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The Value of Community in My Ethnic Identity Journey

The Value of Community in My Ethnic Identity Journey

“So you and your family are from Mexico, huh?” Emily, my freshman roommate asked soon after I moved into the dorm room my first semester in college.

“Yes, but I grew up in Deer Park, a suburb of Houston,” I replied, trying to deflect the question. In fact I had moved to Deer Park at the age of seven, where the majority of people at my school, as well as my friends, were white.

Her curiosity persisted, “So this must be very different for you. Do y’all have running water in Mexico?” Her face was completely serious, and from her expression I couldn’t figure out if she knew she was being offensive or not. This had never happened to me.

“Monterrey is a huge, very modern and industrialized city. We have running water,” I replied slightly annoyed. She went on to ask if my parents knew how to read and write and if we used donkeys as our main mode of transportation. I couldn’t believe she was seriously asking any of these things.

I had never felt insecure about my ethnic identity until that moment.

Can I just blend in?

Immediately I could tell I was very different to the majority of students on campus, and that it was a bad thing. I looked around my economics class from the back of a large auditorium and started wondering how many Latinos were in the class. I began to feel so insecure about being one of the few Latinos on campus; I wished so badly at that moment that I could blend in and be like the majority of students in class.

Although I didn’t consciously decide I wanted to look more white, I dyed my hair platinum blonde and put light colored contacts in my eyes because that’s what most girls in my classes looked like. I was not ready to admit to the world who I really was. I wanted to be accepted.

No more hiding

It wasn’t until I joined Destino that I realized I had been desperately trying to hide my ethnic identity from the world. It was then that I knew I was in a safe environment that accepted who I really was and not who I had to pretend to be in order to blend in and be accepted. I could unashamedly admit that my favorite breakfast is barbacoa with tortillas de harina, and that I like listening to Luis Miguel.

I even became aware that when I prayed silently I did so in Spanish, so when I was asked to pray aloud in English I became tongue-tied. The language I use to communicate with God is Spanish.  My Destino friends didn’t mind however, in fact they understood, because some of them felt the same way.

Ana Villarreal Bush served as an intern with Destino in Texas.

photo courtesy: jorislouwes

Posted by Devin Tressler in Culturally Connected, Discipleship, 0 comments
Brown is Not a Weakness

Brown is Not a Weakness

I am brown.

Brown is not a weakness…

God loves me and wants me to embrace who He’s made me to be!

It took me nineteen years to boldly proclaim that I am Mexican-American and to stop pretending I was a white guy with an epic ability to tan quickly. Intellectually I understood my ethnicity since the time I first had to bubble in the option identifying myself as “Latino/Hispanic/Chicano” on a standardized state test. But fear kept my culture at an arm’s length. American society had laid out for me my fate as an alcoholic, high school dropout, gang member, construction worker, farmhand, or dead-beat father.

I blended in like a chameleon

I was born in South Texas, raised in a predominantly Anglo township in Michigan. My surroundings helped foster my need to turn my back on the Hispanic community. There was no benefit to learning Spanish, so I didn’t. I was a chameleon, blending in well with my Anglo friends. I adopted the ideology of individualism, living for myself and not for my family.

My parents decided to uproot the family and move back to south Texas at the end of my freshmen year of high school. People at school spoke Spanglish. Some sported Mexican flags and shirts that said “Viva la Raza.” To them I said, “Go back to Mexico.” The rest of the student population was fairly assimilated to American culture, but I only thought of them as poor imitators of my people up north.

When I came to faith, the world and the self-complex I created for myself was turned upside down.

I didn’t know what it meant to be Hispanic

This was when confusion and shame settled into my heart. I was on a journey to discover my ethnic identity. Many times I wanted to give up, because it is easier to be only Anglo or only Mexican. But my Destino leader believed in me, “It’s in you. You’ll find out what it means to be Hispanic.”

The stereotypes I fought hard against slowly became real people to me: my Papa the carpenter, my Abuelo the field worker, my parents who gave birth to their son out of wedlock, my uncles who struggle with alcohol.

I found healing in being bicultural

As I dove deeper into my journey, I found healing and security in being bicultural—studying the rich history of my family’s culture, both Anglo and Hispanic. It helped to explain my desire to be relational, even though I fought to suppress it with individualistic ideas. Mostly it has helped me understand that God didn’t leave me in the oven after the timer went off.

God loves me and wants me to embrace who He’s made me to be.

Brown is not a weakness…

I am brown.

Rico Gutierrez is from South Texas and served as a student intern with Destino.

photo courtesy: unsplash

Posted by Devin Tressler in Culturally Connected, 0 comments
Pulling Up Roots, Pt. 3–Jesus calls our bluff.

Pulling Up Roots, Pt. 3–Jesus calls our bluff.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed ad self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26

In my first and second posts in this series, I talked about the importance of having a safe community to be honest about who you really are and about the things you’ve been hiding or lying about. That’s a big risk, because you don’t know how a person is going to react to your honesty. We lie about sin and hide our shame for a reason. But Jesus asks us to behave this way with one another because we (ideally) act the same way towards him. Jesus knows us inside and out, and yet the Bible says that he accepted us even when we were at our worst (Romans 5:8).

|How many times do we try to bluff God?

How many times do we try to bluff God, though? I pretend like I have bargaining power with him, or spend time reminding him of how I’m at least better than someone else. I’m reminded of the story Jesus told about the tax collector and the Pharisee in Luke 18.  The Pharisee, who was legitimately an outwardly righteous person, went to his worship service and spent his prayer time reminding God how good he was. The tax collector, who was a social outcast and widely regarded as a traitor and among the lowest of sinners, simply stood at the back of the temple, looking down at his feet, and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

When you play poker, an important skill is bluffing, or getting people to believe something different about your cards than what is actually true. What’s going on is that you decide whether you can deceive the person and manipulate them into doing what will benefit you. If you don’t think you’ll be able to do it, then you fold and give up that hand.

I, however, am shockingly bad at poker. I’m not good at getting to people to believe things about my cards, so I employ what I refer to as the “camouflage strategy.” That is, I try to keep a low profile and let people kind of forget about me until I get a really good hand.

I think it’s a pretty appropriate metaphor for what we try to do with God when we hide our sin from him.  We either try to pull the wool over his eyes and manipulate him into doing what will benefit us. Or sometimes we try to hide from him, hoping he’ll just kind of forget about us until things get a little better.

“Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there…

If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day
for darkness is as light to you.”

-Psalm 139:7-8, 11-12

“All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweet us away.”

-Isaiah 64:6

Devin is on staff with Destino in St. Louis, MO.

Photo Credit:  Viri G

Posted by Devin Tressler in Discipleship, Spiritually Empowered, 0 comments
Pulling Up Roots, Pt. 2–Shedding light on things.

Pulling Up Roots, Pt. 2–Shedding light on things.

In my last post I asked the question, “How do we live in light of the fact that Jesus wants to pull up the roots of sin in our lives, not just ‘trim the weeds’ and make us look externally good?” Our Destino community finished up last semester and started this new one talking about what makes a community healthy. There is a connection between a healthy community and this pulling up the roots of sin. At our Destino Winter Conference last week, our keynote speaker described the kind of community that breeds healing as, “a place where people can be ‘naked and unashamed.’” This borrows imagery from Genesis 2:25, where Adam and Eve, having a perfectly harmonious relationship with God and with each other, didn’t hide anything about who they were. That, of course, was before sin became a part of their reality, so they had nothing to hide. Today, however, it’s a different story. We have shame and guilt from things we’ve done and things that have happened to us. We have our background and family history that we either want to hide or selectively reveal to others. We have lies and facades that we want people around us to believe.

There are a lot of things to hide and a lot of good reasons to hide them too. Our world’s main operating principle is pretty much survival of the fittest, so if you can’t be the fittest, the next best thing is to look like the fittest and hope nobody calls your bluff. Now, the Kingdom of God isn’t like that at all, but unfortunately we treat it like the rest of the world. That’s to be expected, though, because we’ve only ever known the world. But our Christian communities ought to be places where we don’t need to keep up the lies.

|I have lies, you have lies, and I’m sure we’re both tired…

Maybe part of the solution is just talking about it honestly with another person, saying, “Look, I have lies, you have lies, and I’m sure we’re both tired of keeping up with it. Let’s agree to be a safe place for each other to be honest and start to heal.” In I John 1:7, God tells us, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin.” I’m praying that in Destino, if we get nothing else accomplished, that we’d allow light to be shed on our lives, every part, and therefore start to be purified from every sin.

Devin is on staff with Destino in St. Louis, MO.

Photo Credit:  jcarlosn

Posted by Devin Tressler in Discipleship, Spiritually Empowered, 0 comments
Pulling Up Roots, Pt. 1

Pulling Up Roots, Pt. 1

Imagine a sin.  A sin you can’t give up.  Maybe a habit you’ve tried to kick, or a pattern you’ve tried to break.  You get new resolve every once-in-awhile to try to change, and you break free for a little while.  Or maybe you make a New Year’s resolution, and you see decent success until Martin Luther King’s birthday.

But then you fail.  Giving into the temptation feels good, but then you feel empty and shameful.  You don’t want to admit your failure, so you don’t call your friends.  But in your isolation, you lose your resolve to fight when you face temptation again.  Thus the cycle continues.

As I have seen this pattern take shape in our Destino community, I’ve been frustrated as I’ve seen people make mistakes that I’ve made.  I’ve been angry when I realize that a friend of mine is basing his actions on lies.  And I’ve wept as I’ve seen people do things that have consequences that will last a lifetime and even affect other generations.  We’ve started a conversation with our leaders about this pattern of sin, shame, and isolation, and I feel like it could be a major turning point for our community.

|Don’t just cut the fruit—pull up the root!

One of our leaders talks about sin this way:  “Don’t just cut the fruit, pull up the root.”  That is, when you see someone’s sinful behavior, remember that the most important thing is the heart.  I remember growing up there was this part of our lawn that didn’t have any grass in it–only weeds.  The yard looked great as long as you kept it mowed; the grass and weeds really looked the same so long as it was short.  But if you skipped a week with the lawn mower, you’d see crabgrass, dandelions, and thistles sprout up, and the true quality of the lawn would become evident.  Of course, just because you mowed the lawn didn’t mean it wasn’t filled with weeds–you just couldn’t see them.  To actually get rid of the weeds, you’d have to kill the root either by digging them out or with some sort of spray weed killer.  The point I’m trying to make is that sin is the fruit (or the weeds), but the real problem lies in the heart (i.e., the root system).

Jesus didn’t come to die for us so that we could trim up the weeds of sin and make them look like grass.  He wants to dig out the roots.  (Sorry, I don’t have any analogy for the spray weed killer…)

My question is, how do we live in light of this fact?  What does it mean to focus our efforts on helping people pull up the weeds of sin by the root instead of focusing on trimming the weeds and making our lives look good? On the other hand, what do we do about the poisonous fruit sin in our churches, organizations, and communities?  How should the leaders of those communities lead in not trimming the fruit but cutting out the root of sin?

Devin is on staff with Destino in St. Louis, MO.

Photo Credit:  evaekeblad

Posted by Devin Tressler in Discipleship, Spiritually Empowered, 0 comments
Sharing the Gospel through Día de los Muertos

Sharing the Gospel through Día de los Muertos

The smell of cempasuchitl (Mexican marigolds) would often take over the busyness and pollution of the city. It signified the beginning of a colorful celebration that I did not fully understand, but certainly enjoyed.  As a child, Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), was a moment to remember those who had gone before us. It served as a tribute. As a young teenager, Día de los Muertos, served as a tool to humorously deal with realities we could not overcome.

Through altars and short poems, sorrows and anecdotes were expressed in a cheerful tone during this season and out of fear many mocked death in an effort to overcome it, if only momentarily. Doing so alleviated the harsh realities of a broken world and of an imminent destiny.

Regardless of the many perceptions of this celebration, I think Día de los Muertos today can serve in bridging many to Jesus. I want to challenge us to point out the glimpse of the greater story of life in this celebration.

Perhaps behind this tradition there is a sense that death is not how things ought to be, that it is contrary to our existence. What if we spoke truth into the evident need to overcome death?

Maybe we are the ones who could complete the story though sharing about the One who overcame death so that things are what they ought to be.

|Maybe we are the ones who could complete the story though sharing about the One who overcame death so that things are what they ought to be.

In your campus, there might be a Día de los Muertos celebration, where different groups or individuals set up “altares”. This might be a great place to meet Latinos and to engage in significant spiritual conversations as the topics of spirituality and death are easy to come up.

I have seen “altares” (display tables with relevant artifacts) to remember loved ones, to make a statement about ideas or philosophies or to humorously deal with realities.

An altar to the dying economy would be an example of humorously dealing with realities that are hard to overcome.

Last year at a campus in Southern California students decided to make an altar with colorful paper representing different aspects of the gospel, much like a gospel bracelet. Every time, someone came by to ask them what the topic of their altar was they shared the gospel through explaining each of the color specific levels.

Sandy, @itsovalle, served for several years with Destino in Texas and California.  She has a heart for creating multicultural communities of belonging where foreign-born and native-born people can experience the kingdom of God together. She believes God uses displacement and migration as essential catalysts to carry out his mission. Currently working at World Relief, Sandy empowers churches and communities to engage their immigrant and refugee neighbors

photo courtesy: Bea Ibarra

Posted by Devin Tressler in Culturally Connected, Outreach, 0 comments