Tag Archives: oscar mondragon

Jesus, Malibu, and the Immigrant

8592897_origOn 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)

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Willing to Talk

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The results of the presidential election prompted me to visit my friend, Oscar, at the Malibu Community Labor Exchange last weekend.  For over two decades, Oscar has directed the day labor hiring site day after day, week after week, year after year.  He is a personal friend and hero.  I went to see Oscar because I wondered how the day laborers were reacting to the news, but to be candid, Oscar is such a man of peace and wisdom that I anticipated the visit would be good for me, too.  I miscalculated the election itself, but at least I got that one right.

Oscar was a Cesar Chavez apprentice back in the day and traveled with Cesar to all sorts of interesting places and situations.  It was fascinating to hear him make connections between then and now.  As the world remembers, Cesar’s activism was strong yet nonviolent and eternally optimistic.  Si, se puede!  I think we all need a good helping of strong, nonviolent optimism right now.

As we visited, Oscar recalled times when Cesar was criticized for meeting with government officials who were seen as his direct enemies.  Many supporters of the farm workers could not even bring themselves to say the names of those opposition leaders and could hardly stomach witnessing Cesar shake hands, pose for pictures, and sit in conversation with people they believed to be evil.  Cesar was willing to talk with them anyway.  Oscar explained Cesar’s approach: On behalf of others, he was always willing to talk with anyone to advance the cause regardless of his personal feelings or the reaction it generated.

It is far too easy to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals and forego the arduous task of seeking to engage and understand those in opposition, but we will only move forward if we are willing to talk to each other.  That, my friends, requires us to put the needs of others ahead of our own and even risk ridicule from our own people.

Thanks to Cesar for living this out.  Thanks to Oscar for reminding me.

Si, se puede!

Choose a Place

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The world is apparently falling apart, but don’t give up on it. This thought occurred to me last Saturday over a wonderful meal.

The best meal in Malibu last Saturday was served at the Malibu Community Labor Exchange Holiday Party. I know from firsthand eating. The buffet included tamales, ham, turkey, chicken, enchiladas, sweet potatoes, corn casserole, salads, muffins, and on and on and on. It was like Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners made sweet love one to another and out popped Heaven.

This is the fifth consecutive year that my wife led the party preparations—and she is awesome—but many people prepared, cooked, cleaned, gave, and otherwise pitched in to pull it off, which reminds me of the Labor Exchange itself.

Though not in the travel guides, the Labor Exchange is one cool place. It was created by the Malibu community over two decades ago as a safe and organized (and free) place to hire day laborers. It is a place where everyone is welcome, which attracts men and women from all over the world with impressive skills, interesting life stories, and colorful personalities. Oscar Mondragon is the legendary Center Director and one of my personal heroes. Oscar worked closely with Cesar Chavez prior to joining the Labor Exchange in 1993, and for twenty-two years, six days a week, he has served countless individuals by enforcing community standards, sharing wisdom, and simply caring for all who show up.

Author, Shane Claiborne, once was asked by several enamored college students to identify the greatest cause of their time. Claiborne told them not to choose a cause but to choose people and that the causes will choose themselves. I like that so much I have repeated it a hundred times, although it isn’t exactly how I discovered the Labor Exchange. There have been several “causes” in my life such as children’s issues and housing/homelessness, but instead of choosing a cause or people, I have typically been drawn toward what was happening in my backyard—“local justice” as my friend, Jeff, calls it.

Enter the Labor Exchange. It wasn’t the plight of day laborers that initially drew us in; instead, some folks were taking sack lunches each month and we just joined the crew. Before long, however, through getting to know Oscar and meeting the fascinating workers, we became part of the family.

What I like most about the Labor Exchange is that it is a place. There are lots of terrific causes in this world that deserve attention, but there are far too few places to go in a community where everyone is welcome regardless of, well, anything. See if you can find one where you live, and if you do, don’t be a stranger.

I guess that’s my humble modification to Claiborne’s good advice: Choose a place outside of your particular box, meet the people there, and the causes will choose themselves.