Christian Living

Let’s agree on this

Let’s agree on this: Human rights are not the kind of politics it’s impolite to talk about.

Right now, tens of thousands of wanna-be Americans are stuck in an asylum system with the deck stacked against them. 0.1% are making it through.

Christian Living

Why are YOU here?


I walked up to the counter and handed the woman my passport and paperwork. She examined in closely, scanned my passport, and looked over my paperwork.

30 seconds go by.

60 seconds go by. She is still clicking on things on her computer. Tension builds.

“Tell me why you coming to Canada.”

“I’m speaking at an event.” She types that into her computer.

“OK… what type of event.” 

“It’s a retreat for Lutheran church leaders. I’m just here for a couple of days.” 

“OK… but why are YOU here? Why did they invite YOU to speak?” 

This went back and forth for about 5 minutes. She would type on her computer and occasionally ask a vague question. I stood there waiting for her to give me my passport back.

I’ve visited about 30 countries and gone through tons of passport checks. I know that the longer you stand there the worse it is. The first stage is standing at the counter answering questions. Then, if they aren’t satisfied with your answers, they take you and your passport into a side room and ask more questions. And if that doesn’t go well you officially get detained. Time is not your friend. You want this process to go quickly and on this night it wasn’t going quickly.

In the back of my mind I was trying to figure out why this wasn’t going well. After all, I’m an American and I’m going to Canada for 3 days to speak at a small gathering of Lutheran youth workers. Our countries are friendly. Lots of people travel back and forth for a wide variety of reasons each day. But the longer I stand there the more introspective I get. I’m wondering if my newly renewed passport has an error. I’m kicking myself for checking the “business” box on my declaration. I’m wondering if I have an unpaid parking ticket or something. And I’m wondering if her computer told her that my dad was recently deported from Canada when he made a wrong turn and illegally entered Ontario on his way to a coffee shop. Why DID this group invite me to speak? Yeah, what made ME an expert on those topics? Why didn’t they bring a Canadian to do this?

Finally, I put on my smile and asked her, “What haven’t I told you that you need to know?

She smiled, (always a good sign) and said “I’m trying to figure out if you need a work permit. Is this event open to the public?

I described the event to her, that is was just for denominational pastors and wasn’t open to the general public, and 30 seconds later she handed my passport back to me and loudly said, “Next.”

Why are YOU here?

Her emphasis has stuck with me. It’s a great question. And a question we all need to wrestle with, no matter what God has called you to do.

Why are YOU here? Why you? Why not someone else?

He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

Ephesians 2:10 The Message

Current Affairs

Sweet Home, Alabama?

Last August, I wrote a post “What’s Happening in Alabama?” In that post I drew attention to proposed legislation that would make every citizen and every police officer in Alabama an immigration official. In short, it would make it illegal to do business with someone who is undocumented. (Pay them, drive them somewhere, rent a house to them, sell them groceries, etc.)

I ended this post with this statement:

Please tell me I’m misunderstanding what this law is about? It seems to me that this is segregation all over again.

And I heard predictable pushback. I was educated that Alabama was not the state it was in the 1960s. And I was told that Alabama is a democracy and the people have a right to pass laws which the people support. And I was told that illegal immigrants were stealing jobs from Alabamans who were unemployed. And that there was an exploding population of illegals from Mexico and something had to be done.

Most importantly, I was told that I was blowing this out of proportion. Those things would never really happen.

My favorite comments were from people who told me– a guy who lives 10 miles from Mexico and in a neighborhood where 70% of my neighbors are of Hispanic origin– that more illegal Mexicans in Alabama are dangerous to the people of Alabama and Alabama needs to protect itself. (4% of Alabama residents are Hispanic, by the way.)

So the law passed and went into effect in October. (Alabama HB 56And the unintended consequences began. 

You need to listen to this week’s episode of This American Life, You Reap What You Sow. I actually think it should be mandated that every Alabama resident listen to the impact this law has had on their state in just a few months. Some examples:

  • Grocery stores asking for ID prior to serving people who “look Hispanic.”
  • Employers not paying employees for work completed.
  • Landlords indiscriminately changing lease agreements, because they can.
  • Law enforcement arresting Mercedes Benz executives from Germany.
  • Companies refusing to do business with Alabama, pulling contracts and going to other states.

How about this? Still proud of this law?

School kids told me they’re fighting off comments like, I’m glad you’re all moving, we don’t want you here, you take our jobs. At a pep rally, where Latinos were all sitting up front, kids started shouting, Mexicans move to the back. And most of them did.

The law is intended so that people who are illegal will leave the state. I get it. For people who don’t take the time to understand the issues it seems OK to make life a living hell for someone else, terrorizing them to the point where they flee.

After all, they aren’t here legally. They shouldn’t have any rights at all– except the right to leave. 

But this isn’t the America we can all be proud of. This really is creating an environment of us vs. them that is strikingly similar to the 1960’s in Alabama. A place where Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed for his protests. A place where people were murdered for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A place where people of one color used one bathroom while people of another color used another one.

People are being discriminated against because they look like they might be illegal. 

We need to be reminded that “legal” doesn’t equal “moral.” And the majority might rule but they don’t always represent the will of the people.

Gabriella said that the new attitude has permeated every aspect of her life, every aspect.


Even in the church.

Jack Hitt



Yes, because even in the church, you find people that say, well, we are in God’s house. And then they don’t want to talk at you. And they don’t want to give the peace to you. That is so sad.

Jack Hitt

So in your church, you have the passing of the peace, that part of the service? And so in your church, when they do that, what normally happens? You turn and shake hands with people?


Yes. They shake hands and everything. But now I found some people that say, I don’t want to do peace with you.

Read the full transcript here.

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Culture youth ministry

California Dreaming

The American dream was affirmed yesterday– at least for some California residents. For tens of thousands of children, brought here illegally as children by their parents, Jerry Brown’s signing of  the California Dream Act, was a symbol of hope that their state cares about them.

Qualifying students, regardless of their immigration status, can now apply for state financial aid. This was part B of a two-part law, part A passed earlier this year which allowed students to apply for private loans & financial aid regardless of status.

This is great, but it isn’t enough

While I’m thrilled with this new state law it isn’t the Dream Act we need at the federal level.

  • Qualifying students still cannot apply for federal financial aid because they lack legal immigration status.
  • Republicans continue to block measures which would provide a pathway to citizenship or even permanent resident status for children brought here by their parents.
  • Since the majority of financial aid for college comes from the federal level, this is more support but not a level playing field.

Why this matters to youth workers and the church

  • It’s a matter of justice: It’s an injustice that a person raised in this country, who goes to school right next to your children, does not have the same opportunities to succeed that your child does. For many of these students, they had no say in whether or not their parents brought them here. But they have gone through our educational system, learned the language, competed with native-speaking peers, and this is their country in every way… except the one that truly matters, full legal status/rights.
  • It’s a matter of fairness: You want to pay $.99 for a pound of tomatoes or $1.29 for ground beef? Do you really think that $7 t-shirt you are making for your retreat was made by workers making minimum wage? Of course not. We both know it. Your standard of living is subsidized off of the back’s of cheap labor. To block those workers children access to post-secondary education & a pathway to legal status is embracing a system of oppression.
  • It’s a matter of numbers: Whether your church recognizes it or not we are still a melting pot country. The Latino population (whom the Dream Act primarily benefits) is exploding! Some predictions show that nearly 30% of the US population will be of Latino origon by  2050. On top of that, the census bureau is predicting a massive shift towards youth in the coming years. Currently, there are 59 children per 100 people in the US. By 2025 this will be 72. So our country is getting younger and more Latino… quickly.
  • It’s a matter of strategy: Let’s talk turkey. Let’s say you could care less about the first 3 things I listed. (Justice, fairness, and numbers) Let’s say you’re so hung up on the fact that their parents brought these children here illegally that you don’t want to give them anything like legal status, equal protection under our laws, or equal access to the same education your children have. (e.g. Arizona & Alabama lawmakers) With the population quickly shifting to give numerical power to legal people of Latino origin… do you really want to have your church as one of the agencies who held them back? Do you think that’s a good long term strategy for your church?

For my youth worker friends: Let’s be reminded that our role in our community isn’t just to work at our churches. We are in our communities to advocate for all teenagers in Jesus’ name. God isn’t interested in the immigration status of students in your ministry. He’s interested in their status with Himself.

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25:40

Social Action

What is Happening in Alabama?

This video is shocking. It makes me wonder, “Have the people of Alabama learned anything from the civil rights movement?

Here’s the full content of the law.

Listen carefully to the statement. They have taken the Arizona law and added to it more stringent requirements. Essentially, you have to provide a state issued ID proving your immigration status for any and all business transactions in the state of Alabama. Further, they put strict penalties on businesses which sell things to, rent to, or even provide transportation for, people who do not have legal status in the country.

Let’s get practical. Do you think that the grocery store is going to ID a white woman and her children at the checkout counter? Do you think a landlord is really going to look up the immigration status of a black family? Do you really think that a bus driver will ask for ID from a retired white male? Or the car dealer down the block, will he e-verify the identity of Mr. Johnson whom he has sold cars to in the past?

The law would also penalize people who knowingly harbor or give transport to illegal immigrants, a provision that many religious officials say would criminalize churches that heed what they believe is the Biblical obligation to feed, clothe and shelter the needy.

Read the rest here

Please tell me I’m misunderstanding what this law is about? It seems to me that this is segregation all over again.

And how is this constitutional? 


youth ministry

Immigration, Dreamers, and Youth Ministry

Immigration reform is a political football. Unfortunately, it has become one of those things that you don’t talk about in polite company. And while I don’t claim to know enough to know how to fix the massive influx of people coming to our country illegally, I do know that we need a pathway to legal residence and citizenship for the students in our ministries who were brought here by their parents.

I think when you get personally involved with students in this situation it becomes less an issue of politics and more an issue of justice. They are stuck. This stuckness kind of defines them and becomes the biggest obstacle they face.

Here’s the story of one student, highly successful academically but otherwise stuck:

No one actually prefers to risk their life crossing the border, leaving behind memories and childhoods, leaving behind their mothers and fathers and leaving behind their children. No one comes to this country because they want to be exploited, and treated less than human. No one migrates to this country and wants to identify as “illegal”. Their decision is not done out of thin air, there have been structures and policies that have pushed many to migrate (NAFTA, Bracero Program, Imperialism, privatization). My parents migrated to the United States because they wanted a better life for their children.

My mom worked in factories, and my dad worked as a cook. They paid taxes (still do), hired lawyers, paid fines, got robbed by lawyers. But most of all, they lost many nights of tucking me to bed, many nights of reading me books, and combing my hair and seeing me walk for the first time. They sacrificed those nights for a better future for me. They are not illegals, they are my parents. They are strong courageous and admirable.

I remember the time I was reunited with my parents; I was about 5 years old. I arrived in Harlem. They pushed me to be the best I can be; making sure education was a priority, motivating me to always be honor roll. And that is what I did, I excelled in school. I hoped time would soften the difference between others and me. I always knew that I was undocumented, but I trusted there was a fair system that would fix that up. My dad promised me my status would soon change, lawyers promised him that too. But no results. I knew my undocumented status put me on a different path than those friends I hung out with. There would be no Cornell University, no going away, no trips abroad, no teaching, no career, no fraternities, and no peaceful nights that did not consist of thinking of “deportation” or “illegal”.

Read the whole story

If Sonia were a graduating senior from your high school ministry, what advice would you give her?

Do you agree or disagree that the Dream Act is more a justice issue than an immigration reform issue?