Fuller Seminary, Jim Wallis, and me

This week’s SEMI (Fuller’s student publication) features an interview with my boss, Jim Wallis, and an article by me telling some of the story of how I ended up at Sojourners. For those of you at Fuller, pick up a copy and let me know your thoughts! And if you’re not in Pasadena, drop me a comment and I’ll email you an electronic copy.

Also, for Pasadena friends, Jim will be speaking at All Saints Church tomorrow (25th) at 7pm. Go say hey!

New music!


I just uploaded a few songs from last night’s concert on my Facebook and MySpace.

Check out “Let Love Be Right,” “A Moment,” “Who,” and “Undone,” and let me know what you think!

UPDATE (Feb. 23): Just added “Monster.”

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.

I like to fix things

I like to fix things.

For a number of years, it seemed as though every girl I fell for was in need of fixing: some guy had been careless with her heart, or she was dealing with issues from her childhood, or she’d never been in a relationship that was healthy. And then I realized that I was equally broken, jaded, reluctant to trust and to love, unwilling to hope too much for good things, since they came too rarely, if at all.

And then in general, I have a proclivity for fixing things: objects, situations, conflicts, systems. I wanted (still do, actually …) to make the world better—how grand, some might say! How foolish, others might retort! But I’ve come to see this as the situation that faces us in life. What we see before us is the world as it is: oftentimes wonderful, beautiful and delightfully engaging, but also tragically and undeniably broken and imperfect.

As Christians, we understand these cracks to be the cause of sin, of selfishness, and of not choosing God or his ways and values. We see the brokenness in ourselves; we recognize what lies inside each one of us is somewhat and somehow less than we would like it to be.

But as Christians, we also understand that the world as it is, is not the world as it once was.

Nor is it the world as it should be.

And it is certainly not the world as it will be.

This isn’t to say that everything that we have and see today is ruined. There are a great many things that are broken and spoiled and corrupted. There are things everyday that we see and read and experience that break our hearts.

But, despite all of this, I hope. As one of my favorite writers and presidents (guess who …) says,

Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the tasks ahead or the road blocks that stand in our path. It’s not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight.

Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it.

He may have couched his words in less explicitly spiritual terms, but as a Christian, I know he hopes in the same things that I do.

We can take hope because God is good, and because Jesus Christ came, died, and rose again, redeeming humanity and creation from sin and death, and restoring us into the possibility of right relationship with God. We can take hope because Jesus says, “The kingdom is near.” God is working out his purposes on earth—through us, his people. He will fix the brokenness. And because of that, we can look at life through his eyes and with his perspective.

In all the ugliness, we can see the potential for restoration and beauty. In all the despair, we can see the still-gleaming hope that never fades. Because we hope in something concrete, something that will be, and will come to pass.

Thanks be to God.

New song: “Embrace”

Just posted a new song, “Embrace,” up on Facebook and MySpace. It’s a little different stylistically to what I normally do, so let me know what you think!

Here are the lyrics:

Your love is on the air, your love is on trial;
it hardly seems fair–maybe we’re in denial.
There’s always hope, there’s always you;
we walk the tightrope between what we say and what we do.

But I’m caught up in your furious love again.

And I could never grasp the measure of your grace,
and I could never ask for more than all you already gave.
I’ll take off my mask, for I’m safe in your embrace.

And I’m caught up in your furious love.

Oh, for the lost and broken-hearted,
oh, for the weak and frail,
for all of us who haven’t started
and think we’re bound to fail …

Would you embrace us?

Speaking at Commencement

Here’s the video and transcript from my little speech at Commencement last Saturday:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). “Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Ps. 82:3-4). “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream” (Amos 5:24). Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, visit those in prison, for “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:31-46). For all humanity is made in the image of God—male and female he created them (Gen. 1:27).

These verses have come to mean a lot to me. You see, it was during my time at Fuller that God lit a fire in me—a passion, a vision, a calling to do justice, to see justice done. I began my time at Fuller in Fall 2006 in the Master of Divinity program, thinking that I would follow in the footsteps of my two brothers and go into fulltime pastoral ministry. But in the years since, through the classes I took, through the friends I made, and through the conversations and encounters I had, God tweaked that a little. And so, about a year and a half through, I switched to the dual MA in Theology and Cross-Cultural Studies, realizing that while I maintain a love for and interest in seeing the church impassioned and empowered to do justice, I also have a calling to see this justice done outside the church, to work in conjunction with non-Christians as well as Christians toward seeing the kingdom of God here on earth.

It was at Fuller that I began to ask questions like, what does this justice look like when over 45 million people in the United States alone are without health insurance? What does this justice look like when there are twenty-seven million slaves around the world today in bonded labor or in forced prostitution? What does this justice look like when there are still a billion people in the world living in extreme poverty? What does this justice look like?

This fall, I’ll be moving to Washington, DC to begin a year-long internship with the social justice organization Sojourners. It’s an opportunity rich with potential and promise, and I’m excited to see the things I’ve learned here at Fuller worked out in practice and in policy. To work out what biblical justice—God’s justice—looks like, and to see it done. To work out what it looks like to be our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper. To be a voice for the voiceless, an advocate for and a friend to those whom Jesus called the least of these. Because as the prophet Micah reminds us, “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

I’m sad to leave Fuller, but I’m excited because while the challenges to seeing this justice done are great, God is already at work in our world, doing what he does. And me? I’m with him.

Beautiful


Being at seminary can tend to lend itself to a certain cynicism, fueled by intellectual detachment from the realities of life, a dispassion built upon having to dissect, critique and deconstruct everything. Combined with an enervation resulting from trying to balance too many hours of school, too many hours of work, and too many other things, this world-weariness can often manifest itself in negativity or pessimism (apologists might prefer to call this “realism”). Living in the West in the 21st century, bombarded as we are with millions of images, words, sounds, and messages, it is similarly easy to develop a tough exterior of ennui in order to protect oneself. Unfortunately, in trying to shut out the bad, the negative, or simply trying to defend against the deluge, we can also shut out appreciation of the good, the joyful, and the uplifting.

The song “Beautiful” was birthed one sunny London day in the summer of 2006. I provide this background since it directly impacted the writing of the song. As you may know, sunny days in England are a dime a dozen, so my appreciation of this meteorological phenomenon was particularly heightened. My aim in beginning to write this song was to respond to this reminder of the grace and beauty of God’s creation. And my aim in choosing to rework it for class (Theology & Culture with Barry Taylor) was to combat both the overwhelming cynicism of the surrounding culture and my own tendency towards disinterestedness and dispassion as a tired, final-year seminarian.

I don’t like to be overly prescriptive with the meaning or interpretation of the words of the songs I write. I like making room in my songs for some ambiguity in order that they may mean different things to different people at different times (though I wouldn’t advocate this approach for congregational worship songs). Even for myself, I have found occasion to appreciate this song at different times and in different contexts. All that I will say about the words of the song is that, in writing them, in using the words I did, I was hoping to encourage the listener to open him- or herself up to the beauty, the grace, the God in life.

For the video itself, I turned for inspiration to other songs and music videos that I had found uplifting and inspiring, in particular, Lifehouse’s “Spin” and U2’s “Beautiful Day”, two songs that similarly extolled the beauty in life. In both, there is a sense of winsomeness, a sense of both holding on to life lightly enough and yet being grounded deeply enough that we can appreciate the good in the face of the hard.

To that end, I settled on filming scenes from life, and especially those moments that remind me that life is beautiful. Obviously, as this is my engagement with and response to culture, the moments which are displayed demonstrate some of the things that I find uplifting: two people in love, a family at play, enjoying the company of friends over coffee and basketball, digging into a good book, and being able to express oneself creatively with the gifts God has bestowed. I interspersed this with shots of landscape, of city, and of beach—all of which are part of my life in California, and in all of which I am particularly able to see God’s fingerprints. Others might (and probably would) frame things differently, or show different moments.

My three years at Fuller were simultaneously the toughest and the best of my twenty-seven years, and one of the reasons for the latter was that I was able to seek and find God in it all. Even in the hardest of times, he was revealing himself and the traces of his grace were evident if I would only look and see. Even though I might not have understood what was going on with my life or my future or whatever I may have been struggling with at the time, even though I might not have been able to comprehend why certain things were happening or not happening, I was fortunate to be able to recognize (or perhaps the Spirit was insistent enough to remind me) that God was still there, that beauty and grace and love were still there. Thus, what began as a simple appreciation of and expression of gratitude for a beautiful day became a metaphor and analogy for life, and for the oftentimes-inexplicable movement and work of God.

Feel the sunlight on your skin
Take a deep breath, take it in
Oh my, what a beautiful day
See the clouds swim in the sky
Close your eyes and let it take you high
What a beautiful day

Though you don’t understand
And this grace you can’t comprehend
You know it’s a beautiful day
It’s a beautiful day

This is beauty, can’t look away
And your tears, they fall and fade away
On this beautiful day
Reach out, darling, heaven’s here
It’s all around, it’s coming near
Oh my, it’s a beautiful day

Though you don’t understand
And this grace you can’t comprehend
You know it’s a beautiful day
It’s a beautiful day

Flood the senses
Overwhelm your defenses
Let love teach you how to love again

A time for life, a time for death
A time to run, a time to catch your breath
On this beautiful day
A time to hurt, a time to heal
A time to hold your tears, a time to feel
On this beautiful day

Though you don’t understand
And this grace you can’t comprehend
You know it’s a beautiful day
It’s a beautiful day
It’s a beautiful day
It’s a beautiful day