Saturday, December 25, 2010

¡Feliz Navidad!

Oh, well, it wasn't his presence that made Christmas truly meaningful, anyway.

May God richly bless you, encourage you, comfort you, and keep you in His constant care and affection.
Take some time today to reflect on the immensity of His gift to us in his Son, Jesus, who loved us and died for us, so that we can have life and the forgiveness of sins.
O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
Oh night divine, the night when Christ was born;
Oh night, oh holy night, oh night divine

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Winter in Tijuana has none of the traditional road-closing snow, white-out conditions, and driveway-shoveling common to Canada, but that doesn't mean that we aren't at times held hostage by inclement weather.

This was the scene in downtown Tijuana when I went to pick up my daughter Jo from the airport.

You can imagine how deep these waters were for my little Mazda3.

Especially when the über-manly Hummer in the next lane raced through to prove... well, something, but merely accomplished dousing my car completely in what we quaintly refer to as "black water".

For the record, "black water" means "sewage". (Suddenly, I have a whole 'nuther angle on that famous Doobie Brothers song...)

But when daughters are involved, fathers find a way. Jo is here, Christmas is coming, and aside from the cardboard jungle we are creating as we anticipate moving back to Canada in a couple of weeks, life is as normal as it ever gets around here. :)

Including all the leaks in the roof of our rental house, but that's another story.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Time to Let Go

Winnipeg, I really enjoyed my seasons of living in such a great Canadian Prairie city (1982-87, 1997-2004).

To this day, I am a die-hard Blue Bombers fan, no matter how many years it's been since we last won the Grey Cup.

Your music and arts scene is lively and I miss it.

But the Jets are gone. Get over it. No matter how many times it looks like the Phoenix Coyotes are in financial crisis, they aren't the Jets and they aren't coming back.

A friend of mine is fond of saying, "You have to let the old dreams die, grieve them and let them go, before you can dream of new things."

Listen to him. The dream is dead. Pack up the nostalgia, celebrate the memories, but please, enough already. Move on.

It's time to let go.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

One Little Wrong Turn...

(actual speed of vehicles in typical Tijuana traffic circle)

It was a great time of celebrating the marriage of a young couple -- Sergio & Laurena Montes -- in Tijuana last night. They were DTS students here back in '08, and then staff ever since. It was a cool wedding and a privilege to be there.

Then came the long, multi-vehicle caravan through Zona Rio to the reception (ten vans/cars, I believe). Only the lead car knew where it was, and we ended up threading our precarious way through Friday evening rush hour traffic, being cut off and cutting others off in the traffic circles in a valiant effort to keep the vehicle each of us was following in sight. At last, we all arrived, with only one car missing due to a fender bender (they wandered lost for awhile but eventually found the rest of us).

Mission accomplished. And the reception was great.

(this map is an under-statement)
Then came the reverse journey. The traffic, if possible, was even worse. We were following the Australians who were following the Mexicans, and we got trapped in a merge lane, and by the time we got going, the cars we were following were long gone.

We tried to guess the route, but made one little wrong turn, and instantly groaned as we realized that we had accidentally joined the one-way funnel leading to the USA border.

Well, no biggie. We'll just wait in line here for the next hour or so, and then explain that we made a wrong turn, and they'll let us return to Mexico. Piece o' cake.

Oops. None of us has our passports. We weren't planning on crossing any international borders when we left for the wedding, after all. Still, they'll surely understand about an innocent little wrong turn.

No, it's worse. Only the driver (me) has any identification at all, and we have one of the Australian kids (my daughter's friend) with us, who also has no ID of any kind. And her Aussie accent clearly says she's not our kid. But hey, it's just a simple wrong turn, right?

(actual conversation not exactly as shown)
The guy at the border doesn't believe we made a wrong turn. No matter how many times we tell him that we just want to return to Mexico, he's convinced that we're trying to sneak into the USofA.

We are sent to the black hole known as "Secondary Inspection", where time has no meaning.

The second guy makes some rather salty comments about @#$%! Canadians, or people who claim to be Canadians but they suspect really aren't, and leaves us to ponder our sins for another 2.5 hours as we are ignored by the clone army.

Three different guards came and looked at the accusatory orange note tucked under my windshield wiper, which made much of us "claiming" to be Canadians -- with a BC license plate on the car, a BC driver's license, my Canadian birth certificate (which made them even more suspicious for some reason), and Canadian accents that were, like, beauty, eh?

Finally, after each of the three guards had heard our "wrong turn" story, and then wandered away muttering dark and dire predictions on the seriousness of it all, they came and took my wife, my daughter, and our daughter's Australian friend to another building for interrogation, and photographed Wendy (because she's really pretty, obviously) and finger-printed her (sort of like getting her nails done, but on the other side).

I sat in the car, listening to "Refugee" by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.

And then, finally -- glory hallelujah -- we were escorted to that special gate for all those being kicked back into Mexico at the border. The other drivers in that line-up immediately waved us in. I guess there's some kind of sympathetic solidarity among people entering Mexico when they see someone being denied access to the USofA.

When we finally got back, there were quite of number of highly agitated and worried friends and family members (our son, the Australian family, numerous other YWAM staff) waiting for us. Being AWOL in Tijuana for over three hours, especially after midnight, has that effect on people.

All because of one little wrong turn...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Leaders & Maggots

Do you have any idea what happens when:
  • somebody's generosity means that 800 pounds of tuna -- whole fish -- are donated (frozen) to our campus, and then
  • numerous staff spend three days gutting and cleaning these culinary gifts, and then
  • throw the entrails from the last batch into a garbage can, and then
  • leave it outside in the hot sun over a weekend?

One of my "miscellaneous" duties here in Tijuana is team leader for one of the many cleaning crews that do daily "chores" around the campus from 8:00-8:30. And as fate would have it, the fish gutting took place in the area that I am responsible for.

The stench that greeted me Monday morning was like a slap in the face, even from forty or fifty metres away. Several of the Leadership Training School students (who make up the cleaning crew that I oversee) were already present, and were all exclaiming -- in English, Spanish and Portuguese -- about how vile one of the garbage cans was.

Against their advice, I approached the can, hearing a strange, almost sizzling, sound coming from within. Holding my breath (for obvious reasons), I dared to peer over the edge, and saw 45 pounds of maggots squirming about. You could see the remnants of a garbage bag which had fallen uselessly inside the can, but that was all. The odour told me "fish guts", but all you could see was the seething mass of maggots.

¡Qué asco! (disgusting)

So, with the eyes of the students on me, I pulled out several fresh garbage bags, and headed back to the can. This provoked numerous animated responses:
  • "You're not going to do that, are you?"
  • "Why don't you get the last person who shows up to do it?"
  • "Seriously, you're going to clean that up?"
I was thinking of John 13, where Jesus washed the disciples' feet. It was the job nobody wanted. It was "beneath" the disciples (in their minds, anyway). Yet Jesus did it. And he explained that this is how leadership works in the Kingdom.

So, I started to try and tip the maggot-fest into the new garbage bag; one of the LTS students came alongside and simply asked, "Could you use some help?"

Together, the two of us poured the can's contents into a new garbage bag. Oh, did I mention the stench? It got worse as we shifted the squirming pile. And then bagged that one again. And then put it all into a fourth bag. Finally, between the two of us -- and with extreme caution and care -- we carried la bolsa de la fatalidad (bag of doom) the twenty yards to the big green dumpster. Fortunately, our combined efforts to hoist it up and into the dumpster did not result in any rips or spills.

I have no idea what the other LTS students were thinking (beyond the obvious: "better you than me"), but I noticed that only one of them immediately came to help when she saw me heading for the noxious can. And I wonder if she realized how much she was exhibiting true servant leadership by assisting me with 45 pounds of maggots.

It's what Jesus would have done, I'm pretty sure.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Investigating Spiritual Manipulation

This is a true story; it happened right here at YWAM Tijuana, just this past spring.

Background/Context: The speaker was advancing the argument that new Christians in (for example) Muslim countries should be encouraged to continue to attend mosques, and participate in all Islamic rituals and practices, but be secret followers of Jesus within the Muslim context.

It was an intriguing idea (which I'd heard before a few times), and I wanted to keep an open mind and consider it carefully. As someone with a Christian up-bringing, I had been raised on Cold War-era stories of the persecuted church behind the Iron Curtain, and how they were "incognito Christians" in the U.S.S.R.

I had also read a lot about the current underground church in China, and wondered if the principles of an "underground" church in an atheistic worldview like communism could be transferred to an Islamic context. All that to say, I wasn't buying the speaker's thesis without question, but neither was I rejecting it out of hand.
(And it's my job, as a school leader, to evaluate and if necessary, correct any of our guest speakers who go "off the map" theologically.)
A couple of instances where the speaker had already played fast and loose with church history: claiming that the Arians "were basically orthodox" but had been called heretics by "the institutional church". Reality: the Arians denied that Jesus was God.

Or that Nestorius had been excommunicated for believing that Mary was not the "mother of God". Reality: This is partly true. Nestorius didn't believe Mary was God's mother, but what got him labeled "heretic" was that he also didn't believe that Jesus was God. (oops)

So maybe I was getting a little more skeptical as the lectures went on, but when the speaker declared that if only the poor, benighted idiots in the early church had realized that they could be "incognito" Christians under Rome, then they would never have been martyred in droves over three centuries of persecution (crucified, fed to lions or wild dogs for sport, burned alive, or exiled), I had to raise my hand and ask a question:
"Wasn't the problem really an issue of changing allegiance, from 'Ceasar is Lord', to 'Jesus is Lord', rather than just cultural observance?"
The speaker just stared at me for a moment, then got all red in the face, jabbed a finger in my direction, and loudly demanded, "Do you know what's happening right now in Indonesia? Missionaries are forcing Muslim converts to eat pork while standing on the Koran in public, to make sure they're ostracized so they can't go back? Is that what you want?!?"

And without waiting for me to respond, he turned to the rest of the class, made a "well, duh..." gesture in my direction, and raced on with his thesis.

Predictable outcome: No other student ever asked a question again during that lecture week.

Let's examine the manipulative methodology:
  1. Failure to answer or even acknowledge the original question, resorting instead to deflection and silencing dissent.
  2. Physical cues of intimidation: Combative posture (literal finger-pointing), combined with angry, exasperated tone of voice, obvious anger (red in the face), and raising of the voice.
  3. Mocking response: he created a "straw man" argument (an opinion not actually held by the questioner), immediately shot it down, and by his "well, duh" gesture, communicated "shut up, stupid".
And by invoking the pejorative code-phrase "the institutional church", the speaker instantly won over anyone who had a beef with church, and they simply accepted whatever he said after that.

And, amazingly, it worked. Everyone agreed that forcing new converts to stand on the Koran while eating pork was a horrible thing to do, and my question was immediately forgotten. And since few of the students (or staff, for that matter) had much background in theology or church history, how could they have known how much twisting of both was going on?

Spiritually manipulative teachers are scary. Because their methods work. Intimidation, mocking, deception, and deflection (to name a few) are powerful tools to keep people in line, prevent freedom of thought, and silence (or discredit) any who would dare to stand up to them.

All the more reason that more of us need (A) a strong sense of biblical discernment, and (B) cojones (if you'll pardon my español).

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fall in Tijuana

The DTS is off on their outreach to Mexico City and points south, until the end of October. I am really proud of how well the young DTS staff team did, considering they had never down this before.

I am taking two weeks of "stress leave", due to burning myself out with the intensive schedule that running a DTS entails (when you're short-staffed and also doing on-the-job training with the staff you do have). But there's good news: I get to build houses again as part of my recovery.
I'm about mid-way through my de-caffeine-ation project, which means I've been mixing regular and decaf coffee beans as an intermediary step. By next Monday, however, I should be finished with that particular coffee bean concoction, and will explore the world of decaf coffee.

I have missed the Homes of Home component over this past year, to be honest. Planning and running a Discipleship Training School (DTS), without the presence of a usually-prerequisite administrative assistant, is really doing two jobs at the same time. During the DTS, we all had the opportunity to build a house as a team, which was great, but it also reminded me of how much I enjoy house-building, and how rewarding it is to serve the poor in this manner.
So, after taking it easy these past couple of weeks, I will be investing my weekends from now until at least the beginning of December in building houses in the colonias again.
I've been recovering fairly quickly, all things considered, although my case of shingles is still a (literal) pain. But even that is fading noticeably since I took some time off. I'm hopeful that I will be back to normal very soon.

Whatever "normal" means for me, anyway. :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Do we have the Holy Spirit, or does He have us?

I'm still reading through -- and highly enjoying and recommending -- Naturally Supernatural, by fellow Canadian Gary Best.

Here's an excerpt that really got me thinking today:
"Imagine I came to work for you, hired because of my international reputation as a chef. Perhaps our relationship works perfectly for some time -- we are both happy because I have a good work environment and you are eating better than you have for years.

"Then one day, you arrive home to discover two of the walls of your home are missing.

"When you run to me for an explanation, I respond, 'Didn't you know? I am not only a world-renowned culinary expert, I am a carpenter on the side -- I am renovating your home!'

"What would your response be? Other than calling the police, it may sound something like this, 'I'm sorry, but I invited you as a chef. I never asked you to renovate my home.'

"That is part of our problem with the Holy Spirit...

"Th(e) indwelling Spirit came upon (the early believers)... to propel them into mission." (emphasis added)
That's a great insight: that we often seek after the presence of the Holy Spirit to touch us, equip us, or in some way move in us, yet we don't want Him to do any renovations to our home heart.

And when I think of all the people I've known over the years who spend incredible amounts of time chasing "the anointing", I wonder if it's ever occurred to them that perhaps they aren't getting what they want because they only want it for themselves. A badge of honour. A symbol of acceptance by God. A reassurance of their "special-ness". An experience that aids them in finding their place on some imaginary "pecking order" of who's spiritual and who's not.

What if "the anointing" can only truly be experienced in acts of service?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Getting Back to the Roots

When I first got more involved with the Vineyard movement, you could walk into almost any church and see -- to greater or lesser degree -- something with a bunch of grapes pictured on it. During a music tour in Eastern Canada last century (1999), we played in one Vineyard that had grapes everywhere -- even the flower vases on the welcome table were shaped like big grape clusters. It got kinda comical at times.

But there was a great sense of belonging to a similar-minded group of Christians; people who believed in the reality of "the already and the not yet" understanding of the Kingdom of God, who believed in all the gifts of the Holy Spirit but were committed to avoiding hype or hysteria, were committed to serving the poor, and kept "the main and the plain" of the Bible front and centre.

Of course, the early and mid-1990's really challenged that in the Vineyard, between the Kansas City Prophets and later the "Toronto Blessing". It made quite a mess, and it's taken literally years for the Vineyard to recover from the damage.

When we get the chance, our family really enjoys taking a road trip into La Jolla (north end of San Diego) to attend Coast Vineyard. It has weathered the storms of the 90's hype & hysteria, and while not stuck in any Vineyard-shaped rut, has successfully maintained that early Vineyard dynamic that was so appealing to Wendy and I back in the day. Through Coast, our youngest daughter Renee recently attended from a youth-oriented conference at the Anahiem Vineyard, returning with a book that she'd received as part of the "training-and-doing" that the whole conference took part in.

So now I'm reading Naturally Supernatural, written by Gary Best, who is well-known as the National Team Leader for Vineyard Canada, the speaker at the conference my daughter attended, and -- somewhat less famously -- as the guy who first jokingly called me an "ecclesiastical anarchist". Gary's book is a wonderful reminder of what the Vineyard has always held at its core: that we will see the Kingdom continue to break in, as we deliberately choose to partner with the Holy Spirit in proclaiming the words and doing the works of Jesus.

And like our occasional visits to Coast Vineyard, reading Gary's well-written and engaging book stirs me to dig deeper into my Vineyard roots.

Well done, Gary. Highly recommended.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Rite of Passage: Baptism

A mere two weeks after the "rite of passage" that our week of Niko Survivor was for our DTS, and here we were again, poised for another significant rite of passage for five young adults.

This time, instead of wandering the desert wilderness south of Ensenada, we were in the frigid waters of the Pacific Ocean on the outskirts of Rosarito. For one DTS staff member, and four students, this was to be a memorable step of obedience in their surrendered lives of following Jesus.

For Andy Ortega and myself, it was great honour to be part of their baptisms. After a hoarse-throat-inducing reminder to everyone in the DTS who was gathered on the windy beach about the significance of baptism, Andy and I braved the crashing breakers and COLD water -- and when the Canuck says the water's cold, baby, it's cold.

One by one, each of the five -- Sergio, James, Seong Won, Victor & Estefania -- joined us in the water, as we held firm against the surging waves, and tried to time our ritual in between the biggest waves breaking over us. It was a solemn moment for each one, as well as somewhat comical between the coldness of the water and the power of the waves crashing against us.

A unique and memorable blend of deep and profound spirituality, lightly seasoned with joyful laughter. Especially for young Estefania, from Guadalajara, who was so shocked by the coldness of the water that she didn't even fully submerge. As she gasped back upright, I looked at her and said, "you're not done yet", and dunked her a second time (thoroughly).

Later that night, at our regular Sunday evening worship & prayer time to prepare ourselves for the coming week, the night air was filled with the loud and exuberant singing of worship songs in English and Spanish. Our freshly-baptized worship leader, Sergio Montes, led us in perhaps his most passionate style that we've yet heard.

Truly, a memorable rite of passage.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

NIKO (sort-of) Survivor

Four days. 20 miles. Full back-packs. Steep trails. Limited food. Hard ground. Cold nights on the hard ground. A recurring midnight stampede of mice attempting to find warmth in our sleeping bags. While we were in them. Blisters. Burrs. Heat exhaustion.

"How can it possibly be uphill both ways?!?"

"No freakin' idea. But look, somehow, it is!"

Part of the NIKO experience in YWAM is dealing with the unexpected. Learning how to function in teams -- even in adversity. Choosing to serve the other at the expense of ourselves. To be challenged and stretched. To give and receive help. At times to be strong for others, and at other times, letting others serve you when you are weak.

It's probably best compared to Survivor -- except nobody gets voted off the island, and there are no commercial breaks. (And no treachery either, come to think of it.)

Day four. Slogging up to where we left the YWAM vans, tossing our dirty gear in. Dragging our dirty and tired bodies into the vehicles for the 100km trip home to Tijuana. Giddy. Singing silly songs. Wistful longing for imminent showers and "real" beds.

Later, during our debrief at St. Arbucks in Playas de Tijuana (where else?), showered, in clean clothes, "normal" meal at the YWAM base recently consumed, it hits us:
We did it! We really did it!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hot Summer Night

After weeks of unusually cool and cloudy weather, Tijuana is finally feeling like it normally does in July: hot. And for this night in particular, humid as well.

We are in downtown Tijuana -- properly known as Zona Norte -- with the DTS students, as is our custom on every Wednesday night, providing food for the homeless people in this urban park, and building relationships with them and their children.

On the north side of this tiny, mostly-concrete park, the traffic on the Via Rapida races by, oblivious to our presence. And towering on the edge of Via Rapida, of course, is the razor-sharp sentinel wall that divides Mexico from the United States.

As I pause and take in the scene around me, I notice the pain in my lower back -- partly from my recent unsolicited acquisition of 'shingles', and partly from picking up garbage and broken needles for the past hour or so -- and I'm struck by the stories coalescing all around me.

DTS students and staff -- all from widely divergent backgrounds -- getting out of their comfort zones and serving cheerfully in a dirty, squalid, needle-infested concrete-and-sketchy-palm-tree park shoved up next to a busy thorough-fare and The Fence.

Watching as the perception of the people in the park morphs from being an anonymous sub-category called "the homeless", to becoming "people", with hopes, dreams, children, smiles, and laughter.

And the children: just playing like any normal child would do. Watching some of our students -- who just a few weeks ago were graduating from high school and having proms -- running, playing, laughing, holding and at times crying over the children.

The people, lining up to receive the hot 'n' hearty soup prepared earlier, and then hanging around with us afterwards, listening to some of our young musicians play some songs. Talking and laughing with us, as we all watch a few of the students and staff perform a silly children's drama -- La Casa Se Quema (The House Is On Fire) -- that the children absolutely love.

I need to tell more stories about this DTS; they are a remarkable group. But for this hot summer's night in downtown Tijuana, I just felt a great sense of gratitude for what God is doing in them, and through them as they serve.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Modest Totally Rockin' Proposal

I think I just had an epiphany. A new, radical, high-yield, inoffensive, and stealthily strategic approach to evangelism and rock music!

For years, we've been warned about the dangers of satanic messages being inserted (backwards) in rock 'n' roll recordings. These backwards messages are responsible for leading untold thousands -- nay, perhaps millions -- into the devil's grip.

Like any Christian worth his salt, I am of course livid that people are being sucked into hell by such a sneaky and treacherous methodology, when suddenly it hit me:
What a great idea for evangelism! We can use the devil's tricks against him and expand the Kingdom of God instead!
Just think: we could pick one of the more popular and greedy rock stars (or rap, or whatever), and pay them a large sum of money to hide the Four Spiritual Laws (backwards, of course) on their next CD!

This would have such immediate benefits, I am amazed that no-one thought of it before. Now we don't have to rub shoulders with sinful people. We don't have to compromise our testimony by being around sinners. And the offense of the Cross is totally removed, because people will be evangelized through subliminal messages.

Just think of it: Thousands upon thousands -- nay, perhaps millions -- of people getting saved, born-again, and redeemed without even knowing it! How's that for taking the devil's schemes and using them for God's glory instead?!?

Whew -- the mind boggles. Y'all excuse me whilst I lay down and catch my breath for a moment...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Return of the Pox

Lurking in the dark cellular recesses of some obtuse nerve cluster in my spine, it has waited these many years.

Dormant, unknown, unseen, and unsuspected.

Chicken pox is pretty much as normal to Canadian children as, well, chicken soup served by your mother when you were sick. The one thing we all consoled ourselves with is that once you've had chicken pox, you can't get it again.

Well, yes and no. Chicken pox never really leaves your system, it just coalesces into one nerve bundle in your body and patiently bides it nefarious time.

Then suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, the surly mutant one day decides it wants to stretch it's gnarly wings and wreak havoc once more upon the unsuspecting. And so for the past week, I have unwillingly and unwittingly joined the ranks of those who endure what is commonly known as "shingles".

On a scale of one to ten, with ten indicating a severe case, I'd have to say I've been very fortunate. The rash that many report has been very, very small. In fact, I initially thought I had been bitten by a few spiders -- not an uncommon thing when you live in the desert. And frankly, I think I'd rather have shingles than know that there was spider venom creeping through my innards.

So, I've been lucky on the rash end of the stick. But as numerous friends have commented to the effect of "dude, shingles is really painful", I can readily confirm their medically-sound-but-otherwise-unhelpful opinions.

Which, being translated, means "OUCH".

But at least it's not poisonous spider bites! :)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


The border fence between Tijuana, Baja California and San Diego, California.

While the beauty of the Pacific Ocean shimmers just off-shore, the grim reality is that on this side of the fence is Mexico, and the other -- complete with a wide "no man's land" buffer zone -- is the state of California.

And each of these crosses represents a Mexican life lost, in the attempt to find a better life north of Tijuana.

The issue of the border fence is a highly-charged, contentious and emotional landmine. And if you ask questions, in an attempt to try and understand, you quickly discover that the answers and opinions you may receive are very deeply affected by which side of the fence you ask the questions on.

Yes, the issues are complex and are rooted in much history of expansionism, colonialism, and war. And the mere presence of these crosses is a grim reminder of how deadly serious this border has become.

Is the fence good, solid protection against "(insert worst fear here)"? Or is it the moral equivalent of the Berlin Wall of yesteryear? Which is worse: killing people trying to get out (Berlin), or killing people trying to get in (San Diego)?

(sigh...) I know it's complex, and comes with a lot of baggage and history. But every time I see the mute but powerful testimony of these crosses, it gives me pause.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Discerning Apologies (the search for authentic fruit)

Let's face it:

Not everyone who says "I'm sorry" actually can be trusted to mean it. Not every apology is actually worth the time invested in speaking it. Every child has -- at some point -- been guilty of saying "sorry", and hearing a parent chide them with words to the effect of: "that wasn't sincere; now say it like you mean it".

John the Baptist wasn't referring to the sincerity of apologies when he said "produce fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matthew 3:7-9), but the principle is a good one.

Sincere apologies start with recognizing and feeling remorse for a wrong, acknowledging the need to repent, and following through either by making restitution or correcting what had led to the original problem.

An insincere apology does none of these things. It has no real remorse (except perhaps that people found out), no sense of repentance (which would require acknowledgement that something wrong or sinful has occurred), and no intention of changing a thing (the fruit of repentance).

The insincere apology can also quickly degenerate into a legalistic blunt instrument, if the person who naively accepted the apology notices that there is no genuine repentance, and that the same abuses are allowed to continue as before. If the victim speaks up a second time, they are often rebuked (and re-abused) with lines like, “Are you still holding onto offense? Didn’t we apologize, and didn’t you accept our apology?” It takes a special kind of hard-heartedness to manipulate people in this way.

The other tried-and-tested way of silencing those who would speak out is to seek reconciliation without repentance. This appears spiritual at first -- the various parties are asked to agree that they’re all still growing in God, and are on the same team, after all, so let’s just agree to disagree, and get on with the work of the building the Kingdom of God.

On the surface, it would be hard to argue with that, without feeling like you were being judgmental and petty. And those who lack the words to describe why their spiritual instincts are telling them that something is still wrong, find themselves accused of being “unwilling to forgive” or “unwilling to be reconciled”. This accusation has the powerful effect of heaping more shame and condemnation on the victim, while giving the abuser a false sense of having the moral high ground.

Forgiveness doesn’t require the other party repenting -- we are called by Jesus to forgive as we have been forgiven (Matthew 18:21-35).

Reconciliation, however, does require repentance -- otherwise, there is no truth being spoken in the relationship, no mutuality of honoring each other, and no love (value) placed on each other. It’s just a way of “enabling” abusive people to continue in their abusive ways, with no consequences.

The sham of reconciliation without repentance is a manipulative smoke screen that protects the abuser and re-victimizes the abused. It’s bad enough when used by abusive people, but leaders who use it to protect the abusers, to cover up the abuse, and to silence the victims, are perhaps guilty of a greater sin.

Apologies, like love, must be sincere (Romans 12:9-12). Offering forgiveness isn't an option for those who would call Jesus "Lord", but the search for authentic fruit in keeping with an apology is a matter of accountability and spiritual maturity.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

¡Una Semana Más!

Yes, it's true: in just one week, the Discipleship Training School (or Escuela de Discipulado y Entrenamiento) begins! And I'm very excited about the speakers we've got coming for this DTS, as well as the DTS team that has gathered to serve the students. The team (pictured below) is made up of people who are:
  1. Mexican,
  2. married to a Mexican,
  3. engaged to a Mexican,
  4. and me.
But for the record, we have had entire DTS staff meetings only in Spanish, which has been challenging and fun for me, and an opportunity for the Mexican staff to yet again demonstrate their kindness and long-suffering as I muddle my way through.

By this time next week, most if not all of the students will have arrived from Mexico, Canada, the USA, Germany, Costa Rica, England, and Brazil. This next week will be insane as we pull all the normal last-minute things together, but we are excited about the imminent beginning of the DTS.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Kick at the Darkness

I can still picture the classroom -- the plastic faux-theatre seats with the swivel (and minuscule) writing surfaces, the hum and shimmer of the bluish florescent lights, and the thin, tinny sound of the many ceiling-mounted 4" speakers valiantly re-broadcasting the professor's voice from the tiny lapel microphone fastened too far down the jacket lapel to do any practical good.

And it wasn't just one professor, it was at least several, who sounded the same somber and ominous warning during those days. That history was against our Bible college. No matter how much we found it difficult to believe, church history demonstrated that, eventually, today's Bible colleges would be tomorrow's liberal colleges.

Not that we doubted this would happen. After all, weren't Harvard and Yale once seminaries, training pastors and missionaries? Naturally, it would only be a matter of time. Regrettable, but inevitable.

But how did it happen so quickly? 20 years later, and the Valedictorian address -- showcased on the front page of the subsequent newspaper sent to supporters and alumni -- makes much of the valedictorian who, arriving at Bible college en route to becoming a missionary, now boldly states:
  • that he's been taught and now recognizes that the whole concept of "missions" is antiquated and offensive.

  • that it's none of our business to decide who is "lost" and then try to evangelize prosyletize them (how arrogant of us).

  • that "missions" must now give way to humanitarian action, unencumbered by narrow-minded evangelistic agendas.
Yes, we had all nodded our heads twenty years ago, acknowledging that eventually even our school would "go liberal". We probably even had a few late-night speculative conversations about it over bad coffee. But it never occurred to us -- to me -- that it would happen in my lifetime, let alone before our 25th class reunion.
To quote Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn, "Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight; Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

In Praise of Band-Aids

This may come as a shock, but there are some people who are very critical about us building houses for the poor in Tijuana. It's not because they despise poor people, or think the poor are just getting some sort of karma-influenced "way things are". Their logic is that providing houses for desperately poor people is a huge mistake because -- wait for it -- it's "only a band-aid solution".

Try telling that to the family that was living in a ramshackle collection of tarps and scavenged bits of wood, but now has some dignity, protection from the elements (40% of respiratory illnesses and diarrhea are avoided by simply having concrete instead of dirt for a floor), and a place to call "home" as they raise their children.

And the other side of that coin is the simple observation of "Yes, we know that this is only the tip of the iceberg, if we're talking about long-term solutions." Frankly, so is our feeding of homeless people and prostitutes in Tijuana's Zona Norte. It's not the Holy Grail of "total community/societal transformation". But it's a start. And we will continue to observe, ask questions, and develop strategies to "take it to the next level", whatever that may look like.

On the topic of Band-Aid solutions, Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point has this to say:
"This is the first lesson of the Tipping Point. Starting epidemics (of change) requires concentrating resources on a few key areas...

"A critic looking at these tightly focused, targeted interventions might dismiss them as Band-Aid solutions. But that phrase should not be considered a term of disparagement. The Band-Aid is an inexpensive, convenient, and remarkably versatile solution to an astonishing array of problems. In their history, Band-Aids have probably allowed millions of people to keep working or playing tennis or cooking or walking when they would otherwise have had to stop. The Band-Aid solution is actually the best kind of solution because it involves solving a problem with the minimum amount of effort and time and cost.

"We have, of course, an instinctive disdain for this kind of solution because there is something in all of us that feels that true answers to problems have to be comprehensive, that there is virtue in the dogged and indiscriminate application of effort, that slow and steady will win the race. The problem, of course, is that the indiscriminate application of effort is something that is not always possible. There are times when we need a convenient shortcut, a way to make a lot out of a little, and that is what Tipping Points, in end, are all about."
In Zechariah 4:10, is that well-known snippet of a verse: "Who despises the days of small things?" It is the small things that take root and eventually grow into large things (didn't Jesus say something about the Kingdom of God being like that?). So perhaps, from a certain point of view, what we're doing represents "band-aids", but it could also easily be seen as it really is: over 3000 "seeds" already planted in over 2700 families in the colonias around Tijuana, Rosarito, and Ensenada.