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.