September 2, 2009


The LA Times has a great article by Hector Tobar on the effects of the border fence. In his article he writes:
We shouldn't forget the fence is there. It's a statement in steel about the rule of law. It's a reminder that millions of people continue to live among us who can be tossed back across at any moment. The fence is a symbol of the divisions that run deep in the California cities we call home and in the collective California psyche.
In cities, such as San Diego, where this divide is felt and seen quite clearly, what are we to do? As Christians–who claim to follow a man who established as society meant to be equitable and just for all people–what role are we to play in these places?

I was asked by Mennonite Weekly Review and Urban Connections to write an article about immigration since there will be a forum on this issue this month in Texas. In my article, I answered this question with one simple idea: learn to speak Spanish. Now, I know this is no easy task for some people. But it could have a profound effect on our communities in my opinion. And potentially begin to heal wounds inflicted by border fences.

Now this idea is directed primarily at people like me: white folks. But the idea simply goes like this:
  • Ask someone you know who speaks English yet whose primary language is Spanish and participates in a Latin American community to teach you and a few friends Spanish
  • Pay them to do this. Don't expect them to waste their time every week hanging out with you for free.
  • Make it fun. Try to make it conversational. Go on field trips to markets, festivals, etc. Don't just learn how to order food. Learn about the culture.
  • Go to a Spanish speaking church or mass service on a regular basis.
If churches across our city attempted to do this, the impact could be pretty interesting. First, it flips the standard social hierarchy on its head. Those that commonly serve get to lead and those that commonly lead have to listen. It's an incredibly practical way to begin addressing the idea of being an "incarnational" Christian (more on that later). And their is potential for healing some of the division Tobar writes about, even if in small, interpersonal ways.

This is all part of my incarne concept. Incarne is a mash up of two words: "incarnation" and "carne asada"

The incarnation is pretty obvious for most people that would read this blog. As Eugene Peterson interprets John 1, he writes that, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. (v.14)” This is what incarnation is all about–becoming part of the fabric of a community in order to communicate God's good news in the manner in which that community will understand.

Carne asada is one of the great claims of San Diego: in order to find the best carne asada you have to come to San Diego. Not LA. Not Tijuana. San Diego. It's a tasty part of our culinary culture that is all our own.

For me, incarne encapsulates what it means to be a missional follower of Jesus in San Diego... yet I have my tongue firmly planted in my cheek because I know how cheesy it sounds. I still love it.

So, because I hate it when people spout ideas they never intend to do themselves, we're planning on hosting a conversational Spanish class in our neighborhood this fall. Our hope is that it will help close the divide between Spanish speaking and English speaking parents at our neighborhood school. We our honestly taking the cue from our kids. At their age, the playground often looks more like what we'd hope the world would be. But before our patterns change theirs, we hope to change our own.

I've shared this idea with others in cities that are now multi-language centers. I'd love to hear what your experiments with this bring, or just what you think about this idea in general.

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