November is an important month for me. It is my New Year. In August of 1994 I joined the ranks of the unemployed. Three months earlier I had submitted a resignation letter to the church where I was working. As I look back on that time it seems clear now I wasn’t being very strategic. My wife was pregnant with our first child, due in September. She was employed, so we would find a way to figure things out. Finances would be tight but we would make it. That plan made sense until September when Rita received notice that she was going to be laid off.
By October we were new parents of a baby boy and unemployed. It was a stressful time. On November 1, 1994 the local DOOR board hired me as the new DOOR Denver director. I never imagined staying at DOOR for more than 5-7 years. Here I am 23 years later, still at DOOR. Both our boys have only known me as a dad who works for DOOR.
For me November is a month of reflection and evaluation. When I look back over the two plus decades I have been at DOOR there are a number of reasons why I have stuck around.
I get to work with a group of people who are always challenging me to reexamine my stereotypes and religious prejudices. DOOR’s staff and board leadership come from all kinds of backgrounds. We have the “decent and in order” Presbyterians, the peaceful Mennonites, a Quaker or two, a few Pentecostals, some inspired Lutherans, and more than a few folks just trying to figure out where or if they fit into the denominational landscape. That is only one way to describe DOOR. We are women and men; Americans and immigrants; theologians and artists; gay and straight. We also hold many racial identities- African American, White, Hispanic, Puerto Rican, Chicano, Caribbean, and Asian.
One of the major benefits of working in a diverse environment is the inherent permission to examine, reevaluate, and question my faith perspective. Prior to DOOR, I was a pastor. As a pastor one of the unwritten requirements is to have a solid unshakable faith. While other people could question God, it was my job to be the steady reassuring voice. Over time this began to destroy me. My primary reason for resigning in 1994 was a complete loss of faith in God.
I came to DOOR because I needed a job and the bills needed to be paid. What I have received has been so much more than a source of income for my bills. DOOR became a place where God became real. There is a freedom in pursuing a faith and a God who has no respect for my stereotypes. Working alongside people who do church differently (read: anyone who is not Mennonite) has been enlightening. Praying, laughing, and crying with people of different sexual orientations, cultural backgrounds, and theological perspectives is a contestant reminder that at best I see through a glass dimly.
For too long people of faith have confused “one way” with “everyone better go the same way.” What I have begun to uncover after 23 years is that each of us is a unique individual made in the very image and likeness of God. And God, in God’s grace and mercy, has helped me to walk my path, my one way.
Filed under assumptions, Christian, church rules, community, culture, denominations, distinctives, diversity, DOOR, Evangelical, experiencing god, faith, God questions, labels, mennonite, questions of church, racism, religion, religious system, the Way, theology, Uncategorized, unity, worship
When are we allowed to start hating someone? This was the question raised by our speaker. A couple of weeks ago DOOR’s Beloved Community Council met in Chicago. This is an annual gathering that brings together DOOR staff, board members, and participants to talk about diversity.
This year we invited Jeff Chu to be one of our presenters. Jeff’s book Does Jesus Really Love me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America, was certain to stir up some controversy and uncomfortableness among this group. One of the things that I have learned during my time at DOOR is that all of us have a breaking point, where diversity shifts from something to be admired and sought after to sin. This is especially true among people of faith. Currently sexual orientation is that hot button issue.
I did expect some in the circle to be uncomfortable. What I did not expect was for me to be uncomfortable. Part way through Jeff’s presentation he started talking about Westboro Baptist Church, a church known for its extreme ideologies. While researching for his book, Jeff spent a few days with the church and its leader, Fred Phelps, conducting interviews and trying to understand how they came to believe what they believe. In many ways this is a congregation that unites both the liberal and conservative sides of the church. Everyone is uncomfortable with their tactics and hate messages.
Quite frankly I expected Jeff to join the chorus of people who have condemned this fringe group. Instead Jeff showed a picture of a 6 year old holding a sign that stated God hates gay people. Then he went on to describe this boy, during his time with the church he got to know the boy. This boy was just starting to read; he really didn’t know what he was holding. He only knew the adults in his life approved, like any 6-year-old he obeyed his parents and held the sign.
This is when Jeff asked the question. When is it OK for me to start hating this boy? When he can read? Once he reaches the age of accountability? When he is 20? Is there ever a time when people of faith get a pass on extending grace even to those who would do us harm?
When does someone else’s “diversity” or “difference” give me permission to hate or exclude? Usually at this point someone will respond with “the Bible clearly states,” this in turn becomes a reason to exclude. This quickly becomes an unwinnable argument, not because we are right, but rather because we are stubborn. History tells us that every time people of faith come up with reasons to exclude, eventually they end up seeking forgiveness for their hate. I suggest that Scripture is abundantly clear about our need to love the other, even when they are different. I have yet to hear about people who ask forgiveness for loving too much.
Filed under A New Kind of Christian, Beloved Community, Christian, community, cultural insensitivity, culture, experiencing god, faith, grace, label, labels, language, meetings, ministry, multicultural, racism, respect, sinner, theology, Uncategorized
Brent Davis is a Dweller in our DOOR Hollywood program. Over the last few weeks he took it upon himself to capture the thoughts of recent Discover participants while they stayed at our community house. It’s a huge blessing, and a fun way to show how God is nudging people to break down single stories in Hollywood through DOOR.
If you are interested in participating in in DOOR, please check out our website – www.DOORnetwork.org
Filed under A New Kind of Christian, atlanta, Christian, culture, denominations, experiencing god, faith, kingdom of heaven, label, labels, Mission, multicultural, mutuality, relationship, religion, religious system, service, service to others, short-term mission, theology, transforming, urban tour
There are very few things more powerful than someone’s testimony. This week I want to share with you an article that was written by one of our Discerner’s. His name is Manny Alvarez and he just completed his third summer with DOOR.
There is something about living in an intentional community in an urban setting that changes the way you look at a city. At times people tend to fear the city and be intimidated by its fast pace. Those that are local have the city in their back yard yet know nothing about the needs of the place they call home. DOOR has changed a lot of my philosophy of how I’ve viewed the city, my city.
Before DOOR I was clueless about the issues affecting the city and when I realized this, I felt embarrassed. I’ve worked at DOOR Denver for the last three summers as a Discern staff leading the Discover groups that came for an urban service experience. The Discern summer staff program has built me up as leader, taught me how to live in a community with others, encouraged me to live in solidarity with others, and helped me get closer to my calling and purpose through discernment.
I’ve learned that someone with everything can have nothing to offer a dying city yet someone with nothing has so much to offer. This summer I worked with people that live homelessly and I did not know I could see a mentor in one of them. Five years ago I was scared of people living homelessly because they were always drunk, at least that was my stereotype. This year I saw something different. I saw the face of God in them. Being a Discerner takes a lot out of you because you are always giving your time and energy to the groups and it can cause you to burn out. It’s the same routine every week and it can get a bit repetitive but every week that I went back to visit my friends from the streets, I was filled up again. My sponge never ran dry and I owe it to the men and women that unfortunately are homeless. They are a part of the city, that city I was so clueless about.
DOOR also helped me learn about gentrification and a single story. Gentra what? Single Story? I could not believe I did not know about these issues before. Neighborhoods are being gentrified and low class families are being driven further away from the city. A lot of it happens to clean up the neighborhoods and to make it less violent but that only moves the problem to another neighborhood and it does not fix it. The single story concept deals with stereotypes and labeling someone as one thing only. For example, all illegal immigrants are Mexicans, which is not always true. I had a lot of single stories about other issues but DOOR has taught me to find two or more stories for every issue or person I come across.
DOOR not only creates leaders but it enhances them. It challenges us to face those issues that we don’t really want to talk about. It gets us out of our comfort zone and allows us to see the face of God in the city. DOOR has helped build my faith to what it is now and has changed my philosophy about the city for the better. It provides a great opportunity for discernment and vocational search to those that are still struggling to find their purpose. It provides an urban experience so those like me can see the other side of the city and the other side of those people who are marginalized, poor, oppressed, and homeless. It is the first step to a solution and if we all took the time to see and hear the misery and cries, the cities around our nation will begin to change. Together we can do anything through Christ. We are all a part of the body of Christ and all serve a purpose. DOOR is the eyes of God who sees humanity has one tribe.
Filed under Bearing Witness, Beloved Community, Christian, church, church camp, confessions of faith, cultural insensitivity, culture, distinctives, diversity, experiencing god, faith, questions of church, religion, responsibilities
I remember the first time I approached the church elders about the possibility of taking the youth on a “Service/Mission Trip” – it was 1992. Their initial response was somewhat disheartening. Couldn’t we do the same thing and stay at home? This option helped to “protect” the budget. There were those who saw this as a smoke screen whose real purpose was to get the church to pay for a youth group vacation.
To be honest, these were and still are good questions. Why should we spend so much time, effort and money on the annual service trip?
- These experiences open us to the wide variety of ways in which God works in our world. I am constantly amazed and surprised with God’s complete disrespect for the boxes I want to put God in. Service trips have a way of opening our eyes to a God who is working in and through all kinds of different people, ministries and even non-faith-based groups or individuals.
- More often than not service trips provide opportunities to work with other denominations and faith traditions. Having the opportunity to work with and alongside people who come from a different faith perspective can be energizing. It develops the courage to do this at home. Learning to move beyond the walls that so easily divide the church is kingdom building.
- Service trips allow us to experiment with John 13 – washing feet. In this passage Jesus even washes Judas’ feet, his betrayer. This is not always easy; as a matter of fact it can be hard. Taking up the cross to follow may mean cleaning toilets in a homeless shelter. Living for Jesus is a lifestyle, not a week or a slogan but rather it is a value, a way of treating even our enemy.
- These experiences provide opportunities to work with people who are “different.” The difference may be with age, race, gender, orientation, physical ability, education, nationality, language, or politics. Learning how to see the other as a child of God, even when that person shares very little in common with me answers the question, “what would Jesus do?” It helps us to better understand Philippians 2 where Paul asks the church to consider others as better than themselves, looking to the interest of others.
- Service trips begin to develop a new way of seeing the world. Cities are not just bad places; they are filled with creativity and hope. The homeless are not all derelicts, shelters are not all clean, and God does not live only in suburban churches.
These are some of my reasons for taking your group on a service trip.
In a typical year at DOOR we host about 3,200 youth, young adults and adults. The vast majority, 3,100, of these people come through our week-long Discover program. The remaining folks participate in our longer term Discern (three months) and Dwell (one year) programs. One of the more interesting internal debates at DOOR centers on the potential dangers, both real and imagined, of short-term mission experiences.
There are those who argue that our Discover program is the most dangerous. Bringing youth into the city for a week to do mission has all kinds of potential to hurt neighborhoods and ministries. In my mind this is an interesting theory that can seem to be true. It has two fatal flaws; first, it completely underestimates the strength of urban communities and second, it vastly over estimates the power of incoming groups. After almost two decades of living and working in urban communities I can testify to the strength of urban people. At the same time I have given witness to the false assumptions visiting groups, mostly people of power and privilege, have of themselves.
In 1992 I lead a group of high schoolers to South Central Los Angeles about a month after the riots. The theme for our trip was “Impact 92.” In my naiveté I believed that we were going to have a positive impact on South Central. Impact 92 did happen, but it was us who traveled to Los Angeles who were impacted.
The real danger in short-term missions is with those who come for a year. They stay just long enough to build relationships. Leaving not only severs their relationships but is a reminder that people of power and privilege always have the option to move on.
I believe that there is a place for short-term mission in the faith community. Introducing people to each other who would not otherwise take the time to know each other is a kingdom building work. Like any ministry, those of us in leadership positions must know what the dangers are. It is our responsibility to create contexts where mission, ministry and relationship are mutually empowering and eye opening.
According to David Livermore this year 4.5 million Americans will participate in a short-term mission experience at a cost of $2.5 billion. DOOR, the organization I work for, will host .06% or 2,500 of these folks. Over the last two decades short-term mission trips have grown from a novel idea to big business. This growth has not come without criticism.
Critics of short-term mission range from those who worry about the wasted resources to those who fret about the cultural insensitivity of short-term participants. Couldn’t the money be better spent on long term sustainable projects? What does it mean to be respectful of local cultures?
The critics do have a powerful case against short-term mission/service trips. It costs a tremendous amount of money to send and host folks for a short period of time. Hosting short-termers means that someone has to redirect their energy from local ministry to working with visitors. Short-term participants often show up with all their prejudices and stereo-types intact – this can be destructive to host communities.
Why host short-term trips? When done with fore-thought and concern for local communities these experiences can become opportunities for conversion. Not conversion in the “I have the answer for your deepest need so listen to me,” but rather conversion in the Acts 10 sense.
In Acts 10 Peter is asked to visit Cornelius, a Roman centurion. In an unexpected turn of events it seems that the Christian faith has expanded beyond the Jewish community. Through a dream, mostly about eating unclean meat, Peter is convinced to visit Cornelius. In the process of meeting each other, both Cornelius and Peter end up experiencing God in a new way – conversion.
When done well, short-term mission trips provide a space for conversation and mutual conversion. When both the visitors and hosts end up in a new space, God moments happen.
Filed under acts 10, conversion, cultural insensitivity, David Livermore, Evangelism, experiencing god, novel idea, respect, roman centurion, short-term mission, unclean meat