Abolishing ICE

Victor Chininin Buele

Should you read the opinion of somebody who grew up being afraid of the INS (now ICE)? Should you read the opinion of somebody whose blood pressure goes up a bit and starts sweating when he drives by the ICE office downtown St. Louis even though he doesn’t need to go in?  Stories matter, right?  Well, you should read.  Let me tell you why.

I am up at 4:30 AM on a Saturday morning. Why? That should be clear to you by the end of your reading.  But I digress.

La Migra has been part of many horrendous stories in my life.  There always was a story down in Ecuador from a friend or a relative of somebody who had a bad encounter with this institution while they were crossing the Río Grande illegally to go to the United States.  You know the media.  In Ecuador, for decades we’ve been seeing stories like the ones that have recently made you aware of abuses.  And the headlines were always horrible: people shot, murdered, imprisoned, mistreated, killed in the desert.  But like every other person, I grew up thinking, “Well, that may be true, but it won’t happen to me.”

By the grace of God, I never had to leave it all behind and turn myself over to a coyote to carry me through the mountains and valleys, deserts and jungles of the Americas.  Instead, I boarded Continental Airlines flight 750 from Quito to Houston.  I was greeted by an INS officer who lawfully admitted me.

But lawful doesn’t mean easy.

I grew up in the mountains.  First, I needed to go to the coast city of Guayaquil for the most intimidating interview of my life at the U.S. Consulate General. That in itself was the first hardship.  Have you ever tried wearing a long sleeve shirt in Guayaquil? Everything from the security guard to the consular officer was off.  This was the beginning of my encounters with the complete opposite of U.S. justice.  You see, this side of the border you are innocent until proven guilty.  The O.J. Simpsons of the world get to be justified.  Those who can hire an expensive attorney to find reasonable doubt in what a police officer has clearly seen was a murder can go free.  The other side of an encounter with ICE or a consular officer is a very intimidating place.  You are guilty until proven innocent, and innocence is measured at the discretion of the officer.  You are assumed to be lying about your intentions to travel to, remain, and leave the United States unless you can convince the officer that you are telling the truth.  I would travel with every possible document I could think of for years — employment letters, bank records, tax returns, work products, school official letters, a copy of my college degree, property title of my house in Ecuador, college transcript, grades.  In retrospective, I can see such was the fear of running into an odd situation.  But it happened anyway.

One day I was almost sent to secondary inspection for failing to answer a question satisfactorily.  The very important question was, “What is your favorite video game?” I am a musician.  I am a amateur theologian.  Just because I have a computer science degree and a job related to software, it doesn’t mean I know what video games are popular or that I play them or that I enjoy them.  I had no answer, and the officer immediately changed the interview at the port of entry.  Something didn’t add up in his case: a computer guy who doesn’t play video games.

One day one my dearest friends came to my dorm in college knocking and shouting, “La Migra, La Migra,” and I was on the phone with my mother.  We both got a very big scare.  We can laugh now, but the idea of the INS coming to my home was not something that would have surprised me.

Until very recently my social security card bore the inscription in all caps, “VALID FOR EMPLOYMENT ONLY WITH INS AUTHORIZATION.”  You see, the INS and I go way back!  It’s ingrained in my mind.  Every time I write down my social security number I visualize that.

One day, the INS changed my priority date (and the priority date of thousands of fellow permanent residency applicants) by mistake.  It was around my birthday in 2007.  I rushed to file the paperwork required for my application to continue to move forward only to receive on my birthday the news that it had all been a mistake.  A bad April Fools’ joke of sorts.  Take your expenses, eat them, and get back in line.  Thankfully, there was a class-action lawsuit, the court saw the harm caused, and we were allowed to keep that date and move forward.  But it made for a very sad birthday–kind of like you taking away from your child whatever special toy you just gave them for their birthday.

Then there was the time that USCIS (the name has changed over the years) turned me into an undocumented immigrant thanks to the combination of a lawyer’s incompetence and bureaucratic backlog.  I had my papers ready six months ahead of an H1B renewal, but this lawyer refused to file them then.  He kept saying that his office had more important cases, and that he would file by the required date.  And that it didn’t matter that USCIS was taking 3-6 months to process this type of an application because I had a built-in grace period.  For fifteen days, I was in that fun and exciting legal limbo.  I couldn’t work.  I had no paycheck.  I couldn’t travel.  My wife and I visited the USCIS office downtown, and she came in, brightly smiling and carefree.  She couldn’t understand why I was so afraid to go in.  She assumed the best of the U.S. government.  When we crossed the doors into that sterile environment and we encountered the officer who would be answering our questions, my wife understood the reason for my fears.  This wonderful civil employee held in her hands everything she needed to send me to detention and initiate deportation procedures.  The sad thing I saw that day was that nobody could tell us where my case was, what its status was, how long it was going to take, and when I could return back to work.  I am a technology worker!  These should be very simple questions to be answered from a network of computer systems.

And then, there was my wonderful citizenship interview.  I know that many people have a truly wonderful experience.  But mine was a very strange grilling that ranged from scary to offensive, from condescending to reassuring.  It was way weird.

Thanks for getting through that.  I’m getting to the point now.

These are my horror stories.  In the process, the INS/USCIS/ICE did a number of things that are worthy of affirmation: they did their best to ensure I wasn’t a dangerous criminal, that I didn’t have a disease that would have been a public health risk to the U.S. (though it would have made more sense to do this before I came rather than 7 years after I was admitted at the port of entry), that I had all the proper documentation to work.

I was so terrified of them that when I was married, I chose to remain under my own ongoing immigration processes rather than submit my wife to ICE questioning about the authenticity of our marriage. Sure, I’m a prideful person and wanted to do it all on my own and not need to depend on my wife.  Let’s keep it honest.

I have a choice at this point.  My horror stories (and it’s always easy to just focus on the horror stories) can be found to be consistent with the overall narrative of today.  I could take my Saturday and go to a park or go outside of the ICE office downtown and bring a #AbolishICE sign.

Or I could take the time to speak about institutions and our allergy to them.

Change is needed.  That’s for sure.  We are thirty years late to the conversation, but hey, let’s talk.  We all have blood in our hands.  This is one of the most uncomfortable truths to hear in America today.  We all have blood in our hands.  We all have a part on this immigration debacle.  Or you mean to tell me you’ve never bought a tomato in the winter or a suspiciously cheap batch of strawberries?  That you haven’t sat in a toilet cleaned by somebody with my skin color or that you haven’t hired a white man to do a construction job only to find somebody with my skin color show up at your door and do his best to tell you in English what he’s come to do and to find out what he needs to know before getting busy delivering somebody else’s promise?  The conditions have worsened over the years reaching this tipping point.  I am not minimizing anyone’s role in this – President Trump, his administration, Congress, corporations, lobbyists, consumers.

Abolishing ICE is a very interesting reaction to all of this.  There are a lot of things that this institution accomplishes.  And people may not have taken the time to think through them.  This is a question that never gets asked, “What are the implications of what I am proposing?”  We focus a lot on the feelings that we suspect taking this approach will result in, but we don’t think things through all the way.  Have you really considered the chaos that would come?

I am not an ICE fan, obviously.  But I am not going to call for ICE to be abolished.  Reformation is needed, that is for sure.  I will focus only on one simple idea, what if we applied the same standard of justice that we apply this side of the border?  What if we assumed a person was innocent unless proven guilty?  What if we assumed that a person is not a liar to begin with?  I have some theological issues with my own idea that I would be happy to discuss some other time, but if I am picking out one thing to start the conversation, this would be the start.  Not because this is necessarily an implementable idea, but because it would help us see how people end up thinking things like stereotypes of “sleazy Mexicans.”  Our government has been calling immigrants liars forever.  Can you imagine how the treatment of an applicant would change if we were not thought of as deceivers to begin with?

Why am I up at 4:30 AM?  Because the Church matters.  I have a lot of work I need to do today to love and serve the church well.  I would really like to go back to bed, but I can’t.  The Church is my focus today.  Wait, why are you talking about this?  Did you go crazy?

Because it should not be surprising to us that people talk about abolishing ICE when they’ve abolished the Church in their minds for so long.  Whether the reader is Christian or not, Christ is King.  And He gave the Church authority.  The reformers of old knew that the church would need constant reform (always reforming) because we are sinners.  The institution of the Church is given by grace to sinners.  Will sinners abuse authority?  Obviously so.  Will sinners sin?  Obviously so.  Does that abolish the institution established with the authority of Christ?  Absolutely not.  Should this drive sinners to work to earnestly seek her care, reform, and beautification?  Absolutely.

The discussion about abolishing ICE is just one more way our culture is showing our conflicted views on institutions.  We think they can save us.  We think they are the problem.  Neither is right.  Neither salvation nor the solution to our problems will come with/from/without an institution.  But they are also not the entire problem.  Can you imagine the power that would come from a right relationship with Christ and His Church?  Yes, there will always be a separation of Church and State.  We don’t want to marginalize those who haven’t come to know Christ yet.  But when are we going to see the truth that religion and politics don’t separate?  Our religion determines our politics, whether we call ourselves secularists, atheists, Christians, Muslims, … It is always somebody’s morality that is being legislated.

What would happen if you would stop holding every institution guilty until proven innocent?  What if you would do that for the Church?  If you would dethrone yourself from your high place and would assume the Church is innocent of the evils ascribed to her and not properly ascribed to sinners within her?  What if you would drive down I-35 or I-435 this Sunday if you lived in Kansas City and you’d come spend a couple of hours with us and see what it’s all about?  Come see us: kcprovidence.org.  Or just come see an old friend you haven’t seen for a while.  You may get a free lunch out of it.  Just saying.

Hablemos de la Famosa Revocatoria

Victor Chininin Buele

Conciudadanas y conciudadanos lojanos,

¿Qué hemos hecho?

Por más interesante que sea aquella conversación, lo hecho, hecho está.  ¿Por qué digo «qué hemos hecho»? Porque tal es la implicación de la democracia.  No puedo decir lo que esos hicieron, lo que algunitos hicieron.  Loja se ha pronunciado.  Es nuestra realidad.  Loja somos todos.

Razones existen para no querer al Dr. Castillo.  Algunas de ellas han afectado personalmente a personas que quiero con todo mi corazón–a familiares, a hermanos y hermanas en la fe.  He sentido la traición.  Pero cualquier ser humano que observó lo que le ocurrió a nuestra querida Loja durante los años en los que el burgomaestre fue cambiado por decisión popular no puede tapar el sol con un dedo.  No quiero hablar del ingeniero Bailón tampoco de una manera denigrante.  Fue la autoridad que elegimos.  Baches y desorden, Ciudad Victoria y todo.  La democracia es así.  Para eso existen las elecciones: para la alternabilidad, para el cambio, o para la confirmación de la confianza del pueblo.

Razones existen para agradecer a Dios por la obra del Dr. Castillo y sería algo inaudito y una muestra de una gran falta de educación ignorar lo que ha ocurrido en Loja desde aquel principio de esta aventura en el año 1988 y ser mal agradecidos.  Loja ha sido administrada por él en los períodos 1988-1992, 1996-2000, 2000-2005 y ahora desde el 2014.  No se puede separar a Loja del Dr. Castillo.  Las flores y el césped tienden a desparecer cuando él no está en el sillón de la José Antonio Eguiguren.  Jipiro se vuelve igualito a la selva amazónica.

Quiero insertar una variable importantísma y ampliamante ignorada al diálogo de las semanas venideras.

La gran mayoría de las quejas se fundamentan en alegatos de tiranía, mala administración, abuso, violencia e injusticia por parte del Dr. José Bolívar Castillo Vivanco.

Recuerdo aquél día en que volvíamos a Loja con mi abuelita a pie por la calle 10 de Agosto y vimos que el hogar de las ratitas domésticas, también conocido en aquel entonces como el Mercado Central, estaba siendo demolido.  Hay muchos lojanos que hoy pueden votar que nunca conocieron este monumento a la salud pública en pleno centro de la urbe. Es obvio que soluciones ingeniosas como estas han ocurrido y que las multas nos han hecho pintar las casas y pretender que nos vamos a portar bien y no exceder el límite de velocidad siempre y cuando nos digan exactamente en qué cuadra hay que reducir la velocidad, que nos han hecho poner la banderita afuera de la casa en los días cívicos y barrer un poquito.

La variable que quiero introducir es una interrogante–asumiendo que es verdad, que el Dr. Castillo se valió de acciones que eran o parecían ser tiranía, abuso, violencia e injusticia, ¿por qué fueron necesarias tales acciones?

¿Qué parte de la culpabilidad la tenemos nosotros como ciudadanos?

¿Por qué nos oponíamos a quitar los letreros de la vía pública que hacían que Loja se vea tan pero tan fea?

¿Por qué nos oponíamos a los cambios necesarios para que no tengamos que ver y oler las heces fecales saliendo de esos tubos viejísimos a unirse a la trayectoria de los dos jugetones riachuelos?

¿Por qué nos oponíamos a la limpieza de los mercados? ¿Por qué nos oponíamos a que haya orden en la ciudad?

¿Sería porque nunca queríamos ver más allá de nuestras narices?  Y después que toditos se hicieron la rinoplastia hasta más chiquita quedó aquella distancia.

¿Sería que nuestra naturaleza lojana se opone al cambio a toda costa? ¿Que se deleita en el mal del prójimo? ¿Que envidia al que surge y busca mejorar la calidad de vida de los lojanos? ¿Que se opone a todo lo que pueda tener efectos positivos a largo plazo?  ¿Que no quiere escuchar que el cambio es posible?

Claro, que han habido cosas como la última cantinflada de las Carabelas y la pobre abuelita en su casita.  No todo es color de rosa.

Pero no dejemos que este momento histórico se nos vaya sin preguntarnos…

¿Por qué fue necesario que él nos administre de esa manera por casi veinte años?

¿Por qué es que cada vez que el próximo héroe se asoma, sea Reyes o Bailón, todito se daña vuelta?

No me sorprende esto a mi en lo absoluto ya que todos hemos utilizado la revocatoria de la autoridad más fundamental de todas, aquélla de la que provienen todas las otras autoridades, y nos hemos aprovechado de ella para buscar nuestros propios intereses sin pensar mucho en los demás.

Es hora, lojanos, de dejar de estar envidando al que ha intentado hacer el bien.

Es hora, lojanos, de deshacernos del odio.

Es hora, lojanos, de en verdad tener la frente en sudor empapada.

Y con ella, solamente inclinarse ante Dios.

Necesitamos la Regeneración Verdadera.

Aquella del corazón.  Y al que esté con curiosidad, me lo indica por favor.  Les dejo con un aperitivo de lo que se necesita para la Regeneración Verdadera:

No hagan nada por egoísmo (rivalidad) o por vanagloria, sino que con actitud humilde cada uno de ustedes considere al otro como más importante que a sí mismo, no buscando cada uno sus propios intereses, sino más bien los intereses de los demás.

Haya, pues, en ustedes esta actitud (esta manera de pensar) que hubo también en Cristo Jesús, el cual, aunque existía en forma de Dios, no consideró el ser igual a Dios como algo a qué aferrarse, sino que Se despojó a sí mismo tomando forma de siervo, haciéndose semejante a los hombres. Y hallándose en forma de hombre, se humilló El mismo, haciéndose obediente hasta la muerte, y muerte de cruz. Por lo cual Dios también Lo exaltó hasta lo sumo, y Le confirió el nombre que es sobre todo nombre, 10 para que al nombre de Jesús se doble toda rodilla de los que están en el cielo, y en la tierra, y debajo de la tierra,11 y toda lengua confiese que Jesucristo es Señor, para gloria de Dios Padre.

Change

Víctor Chininin Buele

My wife asked, “What really is your position on this?” And ended with asking me to think about how I had made a case for us to storm the gates of the foster care system and rescue as many children as possible.

You see, doing theology is dangerous. It always brings you to confrontation with your idols.

Why are we so easily lured by somebody promising us change? Why are we so easily misguided to put away in a drawer things like logic, truth, beauty, faith, the gospel, when there seems to be a faster, more attractive way to get what I want?

Why is it that we are vociferously loud when it comes to somebody else doing the work? Why is it that when it goes beyond social media outrage (a dear friend said medium-rage earlier I suspect as a way to point out how outrage is so common now that it may mean nothing anymore) and letter writing all causes seem to die out a few days after the critical mass point of media attention?

I remember crying listening to then Senator Obama promising me the New Jerusalem in the United States during that eloquent DNC speech. It didn’t come to pass. We left those years more divided than before.

But I know better than to just blame President Obama for it.

Let’s face it.

We are a nation of idolaters who have bought their way out of acknowledging and feeling the right judgment for our idolatry for a long, long time with mansions, booze, money, entertainment, pills, weed, meth, abortion on demand, pornography, fits of rage, anger, self-worship, shopping malls, work, hobbies, mistresses, smart phones, self-indulgent media consumption, racism, classism, all inclusive resorts.

We will do what it takes to silence our conscience when things come close to the idol we worship above God.

Trump didn’t create this. He has used it all. I can’t figure out if it’s all done masterfully as some would like to give him credit for–as a master genius who saw things that we as a nation were too drunk or high to see and used them to seek the world’s biggest playground fight win over Obama. Or if he is just so unintelligent and so driven by primary instinct and emotions that everything becomes a bargaining chip in his plot to “keep on winning.” But as it often ends when I go down this road, I realize that it does not matter.

What matters then?

Hearing the cries of children caged at the southern border and away from their parents reaches deep into our hangover and stupor. Processing that it is all used for political purposes by those in Washington, that aptly called swamp people were promised would be drained, and for corporate gain by those who know just how to package it and dice it so that they can rightly place us in the right category by means of algorithms for special interests to target us… and pay them money to do so… it reaches deep into the slumber and reminds us:

This must be what judgment is.

And we are under it.

Many questions have come as I’ve processed this:

What about the silent and not so silent cries of the children we’ve left behind because a younger woman had a bigger rack or a nicer pair of legs without cellulite? Or one that doesn’t nag as much?

What about the silent and not so silent cries of the children we’ve left behind because of spousal abuse and neglect?

What about the silent and not so silent cries of the children we have abused when we have stolen authority and exerted it in harmful ways over those we are called to protect?

What about the silent and not so silent cries of the children who have been taught for decades that the world revolves around them, that truth is relative, and that they need to think of themselves as more significant than anyone else when they finally see it was all a farce–that the man with the orange skin has proven fairly easily that truth is absolute after all, that there are others out there who need us, and that humility is thinking of others as more significant than ourselves?

What about the silent and not so silent cries of the children who need a calculator to add 11 + 11 who are obviously going to be ill-equipped to compete in a global economy?

What about the silent and not so silent cries of the children being fed Starbursts and Kool Aid in our inner cities or in places where a fresh vegetable is as rare an occurrence as a father at the head of the dining room table?

What about the silent and not so silent cries of the children who are being transported across Central America and the Southern desert in the United States by parents, coyotes, or abusers who cannot possibly carry the water and food needed for a child not to suffer thirst and hunger?

What about the silent and not so silent cries of the children who starve in the countries to our south where the political, economical, and social structures are far from ideal?

What about the silent and not so silent cries of the children in the Ecuadorian Andes who grew up without a father because he left to pick fruit, clean toilets, lay concrete, wash dishes, roof houses in the United States?

What about the silent cries of the children violently ripped away from what ought to be the safest place for them to grow and thrive, their mother’s womb?

What about the silent and not so silent cries of the children who are in the foster care system?

What about the silent and not so silent cries of the children whose parents can’t afford health care or make a living wage to support them?

What about the not so silent cries of the children being born addicted to drugs all over America today?

You see? Judgment stings.

It feels monumentally impossible to do anything about it.

That’s why we believe Obama and Trump and the ones before them and the ones who will come after them.

What shall we do?

Believe the gospel and repent. We need Jesus.

We need to know that Christ came into the world to save sinners. That we have obviously sinned in horrendous ways. That there will be no amount of money, activism, or outrage that will unite us back to our Father.

We are the children in the cage. We need the Good Shepherd to unlock the cage and set us free.

Do you want to see? Do you want to change? Open your eyes. You are the child the media is showing you. Open your ears. Those are the cries of your soul longing for your Father.

Fed Up With “Thoughts and Prayers”? I’m Glad!

Victor Chininin Buele

We develop these platitudes that mean nothing. Let’s be honest. We want to be nice or to comfort somebody, but we have no clue whatsoever about what we should say or do. It happens. We are fallen humans.

Every time a mass shooting has happened, I observe my friends growing more and more fed up with the standard “thoughts and prayer” response. You may assume that I would say that being fed up with that is wrong. I’m actually quite glad this is happening. But obviously, most likely this is not for the reasons you think. It is not wrong to see another mass shooting and say, “Hey, these ‘thoughts and prayers’ thing is a bill of goods.”

Thoughts. For many years now, Americans have lived this practical theology of wishful thinking, or the power of positive thinking. We have at the White House a representative of this. We’ve started to see the folly of this notion that we can wish things with our thinking. That if we speak positively into our life things will happen. That our words have power to create reality. You can see that because Trump says something is the largest inauguration crowd in history doesn’t change the fact that it wasn’t. We can’t change reality with our thoughts.  Three hundred million people thinking that massive shootings need to stop has not changed the reality that these things keep happening.  Thinking about something is not enough.

Prayers. This is a perfect storm. In our secularist society, it is intellectually suspect to think that God exists. Even if you do think that God exists, it is almost a necessary conclusion to think that he is useless and powerless or bad. Then, when this narrative comes back to the news cycle—people say that they pray, and the shootings keep happening—our suspicions appear to be confirmed. There is no God. Or prayers are useless. What a big effin’ waste of time.

—So, Mr. Theologian Aficionado, what are you trying to get at? That you also believe that God is puny? Are you ready to come to your senses and step into the light, forsaking your dogmatic infancy of believing in God at all?

Not at all.

I would instead ask you, “Can’t you see that we are getting closer and closer to the moment where prayer for national repentance is the only way forward?”

Allow me to explain myself.

There is another possible conclusion here. We are not thinking the right thoughts to prompt us to the right actions through righteous prayer. That would also explain why “thoughts and prayers” have not resulted in an end to mass shootings.

We think too highly of ourselves. An underlying assumption to all the discussion about mass shootings goes around the idea that if there were the right controls and legislation, shootings wouldn’t happen. Cain killed his brother with a very low tech weapon. It’s part of our fallen nature. Jesus said that it is not just murder that is sin, but that which is just as much murder as murder itself—anger. My “losing it” at a poor clerk who has to inform me that a flight has been cancelled is just as sinful as the grabbing of an automated weapon to murder her. Both are reprehensible in the sight of a holy God. We must, therefore, spend our lives working on ways to govern life in this fallen world as to preserve life knowing full well that no matter what degree of deterrents are put in place, we have murderous hearts inside of us. We quarrel and fight, and that in due time arises to murder.  Whether it’s flipping the middle finger at the guy who cut you off (perhaps by accident) or by pushing him off the bridge with your car. This does not mean that we should not pursue deterrents and that we should not have vigorous discussion about what deterrents have the potential to save the most lives. We just can’t leave the discussion at that, thinking that legislation can change the human heart.

We don’t really pray. When people say, “You are in my thoughts and prayers,” most likely they walk away and never pray for you. Why do I say that? Because I’m a judgmental jerk? Not entirely. Because I know my weakness. I have to have lists of things I’m praying for because otherwise I’ll forget about them. I’m a weak human with a weak mind. I need lots of reminders. My prayers are often derailed by the smallest distractions. And that’s for the stuff I’m aware I need to be praying for. I wasn’t praying for Broward County, Florida, yesterday, or the day before, or even when I was working in Ft. Lauderdale several years ago, or when I was driving around the county looking for a wheelchair for my grandmother. I’m not that good of a person. And I’m a finite person.

We have this “I’m in the doghouse, save me,” theology of prayer.  We pray when we are in trouble. We don’t seem to really be much for prayer when things are going well.  A few years ago, our van started shaking up to about 50 mph. I remember that I had never been more aware in my life about the wonder of God allowing such a machine to move one revolution of the tires. I remember the wonder of praying and giving thanks for every rotation of the tires. All of a sudden, every mile was filled with miracles. Were the miracles not there before? I was just foolish to suppress my acknowledgement of them and my thanksgiving for them. When my mechanic fixed it, it didn’t take long for things to go back to the way they were before. Soon enough I wasn’t thanking God for holding this thing together when performing miraculous trips down I-70. We must have a more expansive theology of prayer.

If we don’t get what we want, we conclude that prayer does not workWhat do you want? Do you want people to stop shooting others? I suspect yes. Have you given thanks for the family who welcomed this broken human being who held the gun in this incident? They welcomed this troubled young man after he lost even his mother. Have you considered praying for them? I can’t quite relate to the type of hurt they may be going through right now.  Do you want peace and harmony? Do you want safety? Do you want to be able to send your child to school and not feel like your treasure could be snatched away from you at any moment?

What do you want?

I want people to be convicted of their sin, to repent of it, and to turn to the Lord. We are all murderers, or do you presume to tell me that you have never sinned against anyone in your anger? I once had a terrible manager. This man was worse than the pointed-hair boss from Dilbert. My wife was in terrible pain, and he demanded that I be in his office immediately regardless of the difficult time we were going through. That day I had a clear choice. Would I look at this man and do what my flesh wanted? Would I murder this man in my heart and see my every subsequent day destroyed and tainted by my hatred and the grudges I was holding against him? Or would I pray for this man, as Jesus taught me to do? Would I pray for this man and bless him? Not just say a blessing upon him but actually bless him? Do my best work for him? Treat him with utmost respect? This changed my heart about him over time. I can look at him in the eye now and have no hatred of him. That was not ME, that was the work of God in me. Imagine the implications of national repentance! Imagine if our sad divisions do indeed cease. You are right about something, platitudes, empty thinking, and pretend prayers won’t get us there.  But prayers of repentance, prayers that push aside the sin that has eaten away so much good from our lives, families, homes, neighborhoods, schools, places of business, churches, cities, states…

I want people who seek God’s wisdom and guidance for all of life. What is God’s best for us to discern for how to best protect life this side of eternity? How do we genuinely care for those in the fringes? How do we care for those with depression and anxiety? How do we care for those who return from serving this nation with profound brokenness? How do we care for those struggling with mental illnesses? How do we care for the practical orphans raised in this culture of broken promises and broken families?

I want us to understand that there is a gospel that is more powerful than behavior modification.  If we seek to change our behavior, sooner or later we will crack, and our final lash will be worse than any of the little lashes.  Only the gospel has the power to arrest our mind, our soul, our heart, our lives, and to push us upward through the process.  Have you ever genuinely been in a true Christian community? If God has gifted you with that privilege you will know what I’m talking about.  There is a mingling of souls that could never come together apart from the Spirit of God rescuing them from their filth and binding them together into the image of Christ.

America, we can mourn together. We can grow together. We can understand one another. We can pray together. We can think together.

Think what you ask? “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8 ESV)

I’m glad you’re done with the platitude of “thoughts and prayers.”

Will you repent? Change has to start somewhere.  Let it start with you.

Love Is The Only Way: The Death of Storytelling in the Twenty-First Century

Victor Chininin Buele

My wife and I were invited to a screening of Paul, Apostle of Christ.  I walked away from the movie deeply saddened. There are a ton of thoughts I have about the movie, but the one that is most important is the death of storytelling in the twenty-first century.  With The Fate of the Furious and Toy Story 4 and every possible franchise coming to a similar predicament, I find myself more and more frustrated by movies.  We have lost storytelling.

I would not recommend the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ at all.  It fails to tell the story.  I understand that you have to build screenplays and more “robust” stories to keep an audience’s attention.  I understand that there are 10,000 details that are not present in the pages of scripture.  We don’t know what clothes Paul wore, we don’t know the physical details of the jail where he was, we don’t really know Aquilla and Priscilla.  Pictures were not included.

So, there is a lot of room for the imagination.  And that’s fine.  And understood.  My commentary does not come from that.  Creativity must be exercised when trying to bring a story from the page to the big screen.

My commentary relates to bad storytelling.

What we do know is that Paul died preaching the gospel he once opposed.  Paul died proclaiming the Messiah he had once persecuted.  He died because he believed that God sent His Son Jesus Christ to become a man, to live a perfect life, to die a brutal death, to rise three days later, and to be raised up in glory.  He died because he proclaimed his witness of this message throughout the Ancient World.  He died because his Spirit-given boldness could not be silenced.  He died with a certainty that he had finished the race.  He died without fear of not being accepted by Christ.

The Paul portrayed in this movie was not the man I have admired, respected, hated at times, been instructed by, been convicted by.  The Paul portrayed in this movie was not the Paul that wrote the words that were put at times in the mouth of the actor.  The Paul of this movie dispensed wishy-washy Oprah advice to a suffering people.  The words of the Paul of this movie (or the lack of words) brought about division, anxiety, fear, and death, rather than the comfort and peace that the words of Paul in Scripture bring to us even today.

**SPOILER**
Paul is in prison in the movie, and the Roman prefect in charge of the prison has a daughter.  This girl is dying.  The prefect obeys all the rituals to the gods and goddesses to ensure his girl would live.  He is having marital problems because his wife blames him for their girl’s illness saying he is angering the gods by being a little lenient with Paul and Luke (who in this movie sneaked in the prison to write the Acts of the Apostles from Paul’s stories).  As anyone could predict, eventually the illness gets so bad that the prefect calls for Luke.  Luke comes and the girl is healed.  All the Christians end up praying for the girl.  The girl goes from being dead to being radiant.  So, this gets Paul some time alone with the prefect under the sun.  The Paul of the Bible would have been gracious, humble, and bold to proclaim the gospel to this prefect.  Acts 26 comes to mind and his defense portrayed there before King Agrippa.  The Paul of this movie gave a somewhat decent metaphor about water that I predict will be used in many sermons in the years to come.  Then he said a couple of platitudes.  A sentence of comedy relief.  He said, “I’m not trying to convince you.”  The whole theater laughed.  I don’t think Paul would have laughed at that.  In verse 28, Agrippa asks Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” Paul responds in verse 29, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am–except for these chains.”  Paul was most definitely trying to convince Agrippa.

Sure, you can argue that you don’t want to alienate people who want to watch the movie for entertainment purposes.  You can argue that you are building a bridge.  You can argue a lot of things.  But make up a story for that.  Put the words you want in the mouth of a police officer or a football player or a firefighter.  If you are going to take the life of a man from the pages of Scripture whose life is a manifestation of human weakness magnifying the power of God, tell the story.  Add your art.  Add your music.  Add extra-scriptural details.  But don’t change the character of the man.

Summarizing the theology of Paul as “Love is the only way” falls far short.  While I was thankful for the glimpses of the tragic persecution our forefathers faced and for the reminder of the blood that was spilled to guard the treasure that we now get to buy and carry and read and share freely, the portrayal of Christians as belligerent, vengeful, and defeated left me pondering the consequences of storytelling like this.  People who have never read the Bible and people who may never read the Bible and people who read the Bible can take bits and pieces of this and strengthen what they want to hear instead of sound doctrine.  That would have grieved Paul gravely.  Yes, the story arc of Luke having to overcome the temptation to not seek to heal the daughter of the prefect, even as many brothers and sisters were being thrown to the beasts at the Coliseum, is an important one.  The triumph of love over hate.  The triumph of love over abuse and violence.

But the movie never defined the source of this Love.  Yes, there is 1 Corinthians 13.  But that Love, that Love needs to be defined.  We can’t leave it to the imagination or to whatever feels right to us in the moment

The movie was left with these empty pockets for you to fill in with whatever makes it work for you.  I was really confused to hear pastors speak of the prefect’s conversion.  The prefect never proclaimed Christ as Lord.  He stood by as Paul was killed.  We saw a bit of a happy ending in this life for the prefect and his family, but we weren’t told anything.

They had Paul speak parts of his epistles as he would move through the movie.

We keep doing violence to storytelling when we take our view of the world and our feelings and our agenda into stories from the past.  We need to let stories be the stories they are.  We don’t get to rewrite history.  The subject of the married life of Aquila and Priscilla as portrayed in the picture is highly anachronistic and Scripturally suspect. That can be a conversation for another time.

The biggest disappointment of this movie was that the gospel was never proclaimed.  There is not a letter of Paul that does not proclaim the gospel.  This was clearly a case of bad storytelling.

It was so strange to walk into a movie theater and see you’re being (1) manipulated (constant repetition of “Love is the only way”), and (2) treated as a gullible demographic.  Because actor x is in a movie you all went crazy about years ago, we are sure you’re going to love this movie.  Because it barely touches upon the Bible, we are certain you are all going to come in and hand over your money, bring your friends and all.  People were clapping in the end.  People laughed at the comedy relief thrown sporadically.  People left ready to bring their churches in to watch this.  It’s been released right before Easter so I’m sure many will think this is the next big thing that will bring the world to the gospel.

But when we step back, we find that the most wonderful story, the one that our souls long for, and the only story that makes sense of our existence was never mentioned.

The trailer mentioned this, but it wasn’t in the movie:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:15–17 ESV)

Revisiting Presuppositions Always Pays Off

Victor Chininin Buele

Before moving on to the second installment on the series about secularism as religion, we need to pause and revisit my presuppositions.  We often ignore how much we fill in the gaps.  Honest dialog requires careful examination.  After all, the underlying implication of the first installment was that there are gaps, and that these gaps are filled with faith.

A dear friend was gracious to me to comment the following:

A good start to what will surely be a valiant effort. However, you make a huge presupposition that people that don’t believe have an answer for creation. I know that I don’t know how the universe was created. I can read theories and evidentiary points to attempt to draw a conclusion supported by the evidence, but you are absolutely correct that there are gaps in the scientific explanations. Further, it seems that the more evidence we find, the more questions it raises. Human knowledge is like a balloon inside a box; the volume of the balloon represents what we know, the inner layer of latex is where that knowledge is pointing, the outer layer of latex is what we understand as unknown, but the rest of the volume of the box is the unknown. As we add air to the balloon by increasing our collective knowledge, we have more that points to what we don’t know, but what we know that we don’t know also grows. Now, I have no idea if we as a species can ever know everything, but I don’t presuppose to have an answer to anything that I don’t know. This, in my opinion, is the challenge to your stance.

I profoundly appreciate the honesty, candor, and the intelligence of this response.  We must take a moment to be thankful that we can still begin to voice our opinions with an affirmation of the good we see in others.  What a blessing this friend has been to me.  I thank my friend for affirming my efforts.  This examination wouldn’t be happening if he had not taken the time to further the discussion.  In that way, this is different than a book.  I love books, but there is something about riding this wave of iterations in epistemology that are open to us via the dynamic nature of the internet today.

Do People That Don’t Believe Have an Answer for Creation?

“I know that I don’t know how the universe was created.”  This level of honesty is worthy of admiration and imitation.  I must apologize for only addressing at first the ends of the spectrum.  The point of the original article was that I believe that God created the world while many of my humanist/atheist/agnostic/secularist friends believe the world started at the Big Bang and we are the result of Darwinian evolution and Chance.  A couple of friends rightly followed up with comments about what I call the line between science and scientism. A Christian who ignores science needs to go back to read the Bible because Adam was a scientist given the serious task of taxonomy by his Creator (Gen. 2:19).  Adam could have only gotten so far by digging holes with bare hands.  Understanding how the world works and how it can be used to guide us to human flourishing (even as we groan the consequences of the Fall) is a scientific effort (Gen. 1:28).  A Christian can not, by definition, be against science.

But a Christian is also by definition against scientism.  What do I mean by this made up word? I mean the blind faith of the cult of Science as god.  That science has the ultimat answers and is the maximum authority over all things.  While my friend must forgive me for implying that he has an answer for creation (that was painting with broad strokes), there are many fellow human beings out there who ascribe to Science the same attributes of “godness” or deity that are God’s by right.  There is such a dogmatic dualism out there in our world where God and Science are pitted against each other.  My initial point was to show through that sharp contrast that both groups do the same thing–they fill the gaps by faith with something.

After we revisit this fundamental presupposition, though, we still walk away with creation (or the uncertainty of creation as it may be) as a fundamental piece of every person’s worldview.  However we see this, it will have massive impacts to how we see all of life.

Yes, There are Gaps.

This is another area of great excitement to me as I read my friend’s response.  We must be intellectually honest.  Again, I have spent many nights talking with friends who overlook the gaps in their positions.  My point was that when we do that, we take “godness” upon ourselves.  We decide what makes a cogent argument.  We decide what is a gap or not.  Cognitive dissonance is in the air.  We become god.

The More Evidence We Find, The More Questions It Raises

Ultimately, as we fulfill our God-given task to study more and more of the world that was given to us, we have questions.  We face the limits of our finitude. We are not God.  And we can’t explain everything.  We learn something, and it opens another Pandora’s box.  We have to go revisit what we thought was true, we have to go rethink everything.  The Copernican Revolution wouldn’t be a revolution if it didn’t require to shift wrong thinking into right thinking.  We are humans.  When we admit we can be wrong, we are walking towards humility.  When we act as god, pride gets the upper hand.  Hurt is left in the trail.  We hurt those we love.

Epistemology – Is it Possible? Or Is It Just Hot Air?

We keep talking about God in 2018.  Whether you oppose Him and spend your time making arguments for His nonexistence, or whether you proclaim with your mouth and actions that you ignore such a stupid idea, or whether you bow down and worship Him, or whether you say it’s all a Big Elephant and that you are perfectly happy worshiping the trunk while I worship a leg, we keep finding ourselves by our nature still talking about God.  Natural revelation necessitates that we realize that we are not all that there is here.  We are creative beings, not creator beings.  That is, we cannot make something come out of nothing (ex nihilo).  We are always taking something that already exists and we make it something else.

And that’s where epistemology becomes a fascinating point.  Can we know anything?  Can we know everything?  We most definitely can not know everything.  We can, however, know.

What is the Bible but a finite revelation of the Infinite God for finite creatures.  It is a spectacular text that has the writing of the Creator all over it, and if that’s something we would want to discuss, there are just some fascinating things we could talk about (like Reading the Bible in 3D for example).  The point for now is this–both Christianity and science are founded upon the fact of knowability.  We can know.  We must start there.  We don’t have an Ultra HD 4K movie in the pages of the Bible about the Infinite God.  There are gaps.  The only starting point of the first post was to get us started in seeing that this is not something that is exclusively a “religious issue of the Christians,” but that all humans have this tension in epistemology.  We can know, but we can’t know everything.  And thus, every argument is eventually a circular argument (and I would say even to the disagreement of many readers, that every argument takes us to God).  God is the reason for the circularity.  “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom 11:36).

What Do I Do With the Gap?

That’s a great question. We must deal with the gap somehow.  And that’s what we have mislabeled as religion and have called as the opium of the infirm fueling the sense of superiority.  It’s not that some less sophisticated, or less evolved, creatures need to feel better and make up stuff.  We all deal with the gap.  We are all religious.  Deeply religious.

A friend, wiser than I, has said (edited for brevity):

We still need “seers” — the culture nearly reveres science. So that the definitive answer to any argument is, “Scientists say…” So what’s going on with that? What is a scientist? A person with tools that help them see things that cannot be seen. We trust what science says because we trust that they see what we cannot.
“I also could speak as you do, if you were in my place; I could join words together against you and shake my head at you” (Job 16:4).

At the end of the day, you can walk away unpersuaded.  You can walk away certainly persuaded that Christianity is nonsense.  That’s a great place to start.  But how we fill the gap has massive impacts to how you live your life.  We see this in our daily life now.  People fill the gap with empty promises from a compulsive liar who tapes his ties.  People fill the gap with the promise of freedom from gurus that will happily collect our cash but will not deliver the relief, peace, and comfort that our anxious, fearful hearts long for.

I’m profoundly thankful for this request to examine my presuppositions.  I hope it helps us advance the dialog.  Yes, we can know God.  It may seem like a book full of nonsense at first, and especially since the efforts of many are keeping hungry souls from it.  No, we cannot know everything.  Yes, we can know.  Our hearts cry out for truth.  We see it every day–the lies we’ve been fed that there is no truth keep going down the drain.  They told us that morality was relative.  Well, Donald has had a way to show us that when things get really bad, there is no relativism in morality.  They told us that we are fundamentally good and that we excel at all what we do, and we turn around and find that our heroes are no better than us–rampant sexual depravity and oppression of the weak.  I also “don’t presuppose,” like my friend, “to have an answer to anything that I don’t know.”

And because of that, he is in not far from the path to the humility shown in Philippians 2.

I fail to see the challenge in his comment.  There is no challenge.  An apology for painting with broad strokes, yes.  But no challenge.

Thank you for your grace.

The Religion of Secularism: Towards a Better Understanding of Ourselves

Victor Chininin Buele

One of the most common assumptions behind nearly every argument being made today is the idea that secularism is free of religion and that its arguments are rational (if not the definition of true rational thought) and thus devoid of metaphysical assumptions and blind spots.

Allow me to illustrate: If a person says that abortion on demand should not be permitted, that is immediately considered a religious and metaphysical argument in our public square. If a person says that a woman has a fundamental right to choose abortion on demand, that is not considered to be a religious argument.  It is accepted even in the academic world to be a rational argument.

Since a rational argument is clearly considered to be superior to a religious argument in our public square, this assumption ought to be carefully considered and probed.

I don’t write this to argue.  I write it because I want everyone to have joy.

My thesis is that all arguments are religious: that everyone has an authoritative, divine, inspired source for right and wrong; that everyone is a theologian; that everyone worships; and that everyone believes a gospel that he is passionate to proclaim to a lost world in desperate need for light.

All our stories are a flavor of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. And all arguments are circular–they do and must reference the higher authority ruling our thinking.

I keep finding that in many conversations, my challenges to this prevalent assumption keep causing unbelief to my beloved atheist, humanist, agnostic, secular friends.  When I say or infer that they are just as religious as I am, my statement is often considered to be nonsensical.

“I don’t believe in God, I believe in Science” is Esqueleto’s response to Nacho’s call to baptism in the highly sophisticated film Nacho Libre.  Since one post would never get us close to reaching our goal, this will be a series of posts where we discuss:

  • The Christian and Secular Account of Creation
  • The Christian and Secular Concept of Sin
  • The Christian and Secular View of Redemption
  • The Christian and Secular Gospel of Restoration
  • The Christian and Secular Understanding of Choice
  • The Christian and Secular Call to Repentance
  • The Christian and Secular Desire for Reconciliation
  • The Christian and Secular Future

Allow me to explain myself.

In arguing that secularism is a religion, my goal is very simple.  Allow me to quote from An Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, Virginia, 1777:

That therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right,

And,

And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them: […] that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.

I believe it is essential that you understand that you are a worshiper, not only because that will be miles closer to a place of understanding your need for Jesus (which is my ultimate goal), but in a selfish way (for you), it will help you to actually get on the path towards becoming the rational person you are already convinced that you are.

For both of us, it will help us to truly enjoy, celebrate, and practice religious freedom as we finally stop snubbing each other’s arguments and engage in serious, truly equal discussion in the public square for the good of all rather than just for seeking our own interests.

I choose to be transparent.  I want you to see Jesus. But that shouldn’t keep you from reading on. Please, don’t let it keep you from reading on.  And I welcome all the discussion necessary to refine the arguments brought forth.  Do not write me off as being “unworthy [of] the public confidence.”

Creation

I am often mocked for believing that God created the World in six days and rested on the seventh day.  I am often mocked for believing what the Bible tells me.  I have read countless books on every position on creation: biblical and unbiblical, old earth and young earth, scientific-sounding and propaganda-sounding. My point in bringing this up is this: I believe that God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) created the world and all that is in it ex nihilo (out of nothing).  I believe that because of the testimony of the Bible (and we can write another post about why the Bible is a trustworthy text), the testimony of natural revelation, and because of the conviction given to me by the Holy Spirit.  Faith and reason intersected.  Biological evidence and metaphysics.  Scientific observation and theological rigor.  This is not a position I have just swallowed whole without an ounce of thinking.  If you have questions about how a Christian could believe this, I would invite you to consider the work of Dr. Vern Poythress, a mathematician and a theologian with degrees from California Institute of Technology, Harvard, Westminster, the University of Cambridge and others.  I would recommend to you specifically (all free to download): Redeeming Science and Chance and the Sovereignty of God. Both of these works do a far better job than I ever will showing the serious, rigorous academic work of a scholar.

You can totally disagree with what I have said in the previous paragraph.  That’s the whole point of this.  But I don’t want you to walk away thinking that your creation story is superior to mine on the grounds of being the only explanation that is completely rational and admissible in the public square.  It is not.  There are gaps.  I can write about that some other time, and Dr. Stephen Meyer does a far better job than I ever will addressing the Cambrian explosion in his work Darwin’s Doubt.  I have considered these gaps seriously.  I am a thinker and a scientist.  Every Christian is called to good science.  We are to be good stewards and rulers of a beautiful world.  There are things for which a purely naturalistic evolutionary perspective cannot account.  Often the answer is, “Not yet.”  And that’s fine.  You can have that opinion.  You can bank on technology.  But let’s be honest and call it what it is, “By faith you choose to believe.” You are placing your faith in natural evolution or a subset of scientific principles that are cataloged under the word “evolution.”  While many of my friends are distinguished scientists, what I find most frustrating is the number of evolution-defenders who have not even read Darwin’s work themselves. Ultimately I don’t want anyone to parrot what others say.  The same feeling you have when you feel that I’m parroting whatever I’ve been told by “religious leaders” I feel when you parrot whatever you’ve been told.

I want us to move beyond indoctrination.  We both believe an account of how the world came to be.  We believe so by faith.  We hold the canon of the works that prove our point to be sacred and unquestionable.  We look past the gaps in faith.

And this is just the start of our worldview.  Everything hinges upon that.

Ora et Labora

Victor Chininin Buele

It’s Monday.

I know I had a very difficult time getting into the office today.  Work awaited.

But that Outlook calendar unmercifully showed a 7:45 meeting.  There was no way out.

It’s time to work.

We often struggle with the “case of the Mondays” showing that we get our theology of work more from Office Space than we do from the Word.

There is one way we can proactively change our attitude towards work.  Pray. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).

If we allow a pursuit of God’s presence to drive our approach to work, it will radically change everything.  It no longer is a 7:45 meeting on Monday morning that you dread, but it becomes an opportunity to pray for all the people in that conference call.  It becomes an opportunity to ask meaningful questions about their lives, their hopes, their dreams.  It becomes an opportunity to get to know people better so that we can intercede for them and ask the Lord to develop bridges and relationships towards the privilege of sharing the gospel with them.

Pursuing a greater awareness of God’s presence in our work is one way we come out of dark oppression, like the man in Mark 5.  We have been freed, so we now get the joy of obeying the Lord Jesus in His command to ““Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

It will no longer be a repetitive task.  A sandwich will be infused with prayers for God to show His wonderful power, grace, love, and salvation to a customer.  Every pickle, every burger, every slice of cheese can be infused with a prayer.  We will no longer look like better servants to our customers, but we will be better servants of our Lord, genuinely caring for His glory and renown.

It will no longer be about debugging boring code.  Every line is an opportunity to make things right, to better image a Wonderful Creator.

It will no longer be about answering emails or phone calls.  Every interaction will be an opportunity to bring before the Lord real issues, real problems, real emergencies.  And every interaction will be a challenge to us to lift up our requests to our Good Father and wait. And watch Him deliver better than we dare to ask or imagine.

There can never be a case of the Mondays when we are about our Father’s business.

Let us work and pray.  Let us pray for the Lord to captivate our vocational passion for a passion for His glory and the beauty of His mission to us.  Until every tongue confesses. And then forevermore.

Cruzando el Río Grande – Towards a Theological Understanding of DACA

Victor Chininin Buele

A dear friend asked for my thoughts on the difficult subject of DACA.  I’m not precisely sure what perspective was sought, but this is clearly not something that can be easily typed on Facebook comments.

My thesis is that DACA is an opportunity for the United States to start moving towards repentance.  It is also an opportunity to give and receive grace.  DACA is not to be seen through the lenses of entitlement, and we need to be careful to not proclaim ourselves to be without sin on the subject.

Let me expand on that.

My friend was responding to somebody posting the following on Facebook:

So my house was broken into yesterday while I was at work. Don’t worry, George is ok [sic].

Fortunately, the alarm[sic] told me and Summit police apprehended a man with his 10 year old daughter ransacking the house.

The bad news is, my neighbors took a vote and decided the girl was innocent and only there because her dad brought her.  Now, I have to give her a room, feed her and pay for her to go to school.  Worse yet, since she would be abandoned if her dad goes to jail, he’s been found innocent and I have to let him stay with the girl and feed him too [punctuation sic].

If you think this sounds unfair, then you understand DACA.

A few starting points:

  1. I am a naturalized United States citizen and a natural citizen of Ecuador.
  2. It took more than fifteen years to become a United States citizen.
  3. I have first-hand experience (though not in the first person) with what it is to be an illegal or an undocumented immigrant, semantics aside.  Don’t stop reading if I switch to using the word illegal below.  I have always sought to follow U.S. law.  Please forgive my uneasiness about using the word undocumented.
  4. I have first-hand experience of the immigration system of the United States, and the high cost it demands from those who go through it.
  5. I am a Christian.  I believe that the Word of God is true and God-breathed.  I believe it is authoritative. I believe that it is our guide and the revelation of Jesus Christ to all humankind.  It is in the Bible that we find the gospel–that we are sinners who cannot save themselves but who through the blood of Jesus Christ given in sacrifice on the cross can have their sins forgiven and can move forward on the path towards daily, practical sanctification, being transformed daily into the image of Christ, one degree of glory to the next.  In simple words, I believe what the Bible says, and I seek to do all things in a Christ-encompassing way.  All things in Christ for all the world.  I believe that if we do what God has revealed to us, God will be with us.
  6. I have a bit of a personal crusade against caricatures and straw men arguments.  We have got to learn to listen to each other, understand another person’s opinions, and interact form that point of view.  We don’t get a pass to respond to the worst caricature of a position.

With all of that said, what do I think about DACA?

1.  We are all guilty of sin–we did not love our neighbor as ourselves.

There are many layers on which DACA shows us our sin. Many Americans never thought for a second about the children of immigrants, much less whether they were legal or illegal, as long as our toilets were clean, our strawberries were picked, our meat packaged by someone else.  For decades we allowed a system to exploit human beings who had a desperate need for hope.  Ecuador collapsed in the late 1990’s.  Many Ecuadorians lost everything, the savings of a lifetime.  Certain municipalities in New Jersey took the brunt of this crisis as they became little Ecuadors.  The economy of cities like New York have been built upon these people’s suffering.  You can only pay so much for a slice of pizza at Sbarro’s when you are walking through Times Square.  I am fairly certain that not very many stopped to think of the small town in Southern Ecuador that was left with no men as the man cutting your pizza left it all behind under horrific conditions to cross the Río Grande in hope of providing for his kids.  These kids were left behind, grew up with a grandmother at best, no parents, and were easy preys to all kinds of difficulty.  One day, the parents saved enough (or took on serious debt) to pay a coyote to get them across the border.  In hope.  We have to acknowledge that.  We did not love our neighbor as ourselves. We must realize that a big reason sanctuary cities are sanctuary cities is not because they are highly evolved, loving and caring, and all about social justice.  If people needed to pay for the real price of things in those economies, the entire economic dynamics would need to change.  In order to get a $1 burger, you can only pay somebody so much.  If everyone had the same rights and access to fair wages, i.e., if they had legal documents, the cost of said burger would be much higher.  Christ’s humility is radically different than ours.  In Philippians 2 we are called to imitate said humility that counts others as more significant than ourselves.  That’s so radical because we are always after finding the best deal for us.  Not for others.  We are guilty.

2. They broke the law.

Horrific economic conditions need to clearly be understood.  When you learn that somebody cleans toilets in the United States or washes dishes in the United States for more than you make a day in Ecuador, temptation becomes very real.  And then you hear that Pepito’s cousin and Maria’s sister made it across the border, and that they have a house in Queens.  The story is properly exaggerated to make it sound like they are the next Rockefellers.  You start thinking you can make it, too.  Coyotes come and promise you for a few thousand dollars to get you across the desert.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  The whole enterprise is highly illegal and dangerous, abusive and criminal.  It is sinful.  God will not look kindly upon coyotes at the judgment.  Those who steal from the needy and do violence are repulsive to God.  Yet, we also have to acknowledge that it is sufficiently clear for anyone entering into a contract or a transaction to come to the U.S. that the enterprise is illegal.  Everybody knows that it is against the law, and they know the risks of getting caught.  For the adults, it should be very straightforward.  They paid a coyote to help them break the law.  Yes, it was a horrific decision to be made and a painful one exasperated by a number of unthinkable circumstances.  But they were not coerced to do it. For their kids, the conversation turns a little sour.  We can argue degrees of innocence here until Kingdom comes, but I would simply want to say that there is a significant difference between sending an eight year old via the Mexican desert with a coyote and buying the kid a ticket on DL 680 from Quito to Atlanta.  The law was broken. And it is awful that these children had to endure many times the horrors of inhumane transportation conditions and living quarters, with limited or no water and/or food, prolonged time in the desert and exposure to the elements.

3. Most politicians are sinful opportunists.

We are where we are because politicians refused to enact national immigration law that made sense to the circumstances we had.  We were the rich Uncle Sam up north while our neighbors to the south literally starved to death.  Instead of owning their responsibility, they went down a different path–Leave it to the school districts to figure out how to hire ESL teachers, how to get ahold of parents who spoke no English, how to educate children with very little parental communication with the teachers.  Leave it to the local health departments to provide immunizations.  Leave it to the emergency rooms to deal with catastrophic health issues and non-so-catastrophic surprises.  Leave it to the states and charities to pay for births and WIC and food stamps.  Politicians sat on this and did nothing.  They have also sinned.

 

4.  We are called to love the widow, the immigrant, and the orphan.

Christianity necessarily results in love and care for the widow, the immigrant, and the orphan.  Many dreamers are practical or true orphans.  Many were raised without parents.  Many had parents who died crossing the border or in the dangerous work they had.  Many women were left as widows, affairs were had, marriage vows broken.  We cannot close doors upon the needy.

5.  DACA is a start, an insufficient start, but a start nonetheless.

I testify to you that being a legal immigrant has been a very difficult thing.  It has cost a lot of money, heartache, sorrow, embarrassment, time, and anxiety.  There is not a simple way to run through the rails of this system.  I have a college education, and my skills are highly valued in the current U.S. economy.  Even so, I had a lawyer malpractice scenario intersect with significant government delays, and I ended up becoming an illegal immigrant for two weeks.  Once my petition was resolved, it was retroactive, so this is not a part of my records today.  But trust me, the feeling I had when I was told to step away from my cubicle and leave, the feeling I had driving home knowing there would be no paycheck, the feeling I had coming home to my wife that day…

Life in the shadows is not a life.

Jesus came that his children would have life and live it to the fullest. He is the Good Shepherd.

DACA is an executive order.  Yes, you are certainly free to raise concerns about this being addressed as a presidential executive order rather than as legislation.  But in that debate we continue to ignore the fact that our democratically elected representatives and senators did nothing.

Repentance is necessary.

We need to repent of our lack of love for neighbor.

Undocumented workers need to repent of violating the law.

Dreamers need to repent, in certain cases, of entitlement.  Repentance is also needed from breaking the law.

Politicians need to repent of their sinful neglect of their responsibility.

 

And then.

Grace.

Grace must abound.

We must find a way to restore the repentant, to lift up the downcast, and to make amends.

But now, that everybody is all of a sudden in love with the dreamers, be careful to not forget grace and start acting all entitled. A lot of people are very compassionate now.  They want dreamers to be free. And that’s a noble thing.  But, repentance is required because we must all answer the question, where were we when these kids needed us the most?  Where were we when politicians refused to act upon immigration law reform that made sense and that would have helped everyone?

But let’s approach this with a sober mind.  Walking in repentance is difficult.

The economic balance of our cities is not going to be the same.

Prices will change.

We all need to own up our responsibilities and move forward in repentance.  The path for American citizenship is a very secondary matter compared to the path to everlasting joy in Christ.  Actions have consequences.  And without repentance there will be no joy.  Christ is light.  Whatever he touches will never be the same.

I dream of the moment where this America stops avoiding responsibility and repents and turns to love God, do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (cf. Micah 6:8).

I want the dreamers to have joy.  Not just a citizenship in a place that will not last for eternity.  I want them to be citizens of the kingdom that cannot be shaken.

We must press on to end this non-sensical political stalemate.  Lives matter more than political interests.  It was never said, “Blessed are those who seek their own self-interest and turn a blind eye on the needy, for they shall see God.”

 

 

 

Judging Donald Trump

Victor Chininin Buele

I love you, dear reader, too much to just sit by and watch.

President Trump allegedly said a very nasty thing about human beings from Africa and Haiti, perhaps others. My family has connections to work kingdom work there, and needless to say, we love the people of the African continent and the people of Haiti very much.

I have been noticing a trend in social media.
1. President allegedly says or does something obviously wrong, immoral, racist, or at the very least, questionable and demeaning of the office of the President of the United States.
2. Public outrage follows.
3. Those who didn’t vote for him and some who did (because I care about labels and caricatures, and I don’t want to say “liberals”) would turn on “the others” and require a retraction of some sort or a comment. An acknowledgment of “I told you so” is required.

There is another trend I addressed in here after the famous Access Hollywood tapes episode.
1. I do x. I like x. I feel x. I <whatever> X
2. x is anything that was a common moral standard in the overall culture but no longer is
3. Person a looked at me funny, or disagreed with me, or perhaps indeed sinned against me, I turn around and say, “Jesus said, ‘Judge not!”

So I want to spend a moment not typing again that word which the President allegedly used, but because I love you, I want to help you see what is happening.

You are starting to understand that Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t judge,” in Matthew 7. Don’t waste it.

We all know the cycle. And this is, in the interest of clarity, not a defense of Donald Trump.

I am an immigrant. And a Christian. My Lord was an immigrant. If the President said this, it is obviously morally wrong and heartbreaking. The cycle is the same–our friends at CNN look like they are about to have a heart attack in the air, Trump writes a non-denying denial on Twitter, talking heads talk some more, and by the end of the day something even more outrageous happens. Back to square one.

You were created in the image of God. God is a judge. So are we.
God has shown to reveal Himself to us, in part, as His Law. This Law teaches the way things should go, but it also proves itself ultimately impossible to fulfill on our own. That’s why the charges of the stereotypical hypocrite Christian and the pedophile priest stick. Because we are sinners. Rotten sinners.
We are all lawyers. We put in these very complicated cases to defend our actions even when no one is asking for an explanation. We also out in these very complicated cases to justify the goodness of our actions even as we feel ultimately dissatisfied with the explanations. Five bullet points to prove I’m right. A straw man argument on the other side I can easily defeat.

So, you and I have been judging Donald Trump.

Let’s let that take its full weight.

Matthew 7
1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.
2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?
5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. – Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV)

This text is about YOU. You are not to judge until you judge yourself rightly. You judge, and with the same judgment stick you will be measured.

I proved just yesterday to be no better than Donald Trump. Before I can look at the speck in his eye, I must do all I can to remove the gigantic log in my own eye. If that poor lady at the airport counter had a public display of my sinful rage for being inconvenienced…

Have you removed the log in your eye?

Until you do, don’t judge.
Go remove it.
Then, please, judge. We need you to judge. I saw this sign that said our freedom was in peril, and we must do all we can to protect it. I couldn’t agree more. I want you to have eternal joy, and for that I write.

But you can’t remove it on your own, and for that you need Jesus. The real thing. Not the made up one that you sketch from the GOP’s current platform or from that bad experience you had with a someone who called himself a Christian.

You may notice I have used the word allegedly. There is a chance that Trump didn’t say it. A slim one I think, but a chance nonetheless.

Why do we spend all this time judging Donald Trump about an allegation but not spend the time killing the filth in our own hearts first? We will then, rightly reconciled with God and neighbor, to be of much greater impact to the kingdom and the world.

There is somebody, somewhere you feel the same way about as what this comment is portrayed to say. Repent of it. Turn to Jesus and live.

Therefore, all my responses to whatever Trump says or does will always be the same:
You have judged.
Have you judged rightly?
Is all well with your soul?
OK! Now, brother or sister, let’s act and pray about the president’s actions.

Trust me, something changes when you finally see this rightly: you are just as Donald Trump is. He is just a caricature of our national sins. And Jesus is better than somebody who drops in to agree with you.