Sunday, May 8, 2011

There's a Joke in Here, Somewhere.

“I have done nothing wrong.”

She sang in an nervous canon, strangely steady and sure as the notes of her native Spanish betrayed her narrow second tongue. Shackled, with eyes locked on the magistrate seated above her, above us all, her sharp features etched themselves in my mind. Surrounded by lawyers in suits flurrying at her departure from script, she waited as the entire court room watched. Many, I'm sure, held their breath.

More than sixty men in chains waited as the judge droned on, “Do you understand the nature of the charges against you?”

The woman had been apprehended on the United States border in the Sonoran desert three days earlier. All statistics indicate that she likely had traveled on foot in harsh terrain for at least five days. It is almost certain that in those five days she had little water and less food. It is almost certain that she had been raped.

“You have been charged with the petty offense of illegal entry into the United States. You crossed the border where there was no port of entry so as to avoid inspection by a federal agent. Do you understand the nature of the charges against you?”

Her lawyer whispered in her hear and then spoke to the judge. Her face was not visible to the gallery, but must have shown confusion. The United States Marshal snickered.

She was led back to her seat and six men were called up in her place as six had been called before her.

This is Operation Streamline, one of the U.S. Government's responses to the thousands of migrants crossing our borders every year. This particular iteration happened on the afternoon of Friday, April 29 in Tucson, Arizona, but some version of it happens in 3 or 4 cities near our southwestern border every day. Between 60 and 100 people recently caught by Border Patrol, most with no criminal backgrounds, are brought to court each morning to meet with a lawyer to discuss their legal options. Then, in the afternoon, they are paraded before a judge six or more at a time and asked to plead guilty, waiving their right to a trial. The day that I witnessed this, nearly everyone who had been charged for the first time was sentenced to time served and deported.

The maximum sentence for the misdemeanor is a $5000 fine and six months in prison.

When I first walked into the courtroom, I saw all of the people sitting quietly and waiting to begin. It wasn't until ten minutes later that a young man was pulled from the group and I realized everyone was in chains. Everyone had their wrists shackled together and to their feet. In this moment, I was overwhelmed with this perversion of power and how exclusive that our people and our government have allowed our nation to become. I wondered where Jesus would have been sitting.

I don't claim to have any or all of the answers but I know that criminalizing men and women for crossing a line doesn't feel like justice. I know that I believe in and strive to follow a God that has put me and all people in a world where there is enough for everyone and I know that I wanted to hug each and every soul that walked out of that courtroom to be sent back to the beginning of their journey.

After a whispered conversation, Desi Maria was led back to the microphone and after trying to explain that she had crossed the border out of necessity, that it was her last option for a decent life or a life at all, she plead guilty to illegal entry and was sentenced to deportation.


Pray for Desi Maria. Pray for my mom. Pray for your mom. Pray for all moms. I love you, Mom.

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. - 1 John 3:11, 16-18

Monday, March 7, 2011

Wisdoms, Locked Away.


Posting this as a blog now might be cheating a bit. It's a piece I wrote for myself in May of 2009 towards the end of my junior year of college. This was a sort of...uh...a 'thinking about the future' time, with my last year of college standing before me, and you'll find that it recalls another such time. I find myself in a similar moment now, really considering what's next and beyond. I post this because it makes me smile and because it reminds me of other times when I was a little bit scared, mightily unsure, and...well, just realizing that time marches on. There won't be a prayer section or a Bible verse at the end of this one, but I hope that as I rake through these questions again in my life that I can stay open and ready to lean on the the will and the love of God. Lastly, please help me with my commas.

Wisdoms, Locked Away.

Have you ever sat staring at something, just expecting it to move? I’m in my bedroom now, looking over at my desk, which has been there below the window ever since my family built this house and moved here 18 or so years ago. I’ve never really used the desk. It’s crammed into a little nook that corresponds to a dormer on the outside. I’ve always referred to them as doghouses. They are a popular feature on homes, especially those built in the 90’s. But the space isn’t really of much use. There is just enough room to wedge a small desk and for all of my rarely used junk to accumulate.

At the moment, sunlight is just peeking through the blinds scattering an interesting array of shadows around. The shadows aren’t of anything particularly invigorating—a blue photo box, some mugs filled with pencils or staples or spare plastic containers, an old digital camera and a cordless phone that never was loud enough, lazily wrapped in its cord. All of these and more sit covered in dust, projecting their shadows over the desk’s edge onto an old wooden chair with an ugly, brown-hued cushion that likely traveled with one of my parents out of some misguided decade. A small pile of rests on the cushion—a camera case, a wrist pad from keyboarding class, and a slightly obscured book, maybe from middle school band, I can’t really tell.

The shadow of the blinds dive severely down the left wall, capped by the jaunting curls of the ruffled short-curtain’s shadowy image.

And all of these fade and refocus as, presumably, the sun flits in and out of clouds beyond the window.

Heralded on its right by an old scholastic medal hung from the same pin that secures a pennant covered in faded signatures from my last days in elementary school, and just closer in the foreground, out of reach of sunlight, rests my old telescope with missing pieces, pointed depressingly into the carpet with tripod unleveled, as if defeated by the vast cosmos we once dared so fleetingly to rediscover.

It is all strangely beautiful as I sit here staring. Naively I expect all or parts of it to just suddenly move. A slight twitch and I would be satisfied. If the telescope shifted weight on its legs, or if the toes of the glass Goofy statuette wiggled, or maybe if the many posters, haphazardly arranged between the wall and desk, fluttered, I would be staid.

But in my imagination, so much more happens. The old electronic fishing game leaps into the air, guided by an unseen hand, and begins to jerk and wind as if the fish has been hooked. All the dust suddenly vanishes as the blinds loudly fly up behind the curtain while the telescope circles around, turning its weary eye to the heavens. The phone begins to ring and shake, falling to the floor, as the camera blasts into the air, wildly snapping pictures in any direction. The younger versions of my cousins come alive in the picture frame, smiling, laughing and screaming as the scene unfolds. The drawers fly open and papers zoom out, dancing wildly in the air. Pencils march from their mugs, scribing ancient languages on the white walls and the flying papers and the old posters and anything else that will accept their mark.

And it all creates a ruckus of noise, the flappings and flyings, the clickings and ringings, the cheering and windings, the scrapings and buzzings.

But it is all in my head. The real scene remains stoic and absolute, the only changes occur with sun or as the dust stirs when the air conditioner cranks loudly into service. But it is still beautiful, whether because it may suddenly stir into an amazing and impossible dance or only in its simple stillness, calmly waiting and watching as the years pass by.

The little space sees as much action now as it has in years. I have never done much work at that desk or spent much time in the space. In fact, the only potent memory I have is of myself sitting in there in that gruesome chair, blinds chord tied to the arm to hold them up as the mechanism had failed many years prior, spinning back and forth while watching the road in the distance, just barely keeping the tears from bursting out of my face as I thought about the recent past and fast-arriving future, all hinging on my high school graduation scheduled to occur in a few hours.

As the blinds danced up and down with my rotations, I sat there cold with fear, with innocuous droplets slinking up from behind my eyelids, wondering what these years had set into motion and not knowing which to fear more—an unchanging past or an unknown future.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Finding Space

Finding solitude in Los Angeles can be difficult. But, it is certainly necessary.

Here, there is a deluge of media. Everybody wants your attention and, more importantly, your dollars. I spend a good portion of my time riding shotgun in a minivan scouring the streets for people experiencing homelessness. An unfortunate side effect of this is billboards. It's very common to see between five and eight thousand large, bold, scandalous advertisements at each of the intersections of Hollywood and Vine and Hollywood and Highland, and more in a short stretch heading east out of West Hollywood on the Sunset Strip. These aren't the only locations. There are advertisements on the sides of buses, on bus benches, on cars, painted on buildings, and on all the major roadways; there are men handing out fliers on the boulevard, painted helicopters flying stuntmen along the beach, and I've even watched skywriting off my back porch. In Los Angeles, in Hollywood, everyone is trying to get you to look at them.

And, unlike home, these billboards and screaming advertisements aren't to tell you there's a Wendy's on the right at exit 60 or for JR's Cigar World in Burlington. No, most likely these billboards are suggesting that you watch this movie, that television show, or buy this shirt that that model is barely wearing. Or, they're screaming 'Diets don't work, call 1-800-GET-THIN and get LAP-BAND today!' More recently, they are love letters from Ken begging to get the passion back with Barbie.

It's a culture where  your barista and your burger flipper know they're better than you and let their attitudes show it. Everyone is busy, on the go, trying to figure out how they can use anyone else to get a step up the ladder, and they're either in 'the business' or trying to get into it. Or, at least, that's the way it often seems.

Finding refuge, finding time to spend with God is vital and it's hard. This was highlighted by a solitude retreat that my housemates and I went on at the end of January. We went together to a monastery of Benedictine Monks in the desert an hour or so north of Los Angeles and spent the day in silence and mostly apart from each other. Admittedly, I spent a fair amount of time reading Mark Twain's autobiography (Volume One) and a long hour or two napping, but at the end of the day I was in a place where I felt ready to hear God speak (and wishing that the day would last just a little longer). Perhaps the most impacting part of the day was during the time I spent creeping through the dusty hills along a path constructed to take you through Christ's journey to Calvary and resurrection. Towards the end of this path, there is a cross erected in a clearing about halfway up a hill overlooking the abbey with a statue of Jesus, crafted with pieces of twisted metal, nailed to it. There, I sat for an hour or so watching the sun settle on the horizon and mulling over my life. It is times like these, times of silence and in the beauty of God's creation, where I tend to see the how God has worked in my life in both the hard and the easy times.

So, how to find this in the city? I have taken to riding my bicycle. When I was in high school, I used to ride my bike around Odell School Road and through the pasture, among other places. But, since the accident, I stopped riding. When I moved to Hollywood in September, I saw that, without a car, cycling would be the most convenient mode of transportation. So, I taught myself to ride again in a span of about 30 minutes spread over two afternoons. I quickly realized that I would need a bigger bicycle than was already available at the house (after all, my legs are pretty long), so I went out and purchased a beautiful twenty-one speed cream colored hybrid (hybrid in the sense that it's sort of a merging between a road bike and a mountain bike) and I've been using it to piddle around town ever since.

Since January, I have made it a goal to bike to Malibu which is about a 65 mile round trip, so the past few weekends, I've been building up my endurance with 30 to 40 mile rides with some scenic stopovers scheduled in. This past Monday I did a 30 mile loop past Runyon Canyon (a popular hiking spot) taking Mulholland Scenic Highway through the hills before drifting down the north side of the hills into North Hollywood and rounding back home through Griffith Park.

It's a pretty amazing ride. Mulholland is above the stop-and-go of LA and provides a beautiful view over the sprawl and of the distant mountains. Going into North Hollywood was a blast. I took Coldwater Canyon down the hill. It's a steep road with a number of sharp curves and it was so thrilling to come down it as fast I felt safe. I started laughing about halfway down the hill and for a solid 10 minutes afterward. I am so grateful for that, just a silly hill and two wheels to coast on. I felt...on top of the world...and we all know Who likes to sit up there.

Be thankful today. Be thankful for God, his love, and his creation of this universe in its vastness and in its specificity.

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. -Genesis 1:31

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Crashing Into Walls

We are broken.

I am broken. Finding God seems to be about finding myself, my brokenness, and letting it go, letting it fall into the tender, healing hands of our Father. I think this would be impossible to do alone. 

Here in Hollywood, I encounter the brokenness of others nearly every day. In the face of it all, it can be much too easy to deny my own. I often tell myself that knowing I will have never totally dealt with all of the emotional and spiritual damage stemming from the accident is comforting because, I say, I will never grow complacent in fleshing out these issues and I will find solace in knowing that success is not found in finishing but in merely working.

Still, despite this, I am surprised when I realize how obviously intertwined my behaviors are with some new, undiscovered pain. I am still surprised when I am not done. Even more interesting is how I stumble across some part of my brokenness and immediately attribute it to the fire only to discover that it was there the whole time. This is where I am now.

Like I said, I meet brokenness head-on in others everyday. I see it in our clients on the street and in the kids that come to our house. It's nearly impossible for me to look at one of our kids  and tell him to be himself, to strip away the facade and expose who he is and who he wants to be (more acutely summarized as "Stop frontin' man") without examining myself and the ways I am hiding who I am from the world and the ones I love out of fear or shame.

For the past few weeks,
Ecclesia, the church I attend in Hollywood, has been doing a sermon series entitled Skin: The Body Matters. Primarily this series has dealt with sexual sins and has really been digging into the reasons that we, as humans, look for physical intimacy in and out of the marriage covenant as a replacement for emotional intimacy and as a replacement for our relationship with God. Beyond this, what this series has been speaking to me is how I let my own perceived deficiencies affect my relationships, romantic or otherwise.

Academically, I understand that God loves me in all of my unworthiness. Living this out, as you might be aware, is much more difficult. I think that we all feel deficient, not just when standing in front of God but in many of our relationships, and that we all spend far too much time working to hide these deficiencies instead of handing them completely over to the One.

My experiences here in Hollywood have forced me to confront these issues but also provide a safe and inspiring space to meet them. Not only do I meet the man on the street who refuses to come in to shelter because, this month, his check will come just like it was supposed to come the month before and the month before that; but I get to help the 70 year old move his belongings from transitional housing to his new, permanent apartment or I get to see the first few days a young man spends in shelter and the next week as he's visiting agencies by himself to get the help he wants. Not only do I get to be frustrated with a kid when he throws a tantrum or gets caught tagging a neighborhood wall, but I get to see these same kids in sweet moments of responsibility and I get to see them light up when they understand something they never quite understood before. I get to see the best and the worst, and this blessing helps me see it in myself, however painful or shocking it might be.

But, we are lucky. We have a God that loves us despite our errs and, because of Him, a family of faith to hold us up.


Give thanks for my brother and his recent acceptance to both the University of Kentucky and the venerable North Carolina State University! Otherwise, continue prayer for the community house, specifically for guidance as we try new things and for the help of outside volunteers. Lastly, pray for my discernment as I continue in the process of figuring out what's after this.

When they heard the sound of God strolling in the garden in the evening breeze, the Man and his Wife hid in the trees of the garden, hid from God. God called to the Man: "Where are you?" He said, "I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked. And I hid." God said, "Who told you you were naked? Did you eat from that tree I told you not to eat from?" ...God made leather clothing for Adam and his wife and dressed them.-
Genesis 3:8-11, 21