Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Exchange Rate for Caesar’s Coin

Border Field fence

View of the fence from Border Field State Park, San Diego. Notice the bull fighting arena and lighthouse on the Tijuana side. Also note the imposing fence, white border patrol vehicle, and camera tower guarding the U. S. side.

“Therefore give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” (Matthew 22:21).

I’m back in my office after a week in the beautiful San Diego/Tijuana area.  Our group spent the better part of the week on the Mexico side of the border, learning about the complexities and frustrations of U. S. immigration policy from a Mexican perspective.  We were deeply impacted by many, many stories of hardship.  This past Saturday, however, we came back across the border and visited Border Field State Park, where we had the unique experience of staring at the border fence right across from the Tijuana beach where we enjoyed tacos the night before.

Much to our surprise, we encountered a very friendly, well prepared, and available Border Patrol officer standing right along the fence who explained the details and challenges of his job.  There is no doubt that many people who cross the border merely want to make a living and escape the dire poverty and hopelessness that face them in Mexico.  However, the Border Patrol officer drove home to us that the Mexican Cartels regularly attempt to run drugs, human trafficking, and organ harvesters into the states.  It is not uncommon to catch them attempting to scale the double fence that protects our borders or even cutting through it.  And no, I don’t want to wake up in some seedy hotel missing a kidney.  Though immigration has a very human side, it also has a very dangerous side, and I am grateful for the service of men and women who keep crime and exploitation from crossing the border.  The Southern Baptist Convention’s 2011 resolution on immigration provides a very nice starting point as we think about how to resolve this dilemma.  As nice as it would be to revert back to the better days of 100 years ago, when there was no fence at all and one could literally walk over to the Tijuana side and get a taco (yes, they are that good), those days are gone.  While we need to treat human beings who have been created in the image of God humanely, we also need to protect our country.  We have enough problems on the inside to deal with.

But how do we reconcile these tensions on a personal level?  Take our border patrol agent as a frontline example.  If many of the individuals crossing illegally have nothing more than very real human needs, how can anyone justify sending them back to such hardship?  As the border patrol agent stated very clearly, he has a law to uphold.  It is not his job to decide whether or not to execute it.   Jesus explained that certain things most certainly belong to Caesar—to the government.  The Apostle Paul illuminated this when he argued that the government is given the sword, the authority to execute laws (Romans 13).  Our nation, and every nation, has the right to create and execute laws that will protect and promote the well being of its citizens.  And men and women like our border patrol agent must carry them out.

Still the authority of our nation only carries so far.  Peter and the rest of the apostles made this point to the Jewish religious leaders who commanded them to speak in the name of Jesus no longer: “We must obey God rather than men,” (Acts 5:29).  As followers of Jesus, we need to recognize the importance of order in society and the right of the government to enforce it.  Sin wrecks havoc on all humans and human institutions.  By the grace of God, governments create some order to restrain the effects of sin.  (And some governments do a better job than others).  However, we are followers of Jesus, and his commands carry us further.  He commands us to speak the good news and to love.  We cannot let fear and uncertainty prevent us from loving people in Jesus’ name.  No matter how you feel about the current immigration policy, you cannot shirk your duty to love your neighbor, whether they are U. S. citizens, have their green card, or have entered the country illegally.

Many people in the news paint a harsh picture of those entering the country illegally.  Others sharply criticize those attempting to uphold the law.  Christians must look past the rhetoric and remember that while Caesar can mint coins, and has every right to do so, his coins cannot be spent in God’s Kingdom.  There is no exchange rate for Caesar’s coin here.  Do not neglect to love people in Jesus’ name, no matter what the newscasters say about them.


Riding the Beast

"The Beast"“But our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Phi 3:20).

During our trip to Tijuana, we have spent the majority of our time at Casa del Migrante, a Catholic mission to migrants.  In years past, the majority of their ministry was to migrants traveling north to find work in the United States.  Today, since the U. S. has deported 400,000 undocumented workers over the last few years, the vast majority of their visitors are recent deportees.  In fact, each night of our trip I sat across the dinner table and talked with men who had been dropped off across the border the previous night.  Many of them had been in the U. S. for several decades.  Most of them had wives and children somewhere in the States.  All of them were newly arrived in Mexico with only the belongings on their body—and they have no chance to return to their wives or children legally. 

One man, Jaime, was planning to hike across the mountains, risking a very dangerous journey, in order to get back.  Approximately ten people die every day trying to make this same journey, and yet Jaime would not give it a second thought.  Why would he do such a thing?  As I said goodbye to him at the end of dinner, I did so knowing that he might be dead in two or three days.  It is hard to relate to such a life or fully appreciate the choices he faced.  But many people feel the same pressures.

The picture above depicts men from Guatemala riding “The Beast.”  Guatemalans live in such abject poverty that even Mexico seems like a land of opportunity compared to their home.  So they get out the only way they can.  They ride on top of a freight train into Mexico—by the hundreds, as you can see.  One man we met at the Casa had fallen off “The Beast,” lost his leg, spent all of his money obtaining a prosthetic, and had it stolen when he got back on The Beast to complete his journey.  When we met him he was on crutches and broke.  These men are obviously convinced that a land of opportunity awaits them if they are willing to take on such risks. 

If you watch the news, you will hear no shortage of opinions about how the immigration problem should be solved.  I can’t pretend to have a solution to the complex political problems involved in our nation’s immigration laws.  However, I would remind you that the men and women who risk life and limb in order to cross borders are human beings with the same hopes and dreams as the rest of us.  As Christians, we cannot all solve the public policy problems, but all of us can care about fellow human beings who are trying to make a better life for themselves.  I can’t imagine having to navigate the choices they have to navigate.  But I do know what the church must do.  We must love them.  We must also remind them that the American Dream cannot be the only dream.  The Apostle Paul very memorably instructed us that our citizenship is in heaven.  If we can love them and point them toward a home that cannot be taken away, a home in which they can find a lasting citizenship, then we will impart to them a gift that will last forever. 




Chicano 1

Mural at Chicano Park (and my fingers)

By Michael Wren

“But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world,” (Galatians 6:14).

Tuesday I visited Chicano Park in San Diego.  The park was created in the early 70s after the interstate was built right through the middle of the neighborhood.  Instead of allowing the city to use the space underneath the overpasses for government offices, the people protested and demanded a public park instead.  They got it, and Chicano Park is definitely a people’s park.  The mural you see (in the really poor photo with my fingers in the way) is part of a massive mural telling the history of these people, and only one of many murals throughout the park, most of them painted on the side of the cement columns supporting the overpass.

If you look closely at the picture, you might discern a cross on the far left suspended above a Spanish galleon.  Notice also the conquistador skeleton on the right.  Our tour guide, an Hispanic pastor of a Lutheran church, pointed out to us that the cross, to many Hispanics, is not a symbol of hope.  It is rather a symbol of death and conquest.  European people came in the name of Jesus and demanded that the native population convert or die!  To this day, the cross remains something of a negative symbol to many.  Instead, as you may know, the image that best communicates their faith is that of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  Sometime after the conquest of Mexico City, a local farmer claimed to see a vision of the Virgin Mary, who instructed him to build a church building on that site.  She gave him roses, which were not in season, and he put them in the blanked.  When he went to the priest to have the vision verified as authentic, the image of the virgin (who looked very Hispanic) was on the blanket.  This is their symbol of the Christian faith.

And yet Paul saw the cross differently.  The cross really is a symbol of death, especially to ancient Romans.  But Paul still embraced it and claimed that this alone would be his boast.  Through much hard experience Paul had learned a lesson that each of us must master as disciples of Jesus—that if we would gain life, we must lose it.  As long as we boast of our own power and strength, we have no hope.  However, Jesus endured pain and death for our sakes, and here there is hope!  You see, the cross is both the symbol of death and hope—death and hope that are rooted in Jesus alone.

This means, of course, that the life of a disciple will be a life of death and hope as well.  We die to our wants and desires, our quest for power or significance, and we live as servants of Jesus.  Jesus said that the greatest among you will be the servant.  This is where we find our strength.   But the cross cannot become an instrument of conquest or a sword of power.  This is where the Spanish conquerors severely misrepresented the gospel.  It is a shame that the gospel is perverted and Jesus misrepresented by those who desire to wield earthly power.

Throughout Chicano Park, the Spanish word, “fuerte” is found in numerous texts.  The word translates as “force.”  The Chicano people, who inhabited San Diego long before it belonged to the United States, are seeking power in order to attain the kind of life many of us take for granted.  Their needs and concerns are real, and we should not overlook their cries.  However, like Paul we must remember that true fuerte is found only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is a force of love, sacrifice, and service.  And if the church exercised that kind of loving force, people like the Chicanos would have a refuge.  If they find refuge in the cross, then they have found freedom and power indeed!

A Study in Contrasts

By Michael Wren

“ He opened a rock, and water gushed out; it flowed like a stream in the desert.  For He remembered His holy promise to Abraham His servant.  He brought His people out with rejoicing, His chosen ones with shouts of joy,” (Psalm 105:41-43).

 As you may know, I have the opportunity to travel across the U. S. border to Tijuana with a group of pastors from Indiana.  The Lilly foundation is sending us this impoverished place to learn about the needs of migrants along the border, the work that is going on among them, and how the church can minister to them.  This trip will be a study in contrasts, and that lesson began on the plane ride to San Diego, from which we will cross the border today. 

After changing planes in Phoenix, we flew over the desolate Arizona landscape.  Nothing grew unless there was water nearby.  Dry stream beds were obvious from above, where runoff would flow on the rare occasion that the desert received rain.  Here, I saw green.  Everywhere else was sand and rock—with the exception of a few farms that thrived because of irrigation.  To the west were mountains.  Clearly the mountains received rain, because a lake had collected at the base of it.  Again, there was life.  But once we crossed the mountain peaks toward Southern California, everything changed.  The mountains and hills were covered with green.  The transition was dramatic and abrupt.  A remarkable contrast. 

Today will bring more contrast.  We spent the night in San Diego in a nice hotel right on the marina and are surrounded by yachts and million dollar homes.  But we are crossing the border today where we will encounter severe poverty, families that have been deported and have nothing, and entire communities built on top of a garbage heap.  We aren’t traveling very far—just across a border—but the difference between the “haves” and the “have nots” is stark.  However, as the Psalmist reminds us, our God is a God who can make streams of water flow in the desert.  He has done it before.  In Him we find abundance, whether we experience it here in this world or not.  Our blessings flow from Him, for without Him we have and can do nothing. 

The prophet Jeremiah instructs us regarding the righteous in Israel, “He took up the case of the poor and needy, then it went well. Is this not what it means to know Me? This is the LORD’s declaration,” (Jeremiah 22:16).  Being a disciple of Jesus entails more than receiving blessing.  According to Jeremiah, it involves dispensing blessing as well.  Sometimes we forget how great the need is until we witness the contrast.