Obama and me: a common journey

[Official White House Photo: Pete Souza]

Yesterday morning, I tuned in to watch the National Prayer Breakfast online. I managed to catch the end of author Eric Metaxas’ keynote, and then the President’s address. I’ve always resonated with President Obama’s expressions of his faith, even from when he was a Senator, and before he ran for president–from his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention to the passages in Dreams from my Father. Yesterday, he drew upon several verses that form the foundation of my own engagement in politics, advocacy, and public life:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“To those whom much is given, much will be required.”

“Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.”

He continued:

Treating others as you want to be treated.  Requiring much from those who have been given so much.  Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper.  Caring for the poor and those in need.  These values are old.  They can be found in many denominations and many faiths, among many believers and among many non-believers.  And they are values that have always made this country great — when we live up to them; when we don’t just give lip service to them; when we don’t just talk about them one day a year.  And they’re the ones that have defined my own faith journey.

They’re the ones that have defined my faith journey as well, which I shared when I graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary. I got to be one of the speakers at Commencement, and shared a little bit of my own journey:


Meanwhile, over at the Sojourners blog, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, former General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, shares his thoughts in a great response. Notably:

Money controls who gets elected and controls how laws and policies are made, I think, in utterly dangerous ways. More than ever, for those who gathered in prayer Thursday morning, money is power. And it’s the power of money in politics today that must be confronted — by people of faith — as a moral issue.

So I wondered (and prayed), where is the William Wilberforce of today, a leader who will take the message of the Bible to heart, rise up to confront the ways in which money enslaves our modern political life, lead a movement to end it, and then, one day, be celebrated for his or her courage and faithfulness to the gospel at a future prayer breakfast?

Even as we celebrate a common faith and shared values, we need to continue working to see these worked out in the world we inhabit.

Why The District Church?

Hey friends,

Having shared some of my personal journey in Washington, DC: Chapter 2, I thought that you might appreciate knowing a little more about the church. (Let me warn you now: this email is long. Like, really long.)

A Church for the City

At The District Church, we want to be centered around and excelling in worship, community and justice; we want to be a church that seeks to love God, to love our neighbors, and to love the city to which God had called us. If you look on the church’s website (www.districtchurch.org), one of our first descriptors is “A Church for the City.”

This vision and passion is built upon God’s words to the Israelite people in exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).

Washington, DC is a fascinating city. On the one hand, it is a city rich in culture and history, a city to which movers and shakers from all over the world come, a city that leads the country in terms of life expectancy, education and income.

And yet it is also a city with devastating poverty, a struggling public education system, and an HIV infection rate higher than many sub-Saharan African nations—it’s estimated that one in every twenty adults in DC has the infection.

People come to DC to change the country, to change the world … and yet changing the city is often overlooked. We want to be a church that seeks to make a genuine, tangible difference in the place to which we have been called.

Moreover, community is hard to find in a city whose transience is so ingrained by the political cycles; in this context, we want to be a church that provides such to people. People may—and will—leave DC because God calls them to other things, but we don’t want people leaving DC because they couldn’t find a faith community and friends.

What We’ve Been Doing

As “A Church for the City,” we’ve been doing outreach into the neighborhood, including:

  • Cardozo HS Footballmaking connections with schools in the neighborhood, including cheering on one of local high schools at their football games with Young Lifers;
  • Central Union Missionserving at Central Union Mission last week;
  • sponsoring a Christmas tree for Columbia Heights, and organizing a tree lighting, complete with alternative Christmas marketplace. We’ve already got the support of the local councilmember, so we’re just working on getting a tree and lights!

In short, things are happening, and we’re super excited!

Prayer Updates and Asks

Your thoughts and prayers have been appreciated. To recap:

  1. Aaron and I have been figuring out job responsibilities, schedule and routine;
  2. I’ve applied for a couple of part-time jobs, as well as giving my résumé to friends at faith-based non-profits in case project/consultancy work becomes available; and
  3. I’m still (happily) ensconced in the Grahams’ dark (important when you’re a light sleeper like me) and warm (important when winter starts rolling in) basement.

Moving forward, I’d appreciate prayer for the following:

  1. For continued development of the job, and particularly for discipline and discernment on my part. It’s easy for me to get carried away doing work that I love, but I need to be consciously drawing boundaries and taking time off, otherwise I’m gonna burn out real soon!
  2. That fundraising continues apace (more below), that the church is able to purchase a house in the area to serve as a community outpost of sorts (which I would be able to stay in, which in turn would reduce the amount that I need to raise), and/or that a part-time job works out.
  3. That we continue making inroads into the community—it’s exciting to begin building some good relationships with folks in the neighborhood, and we want them to continue!
  4. For me on December 12 since that’s the date that I’ll be preaching for the first time (ever)! I’m starting to get really excited about it, and will post a link to the audio when it becomes available in a few weeks.

Support Update

The support has been slowly and steadily rolling in, and I’ve now raised about 33% of what I need for the year (November to November). To put this into context, I’m looking to raise about $2,500 per month (or $30,000 for the year), which includes rent, utilities, health insurance, food, transportation … everything, really! Through a combination of monthly and one-time gifts, I’m now at just over $10,000 for the year, which is pretty phenomenal for just a month of support raising!

Thanks to you all, whether you’ve given, committed to give in the coming months, or been willing but unable to give; your support and encouragement has been invaluable to me.

The next step for me is to ask each of you to connect me with somebody you think would be able, interested and willing to support me; I’ll be emailing again soon to follow up with this!

Thanks again, friends. Happy Thanksgiving (if you celebrate it)!



Previous installments:

  1. Washington, DC: Chapter 2 (October 11, 2010)
  2. Beginning November (and the Leadership Residency) (November 1, 2010)

God’s will for your life

Today’s commentary from slacktivist on the Left Behind series features a great section on God’s will–especially in its critique of the perspective which is prevalent in the American evangelicalism that subscribes to the theology found in the books. (Wow, that was a convoluted sentence!) Many of you, I think, will know the kinds of things we’re talking about–I certainly do, having grown up in certain church traditions that subscribed to this–what I’ll call “misguided”–theology.

Anyway, I’ll let slacktivist speak for himself (with a couple of added annotations and emphases):

This idea of God’s Will For Your Life is not an easy thing to describe to those not wholly immersed as natives of the American evangelical subculture. I doubt I can fully convey the meaning or pervasive influence of this notion for those inside that world, but let me try.

God’s Will For Your Life is far narrower and more specific than the notion of a divine “plan” that you might glean from Campus Crusade’s Four Spiritual Laws tract — “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” (Or, as those of us more critical of Campus Crusade’s genitalized Gospel sometimes put it, “God loves you and has a horrible plan for your wife.”) [Ed. Hahaha … Nicely put.]

What it means, rather, is that your life and happiness have been mapped out ahead of time with a suffocating specificity. There is one job — one particular, singular job — which is God’s Will For Your Life. And there is one potential spouse — one particular, singular spouse — who is GWFYL. And thus every decision which might in any way lead toward or away from either of those must be pondered with an agonizing consideration of just what is GWFYL. Every date (or “courtship”), your choice of college (or Bible College) and choice of major is a fork in the road leading closer to or farther from this narrowly appointed happiness.

This notion of GWFYL transforms the process of living into something like the fairy-tale path through the haunted forest — the Mirkwood trail or the Yellow Brick Road. Except that those paths in those stories are always clearly marked, whereas the trail of GWFYL is invisible and inscrutable and can only be intuited by some visceral sense of spiritual leading.

The idea is a kind of spiritualized version of the romantic pipe-dream of The One — and it tends to produce the same fearfully tentative, second-guessing approach to living. There’s a bit of good advice in Conor Oberst’s “First Day,” in which he sings, “I’d rather be working for a paycheck / than waiting to win the lottery.” But the notion of GWFYL or of waiting for The One turns that advice upside-down, viewing such practical work as a dangerous distraction from one’s lottery-playing duties.

One reason I don’t much care for this idea of GWFYL is that I’ve seen its effect on young evangelicals forced to shoulder its crushing burden. No one can live like that, governed by an ultimate-stakes gamble based on unwritten rules, offering no assurance other than that the potential for inadvertent-but-damning disobedience lurks in every decision.

Just as importantly, I don’t care for the way this notion takes something explicitly clear and invariable — the will of God — and twists it into something mysterious, ever-changing and idiosyncratic.

What is God’s Will For Your Life? the prophet asks, and then answers his own question, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” That’s from the Bible — a book that’s rather repetitive and unambiguous on the question of GWFYL. On God’s will for everyone’s life, actually. See for example here or here or here or here or here or here or here.

But somehow none of that ever enters into evangelical conversations of career and romantic prospects and GWFYL. Whatever it is supposed to mean, GWFYL doesn’t seem to have much of anything to do with acting justly or loving mercy or breaking the chains of oppression or setting the captives free or feeding the hungry or comforting the sick or giving freely to those in need or planting gardens or ensuring that the city prospers or loving one’s neighbor as oneself.

P.S. His commentary on the Left Behind series is hilarious, insightful and theologically sound. Go check it out!

P.P.S. One book that really helped me on this subject was Kyle Lake’s Understanding God’s Will: How to Hack the Equation Without Formulas.

Some personal thoughts on Rep. Gutierrez's immigration bill

The following is cross-posted from God’s Politics and Faith and Immigration.

The room was hot and stifling and overcrowded, but the excitement was palpable as people gathered to witness the introduction of a new comprehensive immigration reform bill. I barely managed to squeeze in, edging through the throng of people who spilled into the hallways. And just in time.

A few moments later, a parade of Members of Congress filed in to cheers of “Yes, we can!” and “Sí, se puede!” from the immigrant families and members of clergy gathered behind the podium. And a few minutes later, flanked by members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Black Caucus, Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Progressive Caucus, Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity (CIR ASAP) Act of 2009.

In my involvement with Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, I’ve heard many stories of the fallout of a broken immigration system: families separated, seemingly endless waiting periods for legal immigration, undocumented immigrants afraid to report a crime for fear of being detained and deported. This is not what it looks like to love our neighbors or to care for the strangers among us.

As the son of naturalized American citizens, I’ve benefited from the rights and freedoms that my parents earned for me with years of their lives. I played no part in the process of their naturalization, but I’ve been able to appreciate and enjoy the blessings. And so I feel the added weight of responsibility that comes with privilege: knowing that any blessing that is bestowed is for the purpose that others may be blessed, and remembering that God will hold us accountable for what we do with what we have received (Luke 12:48).

In response to the introduction of CIR ASAP, CCIR issued a press release, including statements of support from national and local Christian leaders for the principles guiding the bill. While there remain many hurdles before comprehensive immigration reform is finally passed, for me this bill marks one more encouraging step in the journey toward fulfilling our biblical mandates to love our neighbors as ourselves and to care for the stranger among us.

Let’s hope we see the destination in 2010.