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."