led organizations which are taking on the needs of their own community.  They are organizing citizenship classes, collecting relief funds, organizing development programs, applying for government grants, and more.  These associations are imperfect, but they tend to be multi-ethnic, multi-caste, and inter-religious.  Indeed, such organizations exist in Houston (e.g., a fact completely ignored by Singh's article.

In the end, let me say that this is not the kind of article that either Bhutanese Hindus or Christians need.  It is a propaganda piece designed to invoke fear in the hearts of Indian Hindus rather than compassion and constructive engagement.  It insults the gullibility and ingenuity of Bhutanese people who have proven their resilience through years of suffering in Bhutan and Nepal (during which times India's help was non-existent, by the way).  It further denigrates the fruitful partnerships and deep friendships that have been forged between many Bhutanese and Americans which may often involve spiritual matters but which far transcend religious barriers.

The Bhutanese-Nepali peoples have survived a long journey of displacement without the help of Swarajya Magazine and will continue to do just fine without their hollow attempts at advocacy through shotty journalism.  I call upon Singh and Swarajya to retract their article immediately in light of its patent fabrications and insulting implications.

Henri Nouwen on Visionaries

We can see the visionary in the guerilla fighter, in the youth with the demonstration sign, in the quiet dreamer in the corner of a cafe, in the soft-spoken monk, in the meek student, in the mother who lets her son go his own way, in the father who reads to his child from a strange book, in the smile of a girl, in the indignation of a worker, in every person who in one way or another draws life from a vision which is seen shining ahead and which surpasses everything ever heard or seen before.

- Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands


Bhutanese-Nepali Community Organizes the "Stop Suicide Project" (Feb. 28, 2015)

Consider this an update to the issue that I have brought up a few times here on this blog, most notably here:

The Bhutanese are Killing Themselves at an Alarming Rate
A Report on Suicide among Bhutanese-Nepali Refugees
Calling on the Bhutanese Refugee Community to Stop Killing Yourselves

I am thrilled to see that a number of key leaders in the US-based diaspora group have taken the initiative to speak out on suicide and have gone as far to organized a program in Akron, Ohio under the "Stop Suicide Project" banner and presented by the Menuka Memorial Foundation.  This is a worthy effort to raise awareness and open dialogue in a community that has suffered one of the highest suicide rates in the world.  I applaud especially the artist-leaders who have lent their talents and the organizational and leaders who have sought to bring mental health professionals into this event.

A couple issues that I'd like to highlight:

1. Akron is an excellent choice for this event as it represents one of the largest hubs for secondary resettlement among the Bhutanese in the USA and is a true weigh-station for Bhutanese travel from the Midwest to the East coast and vice versa.  Most Bhutanese east of the Mississippi have been through Akron at one point or another.  Of course, I hope that similar events will take place in many other cities as well.

2. One apparent omission is the involvement of spiritual leaders in the effort.  Hindu pundits, Christian pastors and Buddhist lamas should find this to be an issue of common ground.  It would be a very powerful message indeed to see pastor, pundit and lama joining hands to proclaim the holiness of life, the inherent evil of suicide, and to tell the community that it is good and acceptable (not shameful) to ask for help with emotional and mental difficulties.

If you are around the Akron area, don't miss this event. I, for one, really wish I could be there!


Sraddha (श्रद्धा): Going Mad to Get Him

A scene is described by the well-known Bengali sage, Swami Vivekananda. He asks his listeners to imagine a thief trying to sleep in a room.  He has come to know that in the very next room there is a mass of gold, essentially unguarded.

The Swami asks, "What will be the condition of that thief?"

It doesn't take much imagination for us to guess that the thief will not be getting much sleep at all that night. His mind will be racing with schemes to somehow get at the gold. He will surely not rest until it is his.

The Swami explains his meaning:

"Do you believe that a man could believe in God and not go mad to get Him?  If a man sincerely believes that there is that immense, infinite mine of Bliss, and that It can be reached, would not that man go mad in his struggle to reach it?"

The true devotee cries out, "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, O God! My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God! When shall I come and appear before God?" (Bhajan 42:1-2)

And this, is the meaning of the ancient Sanskrit term "sraddha" (श्रद्धा) which is often used as the name for memorial ceremonies performed on the anniversaries of the deaths of our loved ones.  It is to have faith in God and to "go mad to get at him", which should be our attitude daily but especially in difficult times (such as the death of a family member).

Sadly, as the sage says, it seems that not "one in twenty millions in this world believes in God".  He is not wrong.  Even the most devout soul will struggle to maintain sraddha/faith.  Even the bhaktis of Prabhu Sri Yeshuji, the Mahamukteshwar, who listened daily to his pravachan and witnessed countless displays of shakti (power), often were said to have only a "little faith".

But even the answer for this dilemma is found in God.  The Ishwarprerita wrote that our moksha (liberation) would come by grace (anugraha) through faith and that this itself was a gift of God.  We do not have the faith that we need to go mad to get God.  It is foreign to us and must be given by Another.  But praise to Sureshwar, the Good God, who will give freely to all who ask.

Today, ask God to give you true "sraddha" so that you can know the joy of salvation and knowing the Living God.  


Oy Vey: Remember When it wasn't Cool to be an Anti-Semite

Photo Credit: Unknown (Contact me)

I seriously like Jews.

I mean, I'll pass on the Manishewitz, but in general, wow, I love those people.  Yeshua, of course, is my favorite.  He did die for me after all and indwells me by his Spirit. But, he is in good company.

As a goy-boy growing up in rural Oklahoma I was not afforded many opportunities for, well, schmoozing with the Chosen People, but as my world gloriously expands God is giving me more and more encounters with Jews of many backgrounds.  I'm getting opportunities for cultural learning, friendship and partnership.  Yiddish words and phrases in sitcoms are starting to make sense and I'm secretly (not so secret now, I guess) hoping for an invite to a pakka Purim celebration (okay, "pakka" is Hindi lingo rather than Yiddish, but old habits die hard. Would the Yiddish be echt?)

But what is going on today? Is it just me or is the mood changing?  Though I grew up with very little global exposure, I somehow imbibed a rather undiluted message about the Jews -- i.e. antisemitism is evil.

So why does it suddenly seem more okay to be antisemitic?  Consider the following short video taken of a man simply walking the streets of Paris as a Jew:

Are you kidding me?

Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg with a seemingly growing number of terrorist threats and attacks directed towards Jews, consider:

The recent desecration of Jewish graves in France
The shooting at a synagogue in Denmark
The conspiracy and cover up regarding the massacre of Jews in Argentina

To mention just a few high-profile incidents.

It's enough to prompt Israel's PM, Benjamin Netanyahu to call for Jews to come "home" en masse to the Promised Land.  A fact that's sure to tempt a few of you to dust off some of your old Jenkins-Lahaye novels (you know exactly where they are, don't you?).

Of course, it get's even more meshuggah.  On the one hand, you have Hollywood legend Shirley MacLaine writing some really stupid stuff about karma and the holocaust.  Her speculation that the millions of Jews slaughtered by the Nazis may have had it coming to them due to bad deeds committed in a previous life was newsworthy for about five minutes.  But, hey, Vanilla Ice is trending on Twitter so ... at least our priorities are in order.

Swing the pendulum from the famous to the obscure and you find this bizarre story of a Iowa woman who  was apparently trying to convert a Jewish neighbor to Christianity through the old beat-them-till-they-convert method.

Oy gevalt!

And then there are my own evangelical tribesmen (and tribeswomen) who in their zeal to always be attacking everything that U.S. President Barak Obama says, rushed to defend the Crusades in response to the President's suggestion that they might have been kind of a bad thing.  The standard defense posted and re-posted especially in the Facebook-sphere went something like this:

"Silly Obama, don't you know that the Crusades were essentially defensive struggles against extremist Islamic powers bent on the conquest of Europe?  Gosh, you really are a Muslim aren't you?"

And before you go about comfortably dismissing me to some ideological camp that you've taught yourself to ignore, let me say that I begrudgingly voted for McCain and No One in the past two presidential elections, respectively.  Not that it's any of your business.

But look here.  Putting aside whatever defensive motives may or may not have been at play in the various Crusades (and to what extent those motives were shared by the actual Crusaders) for a moment, I must ask.  Have we really forgotten how many Jews were killed by Christians during the Crusades? I blogged a bit about this recently (Here is the link in case you missed it).  I don't understand how this isn't a no-brainer for my fellow Jesus-followers.  The Crusades resulted in the massacre of thousands of Jews.  They don't get to be defended.  Why isn't that the end of the story?

So, here I am, scratching my head. Praying. And wondering what good a little voice like mine can do in this context.  Should I start a #Jewishlivesmatter or #JesuisHebreu? But leveraging trendiness doesn't go very far.


For now, I feel that I want to say without qualification that I genuinely love and admire the Jews.  As a follower of Jesus, I know that they are a people greatly honored by the God I worship.  I owe my spiritual heritage to their stewardship of faith and the Scriptures.  As a student of people and culture, I am intrigued by the festivals, the language, the religion, the history, the music and pretty much all things Jewish.  As a human, I rejoice in our shared humanity and know that I'm richer in relationship to Jews and poorer when separated.

Those who know me well, will know how sincere I am when I say that I would love for more Jews to move into my neighborhood.  If the man in the video above came walking by my house -- or up to my door -- he would find a warm welcome.

Join me in praying for peace for the Jewish diaspora wherever they live in the world.


Defending the Crusades (Not really, they sucked)

I am grateful to a friend who pointed out this piece. I've held my tongue while the heat was high following the National Pontificating Breakfast. I have no interest in either defending or critiquing President Obama's comments - it never occurs to me to look to sanded down, poll-tested speeches for profound insight anyway. 

However, the subsequent rush to defend the Crusades by many of my fellow Christ-followers was downright embarrassing. At first, I thought it was a joke - something like the Onion. Surely no one would actually try to defend the Crusades.  But, the more I read and saw posted, the more I blushed.  It was true. Which meant that the hatred towards President Obama was felt so hotly by some that they would seek to actually defend one of the darkest moments in Church history. 

Now, I know that some have taken pains to point out the larger context surrounding Crusade history and the various pressures that gave rise to a war between European and Islamic powers. This is well and good. A passing reference to the Crusades as "bad" is certainly abbreviating matters. However, it isn't abbreviating matters incorrectly. Yes, there were genuine acts of piety and golden feats of heroism along with understandable and necessary military campaigns designed for legitimate defensive aims.  But, the Crusades featured so much evil and of such a wretched sort and so blatantly "in the name of Christ" that the only reasonable response of the modern day disciple of Jesus is to lament.  

I would respectfully urge those who have tried to defend the Crusades to read this very solid NYTimes article on the first victims of the First Crusade. 

If the massacre of Jews that started off the Crusades had been the only atrocity committed, it would be enough for me to condemn the whole affair. But, so much more would follow. 

Our history is what it is. And there is a lot of garbage there. And none of it makes any of the horrors being carried out by ISIS, Boko Haram, etc. even the least bit more acceptable or understandable. Indeed, it seems to me that the Church today would find its prophetic word all the more powerful in the face of such evils if we could soundly and unanimously condemn the sin we ourselves have been guilty of in the past.


Happy 206th, President Lincoln: Slavery Abolition Facts

In honor of Abraham Lincoln's 206th birthday, here are some abolition facts for you:

Iceland abolished slavery in A.D. 1117.

Pope Paul III forbid the enslavement of indigenous peoples in the America's in  1537.  Forced displacement and systematic oppression was still okay.  Oh ... and of course Africans could still be enslaved.

Portugal banned the buying and selling of Chinese slaves in 1595.  Black slaves still super cool with them.

Russia abolished slavery in 1723.

Sierra Leone was founded by the British as a colony for freed slaves in 1787.  Domestic slavery, perpetuated by the wealthy, wasn't outlawed there until 1928.

Haiti declared independence from France in 1804, perhaps the only truly successful slave revolt in modern history.

The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed in Britain in 1807. The United States banned the trade the following year though President Thomas Jefferson called Congress to make the slave trade illegal in 1806.  A slew of nations abolished slavery or slave trading in the decades that followed.

The last slaves were freed in Mexico in 1829, but when the Republic of Texas was established in 1836, it legalized slavery there.

President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, one of the most important executive orders in United States history.  It was followed by passage of the 13th amendment two years later.

Oklahoma, then Indian Territory, didn't abolish slavery until 1866.

In the 80 years following the British abolition of the slave trade, Brazil imported an additional 1 million African slaves and became the world's leading producer of coffee.  Slavery was finally abolished in Brazil in 1888.

The British, who had abolished the slave trade in 1807, continued using Indians as indentured servants on a large scale until 1917.  Many long-established Indian populations around the world began during this period of forced displacement.

Slavery continued legally in Ethiopia until 1942 when it was officially abolished by Emperor Haile Selassie.

Slavery was still legal in the nations of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, UAE, and Oman until the 1960s.

The most recent nations to make slavery a crime were Niger (2003) and Mauritania (2007).

Slavery is now officially illegal in all nations.  However, estimates suggest that more than 35 million people remain enslaved around the world.


The Global Slavery Index -

The UN International Labor Organizatin -


Brewing a Better World (Part 5): Reversing Coffee's Dark History in a Borderless World

Photo by Craig Sunter
We'll make this the last in the highly-caffeinated 5-part series on coffee, business, and mission in the 21st century that I've entitled, "Brewing a Better World".  [Catch up on the whole series here.]

Today I want to continue my musing upon the idea of coffee as the perfect "Great Commission Commodity".  

Everywhere I go I repeat a simple statement that I believe is absolutely critical for the people of God to digest as they engage in 21st century mission. Here it is:

In the 21st century, people keep moving, especially to the cities and yet stay connected to everywhere.  

This last phrase, about connections, speaks to the reality of globalization in the world today.  A globalized world is a borderless world connected by high-tech communication, high-speed travel, and high-impact influencers whose messages resound from Bollywood to Belfast and from Twitter to Timbuktu (seriously, the city in Mali).  But long before mobile phones outnumbered toilets (a real fact that needs to be addressed, here's a tiny awareness project we did on this) and before Viber made it possible for me to call Uganda from Chicago for free, it was coffee that began to show us that this is indeed a small world after all. Coffee was the first truly global commodity and is the second biggest in the world today (behind oil, which isn't nearly as tasty).  Coffee moves today in ways very similar to the way peoples move and the potential to leverage that movement for the sake of mission is very interesting to me.  As I hop around coffee houses in the US I’m noticing that more and more local roasters are even bypassing “Big Coffee” in favor of direct sourcing strategies – a trend that ties people movement and coffee movement even more closely together.  Again, the key is to leverage movement for mission, which means transforming realities for the sake of Christ  - till all people movement and all coffee movement means gospel movement.

And take this a step further,  if Bosch is right when he says that mission is about transforming reality (and he is right) then the coffee industry has tremendous potential for holistic Kingdom work.  Coffee has a “dark history” (to lift a phrase from Antony Wild) closely tied to slavery, corporate greed and abuse, ecological devastation and worse.  The finest coffees in the world, consumed by the West’s most comfortable suburbanites and grooviest hipsters are nevertheless grown in the poorest regions of the globe by people who are lucky if they make enough money to feed their families. Coffee has not only had a front row seat for some of the greatest injustices in history but the industry as a whole continues to do much to perpetuate the same systemic evils.  

But that’s exactly where things get interesting.  

First of all, coffee shops have always been fertile ground for over-stimulated people to stimulate one another to ideas of innovation, social change, and even revolution (e.g. both the French and American Revolutions were essentially brewed – pun intended – in coffee shops).  I observe today that crowds of caffeinated coffee consumers could still be rallied around coffee production strategies that brought about positive and sustainable transformation. To say nothing of using coffee shops as third-spaces to catalyze all manner of justice causes.

What is more, the business of coffee growing and shipping puts one in close proximity to poverty, disease, violence and the long-term effects of violence, the global gateways of forced migration (trafficking), and other forms of oppression.  Proximity gives way to intentional presence for the Christ-follower, to incarnation and thus to strategic engagement and partnership for the sake of Kingdom transformation.  So, the implications here are deep for how we do business and to what end.  What is clear to me is that the best way to address injustices perpetuated or ignored by the coffee industry is to radically transform the way that business is done. 

So, we close the series today with two quite different concepts - globalization and justice - that will absolutely need to be taken together if we are ever going to end or stop anything.  What does the world look like from your seat?  How are you and your team engaging in global connections and partnerships for the sake of bringing Kingdom justice to bear?  

Well, the coffee shop in which I sitting as I write this is closing.  I need to wrap this up.  I've enjoyed pouring out my heart to you during this series.  Pray for me and for everyone at Trinity and Endiro as we journey with the Lord in this new endeavor.