30 December 2006

Sacred Ink

Lauren Winner, one of the best current thinkers on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, wrote a provocative book a few years back entitled Girl Meets God. In this memoir, Winner includes a reflection on her four tattoos: “a teal crescent moon on my ankle, a band of autumnal leaves braceleting around my left arm, a purple flower embedded in a purple star just over my left breast, and a small wreath of laurel leaves…”(152).

A glutton for all things history, Winner also notes:

There is a long tradition of Christian tattooing. Procopius of Gaza, a historian who lived in the late fifth century, noted that many Christians in Europe wore tattoos of the sign of the Cross on their arms. In the sixteenth century, pilgrims to the shrine of Loreto in Italy got tattoos, often of the Virgin Mary or St. Francis, to commemorate their trip. Around the same time, European visitors to Palestine came home with tattoos of the Jerusalem cross. George Sandys, an Englishman traveling in Europe in the second decade of the seventeenth century, observed, “They…mark the Arms of Pilgrims, with the names of Jesus, Maria, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Jerusalem cross, and sundry other characters.” Christians not only associated tattoos with Christ’s stigmata, but with two verses in the New Testament—Paul’s words in Galatians 6 about carrying “the marks of Jesus tattooed on my body,” and the prophetic vision in Revelation 19 about the writing on Christ’s thigh (154).

To read about women and men from the church I serve who are living with missional purpose in the Metro Detroit area, read this.

27 December 2006

Reading: A Spiritual Discipline

This is a great time of year to catch up on reading and to think about what books you would like to tackle for 2007. Here are some suggestions for both.

New Wineskins has some good pieces: A Conversation with Brian McLaren is excellent; Greg Taylor has compiled some interesting reflections and a movie review per Mary, the mother of Jesus; and some young kid named Josh Graves has also written a piece on experiencing God in the margins. Wineskins can be read at www.wineskins.org.

Some of the best books of 2006:

Winner of a Pulitzer Prize, this book chronicles four generations of preachers from Pre-Civil War Kansas to middle twentieth century Iowa. Non-violence, John Brown, aging, fatherhood, legacy, truth, dignity are all major themes in this instant classic.

Irresistible Revolution
The most challenging book I've read in 2006 (thanks to Andy Harrison, Sara Barton et al for making me read this). This book challenges the absence of Christians practicing hospitality and solidarity with the poor as well as our true allegiances. "The real tragedy in the West is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor. The real tragedy is that rich Christians do not know the poor." If we knew the poor, of course we'd care, be involved, fight for justice.

The Color of Law
A novel I read because of the rave reviews it has received, this story asks questions about life in Dallas, Texas. A rich young lawyer has it all (the wife, perfect child, huge mansion, fancy car, large salary) trades his identity to represent a woman he believes is being exploited and abused by a hopeful presidential candidate. I understand this is the author's first novel--absolutely a home-run.

Simply Christian
I'm amazed at NT Wright's ability to write on the scholarly level as well as the popular level. This book, written for the masses, is as fine an introduction to the Christian faith as I've read. It is written in the similar vein of Mere Christianity, but with sensibility to the emerging shape of the post-Christian post-modern West.

Parting the Waters
An engaging narrative surveying the United States during the first stretch of Martin Luther King's leadership with the SCLC. This book does a masterful job of focusing on King without losing the broader picture of crucial attitudes and events happening around the United States. This book affirms what I've believed for a few years: Martin Luther King is the most important American of the twentieth century, perhaps the most important American ever. Why? He challenged us (all of us) to think seriously about those cherished lines, "That all men are created equal..."

Girl Meets God
Lauren Winner writes a memoir that treats serious subjects (sex, fidelity in marriage, faith, Eucharist, holy calendar, Judaism and Christianity) with a holy playfulness. She also treats rather routine projects (like cooking, reading, traveling) with great reverence. At the heart of the memoir is the tension Lauren walks in with her conversions to Judaism and Christianity. Christians who believe that the Bible starts with Matthew's genealogy, must read this "journal-esque" spiritual steak and potatoes.

Leaving Church
My favorite spiritual writer continues to churn out prophetic book after prophetic book. If you've not read Taylor, this is an excellent introduction.

The Four Voices of Preaching
OK. Only a few of you would even consider reading this. It's worth it...for the two of you that is.

Some of the books I look forward to reading in 2007

The Real Mary
Jesus and His Death
Evil and the Justice of God
African Bible Commentary
Next Christendom
The New Faces of Christianity
The Unfolding Drama of the Bible
Messiah of Morris Avenue
Pillar of Fire
Gates of Fire

So...What are you reading in 2007?


23 December 2006

The Heart of God

A snippet from the Dec. 24th Christmas homily at the Rochester Church with myself and Patrick Mead.

* * *

Joseph, the illegitimate father of Jesus has much to teach us. In Matthew’s Gospel, Joseph is the focal point—the one on whom all the angels and creation lean in asking, “What will he say? Will he say yes to God?” Will he believe the angel or will he chalk it up to bad Chinese food or stress at the office? What will this Joseph think? Will he allow his wife-to-be to endure shame, and gossip. “There’s goes Jesus—who’s his father anyway?” It is scary to think, that had Jesus been born today, he might be a candidate for abortion.

In our own age of people who raise children without benefit of marriage, the issue of legitimacy sounds a bit quaint, but the heart of the story is much bigger and more profound than that. The heart of the story is about a just man who wakes up one day to find his life wrecked: his wife pregnant, his trust betrayed, his name ruined, his future revoked. It is about a righteous man who surveys a mess he has had absolutely nothing to do with and decides to believe that God is present in it…He claims the scandal and it gives it a name. He owns the mess—he legitimates it—and the mess becomes the place where the Messiah is born (Barbara Brown Taylor in Gospel Medicine, 156-157).

I’m really glad that Joseph didn’t do what many Christians say they would do in any given situation, “Well, I’ll just do what the Bible tells me to do,” as if the Bible can just be mined for any situation without thought or interpretations. As one man reminded me this week, do we know what the Bible Joseph read instructed him to do in this situation? It instructed him to take the woman out “and stone her death in front of the people,” what about that (Deut. 22)? Joseph understood that the Scriptures must always be read through the heart and character of God. I’m glad he didn’t just read the Bible and do what it says.

I'm glad he "read" scripture and life through the heart of God.

19 December 2006

Jack, Dry Bones

Since the passing of Professor Jack, I've not felt the urgency to write. I've been quite empty actually. I'm slowly healing from the sudden loss; Kara and I are pouring our money and time into another young man, who I plan on writing about in the future.

In a few weeks, I'll be in Denver, Colorado to witness a good friend get married. While I'm there I'm also going to spend some time with the radical followers of Jesus who run Dry Bones, a ministry for the young poor and young homeless of inner city Denver. Here is a recent reflection from one of the directors of this ministry effort.

Conversation is the most amazing invention. I guess someone invented it. However it came about I am glad to have it. I cannot imagine life without conversation. How lifeless life would be if all we had were just the facts and only the facts. I sat with one of my friends this week and utilized the incredible life asset of conversation. We sat and conversed about the trivial and the serious poking fun at both. We discovered things we liked and disliked. Sitting there enjoying conversation I found out my friend really wanted to explore a certain job opportunity he always dreamed about doing. The one thing he felt stood in his way was a physical appearance issue that kept him from pursuing his dream. Through life choices, he has literally destroyed his teeth. At a very young age, he has only nubs of teeth were once pearly whites gleamed. The consequence is bigger than he could have known. He has lost the confidence that anyone would take him seriously with a mouth full of bits and pieces of teeth. Not to mention the constant pain he endures. He said he wanted to get his teeth fixed first and then nothing would stop him. It dawned on me that this very conversation had empowered him to have the confidence to share with me his struggles and hopes so maybe just maybe I could use conversation to help find a way to reach his dream. It is obvious I cannot pull teeth much less repair them. However, I can converse about it. I asked him if it would help if someone went with him to the free clinic to check on getting him some help. With a look of curious expectation, he answered yes. I added what if they stayed with you and then bought some ice cream afterwards. He said that could work. I told him I would love to do that for him all he had to do is tell me when and where.

Later that evening my friend asks if Monday would be ok for us to go to the clinic. You bet I said and we made the arrangements. He smiled. I mean he smiled! Maybe I do know who it was that invented this conversation thing. Maybe you do as well:

Support Robbie Goldman/Dry Bones Denver

455 S Youngfield Ct

Lakewood, Co 80228



06 December 2006

Remembering Jack

Some of you have heard me talk, write and get excited over Professor Jack, a man I’d been honored to work with in Cass Park and the Salvation Army Shelter across from the Masonic Temple downtown.

I got a call yesterday from Francis, one of Jack’s friends in the shelter.

“Josh…it’s not good.”

“What’s not good?”

“It’s Jack, man. He died. They rushed him out of here to Detroit Receiving. I know you were working with him, I know you were close. I just thought I’d call to tell you.”

“Francis, you have no idea how much this phone call means to me…”

I attended the viewing and funeral for John “Jack” Iannuchi yesterday and today. Here’s the death notice from the Detroit News:


December 05, 2006 "JACK" Age 50, December 1, 2006. Loving father of Melissa Iannucci (Rich Thompson), Jacqueline, Lia, and Ezra. Cherished grandfather of Devin, Sydney, and Zoe. Dearest son of John (Yolanda) and the late Barbara. Brother of Patricia (Jon) Iannucci-Waller, Lea, Dino, Nancy (David) Welke and the late Frank. Uncle of Dylan, Alex, and Isabella. Former husband of Patty. Liz, mother of Jack's son Ezra. Funeral Wednesday Noon at the A.H. Peters Funeral Home, 20705 Mack Ave. at Vernier Rd., Grosse Pointe Woods. Visitation Tuesday 2-9 p.m. with a Rosary at 7 p.m. Memorials may be made to the Salvation Army, 16130 Northland Drive, Southfield, MI 48075.

* * *

Last night, Jack’s daughters huddled around my phone to listen to his voice. I had saved a voicemail he’d left me last week wishing me a belated Happy Thanksgiving. “I’m really sorry I can’t make it,” (we were supposed to have dinner together) “I’ve just been feeling awful lately.” His sisters and daughters had not heard his voice in quiet some time. You haven’t lived until men like Jack leave you messages on your phone.

The family, to my complete surprise, asked me to have a part in the funeral today because Jack told us about the “priest he’d been working with.” Never had I been so proud to be called “priest.”

I could barely get the words out at the funeral. I told his family that Jack had a mind of great intellect. My 200 plus hours of undergraduate and graduate education in college were no match for his wisdom. More than a great mind, Jack had a huge heart. “Very few people,” I stammered, “possess great knowledge and great love. Jack—your father, brother, husband, and grandfather—was such a person.”

Here’s a photo a college student took one Sunday afternoon we spent in Cass Park. Jack is on the park bench in the middle.

I’m feeling a little numb right now. I’m not really sure if I should share something so intensely private on the World Wide Web. Yet…I know…deep down that Jack’s story need’s to be told.

Tonight, as I drive home from work, I’ll be thinking about Jack. It will be about 18 degrees outside, Jack would say: “cold as hell, man.”

I’m a better follower of Jesus for knowing Jack. Even more important, I’m a better human being.

02 December 2006

Am I an American (or...German, Ugandan, Canadian) Christian or a Christian American?

One of the highlights of 2006 was the time I was able to spend at the Pepperdine Lectures with my friends Klint and Rachel Pleasant, Chris Lindsey, John York (my chief mentor), Rubel Shelly (my rabbi), Greg Taylor (my newest spiritual friend), and Sara Barton (my co-worker in campus ministry at Rochester College).

Perhaps more than the great lunches (thanks John and Rubel) and the great conversations—I’ve been most impacted by Randy Harris’s three day lecture: The Kingdoms of God and the Kingdoms of Man.

Randy was a good friend to me the year I spent coaching and studying at ACU. Klint, Randy and I had some great conversations over good Mexican food (something we don’t have here in Metro Detroit). Our conversations usually covered everything from the theology of Mark’s passion narrative to the NCAA basketball tournament.


On the third day of Randy’s session, he challenges the class to ask themselves if they are more influenced by American values or the values of God’s Kingdom. He asks seven questions in response to that underlining one. I’ve listed his question along with my own questions for further clarification.

1. SIMPLICITY: How is my life being simplified? Am I on a path of consuming or emptying?

2. HOSPITALITY: Who sits at my table? Who I do welcome into my home on a regular basis? Do I spend time with those who “have little to offer me” in terms of reputation, societal standing and reputation?

3. PRAYER: For what and for whom do I pray? Do I pray for others first or for myself? Do I pray for my enemies in public as Jesus instructs us? Do I pray for the soldiers of all nations involved in a given war or only for those who fight for the country I live in?

4. SPEECH: Has my speech been affected? Do I say only “that which love requires”? Am I covertly racist towards persons who do not look like me? Am I prejudice against a particular gender?

5. RELATIONSHIPS: How are my relationships? Do I have relationships with people who would not be considered “elite”? Do I bring peace, wholeness, and joy or chaos, fraction and contempt? Do I suck the life out of people or do I breathe new life into my friends?

6. ADDICTIONS AND DESIRES: How am I doing with my addictions? More than sex, drugs, rock-n-roll (which should not be on this list)—am I still a shop-a-holic convinced that happiness comes in the things I buy? Am I still addicted to being comfortable? Am I cutting back on my time and money given to sports? Movies?

7. FIDELITY: Am I increasingly indifferent to my circumstances? In times of plenty and in times of want, do I remain committed to the Way of Christ regardless of the circumstances around me?

NOTE: In my Introduction to the New Testament class (Rochester College) on Friday--we had a great discussion concerning this topic. I'm so proud of our students ability to think criticially and humbly per their walk as disciples of Jesus. There were several ideas and points raised that I'd not thought about concerning this issue. This has been as rewarding a semester teaching as I've had.

How do you score on this test?

The Rochester Church is going to be considering each of these seven areas in 2007 during a CNX (Wedesday) Series "THE (ORIGINAL) MARKS OF A CHURCH"

Peace this Advent Season.


27 November 2006

Amusing Ourselves to Death

My friend, Craig Kline, a doctor and devout disciple in "The D" (that's Detroit for those who aren't up on their slang) shared this recently with our small group.

* * *

Note: I thought I would send you guys a quote that has encouraged me ever since someone else pointed it out to me awhile ago. If you don't know, "1984" was a book about a society that controlled people with power, lies, and pain. "A Brave New World" was a book that told about a people that were destroyed by pleasure.


"We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares. But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision there was another- slightly older, slightly less well know, equally chilling: Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity, history. As he saw it , people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban books for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much information that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right." - Neil Postman, from the intro to his book, "Amusing Ourselves to Death".

18 November 2006

Professor Jack

Here is a reflection from a recent event in the margins.


Several of us (as in 100 plus) from the church I serve and the college I teach for decided to be a part of a “love feast” for the poor and homeless persons who live in and around Cass Park in Downtown Detroit. Cass Corridor is a notorious section of Detroit—known for rampant prostitution, drugs and destitution. The people who live down here swear, “The police have given up on this place.” The men and women who call this area “home” welcomed us into their space with love, acceptance, and hospitality.

Cass Park is within a stone’s throw of mighty Ford Field and Comerica Park, home to two professional sports teams—the Detroit Lions and Detroit Tigers. The two stadiums, and the millions of dollars they represent in profits each year, cast a long and dark shadow over this area the locals call “Jurassic Park”—referring to the violence and chaos often experienced by its inhabitants.

Some of us involved in the feast have experience working with the poor. Others were experiencing the power of “solidarity with the poor” for the first time.

When Kara (my wife) and I arrived at Cass Park, the food and clothing distribution line was in full force. College students and life long members of the church were working at a feverish and quiet efficient pace. One thing was obvious: our service was not needed. We decided that rather than being in the position of power, which suburbanites often fall back to when working with the poor, we would seek out persons to talk with, to simply be present.

My friend Andy Turner, who has taught me a great deal about city life, was already in conversation with several men at the southern end of the park. Kara and I decided to join him. I did not realize how meaningful these conversations would prove to be. I have 84 hours of college graduate education, and 130 of undergraduate training. None of those hours contained the wisdom I was about to be imparted.

One of the men engaged in dialogue with Andy was Jack. I prefer calling him Professor Jack, for he allowed the three of us into his classroom and offered us a humble but powerful class that could be titled “Life as I See it”. Jack’s body is failing him, he struggles to walk. Imagine being homeless and physically handicap. Jack’s mind is strong however, strong as it ever was.

I don’t want to make this too Disney—Jack admits he’s made a lot of poor decisions in his life. He has battled a drug addiction for some time. He’s on the streets because of it. But…he’s also had a good deal of decisions made for him; things that were way beyond his control. This notion struck me several times during our conversation: “Humans do not lose control,” Barbara Brown Taylor reminds me. “We lose the illusion that we were ever in control in the first place.”

If you had the eyes to see and the ears to hear, it was quiet the holy conversation. There were no pews, sacraments, or prayers—but God was oh, so present. Here are a few of the things Professor Jack shared with his new pupils.

Professor Jack on authenticity. When I asked him what people could do for the poor and homeless, he replied, “Make us feel real. We want to feel like we are real people. You’ve done that today. See us. Talk to us. Be with us. Help us feel. It isn’t just about feeding us or giving us clothes, it’s about seeing us.”

Professor Jack on human dignity. I made the mistake of saying “that’s no big deal” after Jack had just finished ostracizing some folks for complaining about the food. “No, that’s not ok. We’re human beings just like you. Don’t say ‘that’s o.k.’—expect something from us just like you would any other human.”

Professor Jack on church and state. “You think the city or any other government cares about the poor? You’re crazy. The only thing holding things together for the homeless are the churches. If it wasn’t for the churches, things we would be unmentionable. I can’t even imagine what would happen if the churches weren’t so invested in the city.” And in discussing the indifference of government for the poor he noted, “They don’t even have places for the poor to use the bathroom. We have to do the most self-degrading things just to use the bathrooms. Makes us feel like animals. Know what I’m saying?” I wish I could’ve replied, “Yeah, Jack, I feel your pain.” But if I did, I’d be lying. I have never known the pain that was pent up inside of Jack.

Professor Jack on community. After I left, Andy and Jack continued to talk about life, pain, and meaning. At one point, Jack pulled out a candy bar and offered it to Andy. “I couldn’t,” Andy reacted. “Why not? C’mon, they won’t let me take it back into the shelter. Have this with me. Share this with me.” Hearing Andy describe this moment, that place where heaven and earth kiss, I could not help but think “this is one of the best communion stories I’ve heard in a long time.” There was no bread or wine present, but the holy solidarity embodied by Christ was dripping from each passing second. It is difficult for persons who are used to being in the role of giver (even in the most subtle of ways like working in a soup kitchen, or stitching up a patient in the ER) to being in the position of receiving. Until we follow this aspect of Jesus’ life, going from host to hosted, we will miss out on the true power of God’s way in our lives.

Before I left, I asked Professor Jack if there was anything, and I meant anything, that Kara and I could do for him. I looked him dead in the eye, “Tell me what you need Jack.” He replied quickly and humbly, “I’m fine, really. I’m good. What you’ve done today, keep doing this.”

Shane Claiborne says that the real tragedy in our country is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor—but that rich Christians “do not know the poor.” Jack teaches me that the poor want to be known; they have faces, names, history’s and stories. They have a great deal to do with the in-breaking of God’s kingdom among us.

Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said he could be searched for and found among the poor (Mt. 25).

I’m going back to see Jack in a few weeks. I’m quiet sure he’ll have much more to teach me.

13 November 2006

Luis, Dawn, and Lavern

Luis Ontiveros joined our faith community in an unusual way. During our Mosaic gathering (which attracts a lot of people some churches wouldn’t be interested in), one Sunday, Luis came into the building sharing that "demons" were chasing him. That’s not as unusual as one might think.

A few of the guys in our church thought Luis should talk to me. I don’t know why, maybe I’m the resident charismatic—which, if true, is a sad commentary.

Luis told me his story. He’d escaped the drug and gang life in Los Angeles and moved to Michigan to start over. God had been chasing him all along, now he wanted to return the favor. And man has he returned the favor.

Luis went with a group of men from our church to Louisiana to help rebuild a home that had been damaged in the wake of Katrina’s power. Every Sunday I look for his strong presence and for Dawn’s smile.

Luis and Dawn (his loyal and incredible girlfriend who’s overcome immense pain in her own life) live near the church building. They have two kids living in their small apartment. Until recently, Dawn’s grandmother lived with them. Five people in less than 800 square feet. They cared for Lavern, filling her med’s, fixing her meals, etc. They called her Granny. Everyone called her Granny.

Yesterday, Granny died. Luis and Dawn are devastated. They called and I went to the hospital. I reassured them that God was honored by their seven years of care-giving for Lavern. They feel as if a major anchor has been ripped out of their life.

I prayed with them.

Hugged on them.

And then realized, these two unsuspecting Christ followers were teaching me. Teaching me about the value of every human life. The dignity that every person deserves to have reflected their way.

Luis and Dawn don’t make a lot of money. Yet, they always found a way to care for the one’s they’ve been entrusted.

Thanks be to God for sending people in our midst who teach us the more truer way.

30 October 2006

In All Seasons, God

Walter Brueggemann changed the way people read the Psalms. Brueggemann (pronounced Brew-ga-mawn) introduced three kinds of Psalms: orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.

If there are too many syllables in the previous description, think about it like this: Psalms of life, death, and renewal.

While most Psalms are either one or the other, Psalm 23 actually contains these three movments. Psalm 23 is a renewal Psalm, but it shows the reader how the three seaons must be held in tension with each other.

Seaons of Life:

1The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
3he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Seasons of Death:

4Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Seasons of Renewal:

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.


In the fall of 1963 one preacher articulated these seasons of life as well as any thinker has in modern times.

May I now say a word to you, the members of the bereaved families? It is almost impossible to say anything that can console you at this difficult hour and remove the deep clouds of disappointment which are floating in your mental skies. But I hope you can find a little consolation from the universality of this experience. Death comes to every individual. There is an amazing democracy about death. It is not aristocracy for some of the people, but a democracy for all of the people. Kings die and beggars die; rich men and poor men die; old people die and young people die. Death comes to the innocent and it comes to the guilty. Death is the irreducible common denominator of all men.

I hope you can find some consolation from Christianity's affirmation that death is not the end. Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty significance. Death is not a blind alley that leads the human race into a state of nothingness, but an open door which leads man into life eternal. Let this daring faith, this great invincible surmise, be your sustaining power during these trying days.

Now I say to you in conclusion, life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel. It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. (Yeah, Yes) Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. (Yeah) And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him (Yeah, Well), and that God is able (Yeah, Yes) to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.

(Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Eulogy for the Martyred Children)

21 October 2006


Detroit is the best sports town in the United States. Period. Tigers, Pistons, Red Wings, UofM Football, the Shock (give the WNBA some love) make Detroit a great place to live.

I do not remember the last Tigers World Series: I was living in Kansas in 1984 and I was only five. You better believe I'll remember this one.

Some of my best memories growing up in Michigan are going to (and watching) Tigers games with my grandfather. Sitting in the bleachers for $5 and eating as many hot dogs as we could manage gave his grand sons some excellent memories to take into our own families.

Here's a great article from a Detroiter and senior writer for ESPN.

* * *

By LZ Granderson
Special to Page 2

I was made in Detroit.

Mack and Van Dyke followed by 8 Mile and Schaeffer.

Government cheese in the morning. Canned pork at night.

WJLB and the D.O.T.

It wasn't always pretty but it was always home.

Wherever I go I try to make it a point of saying where I'm from because people like to make it a punch line.

Especially people who have never been to Detroit.

People who have never danced under the stars to live jazz at Hart Plaza with the river just a few steps away.

Or was there for the birth of house music with InnerCity in the basement of St. Andrews Hall singing about a "Good Life."

No, it's easy to make fun of Detroit when all you hear about is violence and poverty. And it's true, the city's hurting. Nearly a third of the families are living below the poverty line and over 70,000 people are unemployed. Last year, the average U.S. home sold for $167,500. In Detroit? $88,300.

But there's more to a city than numbers and glitz. There's a soul.

This city gave the world automobiles, Motown, Jerry Bruckheimer and Eminem. This city provided hope for thousands of blacks who migrated from the South in hopes of a better life. People like my mother, who had enough courage to leave behind everything she knew in smalltown Mississippi to make it possible for her children to go to college and, in her words, "be somebody."

That's why it's so important the Tigers have made it to the World Series this year. It's not that everyone who actually lives in Detroit (not suburbs Grosse Point or Bloomfield Hills) can afford to be at every game. But just being able to walk on the outside of the stadium -- to see the lights and hear the crowd -- is empowering in itself. It's a reminder that something excellent can still come from this city. Sure, the Pistons have been one of the best teams in basketball the past four years, but the truth is they don't actually play in Detroit. They're in Auburn Hills, about 30 minutes north of downtown. If you can afford the ticket, you still need a car that can make the trip and gas to get there. The Red Wings? A great team but not a sport that's been embraced by those who live in the city. The Lions? Forgetaboutit.

So we need the Tigers. They are here, in the heart of a downtown that's desperately trying to resuscitate itself. Just as Detroit is trying to recover from a year in which it's main source of employment -- the auto industry -- announces more crippling job cuts. In a year in which people are not only losing their jobs, but the homes they worked so hard to buy. For many, it's the first home anyone in their family has been able to call their own. In a year in which school started after a 16-day teacher strike because administrators wanted to institute a 5.5 percent paycut to employees to cover the $105 million deficit in the school budget.

Yeah, it's been tough, but I, like so many, am proud to be made in Detroit.

I've seen brothers in Now-N-Later gators strut the street with their heads up high despite not having a dime to their name. I've stood in the cold outside of welfare lines, waited for buses an hour late, done homework without electricity and played the numbers. That's life in the D -- down but never out.

Back in 1984, the last time the Tigers won the World Series, there was a slogan: Bless You Boys.

We're not New Orleans, but we needed this blessing. We knew God didn't forget about us, but it's nice to get a reminder just the same.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

19 October 2006

Instruments of Peace

Nine People from the Rochester Church and Rochester College went to Washington DC to find out a) the impact the Invisible Children viewing (almost 800 people) has had across the country and b) the impact the Global Night Commute (some 250 of you came for this in Rochester) had on local and state government officials.

Hundreds of concerned individuals will converge in Washington, DC for the Northern Uganda Lobby Day and Symposium. They will spend a day learning in-depth about the conflict, and a day lobbing their leaders for the change that will bring lasting peace to the two million people victimized, displaced, and impoverished by this twenty year nightmare (http://www.afjn.org/). NOTE: Almost One Thousand people came from all over the country for this two day event--mostly followers of Jesus!

U.N. Under-Secretary General of Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland has called the situation in northern Uganda "the world's most neglected humanitarian crisis" and "one of the biggest scandals of our generation."

The war in northern Uganda has been ravaging its people for nearly 20 years and has gone largely unnoticed by the mainstream media and the general public. Over 20,000 children have been abducted by the rebel-led LRA to be used as soldiers and sex slaves, over 90% of Acholi people have been displaced in camps that offer neither security nor basic provisions. This war has paralyzed an entire nation with fear, forever altering families, cultural traditions and way of life for an entire generation.

Here are some practical ways to get involved:

*Pray that God will relieve the suffering of the Acholi People.

*Contact myself (jgraves@rochestercoc.org) or Stephanie Corp (scorp2@rc.edu) to find out more about the "worst humanitarian crisis in the world." Worse than Darfur, worse than any other place in the world. This is genocide.

*Write your congressional senators and representatives.

*Connect with www.invisiblechildren.com or http://www.afjn.org/. Give your time, money, and energy to help create sustainable peace.

Makes one wonder how things might be different if oil was suddenly discovered in Northern Uganda :)


16 October 2006

I've been all over the last few weeks, from kayaking in West Virginia with my family to teaching and participating at the ZOE Worship Conference in Nashville, TN. My last stop was Washington D.C. where several people from the Rochester Church and Rochester College participated in the Northern Uganda Lobby Day sponsored by Africa Faith and Justice Network (http://www.ugandalobbyday.com/).

If you are not aware of the genocide taking place in Northern Uganda (related but different than the genocide in Darfur), check out these kingdom leaders (http://www.invisiblechildren.com/)

Apparently, there was interesting but rather sad gathering at Freed-Hardeman University (http://www.christianchronicle.org/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=495).

Here’s an excerpt from the gathering that is tackling and cutting edge issue of “instrumental music versus acapella”—I can’t believe some institutions of higher learning can still defend this element of their Christian faith considering the current religious/philosophical climate in the West. What does it say about a version of the Christian faith where instrumental/acapella is as important as the resurrection of Jesus? It’s fundamentalism in sheep’s clothing (i.e. “we are after the truth.”)


While describing Faust as his brother in Christ, Gilmore told the crowd, “We are not in fellowship because of one big, obvious thing.”

That one, big obvious thing — the use of instrumental music in worship — dominated the discussion.

But Faust rejected the idea of dividing fellowship over music.

“I may not agree on some points, but because we’re brothers and sisters in Christ, we do have fellowship,” he said.

Gilmore begged Faust to “lay aside the instrument” for the sake of unity.

But Faust said that would require Christian Church members to give up convictions and freedom in Christ. He likened the request to asking a cappella churches to give up multiple communion cups or Sunday school classes because some congregations object to them.

Faust highlighted similarities between the two groups that a 1906 federal census first reported as separate bodies.

Both groups — with a combined 2.5 million baptized members in the U.S. — believe that Jesus is Lord, baptize for remission of sins and offer the Lord’s Supper each Sunday.

“Instrumental music is not the focus of my faith,” Faust said. “Christ is.”

Appealing for unity and a deeper love for lost people, he said, “Often, we are like two lifeguards who get in a fistfight on the beach while a swimmer is drowning.”

Gilmore agreed that the Bible requires Christian unity. But he said, “There can be no genuine unity without truth.”

The issue boils down to how one understands God when he’s silent about something, Gilmore said. Ephesians 5:19 calls for “singing and making melody in one’s heart to the Lord.”

That verse “tells you where you’re supposed to pluck the string — in your heart,” Gilmore said. “It’s a purely vocal reference.”
The same logic that allows a piano in worship could lead to doughnuts and coffee in the Lord’s Supper, he said.

Gilmore said the Bible does allow “expedients,” such as songbooks, to help carry out specified actions, so long as the tool does not change the action or “involve swapping something in the category specified with something else.”


Using what he called the “desert island principle,” Faust suggested that a person reading the Bible with no presuppositions would learn God commanded and blessed the use of instrumental music in the Old Testament.

“Since I read this in the Old Testament, where would I find in the New Testament that God now frowns on this?” Faust asked.

Gilmore responded: “If you’re on that desert island, chances are you’re not going to have an organ or piano with you. But you’re going to have your voice, and you can always worship God.”

If the New Testament is silent on instrumental music, it’s equally silent on four-part harmony and pitch pipes, Faust said. “If it’s permissible to use a pitch pipe to get the song started on the right key, why is a guitar or a piano not allowed to keep it on the right key?” he asked.

Gilmore countered that a pitch pipe “just tells you where you’re going to start your singing. It is not your first note.” As for four-part harmony, Gilmore asked, “Where does that expedient change the idea of a cappella singing?”

Freed-Hardeman President Milton Sewell said the university hosted the discussion as an educational opportunity for church members. “I would love to see us all back together again,” Sewell told The Christian Chronicle, “but we’re not going to worship with the instrument, and we’re not going to promote it here.”

85 percent of the United States is not engaged in a church body, and some people are still rearranging furniture on the Titanic.

God help us.

28 September 2006

"The Jesus Camp" and Allegiance (?)

There is a movie/documentary coming out soon entitled "The Jesus Camp". See http://www.apple.com/trailers/magnolia/jesuscamp/trailer/ or simply do a "Google" with the title to read some awfully disturbing theology.

My friend, Katy Allison and I, presented some thoughts on this recently. Below is our dialogue. The following will only make sense if you watch the clips/trailers.


There is a new movie/ documentary coming out called “Jesus Camp”. It is about a camp called “Kids on Fire” for kids as young as 6 years old. The film will follow 3 children as they speak about their gifts and what it means for them to be Christians. It also teaches kids how to be political activist for their Christian faith and you hear them several times refer to themselves as “God’s Army”.

A woman named Becky Fischer runs the camp. She has been a children’s minister since 1991 and before that she was a business woman managing a motel and a radio station. She is also lead pastor for the F.I.R.E. Center in Bismarck, N.D.

You will see a flash of a young girl, 10 at the oldest, who is wearing a piece of duct tape across her mouth that says, “life” on it. What you don’t see is that she is outside an abortion clinic protesting abortion. There is a point in the film where the kids are chanting “righteous judges” over and over again.

Did you hear some of the sound-bytes coming from these people who are representing conservative Christianity to this country?

• “There are two kinds of people—those who love Jesus and those who don’t”. I guess they have not heard of the time Jesus said that anyone can love their friends…the real test being the ones who have nothing to offer you in return.

• “The evangelicals decide who will be in the White House” (Andrew Card on Meet The Press) I guess that have not heard of the time when Jesus said “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”—meaning God and Caesar are two completely different realities.

• “Righteous Judges, Righteous Judges, Righteous Judges” I guess they have not heard of the time when Jesus taught very clearly that judging is not something the Christ Community should be known for.

• “We’ve got to train our young people in the same fashion they’re training they’re young people” I guess they have not heard of the time when Jesus said, “Those who live by the sword will also perish by the sword.”

The saddest thing to me about the trailers(and I have not seen the entire film yet)— when the people in the movie say “we” and “us” and “our” they are not referring to the church, they are referring to their blind nationalism. Nationalism is different than patriotism. Patriotism is honoring what is good about a given nation be it Uganda, Poland, or the U.S. Nationalism, blind loyalty and complete allegiance, is something all together different. There is a word for it in Scripture: sin…idolatry…spiritual fornication (Thanks to my friend Randy Harris for that bit of distinction).

Whether you are aware of it or not, there is a battle being waged among Christians in America. The battle is being fought over defining rather elementary terms like “Jesus” “salvation” “church” and “gospel”.

Some want to lift up an American Jesus who wants his disciples to pray for “God to bless America” and for our “territories to be increased”. Others are reminding us that Jesus told us to pray for “the kingdom to come” and that our clearest promise from Jesus, from his own mouth, “you will have trouble in this world”.

Some want to reduce salvation to “avoiding hell” while others point out the eternal life starts right now. There is battle waging if you have the ears to hear.

Some want the church, though they would not admit this, to be an extension of the American Government, a lackey for American interest, economics and “democratic values”. Others point out that the church should always stand at odds with any tribe claiming to control the world. Only God sits on that throne.

What I am trying to say is that Jesus is political but the politics he instructed us to practice are often ignored by Contemporary Christians. It might sound silly or even downright demonstrative—have we been reading our bibles very closely? When I say Jesus is political I don’t mean he’s a Republican or a Democrat—I think we’re all mature enough to know that neither party has a foothold on the God of Scripture. When I say Jesus is political I mean he cares very much how we arrange our communities, determine our values—the way we treat one another; how we treat people whom we never met. That is the definition of “politics” in its oldest meaning. A way that is much bigger than elephants or donkeys.

I want the life of Jesus to pervade every compartment of my life. I don’t want to relegate him to an hour on Sunday, I want Jesus to be completely free to move and push me out of my own perceptions, biases and allegiances. I want the central teachings of Jesus to be engrained into my heart, soul, mind and quick reflexes. Teachings like:

1. The proclamation of the gospel should compel me to live in relationship with the poor (Lk 4).

2. That I should pray for my enemies. I wonder what would’ve have become of the Apostle Paul (formerly a terrorist by the name of Saul) had he been alive today? We might not have half of our New Testament. When is the last time our churches prayed for Sadaam Hussein or for Osama Bin Laden? That might sound foolish…but it might sound foolish because we’re more invested in our country than we are in the actual demands of Jesus.

3. Our allegiance flows in this order: kingdom, humanity, nation.

4. That the way of discipleship is found in death. “If anyone should come after me let him take up his cross.” Or, as Bonhoeffer stated, “Christ bids us to come and die.”

Katy and I have been wrestling with a familiar Gospel text these past few weeks. She has some very challenging things to share.

There is a point in the gospels when Jesus rides into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which was known as the final battle place against Jerusalem’s enemies. The people in Jerusalem were cheering and laying down their garments and palms leave becoming excited because in their eyes Jesus was coming to take down the Romans and put the Jews back in charge. But Jesus was really performing a type of play called “street theatre”. The Jews think that worldly power and glory follow Jesus but in fact the opposite is true. In the words of Chuck Campbell Jesus comes riding,

“not as one who lords his authority over others, but as one who rejects domination and comes as a servant;

He comes not as a mighty warrior, but as one who refuses to rely on violence;

He comes not with pomp and wealth, but as one identified with the poor.”

Jesus’ coming is explained in Zechariah 9:9-10
Rejoice greatly. O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
Righteous and having salvation is He,
Humble and mounted on a donkey,
On a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
And the war horse from Jerusalem;
And the battle bow shall be cut off,
And He shall speak peace to the nations;

Jesus himself explains why he has come in John 12:23-26:

"The hour has come for the Son of Man to receive glory. What I'm about to tell you is true. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only one seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves his life will lose it. But anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it and have eternal life. Anyone who serves me must follow me. And where I am, my servant will also be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”
What my point is in telling you this is that the people in this documentary and many people in the U.S. see Jesus as the Jews saw Jesus when he was riding into Jerusalem. People still don’t seem to want a crucified messiah but rather one that will give them worldly wealth and power. But our Lord didn’t come to offer us worldly possessions and worldly power but rather he came to teach us how to be servants to the world, how to humble ourselves before the world, not conquer it.


Admittedly, it is easy to point out the flawed thinking of others. The one’s who walk closest with Jesus recognize that we all have a long way to go in our lives of discipleship. Some of us will continue to be Pharisees thinking the answer is to clean up the streets and society, moving the poor and the sinners out of sight. Some of us will continue to be Zealots grabbing our guns, tanks and war planes every time we feel the impulse. Some of us will continue to be the Essenes, hiding and isolating ourselves from the pain and mess we’ve made of the world. Some will continue to be Sadducees perfectly ok that you are “sleeping with the enemy”. Perhaps the story Katy has shared this morning will call of us to more in our lives.

Maybe Republicans will see that you cannot determine values only by what happens below someone’s waste (abortion and gay marriage).

Maybe Democrats will see that just because you talk about helping the poor doesn’t mean you truly know the poor.

Maybe the cynics like me (that’s my official political party) will be resurrected out of our slumber and actually do something about the plight of the world. Something that is true to the way that Jesus did something about the plight of the world.

FYI. If you are looking for practical ways to lay down your life for the sake of the world, come up and talk to Katy and I at the end of assembly. In a few weeks I will be traveling to Washington D.C. to find out how much the Global Night Commute (Invisible Children) has affected the bloody wars of Northern Uganda. There are some students who are contemplating making the trip. Then, On October 15th IMAGE and some people from the Rochester Church will be throwing a love feast for the poor and marginalized of Detroit. Last, This March, I’ll be leading a group of you to the Bronx to practice what Gustavo Gutierrez calls “solidarity with the poor by knowing them.” The real tragedy in the US is not that Rich Christians don’t care for the poor; it’s that most of us don’t really know any truly poor people (Thanks to Shane Claiborne for that gospel wisdom).

Christians should never be afraid to lay down our lives for those we love OR for our enemies because we know that God alone holds the power to raise the dead. And if death visits a disciple, the Spirit will one day raise us from the dead.

20 September 2006

A Good Word from Anderson, Indiana

My good friend Adam Hill is doing some serious reflection for North American Churches of Christ (or churches period). Here is a quote used without permission (take that Adam). His blog is weird (www.thehighcheese.blogspot.com) but he's brilliant. Must be the seminary he went to :)

“...And if all we have to offer this community racked with homes broken by adultery and abuse, teens deceived by our culture about sexual promiscuity and their lives subsequently shattered by teenage pregnancy and a merciless system of honor and shame grinding them to pieces, countless addicts fighting tooth and nail to regain anything close to real life again, countless people battling depression over the loss of a job, their homes, their families, a mountain of consumer debt that is crushing an entire generation…if all we have to offer this world and this community is a definitive answer to centuries of debate regarding the necessity of water baptism, the weekly observance of the symbolic (not literal) lord’s supper, the impropriety of the use of instruments in corporate worship, and the proper role of women in church polity, it is no wonder that they see no connection between what the church is about and their own struggles. It is no wonder they believe that we have truly lost the point a long long time ago.

It is not that doctrine is unimportant—indeed I value greatly the doctrinal commitments of my heritage of faith, even when I find them in need of further thought—but if our discussion of doctrine loses touch with our mission and our purpose, then we become more of a distraction than anything else. Our purpose is to be the person and work of Christ” --Adam Hill.

11 September 2006

Like He Taught Us

Today, I am trying to pray according to the way of Christ.

I am praying for all of those left broken from the events of 9-11. For those rescue workers, nurses, doctors, police officers, firefighters--for the families who have an empty spot at the dinner table where a loved one used to sit. I've been to ground zero twice in the last ten months and it is one of the most numbing places on the planet.

I am also trying to pray as Jesus teaches me to pray: for my "enemies" and for the ones who might (wish) persecute me. So, as hard as it is, I'm praying for Hussein, Bin Laden, et al--that they might know the justice and mercy of God; the pain they've caused and the redemption that is still possible by living according to the kingdom of God and not the kingom of darkness.

I'm not only praying for Christians and Jews in the Middle East, I am praying for Muslims too.

Jesus said that it's easy to show love to a friend. But can we love those who wish us harm or who have nothing to offer us? I don't know if I can answer that question. But the question is still there begging to be acknowledged.

Some might call me soft, liberal, socialist...I honestly am trying to allow the Gospels to dictate the way I think and the practices I'm a part of. I fall short of that goal...but I'm on the journey.

30 August 2006

Reel Spirituality

When it comes to film, literature, and the arts—it seems that we have a few options as followers of Jesus. The people of God can hide, burying our face in the sand screaming, “It’s all bad; it’s all the work of darkness.” Or worse, “It’s all pointless.” Or, the people of God can wage war. We’re pretty good at this. We could start boycotts, and concoct propaganda defending our particular viewpoint. I think these first two options are not in the best interest of people trying to represent God in the world. I think the people of God are called to engage everything around us. We can and should engage the questions real people are asking. More than questions related to the sacred hour on Sunday morning, people are asking questions about suffering, purpose, pain, sex, money, and meaning.

I do not claim to know everything about Jesus but it seems to me he wasn’t so interested in ignoring the world around him. He wasn’t terribly enthralled with waging war on culture either. Unless, of course, you are a religious person with your doctrinal ducks in a row…hmmm. In the Gospel’s I see Jesus engaging the world around him, asking people about their background, healing them in order to restore their place in the community. Teaching and preaching? Yes, but usually in the context of engagement and relationship.

As biblical scholar and writer Greg Stevenson reminds us (www.caritas2.blogspot.com):

People don’t only watch movies because they’re entertaining. Movies are a form of story telling. Stories are a means of connecting to the world and to one another.

1. Stories explain our world and teach us how to live in it.
2. The stories a culture creates and passes on shape that culture’s identity.
3. Stories, whether classic literature or a campfire story, preach to us communicating values, beliefs and a certain way of interpreting the world.

The primary generators of stories in today’s culture are film and television. There is a theological conversation occurring in America and it’s coming out of Hollywood, (paraphrase from a class taught by Greg on “O Brother Where Art Thou?”).

For a people whose primary religious text is comprised of stories, and whose chief teacher used story as his primary method of teaching—it seems the people of God would do well in any culture to reclaim the centrality of story.

We could do worse than to seek for God in the places we tend not to look.

To listen to the series, Reel Spirituality (Finding God in Unexpected Places)--go to http://rccaudio.christianwitness.us/ beginning Thursday.

20 August 2006

Paul and Romans

I am about to teach ROMANS for the church I serve with Mike Westerfield (President of Rochester College) and Greg Stevenson (teacher extraordinare at RC...www.caritas2@blogspot.com). Here is a prelim description. How would others describe this letter for the ages?

Paul was not a theologian who spent his life in the ivory tower (though he clearly was well-educated and dedicated to theological reflection). Neither was he a minister who spent his time developing new church programs. Paul was a pastoral missionary who preached and embodied the gospel in every city, space, and context he found himself in.

Romans, a letter addressed to the churches in Rome in one of the most influential cities in the world, is more than a treatise on grace and works. This letter unpacks the mystery of God choosing to reveal himself in Jesus as God's witness to the world. The practical implications for you and I jump off the page when we are willing to dig deep into the rich soil of this letter.

From the power and universality of sin, to the practical call of discipleship; from the mystery of Israel to the transformation that occurs in baptism--Romans is a letter that resembles one of Mozart's great works. Romans must be considered from beginning to end as masterpiece.

The world of Romans is packed with meaning for today's Jesus followers. Come along for the journey...

18 August 2006

Mere Discipleship

Lee Camp's book Mere Discipleship has challenged me over and over in my studies and reflection of my life of following Jesus. See this address for more information on the book:

I was fortunate to co-write the study guide with Lee (Brazos Press) this past spring. Though I'm still sorting out the implications of the book for my own context (family, teaching, ministry, etc), I find the "demands of discipleship" to be a fresh wind for an all too complacent and success driven church.

Here's the introduction to the work.

Exposing the Foundation of Western Christianity

In Mere Discipleship, Lee Camp is not simply challenging the beliefs of many Western Christians; he is challenging the vessel that births “belief”. Just as Dr. Martin Luther King did not foremost address the dangers of segregation in the United States but instead challenged the foundational philosophy held by White America based on power and greed, Camp is asking questions bigger than those typically asked by Christians. Otherwise stated: it is one thing to identify symptoms, another to diagnose the disease.

For Camp, the shortcomings of Western Christianity cannot be separated into detached compartments for these shortcomings—war, materialism, indifference, abuse of power, exclusion, racism, neglect of the poor— are the result of a poor theological paradigm; a false primal understanding of what it means to be Christian in a world fragmented by the principalities and powers.

The disease revealed in Mere Discipleship is two-fold: a Constantinian Cataract which colors the way most Western Christians think and live, and a Eusebian philosophy which empowers the cataract to run rampant. The Constantinian Cataract, suggests Camp, both climaxed in and was further fostered by the 4th Century marriage of Church and Empire. Some say the wedding was a sight to behold. “You should have been there. It only took the Gospel a few hundred years to take hold the hearts of the great leaders of the time. God truly had his hand in the explosion of the Christian faith.” Others do not remember the wedding with such nostalgia: “In such a way, Christianity becomes its own worst enemy: the triumph of Christianity actually inhibits discipleship,” (Camp, 22). The cataract noted by Camp carries at least two assumptions: (1) the ends justify the means and (2) the way of Christ is not relevant to the way the real world operates. One should agree with the author when he notes that to view the events surrounding 312 A.D. as either a triumph or defeat is too simplistic revealing naiveté and a loss of confidence in God’s ability to work in all settings and situations. But Camp is also correct when he notes that to ignore the ramifications of 312 A.D. and the rest of the Fourth century is irresponsible and dangerous.

The Eusebian philosophy, the other half of the disease, is the conviction held by many that “God sides with the winners,” (Camp, 46). Conveniently, the winners are the ones who end up writing history—a notion, that until recently, has not been entertained in a context were manifest destiny is boasted as a pivotal ideology in its early development and current identity. The Eusebian philosophy not only reiterates the legitimacy of the Constantine event, but furthermore has recently acted as a catalyst in recent developments in the United States (e.g. Iraq: 1990 and beyond).
In summary, Camp reminds the church that to be ignorant of the past is to be orphaned in the present. And so, instead of claiming our identity as children of light (a city on a hill) we orphans are quick to hold to American ideals instead of the demands of the Kingdom.

Revisiting the Language of Faith

After addressing the Constantine Cataract, and the Eusebian philosophy, Camp then sets forth to re-imagine the convictions and practices of the Christian faith; he offers new language for the way in which we understand discipleship, God, Savior, and the Church. Discipleship is not mere “belief”, but the intentional following of Jesus. One can purportedly “believe” and not follow. One can demonstrate reverence in “worship” and not follow. But if one is daring enough to “come and see”, to follow Christ, than they will find themselves engaged in belief and worship in places and with people never before imaginable (e.g. the Book of Acts). Orthopraxy, or right practice, trumps orthodoxy or right belief.

For Camp, God is not an abstract being, but a divine reality who has come near, whose language, though different from our own, can be heard in the cadence of the Gospel.

Camp talks of the church in terms of the collection of disciples. It is a far different depiction than the institutional model that is prevalent in the majority of Western Christianity.

Cruciform Siblings

Taking our queue from the Gospels then, the Church seeks to be Christ in our time and place just as Christ embodied the Kingdom in his own. In doing so, the church acts a certain way because of who we are. And what we do may not make a lot of sense to a world that rests identity in other places. What do we do then as disciples? According to Camp we live (to tell) the story. The church is the unwritten extension of the Gospels. Just as the early church sought to mimic the life of Jesus, the contemporary church seeks not to copy the early church but seeks to pattern itself after the life Jesus. More than telling others about Jesus, evangelism, according to Camp, invites people to live out the life of Jesus in a community. In fact, perhaps people have rejected the Western version of Jesus more than they have the authentic Messiah. This is what it means to evangelize. We also worship (intentionally loving our enemies not segregating worship from ethics). We pray (trusting that God will act the Church abandons the practice of coercion, manipulation, and power games). We baptize (reminding followers that they are Christian, Human, and American in that order). We eat the flesh and drink the blood (remembering that, at the Lord’s table, all are welcome and welcome to share all). These sacraments or symbols point us to the divine reality that Jesus’ Kingdom is already and not yet.

Most Christians make Jesus in our own image. The greatest danger in Christianity is to make God into our own image. This is a fact we cannot escape. We’ve all looked in the well hoping to see Him only to see our own faces. The vision of Jesus lifted up by Camp is the one that makes the narrative come alive in ways that are most “gospel.”

NOTE: Lee Camp is writing in Post-Christendom Post-modern America. His particular religious tribe is Churches of Christ, an off-shoot of the American Restoration Movement. Originally, the Restoration Movement bore semblance to the Anabaptist Movement but has since gradually merged into the largest block of American Christianity: Protestant Evangelical. In Camp’s view, the Churches of Christ, who once opposed the mingling of church and government, have now wed themselves to the state out a desire for prosperity, place, and influence within the broader culture.

Like C. S. Lewis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer before him, Lee Camp is driven by a passionate commitment to the kind of Christianity that offers no shortcuts and promises, no cheap grace, but is radically demanding, fundamentally life-changing, and entirely worth living. Here is a book that was just bursting to be written. Here is Christianity built foursquare upon a developing relationship with Jesus the Christ. . . . The style is highly accessible and the treatment quite reader friendly. This book is not at all difficult to read, yet it is informative, challenging, and provocative enough for all who are looking for a clearer profile of discipleship or a sharper focus to their Christian life. . . . This is a book I would recommend for a variety of publics. It could act as a basic text for people attempting to identify discipleship historically and in the contemporary world. It could provide a useful point of departure for faith-sharing groups. And it could satisfy those who are still willing to admit that they seek 'spiritual reading.' . . . It is not only the shadow of [John Howard Yoder] or the tracks of the tradition--nor even the pen of Lee C. Camp--that shows through on every page; the author's moral authority is equally evident, and this, his first book, cries out for a second. . . . There are interesting asides, appropriate stories, and helpful suggestions. Above all, readers will be left, not simply with a clear and progressive presentation embedded in a jargon-free narrative, but also with a degree of clarity about what Christianity could be. This is good both for its faithful practitioners and for a wider world. Camp thus offers an appropriately disturbing challenge to live up to our baptismal call and to start living more like real disciples, before it is too late.--Anthony J. Gittins

03 August 2006

Tales of Immersion

I've been collecting funny baptism stories over the past few months...

One of the funniest ones comes from my father-in-law Patrick Mead (www.patrickmead.blogspot.com). This is classic.

I was preaching for a military church in Norfolk, VA back in my far, far right days. I was marking time enforcing the traditions of the church until Kami and I could move back to Scotland.

Two young sailors came up to me with another sailor between them. They introduced Antonio, an Italian boy who'd joined the Navy so he could become a citizen much faster. They had been kind to him when everyone else ragged him, messed with his bunk and gear, etc. That made him want to know why. When they told him about Jesus, he was ready! Antonio bear hugged me and announced "I'm gonna be baptized!" I told him we'd certainly talk about that but he had already moved on, hugging other people as he went inside.

I stood up to preach and Antonio came and stood in front of the pulpit. I hadn't said a word yet and was in a dilemma. Do I preach or not? Being a conservative traditionalist, I had to go for it. I shorted the sermon somewhat since Antonio was standing three feet away, staring at me like a puppy who's picked the boy who's going to take him home.

When I offered the invitation, I didn't ask for anyone to come forward because he was already there. I sat him down on the front row (a requirement for the baptism to be valid later) I asked him if he knew what he was doing. "Yes! I'ma gonna be baptized!" I was going to say my standard bit at this time that would go something like "In a few minutes, I will take you through that door right there. Before that, I will ask you to stand up with me and state that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God."

I didn't get that far.

Once he heard that we were to go through that door, he went. I grabbed onto him and tried to drag him to a stop while asking him if he believed..... I wasn't entirely successful so we assumed that dragging a hefty preacher (I weighed 210 back then) against his will was sufficient evidence of faith.

Upstairs, Antonio headed toward the baptistry when I told him he had to change into other clothes first. He said, "Why?" I was momentarily stumped so said something like, "These are the clothes of unrighteousness. You need to put on the clothes of purity..." So he took off into the little room.

About the time I got my clothes on, Antonio was headed for the baptistry again. I stopped him and said, "I need to go in first." He said, "Why?" In reality it was a safety maneuver. I needed to make sure the stairs weren't slick and the water was warm enough (it was frequently slick with mold and freezing at the same time). Knowing he wouldn't understand I said something like, "I go first to drive the demons from the water!" That was cool with him,

In the tank I turned to him and found him in the pike position ready to dive in headfirst. I waved him off and physically held him, keeping him from plunging under, the whole time I pulled him down the stairs. While I tried to say my bit (I had a bit to say. I'm a preacher. That's what we do) he lifted his legs so that he could slide out of my arms and under the water. I restrained him. Frustrated with me keeping him from meeting Jesus in the water he put a leg up against the side of the tank and shoved. We both went under. I barely got out "in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!" before I was submerged.

We went under with such force that water rolled over the glass partition and fell in a cascade onto the Lords table scattering the communion ware. My first thought was Antonio had only been a Christian two seconds and he was already lost for watering down the communion.

And, sadly, that isn't even the strangest baptism story I have...

More immersion tales to follow.

22 July 2006

Now That's a Party

In wrestling with some of Jesus' parable from the Gospel of Luke, I stumbled upon this mislaid treasure from an author who impacted me my high school and early college days.

Philip Yancey recounts a story from the Boston Globe telling of a bride whose dreams were crushed when her expensive wedding was called off. The bride-to-be poured thousands of dollars of her own money into the big day, only to have everything pulled out from under her. The wedding was to take place at the prestigious Hyatt Hotel in downtown Boston. The total cost of the reception was $13,000 dollars. That was just for the reception. And this took place in the early 90’s.

When the groom got cold feet, the “angry bride” went to the hotel manager to get a refund. It was too late. She could either forfeit the money or go ahead with the banquet.

She decided to go ahead with the party, turning what was supposed to be a reception into a blow out party. Just ten years prior, the woman had been living in a homeless shelter. Now she was on her feet, and she did not intend to let this alteration slow her down.

“And so it was that in June of 1990 the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Boston hosted a party such as it had never seen before. The hostess changed the menu to boneless chicken—‘in honor of the groom,’ she said—and sent invitations to rescue missions and homeless shelters. That warm summer night, people who were used to peeling half-gnawed pizza off the cardboard dined instead on chicken cordon bleu,” (What’s So Amazing About Grace, Yancey, 49).

17 July 2006


I first met her rather innocently five years ago. Her father and I worked together. "No big deal, right?" I was in a season of isolation (reading an unhealthy amount of books each week) and disallusionment--not looking for the "woman of my dreams." And maybe it was because I'd stopped looking that the spirit was alloted the space to move in my life.

Our relationship started rather simple: letters from Detroit to Nashville, email's, phone calls (a lot of phone calls) and a few face to face dates.

After six months of courting, Kara and I had The Talk. It went something like this.

"Well, Kara, I'm a bit nervous."

"Ok, why?"

"Well, this is your first real relationship...and I'm trying to figure out how this will work. You are either a) so picky I'll never be able to live up to your standards or b) a bit innocent and I'll be the greatest thing ever. So...which is it, which will it be?"

Kara's answer was a beautiful foreshadow, "Well, I suppose one day I'll be naive and think your the greatest and the next day, my standards will be higher than what you can live up to," (rough paraphrase).

Today, we've been married for two years. I'm twenty-seven, these two years have been the most meaningful two years of my life.

Kara's name in Gaelic means "dear little girl", in Greek "joy."

God's presence really shows up in smallest but most powerful ways.

13 July 2006

Some Thoughts on Islam, 9-11

NOTE: The church I'm apart of is wrestling with this question: how can we dialogue with people of the Islamic, Hindu, or Buddhist faith? I'm proud to be a part of a church that is interested in asking the question without creating stereotypes or straw men. Below is part of one of these gathering times.

I got up the morning of September 11, as I would most mornings. Showered, shaved, and ate some breakfast. I’m guessing many did the same. I was preparing to go to a funeral for my best friends’ great grandmother: Ebenezer Baptist Church in Detroit. The funeral was slated for 10am. As I was walking out of the dorm I noticed dozens of people gathered around the televisions placed around campus. “What’s going on?” I asked rather innocently. “You won’t believe it. A plane ran into one of the towers.”

I didn’t really have time to process what was being said, I was late for an important funeral. I rode down to Ebenezer Baptist with two close friends. As I jumped into the car, I sensed they were also caught up in the events surrounding New York City. I heard Peter Jennings voice, now being listened to by thousands of American all over the country on television and radio. He just kept repeating the phrase, “Oh my God. Oh my God.” And he really meant, “Oh my God.”

On the drive down, we learned that at second plane had hit the other tower. Now rumors were swelling around words like war, terrorists, plot and cells.

Needless to say, we did not have time to listen to al the details once we got to the church for the funeral.

This was perhaps one of the most transformative funerals I’ve ever been apart of. Lament, worship, prayer, confession and preaching were all apart of the gathering. I do not remember the name of the young minister who stood up to deliver a message that morning but I owe him a phone call or note of gratitude.

“Did you all hear the news? There was a plane. There was a building. There was plane and a building (at that moment someone in the audience shouted “Twin Towers"). Life is fragile, your decisions matter," the minister reminded us.

I got a little nervous; I know a challenging sermon at a white funeral wouldn’t go over well. But he did not relent in his prophetic role as pastor.

“You all come up in here acting religious. But I know some of y’all. You come up in here when I know where you been last night. You been drinkin’, smokin’, having sex.” No way could I get away with this in a white funeral.

As I left the funeral and drove back home that morning, I had this overwhelming sense that my world had changed. Not just because of the funeral but because of the events happening in New York City. What I didn’t know at the time—this darkness had spread to other American states and cities (Pennsylvania and D.C.)

I was paralyzed watching the news the rest of that day and throughout the week. I stayed in my apartment and watched CNN for hours. The only other time I’ve been that paralyzed for that amount of time was a few years back in the second war in Iraq broke out.

Some of you remember when JFK, Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy were shot. Some can recall with little ease, the “one small step” that put America on the moon. Some of you even remember Pearl Harbor. Now, I was going through one of those moments where I knew, “Life will never be the same.” It isn’t that times are changing—times are changed.

I have visited ground zero twice in the last eight months. I am still overwhelmed by the sheer destruction and tragedy produced by a small group of men.

There is a church, St. Paul’s Chapel, that sits across from the subway system and where the Twin Towers used to stand. It was the only building in the immediate area not affected by the smoke and the debris from the fire. This church became a hospital of sorts, housing victims, the deceased and the many volunteers who so valiantly served during the ensuing days and weeks.

There is one thing that’s haunted me over the last several months. Approximately three thousand people died in the 9-11 attacks. Some have estimated that the events of 9-11 have cost the U.S. almost 500 billion dollars.

As horrible as this day was, there are nations and people around the world who’ve experienced far greater loss and tragedy; some on a regular basis. The Asian Tsunami eclipses the death toll of 9-11 at an overwhelming rate. Earthquakes in China and Afghanistan have taken ten to thirty times the amount of people. My conclusion: America did not experience something brand new on September 11th; we experienced what most of Russia, Africa and the Far East already know: evil and death are as real as the nose on our faces.

Greg Stevenson (one of the best teachers I've been around) has recently turned my attention to the ways in which musicians responded to 9-11. Though he is a self-proclaimed Barry Manilow fan, I still think Greg is one of the better thinkers on culture and Christianity. See his fantastic blog at www.caritas2.blogspot.com

Using Bruce Springsteen as an example of an artist who “harnessed the power of fiction for a means of analysis and comfort,” Stevenson points us to the places where good theology is being done. Many artists wrote songs as a means of national therapy (like the country song which claims “faith hope and love are some good things, but the greatest is love.” Unfortunately, in this song the writer utters the phrase “I don’t the difference between Iraq and Iran.” But I digress).

According to Stevenson, many of the songs on the album (The Rising) address the grief and passion for revenge that consumed so many Americans. One song in particular (Lonesome Day) is something worthy of our consideration. “…It is sung from the perspective of one who has lost a beloved in the attacks.” The grief is too much to bear; the danger of revenge is greater:

Better ask questions before you shoot
Deceit and betrayal’s bitter fruit
It’s hard to swallow, come time to pay
That taste on your tongue don’t easily slip away

The song ends with faith and hope:

Let kingdom come
I’m gonna find my way
Through this lonesome day

The point to all this: 9-11 has changed the way we think about other religions, regions, spaces and peoples. In some ways this is good, in many ways this is bad. Turbans, darker skin, and accents automatically make persons suspicious. For instance, many assume that all Middle Easterners are Muslim—a far cry from the actual facts. 9-11 has created new categories that did not previously exist: terror alert, homeland security, threat level (orange, pink, and red—FEAR).

If the church is supposed to stand between the pain of the world and the love of God (to paraphrase N.T. Wright), we'd better be aware of the place in which we stand.

The world has changed.

07 July 2006

Dumb Churches

I know I should be a bit more polite in my language, but I simply cannot resist. There are some dumb churches out there. My greatest evidence, your honor, are the messages that churches actually put on the signs outside their building.

On this issue, I think Protestants could learn a great deal from Catholics and forfeit the "sign strategy" all together.

Here are some of the worst church signs I've seen over the years.

* "Stop, drop and roll won't work in Hell." Now there's a thougtfully constructed view of the point to God's working in the world.

* "Eternity--smoking or non-smoking?" Another articulate way of describing God's redemptive plan for creation and humaniy. So thoughtful and endearing.

* "This church is prayer-conditioned" C'mon...someone needs to fire the committee making these decisions.

* "God Answers Knee-Mail" Yes, God is in the business of anwswering our Christmas shopping lists. Prayer is reduced to "what I need and want."

* "Ch__ch: What's missing? U R" Though the least repulsive on this list, a week ploy for evangelism. Makes a statement someone recently made all the more truer, "So much of evangelism is manipulation."

29 June 2006

News from the Bronx

Here's an email from Jared Looney, one of the leaders of the house church movement in NYC (the Bronx). He's in the trenches, bearing witness to the way of God.

Dear Friends,

A day in the life in the city. Reflecting on yesterday.... After a 7AM bible study with a man in my building, I met with the summer interns for the entire morning for our weekly group session. After some e-mails and casual conversations, I continued to meet with our missionary apprentice to review many of the issues at hand. After heading home at around 6:30PM, I realized the need to recant a decision I had made about an upcoming meeting, and so after arriving home, I went to the laptop making sure to keep my time brief.
Family time.... playing with Adalia, Hylma folding clothes, daddy reading, dinner late in the evening. Then, around 9PM there was a knock on the door.
A man that is being reached out to brought me out to the elevator. We went down to the basement where another brother and I met the man's friend.

His friend was 'coked up' (translation = high on cocaine). As a means of 'coming down,' he put down 48 ounces of alcohol inside of 30 minutes, smoking cigarettes and a blunt (translation = marajuana), and rambling on mostly in explitives about all the hate and pain in the world, how much he'd like to become a vigilante, and how he needs to divorce his wife. He told me why he hates white people even though he has white friends, and he explained how well he can quote the Bible. I thought to myself how much he needs to KNOW Jesus.

He seemed intrigued with how we just sat and listened. He refused prayer at first, but later agreed to it. As we prayed for him and for the power of the Living God to be at work, he became strangely calm. As we ended the prayer, he sat on the edge of tears, his disposition transformed. We shook his hand and gave him a hug as we returned upstairs, and the man who called us down to meet his friend continued to tell of how God was working in his life.

Continue to pray for us. Pray for the first man whom God is reaching. Pray for his friend who lives in the 'depths of the pit.' Petition the Lord of the harvest for workers. Pray for the power of the Risen Lord to fall upon the city. The war is waging. The Lord is moving.

Another day in the life in the city.