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Twinkly Lights in the Palm Tree: Why I Love Christmas in Miami

Twinkly Lights in the Palm Tree: Why I Love Christmas in Miami

The city of emigrants reveals an important truth: We are all wanderers on the earth.

Miami is not a place that comes to mind when most people think of Christmas. Carols, eggnog, and cookies by the fireplace, numerous viewings of It's a Wonderful Life, childhood memories, and traditions that bind the present to the past seem at odds with the sun, beaches, and the aggressive nightlife that characterize the city.

This is our first Christmas in Miami. My family moved here from Nebraska in July. Like our city, our new life is now full of extremes, contrasts, and discontinuities. The studio where I work with an internationally renowned artist consists of an 18,000-square-foot warehouse and is in a neighborhood filled with drug dealers, the homeless, prostitutes, and the Miami Rescue Mission. The contrast between this neighborhood and the image of art and culture in Miami Beach could not be more revealing.

In Miami, the first Sunday after Thanksgiving is not the beginning of Advent, but rather the beginning of Art Basel: Miami Beach, an international art fair that for 10 years has attracted thousands of art dealers, collectors, and curators from around the world to enjoy the sun and art. The church begins its new year with an Advent fast precisely when Miami gorges itself on the pleasures of culture. But like the beaches and the nightclubs, the art fair also reveals the sense of homelessness and restlessness that characterizes the city.

Most people here come from somewhere else. Like us, they have left someone or something behind. They are here for a new start, to follow a dream or to escape a nightmare. Exile and displacement are a presence for nearly everyone we meet. Miami embodies an important biblical truth: We are wanderers on the face of the earth, searching for or running away from what we cannot fully comprehend as our home. Christmas in Miami has become a constant reminder that no matter what or whom we have left, we are not home yet.

A cohort of pastors here are developing a network of churches that are gospel-centered and grace-driven, that are presenting Christ as the fulfillment of the homelessness, displacement, and restless longing that characterizes the city. Tullian Tchividjian at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Rick Hunter and Brad Schmidt at City Church in Fort Lauderdale, and Keith Case, Felipe Assis, and his brother, Marcus, at Crossbridge Church in Miami are offering a foretaste of the kingdom, developing strong communities that contribute to the social and cultural flourishing of the city. And this is something that my family has experienced firsthand. It has been through Coral Ridge that we have found stability as we negotiate the challenges of our own displacement.

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Displaying 1–2 of 2 comments

Daniel A. Siedell

January 03, 2012  7:57pm

Dear Christian Lawyer, CT invited me to write about my experience, and my experience is what it is. I hope there is a place for an Anglo, evangelical family from Nebraska in your "multicultural Miami." By the way, my family lives in Parkland (strike three?). Email me at siedell at martinezcelaya.com and I'd enjoy meeting you and getting to know your part of Miami.

Christian Lawyer

December 24, 2011  4:17pm

As a long-time (almost 2 decades) resident of Miami, I have to ask why CT would publish an article from someone who's barely scratched the surface of this vibrant, multicultural city. What Siedell describes as "a neighborhood filled with drug dealers, the homeless, prostitutes, and the Miami Rescue Mission" is actually the Wynwood Arts District, an up-and-coming neighborhood being transformed by the community itself into a destination location. The Miami Rescue Mission IS bringing the gospel and the tangible love of Christ to the city. Just a few blocks from the Wynwood Arts District is downtown Miami, itself undergoing a decade-long transformation, which has several multicultural churches that ARE "gospel-centered and grace-driven" and that ARE ALREADY "developing strong communities that contribute to the social and cultural flourishing of the city." (Unless you don't count mainline churches ...) Miami doesn't need more churches. It needs people to pitch in and add their gifts and talents to the ones that are already there. Siedell's heart is surely in the right place, and Miami is certainly not perfect, but the notion that Miami needs a bunch of outsiders, almost exclusively Anglo and very exclusively male, to "Renew South Florida" comes across as insulting, and more importantly, tragically misguided. Miami is a "majority minority" city. The model of white, suburban evangelicals ministering to poor, urban minorities just doesn't compute in a city like Miami that is a multicultural jumble. How sad that Siedell, in order to find "stability," feels like he has to take his family and drive outside Miami to a white church in a wealthy white enclave on the north side of Ft. Lauderdale, which is a completely separate city 30 miles north of Miami? There's no need to flee the jurisdiction to find "stability." As the angels said, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." God CAN give you "stability" -- even in multicultural Miami. All you have to do is give up the notion that the congregation and the leadership of your church have to look just like you. Joy to the World! Feliz Navidad! Jwaye Nowel! Feliz Natal!

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