Welcome back. You belong here.
This is going to be a series of posts on the topic: Everything Must Change, Starting With Me.
Today’s focus: Location.
For the past three years, we’ve lived in Denver, CO (Arvada, CO to be exact, a suburb in the NW Denver metro area). Two weeks ago we moved back to Long Beach, CA the city where my grandmother raised me since about age 9.
We want to be involved in our community, schools, parks, education, city council, non-profits, social justice and immigration. We want to teach music and help children and youth reach their musical dreams.
People often ask us “are you going back to X, Y, Z?”. Our quick answer is no, we’re not going back, we’re moving forward.
Forward but in reality it’s also back. Back to the area near 7th and Cherry where I grew up, near Broadway and Junipero where my wife and I had our 1st apartment as a young married couple, to 7th and Obispo (near Redondo), where my grandmother and I went to church.
To the Safeway on 7th and Junipero that became a Pic N Save and is now a Big Lots. To 3rd and Junipero and Grace UMC the church I used to run by praying God would one day open a door.
Why? Simply, because God has called us back. Why did we leave Colorado? Didn’t like it? It was great, loved the blue skies and open space, but again, we moved back because God called us to the area where I grew up. To Burbank Elementary (where my good friend Hugo and I used to play basketball), to Franklin Middle School and the 91 bus we used to take every day.
A friend recently called this a “Theology of Location”, I think there’s a lot of truth in that, but for me it’s also a Theology of Abuelita. My abuelita (gradmother) raised me since I was a little boy and she brought us to Long Beach, to 8th and Raymond, into the duplex behind Francis and her husband “el antiguo” while her mother (original owners) lived in the house in front, an original California bungalow.
That same friend told me that at a recent conference he was challenged to call people to “stay in their cities for a life time until they see the Kingdom of God become tangible”. He said, “that’s what you’re doing” and it’s true. We’re back in Long Beach for good, forever, for a life time. And not just anywhere in Long Beach, but in the area where I grew up, an area of high density, high diversity and great need. But also a place of hope and life.
People have all kinds of bad nick names for this area, the one I recently heard was the Gay Getto, I’m sure there are worst. For us, it’s home, it’s a combination of old Long Beach (people now in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s who still live in their homes and have survived the change), Latinos, Samoans, Philippinos, African Americans, and gay people. It’s Belmont Heights, Rose Park, Carroll Park, District 1 and 2, it’s where I grew up.
Earlier today, I was listening to Jay Bakker talk about Dr. MLK jr. and his decision to teach at Montgomery College instead of other White-only, non-segregated schools. Dr. King chose Montgomery because it was the getto of his time, a place where racial tension was high and others were afraid to go. It would have been easier for Mr. King to teach at a better, safer college to raise a family and live a good life. But he chose tension instead of ease.
In a way, although our circumstances today are nothing like Dr. King’s (although immigrant and homosexual tensions seem like the racism of our day), we are doing the same. We are choosing tension instead of ease. We are choosing the place of “greatest devotion, versus the place of greatest opportunity”.
We have friends back in CO who hear of our move back to CA and squint. They hear the stories of CA being near bankrupt, the ruin of its education system and it’s horrible debt and budget shortfalls. We also hear that from people who are leaving CA to AZ, Texas and Colorado, and they badmouth the state for it’s poor leadership, horrible debt and lack of control with its spending. We know, it’s tough.
But with all that, we feel called back to CA and to East Long Beach, to 7th and Cherry, to 3rd and Junipero and Bixby Park. The area where campus ministries send their young missionaries to do “urban work”. For us, it’s more than urban work, it’s home, it’s where we are willing to be for the rest of our lives.
A few months ago on Easter Sunday, I was at my friend’s church in this area. While at his church, I went up to take communion. I had just come from my other friend’s church, a church of 500+ filled with life, hope and many opportunities.
As I took communion, together with maybe 50 other people, I thought, “what a difference, one place is hopping with people, this one, not so much”. But as I took the bread and the cup, the very essence of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, I heard a voice say to me “Trig, if I’m willing to give my life for you, will you not do the same for this church?” I remember telling God, “yes Lord, I am.”
And so it has begun.
We still don’t have a place to live, still don’t have jobs, we’re still making things work one day at a time. But one thing is clear, we are home. Yes home to family, and home to the ocean and SoCal lifestyle. But more than that, we are back to where God has called us to be, to Long Beach, CA, to a Theology of Location and Abuelita, to the city of my youth and to some degree of my ancestors (via Managua, Nicaragua).
And although the path is not yet clear, we are confident that we have finally found our tribe, our people and we know soon enough we will find the rhythms of God, with all it’s ups and downs. We look forward to that.