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“You don’t look Salvadoran…”

“Are you ready to be Dolphins fans?”

My dad asked this of me and my brother as we packed up our house in El Salvador. I had never watched American football. Twenty-one years later, I’ve given up on the Dolphins but deepened my love for this country.

After the move, I grew up in heavily Latino Miami, Florida, where my race, nationality and bilingual ability seemed ordinary. Over the years, though, I have been asked a question in various iterations, and in different settings, that forced me to confront a part of my identity that I hadn’t previously considered.

The first time it came up was when I went to college in New York City. I attended a small college with fewer than 300 students, where I was one of but a handful of “minority” students. When I would introduce myself to someone, they would (naturally) ask, “Where are you from?”

I could have answered that my family most recently lived in Miami and that probably would have sufficed. But I never felt like I was from Miami. So I would answer that I lived in Miami but am originally from El Salvador. Almost every time, their response would be about my ability to speak English so well and without an accent. Once in a while, if the person I was meeting knew of El Salvador or had met another Salvadoran, their response would take the form of, “Wow, you don’t look Salvadoran.”

I never knew how to respond to that. Sometimes, other Salvadorans here in the U.S. are shocked to hear me speak Spanish to them, just like them. I also don’t know how to react to that. Sometimes I’m bemused. Sometimes it makes me feel like a platypus—like the lone egg-laying mammal. Like I belonged neither here nor there. Too Americanized to be fully Salvadoran, yet too Salvadoran to be American.

As I have thought about this over the years, though, I have learned that when it comes to God’s love for me, there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither Latino nor Anglo. In Christ Jesus I am God’s son through faith.

I have also learned that we have all been perfectly made in his image, and if his plan is perfect, then all of our differences in heritage, culture, and background point to his glory. If all those differences make up one body, we should aim to love one another so that each part is working properly and the body can grow to build itself up in love.

As I navigate the choppy waters of multiculturalism, the biggest lesson I have learned is to extend grace as grace has been extended to me—to put away all bitterness and wrath and clamor and slander, and instead to be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving to one another as God has forgiven us.

I have found that when I treat others with that attitude first, God’s redemptive love heals wounds and builds up the body of Christ.

Daniel Leiva is a Grace Downtown member and part of our upcoming panel discussion on cultural intelligence.

Tools For Growth

Easter Devotionals

Topics: | Tags: | Posted on: 03.10.2014

During the week leading up to Easter Sunday, we will be offering daily email devotionals to help you reflect on the meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection. If you are interested in receiving these emails, use the signup form below and be sure to select “Tools for Growth.”

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Is Your Life Flesh-Filled or Fruit-Full?

Lately, I’ve been looking at my life in terms of flesh and fruit.

The Bible uses the terms flesh and Spirit to represent opposite and contrasting ways of living. Living by the flesh means living according to selfish desires and whims. Living by the Spirit means intentionally reflecting Christ’s moral beauty and living by his power (Galatians 5.16–26).

Just like living your life fueled by junk food results in health problems, living your life chasing after the leading of the flesh results in spiritual problems, perpetuating the cycle of what the Bible calls sin.

However, living by the Spirit results in living a life marked by what the Bible calls spiritual fruit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

To put this all another way: A diseased tree either produces bad fruit or none at all, while a healthy tree produces good fruit and produces it abundantly.

So how can we assess what kind of fruit we are producing? What tell-tale signs can we look for in our lives that will help us see whether we are living according to the flesh or yielding spiritual fruit? Over the course of the next several weeks, I will share brief reflections on ways in which these two themes show up in our lives. Visit this blog on Fridays throughout the spring for future installments.


Spiritual Gifts vs. Natural Gifts

As part of our Stewardship series », we talked about spiritual gifts. I want to unpack the idea just a bit further, so we might better understand how our natural gifts and spiritual gifts relate.

Who gets spiritual gifts?

God gives natural gifts to all people. He does this because he is their creator and he wants them to flourish. However, when Christ becomes our redeemer and Lord, God gives us what are called spiritual gifts for the sake of strengthening the church and advancing the cause of Christ in the world. (To put it another way: Natural gifts are ours by physical birth, while spiritual gifts come by spiritual birth.)

Can God use natural gifts as spiritual gifts?

Yes! But we shouldn’t assume this will always happen. For a natural gift to be used spiritually, it must be submitted to Christ for his use. It requires dependence upon the Spirit of God to make a natural gift spiritually useful or fruitful.

A few examples:

  • It is one thing to be good at cooking or entertaining. But when your home serves as a ‘hub’ of God’s work—a place for the fostering of Christian community, for mentorship, safety, healing and evangelism—that indicates the spiritual gift of hospitality.
  • It is one thing to possess a talent for making people feel good, or giving compliments (flattery). But when you can wisely and truthfully point out hope, or strengthen others in truth and grace, this is the spiritual gift of encouragement.
  • It is one thing to be administratively talented, able to keep people and systems organized and efficient. But I have been to conferences or retreats in which the thoughtful layout of the space, the pace of the registration process, the warm and genuine greeting I received all clearly expressed God’s love and care and then skillfully set the stage for his further work—indicating the spiritual gift of administration.
When we become a believer, might God give us a new spiritual gift?

Of course. There are some gifts that obviously occur after conversion. While all Christians are called to participate in prayer, evangelism and discerning spiritual truths, those who are spiritually gifted in these areas have a ‘heightened’ or more fruitful ability. Their prayers possess power and strength; they have led many to Christ; they have special insight into God’s Word. This is true of many other spiritual gifts, as well, including leadership, mercy and generosity.

For further reflection read 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12.1-11, Ephesians 4.1-15, 1 Peter 4.7-11


LISTEN: Hollywood: Finding Common Grace in an Unlikely Place

Erik Lokksmoe‘s February 10, 2014 talk at Grace Downtown covered the theology behind bringing our faith to bear on our work, the changes he has seen in the entertainment industry over the past decade and ways Christians can have a life-giving influence on the culture around us.

This file includes only the audio of his talk and does not include the audio from the film clips that he showed. The question-and-answer portion of the evening will be posted separately in the coming weeks.

Erik Lokksmoe is the co-president of Aspiration Media (a film distribution company) and principal of Different Drummer (a marketing and publicity agency for studio movies and indie films). Erik has served as a political and celebrity speechwriter in DC, a Capitol Hill press secretary, the director of communications for the National Endowment for the Humanities and a media strategist for the National Association of Broadcasters. He is the author of two books on communication, most recently co-authoring with Jedd Medefind the book Upended.


Justice, Music and the Soul

Topics: , | | Tags: , , , , , | Posted on: 02.25.2014

“The guilty get no sleep in the last slow hours of morning.”
Neil Finn

Serpico PosterRecently I watched the film Serpico (1973). The movie stars Al Pacino and was based upon Peter Mass’ biography of New York Police Department officer Frank Serpico, who exposed police corruption on the force.

Over and over throughout the film, we are reminded that Serpico is a music lover: We see him listening to opera, singing as he travels down the highway and turning to a melody for consolation amidst terrible frustration and isolation.

This wasn’t an artistic liberty—music really was that important to Serpico. Prior to filming, Al Pacino asked Serpico to come and stay with him at his home. During that stay Pacino asked the then-retired cop, “Why did you step forward?” Serpico replied, “Well, Al, I don’t know. I guess I would have to say it would be because…if I didn’t, who would I be when I listened to a piece of music?

What an interesting response—and what a true thing to say!

Good art has a way of unveiling us. It disarms our defenses and sneaks in the back door of our soul. Whatever is inside you—whether it is injustice or love—can be exposed when you let good art in.

Serpico knew that he couldn’t continue to be comfortable having his soul laid bare and open by music while also continuing to contribute to injustice. It was going to have to be one or the other.

In the end, Frank Serpico did a good thing and he did it courageously, but God calls us to a higher standard than that. Jesus Christ is our model for a good life and a clean soul. We can’t live up to that, but in the gospel, God gives us the clean soul we need to truly enjoy art. In the gospel, we are more than forgiven for our every injustice—we are also compelled toward actively pursuing even greater justice. Thanks to the gospel, we don’t need to fear letting a great song, film or book touch our hearts.

Tools For Growth

A Practical Guide To Giving

Topics: , | | Tags: , , , | Posted on: 02.24.2014

As we near the end of our sermon series on stewardship, many of us are prayerfully re-considering the ways in which we use our time, talents and money. For those of you who want to grow in giving but want some guidance on how to budget for it, or for those of you who want to begin tithing but aren’t sure how to calculate what that means on a week-to-week or month-to-month basis, I’d like to recommend a helpful took offered by Redeemer Presbyterian Church of New York City. This interactive chart lays out weekly and yearly giving amounts based on income level and the percentage of gross income you are aspiring to give.

I hope this chart is helpful as you plan how to best steward the resources you are trusted with.

Use the giving chart »

New Member Q&A: Get to Know Ruth Chan

Topics: , | Tags: | Posted on: 02.21.2014

Three times each year, Grace Downtown welcomes in groups of new members. Following each membership class, we will periodically introduce new members to the rest of our community through question-and-answer sessions posted on our blog.


Please share the story behind why you ended up in DC.

I’m originally from New York City and have spent the last (almost) two years here working for the Department of Commerce.

What has surprised you most about coming to DC?

The beauty of DC surprised me the most. I was impressed by how clean and spacious DC is, compared to other cities where I’ve lived. The historicity and decor of the buildings in downtown DC was much grander than I anticipated. The cause-oriented “personality” of DC surprised me, too, especially how the city attracts people from all places vying for all kinds of change.  

What’s your hidden talent?

I’m pretty good at slipping lyrics from pop songs randomly into conversations. Admittedly I wish it were more of a talent, and others wish it were more hidden.

What is one of your favorite spots in the District?

One gem I’ve found in DC is the National Gallery of Art, especially during the off-season. It’s a great spot for reading, sitting quietly, and enjoying the creative genius of others. During the springtime and fall, a quiet, shaded bench by the Tidal Basin is another favorite of mine. Watch out for the squirrels, though. One tried to jump into my backpack.

Was there a particular aspect about Grace Downtown’s vision or community that drew you in?

Grace Downtown’s desire to be present in DC as servants really spoke to me. I’ve been so amazed by the people in our church who chose to use their power, resources, and influence to love others well.

What is something God is teaching you lately, or taught you as you transitioned to DC?

During my transition to DC, God showed me his faithfulness and care. I often get caught up in the mentality of “If I don’t do it, it won’t happen!” Thankfully, God provided me friendships, housing, wisdom, and guidance, because he’s my heavenly father and the all-powerful God (not I!). Through friends, community group, and worship services, God has continually relieved my fear of inadequacy and loneliness. Also, DC can be an overwhelming place, and I’ve learned that faithfulness and kindness go a long way here.

Local Partners

Little Lights: A Conversation About Black History

Celebrating Black History Month is important to Little Lights Urban Ministries, because so many in the Little Lights community have been part of the story of black history.

Two Little Lights staff members, Linda and Crystal, sat down with to talk about black history. Both offer unique and thoughtful perspectives: Linda is Little Lights’ Associate Director and grew up in DC during the Civil Rights years, while Crystal grew up attending Little Lights and now works on staff at the Hopkins Center.

Who are role models for you or important figures in your understanding of black history?

Crystal: Martin Luther King, Jr. for getting us to have equal rights, even though it’s still not completely fair, it’s fairer than it was. Rosa Parks, because she stood up for what she thought was right. Nelson Mandela, because he wasn’t afraid. They all fought back instead of just letting things happen.

What events do you see as important in black history?

Linda: Being alive during the Martin Luther King Jr. era and the riots after he died. It was a scary time. We kids had to go to bed early, we weren’t allowed to look out the windows, but of course I did. And I saw things I wish I’d never seen. The city was trashed. Every white business was set on fire. All you could smell was smoke and flesh. – And also, being able to graduate from high school (and sing during the ceremony) at Constitution Hall, where previously African Americans weren’t allowed to go.

What do you wish more people understood about black history?

Crystal: I wish more people understood that black history doesn’t necessarily have to be “black.” Everything is about equality, which doesn’t just involve black people, it’s about the rights of everybody. A lot of black people fought for justice, for blacks but also for everybody.

Linda: How the struggle affects us, and will affect us for generations to come. Many people, me included, weren’t in jobs because we wanted them, but because we wanted to be treated equal. I got my first job at the bank because the EEO was forcing them to hire African Americans. I experienced the most abuse at that job. People doing the same job, with the same qualifications were paid differently because of race. Supervisors let customers use racial slurs when speaking to me. It was very disheartening. But as African Americans fought back, slowly things changed. If somebody hadn’t fought years ago for equal rights, I wouldn’t be where I am today.


Book of the Bible Study: Habakkuk

Topics: , | Posted on: 02.14.2014

Habakkuk isn’t typically the book we turn to when we read from the Old Testament. God speaks through the prophet Habakkuk to explain the depths and breadth of God’s wise, just, and sovereign plan for his people.

Have you ever questioned God’s wisdom? Habakkuk will encourage you to trust that all things truly work out for His glory. Join Mike Park at 3:00pm on March 9th at Calvary Baptist for an in-depth look at the book of Habakkuk.

March 9th at 3:00pm, Calvary Baptist
Click here to sign up!