“[T]he ultimate goal of human beings is not the ‘kingdom of freedom.’ Rather, the kingdom of freedom is a process toward the kingdom of God, which is the kingdom of love.” – Miroslav Volf (explaining Jurgen Moltmann), Exclusion & Embrace, 105
I chose “Freedom Road: The Exodus Story” as our church’s fall semester sermon series and brought it to a close yesterday morning. We will now turn our attention to the birth of Jesus and a brand new year and a consideration of how to live once liberated from oppression.
I have enjoyed the freedom road journey despite having to listen to myself speak along the way. It is a spectacular story. We started with the birth of Moses in Egyptian slavery and followed the stunning liberation narrative until Joshua stood in a land of promise and called the Israelites to fully commit to God.
It has been particularly interesting to consider freedom in a land that loves the idea so much because the American preoccupation with independence is at odds with my particular faith. Freedom is a good word, of course, if for no other reason than because oppression is a bad word, but there is danger in making freedom the ultimate goal—and our unfortunate tendency is to value our independence above all things. I agree with Volf/Moltmann in recognizing freedom instead as a pathway to a beautiful land where love rules.
But I still don’t trust myself. While drawn through compelling hints toward the land where love rules, I have been conditioned to be in control and to avoid answering to anyone other than Me. The cultural indoctrination runs deep.
So I find myself still on Freedom Road, ironically in the process of being set free from the oppression of Freedom. But my journey is filled with hope and faith in a beautiful future that to date remains unseen.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged america, christianity, exodus, freedom, freedom road, jurgen moltmann, love, malibu, miroslav volf, pepperdine, university church of christ
I like pie. I like pie a lot. So there is very little arm-twisting involved when the opportunity to judge the Malibu Pie Festival heads my direction.
Several years ago in my first pie-judging experience I met Linda Hamilton of The Terminator fame who served as a fellow judge. I had chosen the “fruit” category, but she mentioned that she had decided to take one for the team and judge the pies submitted by children. This led to an ongoing moral dilemma in my life. Do I judge wonderful strawberry, peach, and blueberry pies? Or, do I judge pies adorned with gummi worms and breakfast cereals?
I have gone back and forth over the years based on my current walk with Jesus.
This year, I may have found a happy compromise by judging the pies submitted by older teens. There were three lovely pies to judge, including a cannoli pie, a pina colada pie, and a strawberry pie. All of them were terrific, and I left with very little guilt. Win-win, as they say.
My friends at the Malibu United Methodist Church have put on the annual Malibu Pie Festival for twenty-eight years now as a fundraising effort for the many good works they perform and support in the Malibu community, including a weekly community dinner for our homeless friends. I preached at MUMC one Sunday morning several years ago and was shocked to learn that it is a small church in terms of numbers. Malibu really is a small town. But MUMC is a huge church in its heart.
So sure, it is quite a privilege to judge pies at the Malibu Pie Festival, and sure, it is wonderful to see friends from the community out for the fun alongside celebrities like Jamie Foxx and Kelly Osbourne. More importantly, it is inspiring to know that good hearts seeking to serve the underserved make it happen.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged homeless, jamie foxx, kelly osbourne, linda hamilton, love, malibu, malibu pie festival, malibu united methodist church, pie, service, terminator
On Wednesday evening I will join several friends to present Jesus, Malibu, and the Immigrant at Pepperdine. The event will focus on the Malibu Community Labor Exchange and discuss its work in the context of a Christian worldview of immigration and current political debates about immigration in the United States. It should be a fascinating evening.
Speakers will include MCLE director Oscar Mondragon (a Malibu legend), Professors Cindy Miller-Perrin and Robin Perrin (Pepperdine legends), yours truly (a legend in my own mind), and Hollywood legend and MCLE supporter Martin Sheen.
I joined Mr. Sheen and several MCLE friends for lunch at Marmalade Café recently, and it was a delightful opportunity to hear entertaining stories from President Bartlet’s, um, I mean, Mr. Sheen’s fascinating life and to witness his heart for service as inspired by his deep faith. I looked across the restaurant to see Pat Riley having lunch with friends and realized that I really do live in Malibu.
You should come to Elkins Auditorium at 7pm on Wednesday for the conversation. In addition to Mr. Sheen, I guarantee that listening to Cesar Chavez’s old friend, Oscar Mondragon, is worth it every single time.
For my part, I will focus on my stunning realization that the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is played out every day by those of us who live behind gates in Malibu and the workers who gather in hope waiting for opportunities at the Malibu Community Labor Exchange. Today, I will simply leave the story as Jesus told it here for your consideration:
“There once was a rich man, expensively dressed in the latest fashions, wasting his days in conspicuous consumption. A poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, had been dumped on his doorstep. All he lived for was to get a meal from scraps off the rich man’s table. His best friends were the dogs who came and licked his sores. Then he died, this poor man, and was taken up by the angels to the lap of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell and in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham in the distance and Lazarus in his lap. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, mercy! Have mercy! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water to cool my tongue. I’m in agony in this fire.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that in your lifetime you got the good things and Lazarus the bad things. It’s not like that here. Here he’s consoled and you’re tormented. Besides, in all these matters there is a huge chasm set between us so that no one can go from us to you even if he wanted to, nor can anyone cross over from you to us.’ The rich man said, ‘Then let me ask you, Father: Send him to the house of my father where I have five brothers, so he can tell them the score and warn them so they won’t end up here in this place of torment.’ Abraham answered, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets to tell them the score. Let them listen to them.’ ‘I know, Father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but they’re not listening. If someone came back to them from the dead, they would change their ways.’ Abraham replied, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they’re not going to be convinced by someone who rises from the dead.’” – Jesus (Luke 16: 19-31, MSG)
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged cesar chavez, cindy miller-perrin, immigrant, immigration, jesus, malibu, malibu community labor exchange, marmalade cafe, martin sheen, mcle, oscar mondragon, parables, pat riley, pepperdine, rich man and lazarus, robin perrin, west wing
“The soul is healed by being with children.” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The idea for “kids club” emerged a very short thirteen years ago when my youngest daughter was in the second grade. The two of us were driving somewhere when she innocently asked if I might study the Bible with her sometime, which was crazy embarrassing since I was, in fact, a preacher. Yes, sweetie, that could be arranged.
But before we even made it to wherever we were driving the innocent question had transformed into a fully-developed plan for a weekly kids club for elementary school children at our church where we not only studied the Bible but also went on adventures and hosted interesting guests. We went to the Ruskin Oak (pictured above). We wandered around an old cemetery. We went to the fire station where everyone got to blast the fire hose, and we hosted a police officer where everyone got cuffed and stuffed. We listened to sweet Ms. Josephine tell sobering stories of growing up black in Jim Crow Mississippi. It was inspiring and sweet and good.
Well, I’m a preacher again and am giving kids club another whirl. We recently launched Kids Club 2.0 with a short Bible study and a visit from amazing art students from Pepperdine, and the next week we hosted a brilliant plant physiological ecologist (look it up) who took us on a nature walk. It has been awesome. I am nearly overwhelmed by the indescribable wealth of potential guests at my disposal here in the heart of a university campus.
But possibly the biggest change from 1.0 to 2.0 is that we typically had 6-8 kids attend in Mississippi while we had triple that number at our first get-together in Malibu! That just triples the fun! (But thankfully I have a fantastic assistant/photographer this time around.)
Dr. Seuss reminded us that a person is a person no matter how small, but those of us not directly responsible for such little persons may forget the great benefits that come from investing time in kids. I know that I did. But I’m sure glad to be back in the fun again.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” — Frederick Douglass
PC: Annie Little
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged annie little, children, church of christ, dr seuss, frederick douglass, fyodor dostoyevsky, kids, kids club, malibu, mississippi, ocean springs, ruskin oak
Our youngest daughter started middle school when we moved from Mississippi to Malibu in 2008 and needed certain shots to enroll in school, (make up your own jokes friends from Mississippi and California, but be nice!) so we went to a local urgent-care facility and waited. There in the waiting room I met a super-friendly Pepperdine student who was the incoming president of the College Republicans at Seaver College. He excitedly shared with me his plan to place a large American flag on the magnificent front lawn of Pepperdine University for every life lost in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. He said it was going to be awesome. I was impressed by both his initiative and enthusiasm.
He delivered. The display was such a success that Pepperdine immediately latched on to the idea, and this year marks the tenth consecutive year for the breathtaking “waves of flags” display.
Walking among the flags is an experience in and of itself, not to mention a photographer’s dream in the Age of Instagram, but my favorite thing to do is to watch the first responders and the veterans park their fire trucks and motorcycles on the iconic Pacific Coast Highway and walk up the hill to take in the experience. They are far more inspiring to watch than the flags themselves.
In the early years, someone had the proper idea to place flags of other nations among the American flags to represent the correct nationalities of the victims of the attacks on that fateful day. After all, the attacks were acts of aggression against the entire world. International students and guests to campus are happy to find their flag and yet sobered by the reminder of the loss that flag represents.
We still remember that terrible day. In a year or two, incoming college students will remind us that they were not alive in the fall of 2001, but as of today the flags are still flying and those of us who remember still share our stories.
President Abraham Lincoln predicted that the world would soon forget what he said that historic Thursday afternoon in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, but elementary school children still memorize his speech over 150 years later. Some things are simply unforgettable.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged 9-11, abraham lincoln, college republicans, first responders, flags, gettysburg address, malibu, memories, pacific coast highway, pch, pepperdine, remember, september 11, united states, usa, veterans, waves, waves of flags
It is a big day. My office sits in the heart of Pepperdine University’s main campus in Malibu, and today is the first day of classes for undergraduate students. Next door to my office is Pepperdine’s high-tech, newly-renovated Payson Library complete with a full-functioning Starbucks, and you can feel the highly-caffeinated energy in the air.
My youngest daughter attends a different university that runs on a different calendar, but because she is studying abroad in Spain this semester and her plane is scheduled to touch down right about now it feels like the first day for her, too. It simply feels like a big day at every turn in my world.
Last week had a different feel. I was honored to be invited to attend a retreat high in the San Bernardino Mountains with fifty or sixty rising Pepperdine sophomores as they prepared for a brand new year. It was such a tranquil setting. The view by day featured a beautiful lake and stunning views of the surrounding mountains, and the night featured actual bear sightings and a sky so full of stars that I had to remind myself that it was real.
But I decided to go for a run one afternoon because that is the sort of thing I do, and though stunning, I wouldn’t snag the word “tranquil” to describe it. For one, we were a mile above sea level, and let’s just say that my lungs noticed. For two, although the temperature was nowhere near extreme, maybe it seemed so hot because we were that much closer to the sun. And for three, there was nothing flat in sight. It surely wasn’t my easiest rave run.
We went on this retreat to get away and find focus for the year to come. Peace and tranquility are good for such things, but on reflection I think that difficult run was pretty good preparation, too. In fact, my major take-away on the retreat was that I need to remember how to choose to do without. And that run surely reminded me what it felt like to do without, oh, let’s say, air.
So here we go. The year ahead looks full and awesome and slightly terrifying, but good. I’m ready for it. Let’s run this race.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged bears, california, college, elevation, focus, malibu, payson library, peace, pepperdine, retreat, running, san bernardino mountains, spain, starbucks, stars, study abroad, tranquility
Our church family has long prepared and served periodic meals for the weekly meetings of a local ministry that serves marginalized people in Malibu. After the meal there is a Bible study for those interested in staying, which ends up being a decent number of people. Last week, the message from the ministry leader was part sermon and part motivational speech that encouraged those in attendance to live with courage. I was particularly impressed by the connection he had with the motley audience. It was obvious that they liked him, which I suspect is in large part because he likes them.
At the end there was a short time of prayer — short because it was getting dark and the audience was well aware of when the city bus made its last run through Malibu. As the leader went person to person for short prayer requests, I was stunned to hear that the emphasis of a majority of people was on how thankful they were to God for their blessings.
Marginalized. Poor. Damaged. Broken. Homeless. And thankful.
I got in my car as the sun descended over the Pacific Ocean and drove back to a beautiful home on an immaculate university campus. And as I headed out I drove past this slow line of individuals that will cause citizens to roll up their windows and lock their doors. They were headed to the bus stop. To the beach. To the woods. To God knows where.
I have much to learn from those good souls. The car and the house and the job and the respect of society — none of it is worth very much if I do not live thankfully. To live thankfully regardless of circumstances is a true sign of success regardless of the outside packaging.
I want to see everything there is to see. All of these United States. All the regions of the world. (Well, except Antarctica. If I want to see frozen beauty I will go to the ice cream section of the grocery store.) I can hear all the wonders of the world calling my name. The world is vast and wild and beautiful and alluring, but it turns out there’s an argument to be made for just staying home.
Ronnie and I chased our friend, Brad, for 5.6 miles through Zuma Canyon Trail in the May Gray of Malibu last Saturday morning — and it was good. Good friends. Good run. Good conversation. Good stories and laughter. Beautiful scenery. Gentle trails. Birds and flowers. Pleasant temperatures. A light mist.
And yet I wondered how a runner like me who has lived in Malibu for nine years had never heard of Zuma Canyon Trail until Brad suggested we check it out. What else have I failed to see in my own backyard?
I know that I could never take in all the wonders of this magical planet. Believe me, I did the math. And I know that I could never drink from all the intoxicating wonders of California, or even Los Angeles. But now I am wondering if I could ever exhaust the beautiful secrets of this one little town!
There is value in travel and adventure, but a frantic effort to see and do everything is a fool’s mission. Foolish because it is doomed to failure, but also foolish because you just may miss out on the cleverly disguised magic in your everyday world.
Enjoy the occasional globetrotting adventure if you get the opportunity, but you don’t have to leave home to discover amazing hidden treasures. Take a look around and see for yourself.
We travelers, walking to the sun, can’t see
Ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
That blessed light that yet to us is dark.
– Wendell Berry, Given: Poems 74 (2006).
I first traveled to California ten years ago to attend the 64th Annual Pepperdine Bible Lectures. At the time it seemed possible that it would be my first and only trip to beautiful Malibu (ironically blogging at the time, “I cannot imagine working in this gorgeous setting.”). Life is funny. By the next year, we were planning a crazy cross-country move to Pepperdine for law school with absolutely no idea that we would just stay—and “absolutely” absolutely no idea that I would ever return to full-time ministry. So you can imagine the crazy déjà vu feelings this week when “Lecture Central” took up residence in my office for the 74th Annual Pepperdine Bible Lectures.
Life apparently is analogous to a box of chocolates (all rights reserved).
Life is unpredictable, and if you give me enough time to think about it I can pull my brain muscle. What if we had stayed in Mississippi? What if we had left California? How did we really end up here? Where are we headed now? What’s for lunch?
But you know what? I do know exactly how we got here: One day at a time. And I’m pretty sure that’s how we will get wherever it is we find ourselves ten years from now, too.
Henri Nouwen wrote, “The real enemies of our life are the ‘oughts’ and the ‘ifs.’ They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future. But real life takes place in the here and now.” I’m with Nouwen on this one. I’m not good at it, but I’m with him.
Still, looking back every now and then, as Berry so beautifully described, provides nice motivation for the journey forward.
Posted in Original Essays, Poems
Tagged bible lectures, california, henri nouwen, life, malibu, mississippi, motivation, pepperdine, present, reflection, unpredictable, wendell berry
Our 2008 move from Mississippi to Malibu sounds like a seismic culture shift, but moving from affluent, artsy, coastal Ocean Springs, Mississippi, to affluent, artsy, coastal Malibu was not as mind-blowing as you’d think. Okay, it was mind-blowing, just not as mind-blowing as you’d think.
One of the major differences is simply topographical. Ocean Springs sits on the super flat Mississippi Gulf Coast. Malibu officially sits at sea level, too, but that is only half the picture since the vast ocean spectacularly combines with equally stunning mountains. The views we are privileged to enjoy on the Pepperdine campus are ridiculous, and quite often we awaken to see that we are actually above the clouds. It is like a flight with adequate leg room and spacious bathroom facilities.
Recently, on such a morning, I drove from Sunshine Mountain down into the murky clouds for a beachside run along Malibu Road. It is one of my favorite runs because it is nearby, flat, quiet, and scenic, but it isn’t quite as scenic on mornings when the clouds decide to take a nap on the surface of the planet. Despite the cloud cover, I took off with eyes wide open since I have developed a habit of memorializing each morning run with a photograph. It was a challenge. The crashing waves were pretty great in the fog, but not so much for my increasingly outdated iPhone camera, and the horizon was simply nowhere to be seen.
And then I noticed the flowers. The reds and purples, the yellows and lavenders, all nestled in a setting of green and white, almost shy and hiding in the morning fog.
Life lessons exploded from the haze like the colorful flowers. For starters, when life descends into a fog, remember to look for the beauty that is ever present. But also, when life floats in the sunshine above the gray clouds, remember to go to the trouble of joining the world struggling through the smothering gloom. It would be tragic to miss out on the stunning grace that can be found in the obscurity.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged beauty, clouds, flowers, fog, grace, gulf coast, life, malibu, mississippi, ocean springs, pepperdine