Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Other Project

While IJM Thailand's focus for the last five years has been the Legal Status and Documentation Project that I previously blogged about, we are also hoping to begin a new project in 2012 aimed at combating sexual assault against children.  Even though the project has not officially started, it's hard for IJM to sit back while such horrible things happen to God's children.

Just to let you know, I cannot discuss any current cases due to confidentiality.  However, I will share some of the commonalities I've seen from some of the cases

Today, I was with the IJM staff attorney when we met with one of our clients and her parents.  While I couldn't understand what they were saying, I saw the deep concern in each of their eyes even after the perpetrator has been arrested and is waiting for trial.

I remember being confused in my Health class in 9th grade when the teacher started talking about rape.  I wasn't lost on what rape was -- non-consensual sex -- but on what the reason for it was:  Power.  More specifically, the abuse of power.

Working at CitySquare's LAW Center, woman after woman was stuck in an abusive relationship because of physical power of the husband and the power given him by the culture they came from.

Only two months into my time with IJM Thailand, and I can see that rape is truly about the abuse of power.

David Allen, a friend of ours from church in Dallas and Chiang Mai, told a story about a hill tribe woman who was working on the construction of a house.  When his friend met the woman, she was sobbing.  She said that she had been raped earlier in the day by one of the other construction workers.  When David's friend called the police, the police told his friend it was the woman's fault.  What did she expect being from the hill tribes and working construction.  No report was ever filed.

Of course people will abuse power if there is no recourse.

We've also seen perpetrator's attempt to get off through high-level government connections.

If a person chooses a victim who has no power or he or she wields a great amount of power, it is easy to abuse that power.

Read Psalm 10.  Think about the victim.  And consider what the person who abuses power is like.

In the next entry I'll tell you how IJM is fighting against this violent oppression.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Boyz n the Hood and a boy in a small town

I can't remember how old I was when I first saw Boyz n the Hood.  For some reason, my brain puts me in a movie theater when Laurence Fishburne shoots a giant hole through his front door.  I'm not sure that was possible since I was only 10 when the movie came out.  I definitely wasn't older than 13.  Either way, it underscores the impact the movie had on me when I watched it for the first time and the way it still affects me.  Since I was about 16, I had the movie poster hanging in my room.  Even now, quotes from the movie come to my mind that I want to say, but most of the time they are inappropriate or no one will understand.  ("We got a problem here?  I said, we got a m-f'in' problem here" as I lift my shirt.) 

Growing up in Round Rock, Texas was almost nothing like South Central Los Angeles.  I rode my bike everywhere.  Even the "bad part of town," "the Flats," was a place I had several friends and where one of my favorite parks still is.  We had gangs that increasingly got worse as I grew up, but even then it was always a joke about whether certain people had "flip-flopped" to Bloods or Crips this week.  People still used their fists to fight and almost everyone was getting a good education even if they weren't trying hard to get it.

South Central L.A. is so notorious that "South Central" anything brings images of innercity.  Before Boyz, people knew about L.A., but it was always from a mainstream media perspective, which usually focused on the crime rather than the communities of struggling people.  The fact that it is home to America's modern gangs is well documented.  On many levels, South Central Los Angeles stood in direct contrast to much of the life I knew in Round Rock.

But for some reason I connected to this movie.

Here's a theory on why this movie hit me like it did and still does.  One of the keys to the film is that it is told from an insider's perspective.  It's not a story that sees Crenshaw from above or from outside.  Also, it doesn't seek a "good vs. evil" divide that so many other innercity stories tell.  The movie is about Tre and his friends trying to figure out life in a place where friends and enemies are right next to each other, while the American dream of "opportunity" always seems far away. 

The fact that it is not told from the "white guilt" perspective that has been popularized by movies like The Blindside and The Help also gave it a different vibe.  The movie is about the people in the struggle, not about those who come to rescue them.  Singleton told a story about life, not a story about escape and rescue.

Finally, despite the violence of the movie and what the media reports said at the time, the movie is about seeking a solution.  It is definitely a movie that expresses the bravado of violence while recognizing that violence only begets violence.  This is also something unique among most movies. 

(I realize I'm blabbering now.  Like so many blog entries, the vision is always greater than the actual words on paper.)

If something affects you deeply, it changes you.  Partially because of this movie I recognize a world outside of the pretty suburbs or nice parts of town.  I have sought to learn more about a world I was blessed enough to not be immersed in while growing up.  Despite my lack of this experience, I have learned to deeply respect those who have struggled through this life.  I'm quick to praise those who are able to sieze opportunity, and I'm slow to judge those who remain trapped.

The biggest change is that I don't just see the wrong of the person, but I'm able to see the environment the person is from and how that shapes them as a person.  It's not about condemning Ice Cube's character, but about all of us coming together to condemn our allowing a society to be created and sustained where people have to turn to drugs and violence just to survive.

Boyz n the Hood sent me down a path I remain on today. 

Must reads:  "What does hip-hop tell us about our faith and society?" and "Boyz n the Hood, 20 Years Later: The Making of a Movie that Did Race Right."

Monday, August 22, 2011

LSDP part 2

"Justice" can be a very hard term to define.  Most people think of "justice" as punishing wrong-doers, or perpetrators as we refer to them at IJM.  This is true.  But justice goes beyond punishment for people who commit crimes.  It also includes a concept that is hard to fit into a nice dictionary definition.  Since you know I can be wordy and less than concise, I'll see if I can force it into one phrase:  Equality under the law.

We were talking about the Law of the prophets that Jesus refers to in Matthew 5.  He says in verse 17, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."  The question is what is the purpose of the law?  In the context of the prophets and the crowd before Jesus, it's clear that Jesus is saying he is coming to fulfill the Law in a way that allows all people to be equals: men, women; poor, rich; sick, healthy; etc.  Turning the other cheek in verse 39 is about standing up to those who try to dominate you and declare in a loud voice, "I am equal."

That is the justice found in the Legal Status and Documentation Project at IJM Thailand.  

The people who are often the "least" in the Thai society are now rejoicing because they have the good news of Jesus and the prophets:  They are God's children, not a second-class people.  

Now, enough preaching.  (Finally.)  I want to share with you the rejoicing of the people and the graciousness they showed us last week.

Field Trip

Special thanks to Compassion & North Park Church
To the left you can see most of the trip through Northern Thailand.  The locations are not accurate, since many of the villages are up dirt roads that Google hasn't quite documented.  In addition, no exact addresses were entered in order to protect the specific details of the individual groups.  

IJM Thailand works in all 8 of the provinces of the Northern Thailand region.  In addition, we work with all 9 of the federally recognized hill tribes.  This trip stayed in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces, and we only met with some of the Lahu and Akha villages.

Now on with the trip!

 A.  First Stop:  The New Life Center

Building bridges is one of the core characteristics of IJM.  We know we cannot do this work on our own, so we seek partners everywhere we are.  In Chiang Mai, one of our close partners is the New Life Center Foundation. This organization focuses on helping ethnic minority girls and young women who are at risk for or victims of labor or sexual exploitation.  Some of the folks they help are in need of citizenship assistance.  IJM Thailand is proud to partner with this organization.

B.  Lahu Village in Mae Tang District

The first village visit was at a Lahu village in the Mae Tang district.  
Reviewing papers and asking questions
Each district is like a county.  Each district has a "sheriff" and is split into sub-districts, led by a "deputy."  We were honored to share a meal with the deputy for the sub-district where the village is located.  We ate a wonderful lunch prepared by the village church members, and then observed a townhall meeting in the local church run by our field staff coordinator and the deputy.  Each village has many villagers who do not speak Thai, so we had an interpreter working between Thai and Lahu.  The church was packed.  So many villagers here are still waiting for their application to go through.  The deputy was very kind to answer questions and help the people understand the process.  

Not only does IJM seek partnerships with other great organizations, we also recognize the importance of working with the government.  The rule of law cannot happen without those who enforce the laws.

C.  Akha Village in Mae Ai District

After the village in Mae Tang, we drove to the Mae Ai district, which borders the border of Burma.  After checking in at our evening accommodations, we drove up the hill to an Akha village for dinner.   The family whose house we ate in received citizenship after waiting several years thanks to IJM's help.  The husband was working out of town, but his wife gathered support from her neighbors to make a great feast.  The akha whiskey was a nice bonus. 

 D.  The Mae Ai District Office
As I mentioned above, partnering with local officials is important to IJM.  Many local officials suspect NGOs.  With many districts, IJM's work has given us a reputation as an organization that seeks to ease the burden of district officials rather than acting as a "tattletale," waiting for a wrong move.  In Mae Ai, in particular, we have such a good relationship that IJM field staff has a desk they work at to assist the sheriff.  Being a sheriff is a very difficult task.  A lot of shady folks seek to exploit those looking for assistance by charging outrageous fees for false documents.  This affects the process for everyone in the district and underscores the value of IJM in seeking justice for these folks.  

E.  Lahu Village in Fang District

This village welcomed us with a dance from the children.  Compassion has a project here, and IJM is looking at how we can get involved with assisting those who still need citizenship.  

F.  Lahu Village on the other side of the Mae Ai District

Rain wasn't enough to stop the warm welcome we received in this village.  And you can understand why:  IJM has already helped over 100 villagers obtain their citizenship cards.  In addition, Compassion is here offering the children educational, church, and community-building support.   The entire village came together to prepare for our visit.  Many people cut the bamboo chutes to use them as cups and serving dishes.  Others cooked the fantastic feast and wrapped the rice in banana leaves.  It was capped by the performance of man who is blind, but through his song, you know he can definitely see.  Before citizenship, he had to depend on others just to survive.  Just like in the States, with citizenship come other benefits.  Now he is able to receive government disability benefits that allow him to afford enough food to survive each month.   

 G.  Lahu Village in Mae Suay District, Chiang Rai Province

For the final village, we were able to break into groups and visit individual homes.  In this village, Compassion has a project, and IJM is exploring how we can help the people, also.     The woman of the home welcomed us graciously.  Her daughter was sick in her lap.  After telling us her story, we asked about her daughter.  She said she would take her to the hospital, but she's afraid of what will happen since she doesn't have any citizenship papers.  The point was hammered home once again:  Citizenship is life.  When rights are denied, an injustice has occurred.    

Without citizenship, the Law of the prophets is not fulfilled in Thailand.  Justice continues to be overlooked for these individuals.  Thankfully, IJM Thailand is doing what it can to seek justice for the people.

He Needs One More Than You

I ran across Proverbs 31 during our Thai Mother's Day at the Cheung Doi Church a bit ago.

It seemed fresh, like I had never read it before.  Maybe I was reading it with new eyes.  Here's the pertinent part:

4 It is not for kings, Lemuel—
   it is not for kings to drink wine,
   not for rulers to crave beer,
5 lest they drink and forget what has been decreed,
   and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.
6 Let beer be for those who are perishing,
   wine for those who are in anguish!
7 Let them drink and forget their poverty
   and remember their misery no more.
 8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
   for the rights of all who are destitute.
9 Speak up and judge fairly;
   defend the rights of the poor and needy.
 This is advice from his mom on how to be a good ruler.  It seems like a pretty clear answer to the question people often pose about people asking for money on the road:  "What if he just goes and buys booze with it?"

If he does, so what.  He probably needs it more than you. 

If you are a believer in God, then it is your duty to lead our churches and our country on behalf of the poor and needy.  That means no drink for you.

Next time someone uses that as a reason to not give a person some change, I'll encourage them to just go buy him a beer if they aren't comfortable giving him cash.  After all, it's biblical.

Larry James also posted on this a few months ago.  He's also been quoted as saying, "If I feel like I need a drink after a long day, you can be sure someone who has been wandering without a home could use more than one." 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Field Work: LSDP

Up to this point, I have not spent much time talking about my work with IJM.  One of the main reasons was that I didn't want to bore you with the process of learning new laws and discussing the detailed processes of seeking citizenship in Thailand.  After my trip to the field last week, I've decided that I have enough to make a blog entry seem interesting. 

First, I want to set the scene for my readers.  Some people have a hard time grasping the idea of citizenship work.  It's not really "sexy" work like rescuing children from brothels.  Also, with many from Texas to California, the idea of helping people gain citizenship can be controversial.  It's not much different in Thailand, except that almost half a million are legally entitled to citizenship.

Now imagine you are the person without citizenship.  You were born in the village, and your parents probably were, too.  You nor your parents can read or write.  You can speak some Thai, but your parents only know the language of your village.  For generations, you have farmed the land.  Most seasons you produce enough for your family and some to share with the village.  After the drought last season and the heavy rains this season, it has become dangerous to depend only on the land.  You realize you need to seek work.  But you face a few roadblocks:

Since you are not a legal citizen of the country of your birth, the risks must be weighed:
  • Legally, you cannot work.  If caught, you could be arrested or fined.
  • Not many jobs remain for uneducated people.
  • If you leave your district (county), you can be arrested and fined.
  • Individuals and government officials don't mind sharing their prejudice against your lot.
  • If someone tries to exploit you or harm you, a good chance exists that law enforcement will not come to your aid.
But your family must eat.  You meet a man who tells you that you can work in his factory and stay at his place.  The wages he says you will be paid will be enough to care for your family.  You quickly discover that this man is not as nice as he claims.  You work 15 hour days, 7 days a week, and you still haven't received a paycheck.  Or maybe the man is actually a pimp.  Once you get to "his place" you encounter prostitutes.  He threatens to turn you into the police if you don't start turning tricks.  Or maybe you are lucky and you find a job working construction, which as a woman is not unheard of in Thailand.  But one day, you are alone with one of your coworkers, and he decides to abuse his power and rapes you.  You contact the police, but they say, "You brought it on yourself.  What did you expect working construction with men?  What do you expect as a hill tribe person?"  No report is ever filed. 

As our director says, citizenship is not just a card; it's life.

Everyone has a home, but for many hill tribe people, they have few rights in their home.  Citizenship allows one the following rights:
  • To work,
  • To an education,
  • To healthcare,
  • To travel in Thailand,
  • To obtain disability benefits,
  • To purchase land,
  • and more.
Through years of prejudice, largely rooted in the lack of education, money, and different language, the social tolls on the people take place.  I was able to visit 6 villages last week.  In each village, the community leader shared about how the children and adults would be shy and have low self-esteem.  With the citizenship card, "confidence" is a word each leader used (in Thai).  In addition, almost like the apostle Paul who used his Roman citizenship to his advantage, a greater respect is given to a person.  An opportunity is not squashed.  And that's what changes communities:  opportunity and hard work.  There is no question they have the latter.  The former can be harder to come by.

After seeing how long this entry is already, I'll stop here with a challenge.  Picture yourself in your home.  You have lived there your entire life.  But now someone is saying you don't belong and that this is not your home.  What is the just outcome?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Was he a "Christian"?

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So, I guess the question is "Was he a Christian?"  No Christian (or very few) want to claim him.  But it's not really our choice.

How many Muslims across the world claim Islamist extremists?  How many Latter Day Saints want to claim the Fundamentalist LDSers? 

Back to the original question:  "Was Anders Behring Breivik a Christian?"  Did he choose Jesus as his personal savior?  Was he baptized into water?  Did he acknowledge Jesus Christ was the son of God and came to die for our sins?

If he did, did he wipe it away with his horrendous acts?  Was he saved by grace alone?

Or is there something more to being a Christian?

I know plenty of people I don't want to claim as Christians. 

I know there are plenty of Jesus' teachings that people have distorted over hundreds of years and now use to justify their evil actions.  Were those who enforced slavery and oppression in the South Christians?  Are people who believe in violence as a means of destroying evildoers Christians? 

What makes Christians different from the world around us?  It used to be that Christians were known by their love, but so many people in politics claim to be Christians are are known by their hate.

Christians are called to give to the poor, be unselfish, forgive.  But many of the people I know are worried about their hard-earned money being given to lazy poor people. 

I think it's safe to say "Christian" doesn't mean what it used to.  "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."  But when the rose starts to smell like sewage, it may not be a rose anymore.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I've noticed over the past few weeks that the majority of blogs on Blogger are about wedding planning, embroidering, cake-making, and general crafting. 

It's time to stop being an anomaly.  I'm going to start embroidering a wedding cake that is for the wedding of my hand-stitched little people.  It will be amazing.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

"Work" by Toyohiko Kagawa

The troubled people
Should expect to be
Busy always.
Christ was so thronged
By multitudes
He had no time to eat.
He said,
"To him that hath
Shall be given;
And from him that hath not
Shall be taken away
Even that
He seems to have."
Which means
That if we do not use
All of our powers
We lose them. . . .
Then, too, the problem is
To do our work
With all our hearts;
We do not tire
Of doing what we love.
But most of all,
Our strength and comfort come
Only when God
Dwells in our souls
Working together with us.

From Quiet Moments with God Devotional: Kagawa was a noted Japanese poet and Christian social reformer. Although he suffered poor health, he lived among the needy in the slums and worked tirelessly to overcome social injustice.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Call to prayer for Matthew and Kara

Please visit this blog to show your support for my friends, Matthew and Kara Sikes.  Not enough can be said about how much my heart hurts for them while at the same time I experience so much joy for the faith each of them possesses and the great support from their church community.  This is what church is.

Also, I encourage you to consider donating to the James Camden Sikes Fund, which goes toward researching rhabdoid tumors.  As you can tell from the Wikipedia link, much is still unknown about this malignant, highly lethal tumor.

Twenty-eight days.  That's less than a month.  That's all it took.  On day one, Jamesie went to the hospital.  On day 28, Matthew and Kara laid his body in its final resting place. 

Matthew and Kara will be hurting a lot longer than that.  Please pray for them through this grieving process.  May God send his great Comforter to them.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Subtle changes in understanding

Sunday morning at the Cheung Doi Church of Christ, Angela and I were trying to follow along as they studied in Matthew 5. As I read the Beatitudes in Angela's bible, it struck me that the New Living Translation was significantly different in its translation of the text in a few areas that I did not previously realize. Below are my disjointed, un-M.Div'ed thoughts.

3 “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,[a]
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,[b]
for they will be satisfied.
7 God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
9 God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.


The first thing is that "God blesses" is used instead of "Blessed are...," or in some translations "Happy are...." This is significant to me, because Jesus gives us an example of how God blesses us. It's certainly not with good jobs, fancy cars, big houses, or junk in this world.

The second thing that can clearly be seen (especially since I left in the footnote indicators) is the subtle differences in translation in verse 3 and verse 6 that have significant impact on how I have traditionally heard the Beatitudes taught or discussed. After studying the Sermon on the Mount at church in the spring, I remember being so frustrated each time somebody said, "Well, it's really about the heart," as if that excused them from action or wrong action. These translation differences, I think, go more toward the message of Jesus in showing that it is about your heart, but that's only a small part of it.

Verse 3

In verse 3, where "poor in spirit" is typically used, the translators opted for "those who are poor and realize their need for [God]." In Luke's version, often called the "Sermon on the Plain," he quotes the sermon as saying, "Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God" (6:20, ESV, NIV). But we either don't talk about Luke's reporting, or we add our own "in spirit." But Jesus, who was likely talking to mostly poor people, told them that they were blessed and loved by God and would inherit the Kingdom of God. The NLT chooses to say those who are poor and "realize their need for [God]." Doesn't that make so much more sense? Jesus is talking to a mass of poor people who are obviously looking for something like God. And Jesus delivers, like he always does.

Verse 6

In verse 6, we see the NLT use the word "justice" where usually we see "righteousness." (Sidenote: Luke just says "those who are hungry.") I have usually heard righteousness defined as right-living, meaning doing what is right. In other words, said more clearly, not sinning. The pressure on us is to not sin. I don't think that's wrong. But growing up in the church, I usually saw this practiced as a checklist in making sure we were doing what we were supposed to do (going to church) and not doing what we weren't supposed to (dancing, lying, being bad).

For those who have read The Good News About Injustice or Timothy Keller's Generous Justice, you know that the terms "righteousness" and "justice" are often used together or interchangeably in the biblical texts. Righteousness cannot be achieved without justice; justice only comes about through righteousness. Of course that's an oversimplification, but that's not the point.

What's the point?

The point is how we live our lives as a reflection of Jesus' teachings. When we view it as something that only matters in our heart, we sharply reduce the message of Jesus. If it's all about your heart, then why does Jesus make a specific comment about those who are "pure in heart"? Seeking peace just becomes about making sure you apologize to upset friends. As a result, something we are all called to do ("peacemakers" or "those who work for peace" in the NLT) that could change the world, becomes easy to excuse away when our country is at war and justify revenge killings.

The teachings of Jesus were and still are radical for all faiths and backgrounds. Sometimes it takes a subtle reframing to break free of the tired, old teachings and renew our understanding of the power of God. It's time for us to stop anesthetizing God in order to justify our lack of action.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Roach Guts Disgust me

I just posted on our Thailand blog.  Last night and this morning I killed a lot of cockroaches.  I wanted to confess that cockroaches and the guts inside them--whether spilled out on the floor or not--disgust me.

There.  I said it.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Back to School

Wednesday was the official starting day with the IJM Thailand Field Office.
I haven't started driving myself yet.  The 1992 Honda Civic is going to be a great commuter car, though.  And it will probably catch the eye of car aficionados as I drive by.

But back to work.  I've included a few pictures of the office I share with the IJM attorney, Rit.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday took me back to school.  For these first few weeks, I will devote myself to being a student of Thai, Thai law, and Thai coffee.

The IJM Thailand staff has been very gracious, including their spouses.  When I went to get in the car to go home on Friday, I opened the door on the right and almost sat on the driver, Pi Mim's husband.   Each person has taken the time to help me every step of the way -- whether work-related or life-related.

So far, I have immersed myself into a large document about the history and process of citizenship in Thailand, courtesy of UNESCO.  Next up are more documents and procedural outlines of citizenship law and then onto criminal law, as we prepare the Child Sexual Abuse pilot program.

When the internet went down on Friday, I was able to take a moment to look at this bull chomping on the grass outside our office.
I was reminded that I'm not here just to learn, but to make an impact on people's lives.  Learning new laws and procedures is a challenge I accept, but only because of lives who are in need of rescue from abuse and statelessness.

I look forward to telling you more about how this will be done in the coming weeks. For now, it's back to the books.

Church Planting Thoughts

I wrote this a few days ago, but forgot to publish.  Since it has to do with "Sunday" topics, it's appropriate for Sunday:

First off, let it be known, I'm no expert in the field.  These are just a few of the thoughts that have come to my mind lately.

I was talking with Angela this morning over our last breakfast at the Mountainview Guesthouse by the North Gate in Chiang Mai.  We were talking about where we would go to church this year, but the conversation shifted to my deeper thoughts (as happens on occasion). 

I started thinking about how the primary goal of many missionaries and church-planters has been to establish a system in order to make evangelism more sustainable.  To say it in a way that is less "church friendly," to convert and keep converts.  I began to wonder how this style could be effective at all when a foreigner comes in with the answers and tells others that what they thought they knew wasn't actually right at all.  Especially in a non-western culture where saving face is very important and arguments are not won by reason, it seems that this would be a big turnoff.  And, in fact, I think it was for many years here.

But one thing that translates across cultures is when a church truly becomes a church:  a body that is measured by its love for one another and for others.  A man here in Chiang Mai who was not a Christian but married a Christian woman expected the church to give up when a recent tragedy struck them.  It was the support and love that followed that revealed the character of Christ through the church.

Yet I still wonder how it is effective when church gatherings become just more learning rather than living. 

Churches out here -- just like in the States -- are focused primarily on evangelism and membership, almost to the exclusion of social concern.  Occasionally it will pop-up in the form of a one-time service project.  But that's not help; it's making ourselves feel better.

When the church allows itself to become a body of believers that reaches out for justice, the body catches a glimpse of "the age that is to come;" the age where our world will be made right again. We become God's ambassadors for representing that age in this present age.

If we view the purpose of planting churches as evangelism through preaching and logical arguments and the sharing of our spoken "testimony," we deny God's power to reveal himself through the body itself and its function as a community.  The body is there to love.  People will see that and then follow.  The testimony is the community.  Like St. Francis wrote, ". . . use words when necessary."

These are just a few more of my rambling thoughts.  I'll leave the conclusions to you.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Ride

Almost a classic.

Our 1992 Honda Civic.  Play the video, which is just "Intro" by The XX, and then scroll down.

If it helps, picture hundreds of people on motorbikes (scooters, mopeds) gawking as they see me ride by.

(Safely planking)

Photos courtesy of Angela.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Great First Day

A great first day can always be capped off with a great song.  Tonight's is "Will Do" by TV on the Radio.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

What To Expect in Thailand

Right after the question "Are you ready to go to Thailand?" the second question is:  "What will you do?"  The easy answer is that I will be working the Thai IJM staff to help establish a new initiative combating child sexual assault.  But what does that mean?

I've been trying to wrap my mind around this.  Yesterday, I started to watch Sex Crimes Unit on HBO.  I was amazed to learn that 40 years ago in New York (like many other states), it was just as difficult to obtain a conviction for sexual assault as it is in many of the countries IJM works with today.

That blew my mind.

We are in a place where the "rule of law" is a banner we hang high, where justice can be had for all.  But, if we're honest with ourselves, we're not far from when we were a "developing" country.  In fact, 35 years is barely one generation.

Discovering this fact, my hope grew.  This is something that can be changed in one generation.

It doesn't really answer the question.  I'm sure I'll be able to better explain in just a few weeks.  But for now I understand that it will be heavy, awkward, heartbreaking, and hopeful.

I can't wait to share more as I know more.  To find out more, visit and download the "Sexual Violence" factsheet and "Hill Tribe Citizenship" pdfs on the lower right of the screen.

Less than 48 hours before we head to the airport.

A Little Strange

I'm no fan of mixing religion and nationalism.  It's even stranger if you're going from the United States to Thailand, fighting against the impression so many Americans bring with them that "we are here to help [because we know better]." 

With that background, know that these pictures make me chuckle on the outside and cry a little on the inside.  These were taken at church on Sunday.  So many American flags for VBS.

Monday, April 18, 2011

New Post

Put this on your update with the things that have been going on in our lives:
We moved out of our first apartment together.
I will be a legal fellow for International Justice Mission in their Thailand Field Office beginning in July this year.
Angela will be a speech therapist at Grace International School in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
I will be teaching a class about social media to my coworkers at CitySquare.
I have seen The Source Code.

I expect to write more about some of these things above shortly.  Don't let your anticipation become too eager.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Still a Hypocrite

I can talk a mean talk. But I still have trouble backing it up.

Thursday night I went to an event put on by Catalyst at Life in Deep Ellum (it's a church). Life is less than three blocks from the location of the future Opportunity Center of CitySquare. It's on the edge of South Dallas and Deep Ellum, a key area in the fight against poverty. The Catalyst event was an event for meeting and networking with young Christian leaders from around the Metroplex. I went with my friend Scott McClellan who heads up the Echo Conference.

As we walked in, a homeless man stopped us to ask for some money to stay at the shelter. Apparently at the shelter he was going to, it's free for a certain amount of time, but then you must pay to stay. It's not much--10 bucks--unless it's under 30 degrees with a windchill closer to 15. I only had a few cents so I offered it to him. Scott offered some cash. Then we went inside feeling good about ourselves.

During the event, I did a lot of talking about CitySquare and the great things we're doing helping neighbors get off the streets and back into self-sustainability. One guy asked me if it's hard working in a job that takes such an emotional toll. His friend asked if my coworkers and I viewed homeless people differently when they asked for money. I said that for many of us we've become less sensitive. I said acknowledging a person's humanity is the most important part.

Then we talked for a while longer before the event was over.

To show how thick-skulled I am, I didn't think about last night again until I was driving back to work from my eye appointment today. It was very cold last night, so my mind went to the guy who had asked for some money. I wondered if he was able to get into a bed last night where it was warm. Then it hit me. It hit me hard. I mean real hard.

Every day I proclaim to people the good news that we are called to help our neighbors who are in need here and now. Being with Jesus is not some future moment when we eventually get to heaven. God's kingdom is realized when we do as Jesus tells us in Matthew 25: Feed the hungry, give the thirsty a drink, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit those in prison. And yet, I went to an event full of professing Christian leaders in our community, and we had coffee and music and heat.

That man should have come in with Scott and me as our guest of honor. His belly should've been warmed by coffee, and he should have gained enough money to pay rent on a new East Dallas apartment for the first month. It's so obvious now.

This is already too long, but I want to make my point. I am a hypocrite. That's easy. And you may say, "Well, you gave him some money and helped him, so that was good." But did I really "acknowledge his humanity" when I left him in the parking lot on a freezing night? You may say, "Well, it would just get complicated." That's exactly right. It's always complicated, and that's never a good excuse. Just like the picture on Life's wall, you get wet when you hold the umbrella over someone else's head, and that's a good thing.

I don't know whether the man made it into a bed last night, and I don't know if he'll be warm tonight. All I know is that I have an obligation, just like each of us, to fight for a person who is cold and without a roof over his head. I pray that tomorrow night I can be faithful.

I want my words to come later if at all, and my actions to be the story that is told.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Don't Sing and Call It "Worship"

Angela and I had a wonderful time hanging out with the students of the Preston Road youth group this past weekend. We went to the Winterfest in Arlington with about 5,000 other middle schoolers and high schoolers. We had great conversations with the teens who were there with us and a lot of fun hiding other youth groups' ice chests.

One thing that caught my attention and Angela's was how Jeff Walling (here's a cheesy & great old video of him), who does most of the teaching, recognized how this generation is transforming the way it views faith. In one talk, Jeff and his son, Taylor, went back and forth about about how the things that drive Jeff's faith bore Taylor; those that drive Taylor, Jeff thinks are a little crazy. It was a great job putting these two generations together to show how both are a part of the faith.

While that was very neat and well put together, the rest of Winterfest was more like a display of the symptoms of multiple personality disorder. This was the most evident when it came to worship. Rather than explain too much, I'll try to keep it brief.

In the vast majority of Churches of Christ, singing is acapella (no instruments). When Angela and I were teens at camp, one male song leader would get on stage and lead us through the songs on PowerPoint. That is basically how it was done this weekend. One exception: There was a youth group on stage singing backup for many songs. It was a little awkward. Contrast that with David Bowden, a great spoken word poet who performed several times. His poem "I Remember" is below. The main line: "Worship is not what we sing; it is how we obey."

Worship Is Not What We Sing; It Is How We Obey

I had a talk with our friend Holly about how I don't think we should call the time during church when we sing "worship." I don't think "worship leaders" should be called that. One can worship God through song, I have no doubt about that, but one can never only worship God through song. Yet that is what I see us doing every Sunday. I've struggled with this for some time now. I have no doubt that God knows our hearts, yet, as James, the brother of Jesus wrote, "If you ain't got actions to back up your heart, you ain't got no faith" (or something like that). I think of it in the same way Isaiah 58 discusses true fasting: Don't just not eat and act like you humble yourself. Get out there and end oppression, feed the hungry; take care of God's people. I'll leave the words of David Bowden below to better explain my point.

The New Revolution

The next revival as we are seeing with the Emergent Church is scaring a lot of people. And it should. Walter Wink pointed it out in The Powers that Be when he acknowledged that the movement of Martin Luther that is the basis of the modern church is no longer what will drive new people of faith. "Saved by grace alone, not by works" is still true. However, in the process, we have cut a lot of the pieces out. The new movement of faith will focus on Jesus the person. Jesus will no longer be viewed through Paul's lens, but Paul's words will be interpreted through the life of Jesus. I am hoping this will change the world.

The first step is changing how we worship our God. I hope that we will soon say, "I remember . . ."
I remember by David Bowden (

I remember
who we were before this moment

I remember
the shadow of ourselves
now overshadowed by
the shelves
on which we placed
our former selves

I remember how
each of us here
placed our past
in tears
upon tiers of them
never to be touched again

I remember
how we approached God
hands empty
plans empty
demands empty
like we’re supposed to be
emptying ourselves
on those shelves
of our lives preceding
this moment
where, once and for all,
we put to death our
superficial worshipping
And this
Is it’s eulogy

Remember with me

I remember when God was idle
American made an
American idol
Idly laid on hymn song titles
Tidal waves of tidy Sunday
Bridal Singers
Made their way to
Display Charades.
We were all
Costume swingers
Wore lips like
but we were all
One day
of the
poorest Savior
War Ships of
ignored trips
Equipped with
For this
Event called

I remember
what church used to be
Sit, sing, sit, sip, sit, silent, sermon then
from a word prearranged
to a world unchanged
our despair unnamed
our problems deemed deranged
and we were estranged
in the exchange
of our time and expectations for
prewritten lines and explanations
about guys, whys, and places
that never addressed
our ache for a real God

I remember when
worship was a period of time
outlined by bulletins
bullied out by the
“Not this again”

I remember when
worship was protected
by walls and directions
I remember
the decorations
the song books
the screens
the long looks
at my jeans
the routines
the bowing
the closing
the opening
the spouting
off of words and notes
that never broke
through the wall
standing tall between
us and a god who’s
reality we could never recall

I remember it all

I remember when worship was
contained by fear
restrained by years
of traditional rearing
rules never spoken
but somehow never broken
we were
token children
of an understood system
fearsome that we might become
too radical to
prevent our selfish intent

I remember
what worship was before this moment

I remember
how we were all under the persuasion
of evasion
evading any invasions
of commitment, discomfort, or costly
we followed
the equation
me + church – cussing, sex, and alcohol = salvation

I remember
a time when I
would shout
“He is alive!”
and not one mouth
would scream
at the pronouncement
it seamed
no one
was out,
but were streaming
back to their hiding places
where worship’s
and singing’s
and no one
is reckless
enough to stand
on a corner
or in the corner store
to sit with the homeless
or out their homes front door
and sing louder than a motor’s roar
“How Great is our God”

I remember when
all of us were frauds

I remember when
the only form of worship we knew
was what we did
following motions on motionless pews

I remember when praise
had nothing to do with the other six days

I remember when
we forgot the Sabbath was for resting
and the rest of the week
was for working

I remember when
the only service we worked
was the service in church
When worship that was pure
Did not feed the poor
Saw itself as the cure
Cared for its enemy’s needs more than yours
Found the sick, dying, and lost and with them endure

I remember when
worship was a chore
When we all felt secure
just attending
but that was before
we realized
there is so much more
than pretending

But right now in this moment
as we all gather around
and our God is present
and His son takes president
and His spirit’s our resident
we are within the descent of the triune
peasants in the tribunal land
and as we all stand
together repentant
grasping hands in our communal commitment to
clasping our plans to the eternal command
of what he meant for worship
and this is it
our opus
our openness
our hope is
our hopelessness
in everything we used to
hold as his
scope for what
worship is

Worship is love

I remember when he said
Love is the opposite
of getting
but sacrificing everything
dying, while living

I remember when
Jesus embodied it
his body embarked from
heavenly contentment
becoming this tent
of existence
God was a servant
The heavens observant
to humanity’s torment
Creator tormented
creation tormentor
And that’s the intent
of this event called worship

Worship is a cross
Worship is a loss
of everything that is not
embossed with the seal of God

So in this moment and every moment hereafter
Our praise of God will shake roofs and the rafters
Our praise will be aloof from the world and filled with laughter
Our praise will ruthlessly peruse a world filled with disaster
Our praise will unashamedly bear the proof of our master
For here in this moment and every moment hereafter
Our praise will not be contained by
walls and churches
alter calls and holy perches
busy malls and facebook searches
school halls and worldly diversions

Our praise will bleed into all our excursions
it will break free
stained glass
bible class
it will surpass
golden and brass
communion passing
trays to the next passive guest
it will clash
with standards
and traditions
for our praise
will live worship
as a mission

Now in this moment and every moment that proceeds
our praise will
flood the streets with song
shed blood for the needy and suffer along
give love to the enemy regardless of their wrongs
place above ourselves the least of these and with the weak be strong
For we will be the worshippers the father seeks, and he will have to search no longer

For Father we are your worshipers
Your unworthy dancers
we are your priasers
your passionate romancers
And now we stand before you and say
Worship is not what we sing but how we obey
And now we stand before you and say
Worship is not what we sing but how we obey
And now we stand before you and say
Worship is not what we sing but how we obey
And now we stand before you and say
Worship is not what we sing but how we obey
And now I stand before you and say
Your worship cannot stay the same
but you must reclaim it
Don’t just say it but today you can live it
So join with my voice and with me commit it
As we stand before you and say
Worship is not what we sing but how we obey
from Littered Liturgy, released 14 January 2011
Featuring Brett Vanderzee, Sarah McSpadden, Amy Bresee, and Keith Ellingson.