31 December 2007

New Year’s Resolutions (ok . . . the publishable ones)

1. Eat out less often and learn to make my own meals. Odds of this happening: moderate.

2. Spend more time doing cardio than weight-lifting. Odds of this happening: good.

3. Get less upset at the Piston’s and enjoy them for the great team they are. Odds of this happening: slim.

4. Speak that which only love requires. Odds of this happening: in January (great); February through December (slim).

28 December 2007

These are a few . . .

of my favorite things . . .

hot fudge sundae with bananas
argyle socks
Pistons basketball
anything by Barbara Brown Taylor
Detroit
The Office
sweatshirts
Rochester College
lazy Saturday’s with Kara
the Detroit Tiger’s batting lineup (are you serious?)
any book on Martin Luther King Jr.
home cooked meals
hitting the “stepper” at night before dinner
Barak (we're on a first name basis)
listening to Kara’s great stories/jokes (she’s an amazing preacher)
trading funny e-mail’s with close friends
witnessing a baptism
eating cereal for dinner
Lipscomb University
taking a nap (never happens)
watching RCC family members enact “the priesthood of believers”
learning from different ethnicities and cultures
telling childhood stories with my brother and sister
reading a great book
Gospel of Luke
watching a good movie
Denzel Washington (who’s a better actor than Denzel?)
sharing lunch with friends while debating theology/faith
dancing with Kara in our living room to a song only I can hear
ZOE Leadership/Worship Conferences (Wineskins too)
catching up with my prof’s from grad school (some of whom I consider my close friends)
experiencing a great sermon (usually not by me)
being present for Patrick’s propensity to shock people
getting articles/essays from my friend Andy (a.k.a. E-VA)
competing with my twin brother like we’re 13 (we’re doing a Triathalon in May)
hearing my niece laugh
working with talented men and women in ministry
spending time with RC students
assigning nick-names to close friends
thick, comfortable socks
my small group
Kara’s sweet tea
trying new restaurants
Cass Park
people who take risks for Jesus

26 December 2007

Lusoga Waters


Tonight, Sara Barton baptized Priscilla-- a member of our church family and student at Rochester College. I taught Priscilla and Sara Ageno (another Ugandan who's a member of our church and student at RC) this semester and was constantly impressed with their intellect and contributions to the broader discussion of global faith.

Priscilla and the Barton family go way back . . . as far back as the first day the Barton's spent as missionaries in Uganda. John, Sara's husband, met Priscilla's father while shopping for some mattresses for everyone to sleep on their first night. He became their primary language teacher their entire tenure in Uganda.

Some fifteen plus years later, John, Nate, Brynne, and Sara were able to administer the baptism of Priscilla on a cold night just north of Detroit. Before Sara baptized Priscilla she said, "I'm reminded of the way we sometimes baptize in Uganda. If we are not near water, we dig a hole, a grave really . . . and fill the make-shift grave with water. It's a reminder to me that God must first kill us before he can make us new," (my paraphrase).
The body of Christ is not bound by color, language, gender, nationality, political party, or ethnicity. It truly is the one community of people that transcends all things. That's probably the biggest reason, despite many faith struggles, why I love the church . . . why I am a follower of Jesus. In a country suffocated by tribalism (red state/blue state, white/black, rich/poor, etc.)--this is a source of good news!

Springsteen

Christmas was good this year.

I got several books I really wanted: some books chronicling the history of Detroit, Taylor Branch’s trilogy, etc. For the last ten years, I've used Christmas as the number one avenue to build my library!

Among other gifts, Kara got me a great photo of Detroit that I’ll cherish for a long time. Some of our best memories together since moving to Michigan have been at Comerica Park, downtown, and near Cass Park (just a stone’s throw from Ford Field and Comerica Park).

But the sleeper pick for “surprise Christmas present of the year” goes to PMiddy—aka Patrick Mead. He got me the new Springsteen album: Magic.

I’ve admired Springsteen from afar, knowing that he writes out of a deep spiritual place, not afraid to pick a societal or political fight ( . . . or two).

What was your surprise Christmas gift this year?

24 December 2007

Imagine Christmas

Check out Kara's blog for great photos and commentaries per our big Christmas musical/production/play/worship gathering!

22 December 2007

This Christmas I am grateful that "God is more for us than we are for ourselves."



Peace.

Josh

20 December 2007

Sabbath, Liberation

For the past three months, Thursday's have been my Sabbath rest day. I used to practice Sabbath on Saturday's . . . but more and more that is proving to be impossible. Sunday's usually begin around 730am not ending until 9 or 10pm. Monday's and Tuesday's are fairly typical (9am to 5pm), while Wednesday is "marathon day"--I usually don't get home until 10pm or so. Thursday's a day of rest, while I use Friday to prepare for Sunday (teaching, preaching, pastoral care) and catching up one things that may have slipped through the cracks during the week.

All that to say, I crave Thursday's. I need them. I cherish them.

This fall/winter, I've been writing a book Jesus Feast: Spirituality in a Pluralistic World. It's been invigorating, tiriing, and frustrating--all at the same time. In less than a week, I send the manuscript to one editor, who seems to be interested in publishing the work. Then . . . the real work will begin.


* * *

If you’ve never read anything about liberation theology, I would suggest this article as a good beginning point.

In the 1970’s theologians in Latin America and Africa began talking about God’s heart for the poor as the primary way to understand the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures. I confess that I spent much of my time in seminary reading, and reflecting upon this approach to reading scripture and thus, thinking about the mission of the church as she heads into this time of uncertainty in these United States.

While, I’m not as convinced of its exclusive place at the table of theological inquiry, I still believe that one cannot possibly understand the prophetic punch offered by Jesus if one does not seriously consider the teachings of Jon Sobrino, Oscar Romero, and Gustavo Gutiérrez (to name a few). It is Gustavo who introduced me to the notion of "solidarity with the poor" as one of the purest experiences in life.

It is my interaction with liberation theology that has fueled my passion for Cass Park and thinking of the church as a missional body.

Here’s a snippet from the article I suggested per liberation theology.

I encountered Sobrino in the sacristy of his church after Mass on a cool April morning, but he at first declined to speak with me (as he had refused other interviews requests). Suddenly, I blurted out the one question that had gripped me since reading his books: What is reality? My question caught his attention.

In Where is God? Earthquake, Terrorism, Barbarity, and Hope, Sobrino wrote that reality is the Cross. “One must take charge of reality,” he wrote, quoting Ignacio Ellacuría, one of the Jesuit priests murdered in 1989 by U.S.-trained Salvadoran soldiers. “One must ‘bear the burden of reality’ with all its crushing weight.”

“Reality is what’s being covered up, the things that are covered up and are very hard to unearth,” Sobrino answered me, launching into a finely tuned reflection. “Hope is a reality. ... Reality is hard, but it’s wonderful. There is this energy, the will to live. ... I’m happy in this country. There are many good things.”

But Sobrino upends any simplistic view of the reality of El Salvador. True, 11 people are murdered every day and thousands flee every year, but many more stay and persevere. How easily we choose where to cast the lines of reality, from there choosing whose suffering merits help and who to kill.

“You know Sept. 11,” Sobrino states. “But what is October 7? It’s the day the democracies bombed Af­ghanistan. The poor of this earth, which are the majority, don’t even have calendars,” said Sobrino. “What should be said and what should be silenced is in the hands of the few and powerful, and that is what I fight against.”

Birthing Pains

Here are two of my favorite quotes regarding the birth of Jesus. Both are from Barbara Brown Taylor.

"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," (BBT in Gospel Medicine).

And regarding Mary's status as "theotokos" (the God-bearer, or God-bringer) . . .

". . . You can decide to be a daredevil, a test pilot, a gambler. You can set your book down and listen to a strange creature’s strange idea. You can decide to take part in a plan you did not choose, doing things you do not know how to do for reasons you do not entirely understand. You can take part in a thrilling and dangerous scheme with no script and no guarantees. You can agree to smuggle God into the world inside your own body," (BBT in Gospel Medicine).

16 December 2007

Liars Go to Hell

Just this week, standing on the corner of Auburn and Rochester Road, was a middle-aged white male. Some of you know who I am talking about.

Normally, this would not draw the attention of onlookers as Rochester is predominantly white. This person was doing something unusual for he wore a large sign that read:

Revelation 21:8
LIARS GO TO HELL!


Kara first sited this man and reported to me via cell phone. This happened about a week ago. I responded to her journalistic reporting by stating, “Can you get a picture?” She was driving at the time, and thus, could not get a discernible picture.

As if the story could not get any stranger . . . my “liars-go-to-hell-sign-wearing-friend” held, in the hand not supporting the large sign under discussion, a miniature Santa Clause holding a camera.

“I suppose it is Christmas,” I muttered the first time I noticed, as I drove through Rochester, the figurine of the man from the North Pole.

I’ve heard several people comment on the new Rochester messenger throughout this week.

On Friday, I met a friend for lunch in Troy, the town right next to Rochester. I was early, for once, and noticed the “liars-go-to-hell-sign-wearing-friend” standing at a main intersection.

Santa was also with him, I should add. In his hand. With the previously mentioned photograph device.

I looked at my watch. “He won’t be here for another few minutes,” I thought remembering that my lunch partner had to stop at an ATM machine before meeting me for some Mexican food.

I’ve been thinking, reading, and writing a lot about reconciliation lately. The one constant in all of my reading is “going to the other.” Whether it’s the Tutsi going to the Hutu (Rwanda), the uptight urban-city-slicker going to the rural simpleton (work) or the victim approaching the perpetrator (countless scenario’s)— there’s something profound about one person, despite tension or awkwardness, going to another in genuine respect, searching for authentic understanding.

While some think it's the passive/weak/idealistic way . . . I think it is the harder way. What's easier: to avoid confrontation and tension or to embrace it? Nine times out of ten we choose the former while the latter offers the greatest potential for insight and, on the rare occasion, healing.

So I walked. Carefully. And slowly. Towards the man wearing the loud sign.

“Sir, can I talk to you?” I asked. No response.
“I’m not here to argue. I just want to talk. My name is Josh. I’m a minister.”

Apparently, the “minister angle” didn’t bring me anymore credibility. He only stared beyond me.

“Will you talk to me? . . . You won’t talk to me?” I was getting a bit agitated. I mean, I came all the way out here to . . . well, this story isn’t about me.

Then our eyes met. And I knew it when I saw it. It’s almost impossible to explain what “it” is. It’s like the innate ability of a point guard to find the open man in a critical juncture of the game. Or the negotiator, in the moment of intense drama, who knows the precise words that need to be spoken.

I did not find anger in his eyes.

I did not stumble upon arrogance.

I did not even locate confusion.

Instead I found the most dangerous thing in the world when mixed with religion.

I found fear.

So, I walked away knowing what is so true in all of us. Deep down, all of us wrestle fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. Fear of mediocrity. Fear of . . .

Tonight, before I sleep, I’ll pray for this man, whoever he is. Because, ironically enough, he’s not afraid of me or you or Rochester. He’s afraid of God. I know plenty of people in that boat. Just because he’s rather transparent about it, doesn’t mean I should love him any less than I love my wife, or you.

12 December 2007

Imagine Christmas

Several people at the Rochester Church have been working hard getting ready for our big December musical/play, Imagine Christmas (click here to read more about the production).

If you live in the Metro Detroit area, you should make plans now to attend this production beginning a week from Friday. If you want to see Patrick Mead play the guitar, Josh Graves sing a solo, or the most beautiful woman in the world do a Highland Fling, buy your tickets today!

Of course there are a dozen other reasons to come (and some, perhaps even better than the ones I mentioned. Like . . . Great writing, acting, music, dance, art, and performances by a host of Rochester Church people.)

10 December 2007

Uganda on the Horizon

I just got off the phone with my good friend Mark Manry. It's amazing that I can call him on his cell phone in East Africa and talk without missing a beat or connection.

Mark and I went to seminary together at Lipscomb University in the Hazelip School of Theology. Mark is now a missionary, with his wife and family, in Jinja, Uganda.

This summer, I’ll be going to spend time with the Jinja Mission Team to work with the Busoga Bible School, and to encourage the missionaries in their efforts of evangelism, creating avenues for clean water distribution, and reforestation projects. I'm also going with two groups of students (from Rochester College and Rochester Church of Christ). One group will be doing a six week internship while another is doing a survey trip to Gulu to see about the possibilties of starting their own team in the future.

We have not gotten all the details worked out, but we're hoping the most beautiful woman in the world will be joining me on this trip.

I’ll be teaching a class at BBS on “Preaching and Teaching.” I have to admit that I’m intimidated at the prospects of teaching the art of preaching to Africans who think, learn and live very differently. In fact, as many have argued, Most Africans live in a world that is much more akin to the world Jesus entered in the first century world than life as I know it in these United States.

I will have to comb my ideas on preaching and teaching for American/Western metaphors that might not translate: airplanes, advanced technology, individualism, digital information, etc. Instead I need to begin thinking about the role of communal formation, texts, spirits, and the spoken word (over the printed word).

This is not to say that American/Western life is superior by any stretch of the imagination. Rather than asking “which one is better?” I’m interested in asking “how are they different?” And . . . consequently, how might preaching and teaching look differently in Uganda but still be faithful to the preaching and teaching of the New Testament and the witness of the church in history?

In other words: I assume that preaching and teaching will sound, and look altogether different in Africa, not downplaying the role of “Christian colonialism”, for the questions, assumptions, language, and ethical staples are altogether different. I am not interested in teaching African ministers how to preach “white” any more than I trying to be a Hispanic preacher in my own setting of Rochester Hills.

The future belongs to the creatively maladjusted a great preacher once said. I’m hoping my time in Uganda will be an experience of seeing my world upside down.

06 December 2007

So You Want to Be a Prophet?

ON BUYING A FIELD IN ANATHOTH (excerpt)
by George Williamson, Jr.

Gini said for me to speak to prophetic ministry with reference to Jeremiah. Okay. Jeremiah clearly says prophetic ministry's a damn fool thing to do. It's certainly not something you choose to do. You get chosen - like being entered against your will in the divine lottery, and losing. In which case, he would have you beg to get out of it, and failing that, whine and complain to God.

Jeremiah, you know, was not a happy man, because the depth of human wretchedness revealed itself to him. He was not a married man, because who would marry him? He was not a pretty man, or pleasant to know. But he had a huge voice, like a volcano stored in soul barrels between eruptions. His images got under peoples' minds and gnawed on them. He was a prophet. Everybody knew he was a prophet, and mostly left him alone.

Jeremiah never did any good. His first prophecy was of invasion by a mysterious "foe from the north," which never happened. He joined King Josiah's religious reformation, whose politically appointed revolutionaries didn't need him. Anyway, he decided it was a cover for rampant injustice, and, as it became law, he came out against it. He got ordained, but was defrocked and disfellowshipped for preaching unbearable sermons. So he preached from the temple steps and was jailed.

05 December 2007

What I Meant to Say . . .

We’ve all done it. We’ve all said something we came to regret. It might have been in a public setting where our nerves sabotaged our intentions. Or it might have happened in the context of a private conversation.

One thing that happens to humans—we say funny, embarrassing things. A friend recently shared this one with me:


I might have told you this already . . . but in one of my classes I was talking about Solomon's wives, and I was hoping to emphasize the enormity of the claim that is being made in the text.

So . . . I MEANT to say,
"1,000 wives . . . can you imagine how many weddings he had to do every month?"
And instead I said,
"1,000 wives . . . can you imagine how many he had to do every month?"


And that left me with a dilemma: I could pretend that I meant to say that, which would make me sound depraved . . . or I could reveal that I had misspoken, which would make the whole thing much more amusing. I went with door #2, and spent the next 10 minutes trying to regain control of the class.


* * *

What is the funniest or embarrassing thing you’ve ever said in public or in a conversation with someone?

02 December 2007

Covenant

This weekend, our small group spent three days with several other couples at a marriage retreat in Grand Haven, Michigan. Our retreat was hosted at the Khardoma Lodge. This bed and breakfast, located some three hundred yards from Lake Michigan, was built in 1873--just ten years after the conclusion of America's Civil War.

On the whole, I've found much of the literature related to marriage analogous to cotton candy. For the first three bites, cotton candy is great. After those few bites, you begin to ask yourself, "What am I eating here . . . air?" So much of the literature, Christian and non-Christian notwithstanding, focuses on the selfish desires and destructive patterns already embedded within our souls. For instance, as important as "his needs, her needs" approaches might be--it is easily twisted into an I'd-better-get-what-I-want attitude that resembles the heart of a child and not that of a saint.

Instead of starting with this question, "How can I grow deeper in my own spirituality (i.e. contentment, selflessness, simplicity, honesty)?"—we turn relationships into yet another narcissistic pursuit, consumed with the way my spouse should contribute to my shallow happiness.

This weekend, we traded the cotton candy for steak and potatoes. There are a thousand moments lodged into my head as I write.

Two couples, who came on this retreat as their "last attempt" to reconcile their marriage, worked through years of pain and hurt, coming to a place of understanding and hope.

My high school football coach was there with his wife. We caught up on old friends and recalled highlight experiences. When I hear his voice, some twelve years later, my body wants to fall to the ground and do twenty push-ups. For the record, I did not indulge this premonition.

Kara and I had a host of meaningful conversations and funny moments: all of which I'll keep between the two of us.


I'm chewing on what our spiritual leader fed us with concerning the purpose of marriage as understood from the Genesis narrative. "God created marriage for three specific purposes. First, to remind us that we were created as reflectors of the divine image. Second, marriage functions to heal the wounds of our childhood. Abandonment, isolation, terror, hunger, pain, pressure, and identity-confusion once consumed our development. Man and woman coming together addresses the destructive patterns we instilled to numb the pain of our hearts. Lastly, marriage is a taste of God's new heaven and earth; the day when all will eat at 'the supper of the Lamb.'"

The weekend ended appropriate enough.

At 12:15 p.m. I handed a piece of bread to Kara saying words I've spoken so many times, "The body of Christ, broken for you." Then, after a few seconds, I handed her the drink, "The blood of Christ shed for you." She did likewise and we prayed for God's spirit to continue guiding our steps.

If that statistics are accurate, one out of every two marriage will end in divorce. Families ripped apart. Hearts broken. Dreams dashed.

How much more counter-cultural can one be than spending time focusing on the covenant that binds two people for life?

A friend of mine is remembered for saying, "If you want to change the world, love your wife.”I used to think this to be a, well . . . exaggerated sentiment. I'm beginning to think that my friend might be on to something important; something holy.

26 November 2007

The Table

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.” Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk (pg. 52)


* * *

Yesterday, in one of our church gatherings during family communion, we asked the church to write the names of those who are hurting during the beginning of the holiday season on a large sheet of paper in the front of the sanctuary.

Some wrote their own names. Others wrote the names of women and men experiencing Thanksgiving and Christmas for the first time as a single mother/father. One person wrote the names of homeless women and men he'd been working with the last several months, while another person wrote the names of people undone by the loss of a spouse. One young person prayed for their grandma; at least I deciphered the writing, "Mimi," as the work of a grandchild.

In a time of systematic, commercial frenzy--the church is a place that offers healing, relationships, and listening ears. We do not offer "air-tight" answers for most people need a person, not a clever diatribe on suffering, angels, and God's activity in the world.

24 November 2007

Lazy Saturday

This is a great time of year to live in Michigan. The fall/winter is upon us, and though the sun will disappear for a few months, it is a time to catch up with old friends for life's pace seems to lessen.

We are here, to borrow from Annie Dillard, "as witnesses," nothing more, nothing less.

Today, I watched my alma mater battle the University of Detroit in basketball. RC gave them a good game but came up short down the stretch. I watched the game with my brother and a few former teammates. Conversation and stories hold friendships together. If God never gives me another blessing, I have been overwhelmed with the amount of genuine friendships in my lifetime; relationships that shape and sustain.

As 2007 starts to come to a close, I am anxious to see what 2008 has in store; namely what God will be up to this go-around.

2007 had its interesting trips. Denver, Fresno, Lubbock, NYC, Tulsa, Malibu/L.A., Orlando, Atlanta, Nashville (twice), and Abilene were all on my destination list this year.

I also learned that my wife loves two things about Detroit: the homeless community and Detroit Tigers baseball. BTW—yesterday is the one year anniversary of Professor Jack’s death. To read about Jack, click here.

Kara and I also made new bonds, reconnected with friends of old, and said good-bye to others: some because of job loss, and relocation. At least two friends were lost to death.

If age 0-25 marks the spring season…
If age 25-50 marks the summer…
If age 50-69 marks the fall…
And, if age 70 marks the winter…

I’m going to enjoy this “summer season,” for even though I know the thermometer reads 30 degrees in Detroit, this is a great time to be alive.

I think it was Irenaeus who once wrote, “The glory of God is a person made fully alive.”

21 November 2007

Prophetic Thoughts About Giving

Full of Thanks . . .

Thankful for a wife who loves me without conditions.

Thankful for a family who accepts me.

Thankful for a church that I can challenge; a church which also loves to return the favor.

Thankful to serve alongside such a talented and hard-working ministry staff.

Thankful to work with young adults and college students who love and worship Jesus.

Thankful (most days) that the Pistons did not trade for Kobe Bryant.

Thankful for great friends and mentors.

Thankful for a warm place to sleep at night.

Thankful for my friends in Cass Park.

Thankful for a great job.

Thankful for another great job.

Thankful for friendships with Christians all over the United States.

Thankful for friendships with Christians all over the world (here and here)

Thankful for God becoming the main character in his own story.

20 November 2007

Tuesday Vision

There is Paul coming to pieces in his jail cell.

His hands are clasped in front of him. His face is buried in said hands. The vein that runs down the middle of his forehead is bulging, preparing to burst.

He’s weeping now.

He remembers all of the defeats: ship-wrecked, abused, mocked, chased out of town, career implosion, scourged, beaten, imprisoned, defamed, ignored, spit upon, disorientation, dislocation, and public shame.

As he sits in his jail cell he can’t help but wonder if it was all worth it.

Was it really worth it to leave the life of religious and social power for this? Was it really worth it to leave the respect of so many for this kind of life, traveling all over the known world for only a small number of converts? Was it really worth it to endure the hardships of being a teacher who bases his life upon a reality (resurrection) he cannot possibly prove?

It’s in this moment that I desire to put my hand on Paul’s shoulder and simply say, “Paul, you do not know the abundance of fruit that will be harvested because of your labor. You have no idea what God is going to do with your fumbling attempts. You cannot possibly imagine what the Divine has in store for your meager stack of bread and few pieces of fish.”

Then I hear the Voice speaking to me. “Let your ears hear what your lips are saying.”

And I know it is I who stands in need of hearing the Voice of the One who speaks about truth, justice, spirituality and beauty.

19 November 2007

Sunday in Motown

Yesterday was a great day in the kingdom.

In a class I’m teaching at our local church, we discussed the life and contributions of Desmond Tutu and his work with the TRC in South Africa following the demise of apartheid.

Near the end, we told stories of needing forgiveness and stories about experiences in which we were convicted to do the forgiving. It was a holy and special moment.

* * *

Our time in Cass Park was fruitful yesterday. Despite the fact that Detroit is, once again, considered the most dangerous city in the United States, we were hosted with love and respect by the women and men who make their home in and around Cass Park. One friend, Anne Harvey, is so excited to be in her own house after living in Cass Park for three years that she came yesterday to “bear witness” and catch up with her friends.

I’ll write more about Anne in the future. Suffice to say, she’s taught me more about hospitality than any exegetical study from the New Testament.

* * *

Last night, our small group/life group met in the home of Dr. Craig and Stephanie Kline. Craig is a doctor who lives and works in Detroit. Stephanie is a former missionary to Honduras now studying social work at Wayne State University in Detroit. They have brought such a special dimension to our group—their passion for the city is contagious. Our time of table, worship, discussion and prayer, was exactly what I needed.

It might sound heretical…but our life group often feels more like church than Sunday mornings. What does that say….hmmm…?

16 November 2007

Running low

My brain is fried and my creative juices are low.

Have you seen any good films lately? What are your favorite TV shows? And, as always, I want to know if there are any must read books out there that I don't know of...?

Update: for one of the best teaching times on suffering click here and scroll down to the one with Adam Langford listed as the presenter. Adam is a missionary in Uganda where he works with two families which our church supports.

14 November 2007

Bisons, Oil

Here's how we do it in Lipscomb Land (no retreat, no surrender). This is from the AP. Should I be proud to be an alumnus?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Lipscomb came within a point of setting the Division I women's record for biggest winning margin with a 123-22 rout of Fisk on Tuesday night.

With the 101-point victory, the Lady Bisons were a point short of the mark set by Grambling against Jarvis Christian on Feb. 12, 1986.

Valerie Bronson scored 20 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead the Lady Bisons (1-2), who shot 57 percent from the field. Cree Nix added 14.

Tia Williams had eight points to lead Fisk (0-2), which was 9-for-54 from the field.

Lipscomb out rebounded Fisk 67-19 and led 61-10 at the half.


* * *

Can someone, with more industry savvy than me, explain why gas is rising and will rise to $4 a gallon this summer? I'm going to start riding my bike--even if it is twenty degrees this winter.

11 November 2007

Hoops

Saturday was a highlight day for me. Every year the Rochester College Men’s Basketball program hosts an alumni game for those of us who…well…played basketball…hence alumni. It way obvious that many of us are a step slower, a few pounds heavier, with increasing receding hair lines.

Getting to see Coach Pleasant is a highlight. If you don’t know, he has the most wins of any active coach (I believe he’s currently at 620 plus) in Michigan men’s collegiate basketball. Click here to read more about him.

As a young man, eighteen years of age and green to the top, he took me under his wing (along with Coach George Evjen) and made a man out of me. Spending my college years under his leadership, wisdom and mentoring was perhaps the single greatest reason for entering ministry and for wanting to teach at the college level.

Little known fact: I was an all-state basketball player coming out of a large Greater Detroit public high school. I wasn’t convinced, at least as not as much as my father was, that going to Rochester to play basketball was the best decision. Ten years later, I can say that God’s hand was in this decision.

I owe Coach more than I’ll ever be able to repay.

Wednesday of this week, I had lunch with Coach Pleasant. We traded funny stories, like the time on our annual Florida trip I convinced everyone to get wet at the bottom of large water ride, only to ditch the scene at the last moment. While everyone on our team jumped around soaking wet, I calmly re-entered the scene pretending I’d shared in their suffering. The only problem: One of our coaches taped the entire thing.

Coach must have replayed that clip ten times in the hotel room that night.

Or the time a referee said to me at the onset of the second game of a back to back: “Must have been a tough game last night against Northern State.” We’d just played Northern State (where legendary and former Lipscomb University coach Don Meyer now coaches) the night before. Our second game, which began only twelve hours after the first had ended, was against one of the top NCAA D2 schools in the nation (they were ranked #5 at the time).

“What do you mean,” I asked?
“Well, looks like you got your tooth knocked out.”
“Oh…no, that’s just how my teeth look. I have a crooked tooth.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, son,” replied the ref.

Coach Pleasant heard the entire conversation and laughed all the way through the first give minutes of the game. Incidentally it was about the only thing we had to smile about the entire trip. Let’s just say that Thanksgiving in South Dakota is not all it’s cracked up to be.

There are dozens of stories I’m thinking of right now…I’ll save them for another time. For these pivotal years, these young men and coaches were my community. We were a church. We were a brotherhood. We were dysfunctional (not all of us made the best decisions). We were family. We were each other’s best friends and greatest critics.

06 November 2007

Random Thoughts

Some random thoughts on a Tuesday morning...

  • When the weather turns cold in the motor-city, the first thing I think about are my friends living on the streets and in the shelters of Detroit and Cass Park. I'm grateful for a roof, warm bed, and fridge full of food.
  • Patriots Head Coach, Bill Belichick, gets the "the pot calling the kettle black" award for the week. Unreal. This guy has some nerve.
  • If you died tomorrow, would you want to be cremated or buried? Do you think there's anything wrong with cremation? FYI: Did you know that in the State of Michigan, it's estimated that nearly 40 percent of all people are now requesting cremation? That's up significantly--fifteen years ago, the percentage of cremation requesters was somewhere around twelve or fifteen percent.

05 November 2007

CC:M

Christ Church: Macomb is an outreach attempt of our church to reach those who are cynical, jaded, over-churched, under-churched--whatever you want to call it. People who are not connected to a vibrant faith community growing into the image of Jesus.

People who live in Macomb County.

Here's a blog that will tell you more. Ashley did a great job on the video.

Here's a little piece from our church website.


It's been a great joy and blessing to work alongside the CC:M leadership team for the last ten months or so. They are women and men of great passion, enthusiasm and conviction!

One of the greatest attributes of churches in our emerging culture: risk-taking.

Christ Church

A group of leaders from the Rochester Church are starting an extension of our family-- Christ Church: Macomb . I'm so proud to be associated with the leadership of CC:M; they are women and men of great character and passion.

Click here to read more. Click here for the CC:M blog.

04 November 2007

In both public and personal conversations, I've been telling people that the Lions have no chance to make the NFL playoffs.

Like Peter, I may become known as the disciple with the "foot shaped mouth."

Hats off to the Lions. They've surprised everyone in Motown.

03 November 2007

Lament

In my Introduction to the Christian Faith class, we've been discussing (among other things), the biblical notion of lament. Bringing one's doubts, frustrations, and anger to God is a sign of great faith, despite what some in American Christianity teach(because of her loyalty to "opitimism and denial").

Lamenting before God is a sign of faith because:

...It assumes God exists.
...It assumes God is interested and/or cares.
...It assumes that God might actually do something about one's plight.

Yesterday, I had the students construct a contemporary lament. Here's one the prayers that came out of our great dialog. Here's what Gary, Wayne, Priscilla and Emily constructed.

Hey, Dad. I know I don’t normally talk to you like this, but where the heck are you man?

For years you promised the Messiah . . .
This guy that would change the world
And Jesus came and went
And the world doesn’t look much different.

You said our weapons would turn into plows
But around the world, wars still harvest innocent lives.

You said the lion would lie down with the lamb…
But last time I checked, lions still eat lambs.

The meek ain’t inheriting anything…but social rejection.

If the Prince of Peace defeated sin and death,

Why isn’t there peace?
Why am I still sinning?
Why are people still dying?

Where is your kingdom?
When is your kingdom?
Who is your kingdom?

Make us your kingdom.

God, make the change
Make us your change.

02 November 2007

NBA, Money

The NBA season is underway, which means my ongoing struggle with addiction to pro basketball is “ever before me”—to quote David from Psalm 51.

Here are my picks:

Detroit vs. Chicago in the Eastern Conference Finals

San Antonio vs. Dallas in the Western Conference Finals

San Antonio vs. Detroit in the Finals.

Detroit over San Antonio in seven games. My loyalty knows no bounds.

Thiss weekend, I’m teaching on Paul’s troublesome phrase in his letter to Timothy that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”

Do you believe that? Was Paul speaking in hyperbole?

30 October 2007

Worship

Click here to read an essay I recently wrote for Wineskins Magazine. This essay discusses the relationship between what happens on Sunday morning (corporate worship) and mission (living our lives as "worship before God") using New York City as a case study of sorts.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts and critique. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the essay? Remember that dialog is the path to true understanding.

There are other great articles in this issue including a great interview with Brian McLaren. Props to GT (Greg Taylor) for being an outstanding editor; for helping me find my own voice.

Words

Some words from one of America’s best preachers and teachers, Barbara Brown Taylor:

“…that Jesus’ ministry with the poor, the prisoners, the blind and broken victims is first and foremost a ministry of words. Jesus has been anointed to preach, to proclaim, the good news of release, recovery, sight, liberty. He will, incidentally, do those things before he is through, but from the beginning his ministry is not a ministry of doing but a ministry of saying—what God has done, what God is doing, what God will do. Everything that happens in Jesus’ ministry happens after proclamation and because of it, because the speaking of God’s word is how the world began and how it goes on beginning, nourished and healed and strengthened by the strong medicine of the gospel.

…That is how it has been working for almost two thousand years. That is how a Galilean who spent his entire life in a country no bigger than New Jersey became known around the world—all because people talk.” (BBT in Gospel Medicine)

* * *

Speaking of words. I was trying to come up with expressions and synonyms I could conjure for “money”--what am I missing?

Money, cash, dough, chedda, change, jack, cheese, bling, Benjamins, cashola, pound, francs, yen, peso, cred, loot, and paper.

29 October 2007

Baseball, Adventure, and the Titanic

Three thoughts from the World Series. First, Boston won five of the first fifteen World Series at the onset of Major League Baseball. In the last eighty-nine years (or thereabouts) they’ve won a grand total of two. Second, from 2004 until present day, the losing team in the World Series has won a grand total of 1 game. The Red Sox swept the Cardinals in 2004. TheWhite Sox swept the Astros in 2005. The Cardinals won in five against the Tigers, and the Rex Sox swept the Rockies in 2007. That’s an amazing statistic. Last, why do we still call it a world championship, when a MLB, NBA, or NFL team wins their American championship? Is it truly a world championship?

-----------------------------------
I viewed the film, Into the Wild, on Friday night. It’s an amazing film. It is a bit slow in parts but the story line is excellent. I wish I would’ve read the book first because the book is always, always, always, better than the movie (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Cold Mountain, Band of Brothers—just to name a few). My favorite line from the film, "I'm going to paraphrase Thoreau, 'Trust, forgiveness, passion, beauty, justice, reason are wonderful. I desire truth.'" That's my paraphrase.

---------------------------------

I remembered a sad but true story this weekend from my marathon training of two years ago. I was running in THE CRIM, a big race in the Flint area in prep for the 26.2 miles I was about to endure less than two months later. Upon the last major stretch of the ten mile race, I stumbled (not literally) upon a sad metaphor which captures the state of some of our American churches.

After several churches passed out water, food, gel boosters, etc, I came upon a church that decided during a grueling race that they would contribute to the running experience by blessing the runners with a barrage of hymns.

That’s right. No water, Gatorade, granola bar, or slice of an orange—this church brought “God is So Good” and “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.”

While others were meeting the needs, they brought hymns to the party.

I suppose that’s not completely bad for music is powerful. I simply wonder if that’s not a scary parallel to the way some churches still function. While divorce, H.I.V., S.T.D’s, depression, and poverty wage war, some stand on the top deck of the Titanic blessing each other with hymns.

28 October 2007

Potter (part deux)

If the Harry Potter pot wasn't stirred enough last time, here's an interesting article on "Searching Truth in Harry Potter." The author is a former missionary to West Africa.

What do you think?

What are the strengths of her arguments? What are the weaknesses or inconsistencies?

UPDATE: Wade has an interesting article on his blog discussing whether or not Harry Potter is a Christian!?

25 October 2007

The Power of Confession

Donald Miller got a crazy idea when he was a college student to put up a confession booth on the secular and anti-Christian campus of Reed College. His timing was a bit awkward for he wanted to do this during Ren Fayre, a time of drinking, drug use, and orgies. Instead of asking other students to confess their sins (something Christians are curiously good at), Miller led the experiment by offering a confession of his own sins, as well as the past sins of Christianity.

You never question the truth of something until you have to explain it to a skeptic. I didn’t feel like being in the booth or wearing that stupid monk outfit. I wanted to go to the rave. Everybody in there was cool, and we were just religious.

I was just going to tell Tony that I didn’t want to do it when he opened the curtain and said we had our first customer.

“What’s up, man?” Dude sat himself on the chair with a smile on his face. He told me my pipe smelled good.

“Thanks,” I said. I asked him his name, and he said his name was Jake. I shook his hand because I didn’t know what to do, really.

“So, what is this? I’m supposed to tell you all of the juicy gossip I did at Ren Fayre, right?” Jake said.

“No.”

“Okay, then what?” What’s the game?” He asked.

“Not really a game. More of a confession thing.”

“You want me to confess my sins, right?”

“No, that’s not what we’re doing, really.”

“What’s the deal, man? What’s with the monk outfit?”

“Well, we are, well, a group of Christians here on campus, you know.”

“I see. Strange place for Christians, but I am listening.”

“Thanks,” I told him. He was being very patient and gracious.” Anyway, there is a group of us, just a few of us who were thinking about the way Christians have wronged people over time.”

After haggling over the intent, Jake finally began to understand. The conversation took a serious turn once Jake realized that this was a life-giving proposition.

“So, you are confessing to me!” Jake said with a laugh

“Yeah. We are confessing to you. I mean, I am confessing to you.”

“You’re serious.” His laugh turned to something of a straight face.

I told him I was. He looked at me and told me I didn’t have to. I told him I did, and I felt very strongly in that moment that I was supposed to tell Jake that I was sorry about everything.”

After confessing for a good while, Jake became empowered. His passion increased with each passing second.

“It’s all right, man,” Jake said, very tenderly. His eyes starting to water.

“Well,” I said, clearing my throat, “I am sorry for all of that.”

“I forgive you,” Jake said. And he meant it.

The two talked for a little longer about the essence of the Christian story and Donald shared with him the Gospel message and Jake told all of his friends that they needed to visit the Christians in the confession booth. I can just imagine that conversation, “You won’t believe what those Christians are up to now!”

23 October 2007

Random Marriage Story

One of my favorite aspects of being married (to Kara) are the humorous moments shared between husband and wife. Most are best kept between each other.

However, occasionally, an experience happens that is too good not to share with friends.

Last night, about midnight, a large section of our bedroom window fell off just missing my face by a few inches. Kara was completely asleep. I had just dozed off. I thought someone was breaking into our house. I jumped out of bed, ready for drama. My heart pounded. Adrenaline flowed throughout my entire body.

After a few seconds of being dazed and confused, I realized I'd been the victim of laziness. We just had new windows put in and Kara did not properly seal one of the panels over the top of the window.

Kara woke up from a deep sleep to utter these words under the emotion of great giggling, "I was afraid that might happen."

And with that, she laughed so hard, I could not help but laugh myself.

When I came home from work, the panel was still lying next to bed. Taunting me. Mocking me.

22 October 2007

Malibu


I've spent time in Malibu the last two years at the Pepperdine Lectureships. My time at Pepperdine University has been a time of refreshment, encouragement, and sabbath.


Tonight, I'm praying for those people being ravaged and undone by the fires sweeping from L.A. to San Diego.


This is a photo one student took from Pepperdine.
My friend, James Wiser has been blogging about the unfolding events. James works at Pepperdine.
Pray for Malibu. Pray for Pepperdine. Pray for mercy.


W






Rochester Church of Christ:

It was truly great to be with yer on Friday night for the little fall shindig. Leaving the ranch was good for me. I could not believe how many of you said you'd supported me in my last two elections. My strategery is working.


Yours Truly,


George W. Bush



20 October 2007

Faithful

I told this story before. I've been working on a writing project that made me think of this story again. The story won't leave me alone. One, because it's funny. Two, because it exposes my worldview. By the way, this story, in no way, is intended to undermine or downplay the importance of authentic professional counseling.

* * *

This past year, I went to lunch (because lunch is the most spiritual part of my day) with two friends and an acquaintance, Jeff Patton. Jeff is a hard guy to describe. Prophet is really the only word I know that comes close. Jeff talked about a lot of things with us over chips and salsa and quesadillas. Everything from preaching to politics, immigration to the recovery process of clergy post seminary (moving from experts to pastors). At one point in the conversation, Jeff quipped: “Did you know the ten largest churches in the world are not in the West? They are in places like China, South Korea, Peru, and West Africa? Here in the U.S. we are impressed is a church can get a thousand people into a building on a Sunday morning. In some of these churches (which are located in the margins—my word) they have tens of thousands meeting several times a week in homes, underground and above.”

After sipping on some (ok, a lot of) Dr. Pepper, Jeff turned to me and said:“Imagine this scenario. A man walks into your office completely at the end of his rope, he’s hit rock bottom. His annual salary, before losing his job, was $250k. In a span of 30 days, this man spent over $100k on alcohol, gambling, and food. That’s one hundred thousand dollars… His wife left him and took their children. He’s lost his house, cars…everything and now lives on the streets and in shelters sorting rags for $25 a week. This guy walks into your office and tells you this information, how would you respond?”

I thought for a minute, cutting through all the weak answers I could offer. One person at the table chimed in, “I’d tell him to call someone who cares.”I immediately felt something inside saying, “Ok, that’s not the best answer.”So, I attempted to respond to my prophetic peer.

I took my turn next.“I would ask him if he wants to stop drinking.” I come from a family where alcohol addiction has been talked about openly. I know the first rule to addiction is that the addict has to desire change. “If he’s serious about changing, then I can help him.”

The third person at the table declined to speculate.

Jeff abruptly responded, “You all are such Westerners. I asked my friend from Africa (who's a pastor) what he would do and he said he’d grab the man right then and there in the office and start praying that God would release his soul from the bondage and captivity that was oppressing him. I don’t care if he wanted me to or not. I’m a Christian and I believe in the power and authority of Jesus.”

He continued much to my dismay.“So, the next time this guy came into my office, that’s what I did.” Apparently this was a real situation! “I grabbed him and started praying for the Holy Spirit to invade his life and create transformation, real change.”

“What happened?”“I grabbed the guy as hard as I could, hanging on to him, praying with passion and fervor.”“

Then what?” I was quite the reporter.

“He ran screaming into the night.”

“Oh.”

“But you see…it’s not about being successful, it’s about being faithful.”

19 October 2007

Trunk or Treat

Which costume is the most humorous for a man to wear to a church "fall gathering?"


Papa Smurf (with blue skin and all that comes with being a smurf)?
Hillary Clinton?
George W. Bush?
Andy (as in Raggedy Ann and Andy)?
The Man Who Invented the Internet (Al Gore)?
Jose Canseco?

17 October 2007

Ok. So people have opinions about Harry Potter. Who knew?

I’m curious to know what books impacted you growing up as a young person? Here are some of the books I remember.

Ramona Quimby (the whole set)
The Mouse and the Motorcycle
Clifford
(I was really young)
Choose Your Own Adventure
Huck Finn

Which books shaped your mind as a young person? Here, I’m thinking of between the ages of 5-10.

15 October 2007

Harry Potter and John Yoder

I'm late to the Harry Potter party. I finally gave in and read the first one this past week. Rowling is an excellent writer. I'm glad I finally gave in to Kara's prompting.

What is about Harry Potter that has everyone so intrigued? First, Rowling's creativity is unprecedented for modern popular work. C.S. Lewis once wrote, in an essay, that the chief sin of modernity was its war against the imagination of adult Westerners. Harry Potter dares the reader to see things upside down and sideways. Second, Harry Potter is a story of good and evil and we, as humans, seem to be drawn towards stories with clear heroes and obvious villains. We want to know that are lives are a part of some larger cosmic struggle. Third, people are drawn to Harry Potter because they need a person like Harry Potter to exist (common but virtuous, daring, and powerful). Potter is not superman per se, but he is a normal teen with limitless potential. Deep down we all want to believe that we can become more than we already are. Fourth, in Potter (at least the first novel but I'm guessing this is true all the way to the end)...love wins. Power, greed, deception, and even magic have their limits. But love breaks through the barriers and limits...love always wins.

That some Christians refuse to allow their children to ready Harry Potter is beyond me.

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I have found this quote from Yoder to be one of the most succinct statements concerning Jesus in all of New Testament scholarship.

Jesus was not just a moralist whose teachings had some political implications; he was not primarily a teacher of spirituality whose public ministry unfortunately was seen in a political light; he was not just a sacrificial lamb preparing for his immolation, or a God-Man whose divine status calls us to disregard his humanity. Jesus was, in his divinely mandated prophethood, priesthood, and kingship, the bearer of a new possibility of human, social and therefore political relationships. His baptism is the inauguration and his cross is the culmination of that new regime in which his disciples are called to share. Hearers or readers may choose to consider that kingdom as not real, or not relevant, or not possible, or not inviting; but…no such slicing can avoid his call to an ethic marked by the cross, a cross identified as the punishment of a man who threatens society by creating a new kind of community leading a radically new kind of life (The Politics of Jesus).

12 October 2007

Bronx, Teaching



Going into ministry, I knew I would not become a wealthy man, though, by global standards, I know that is not really true.

There are aspects of my work, however, that I would not trade for a six-figure salary, or an expensive home in the Hamptons

Today, I received a letter from a young man from New York. “Sam” (we’ll call him) is incarcerated at the moment. I met him two years ago when I spent time with the Bronx Fellowship Church in The Bronx, NY. Here’s a snippet of the letter from “Sam” (exactly as he wrote it):

Whats up Josh. I hope you remember me. Well your might know already but yeah I’m locked. I been trying to do good and trying to change. I don’t what to do the same things I was doing when I was out. I started to smoke and drink. I stop going to school and started hustling. Yeah “Kathy” gave me you address because she said that if I needed some information you could help me with it (Here he’s referring to college). I do want to get out from the city. I want to go to college for architecture. I also want to take art classes and scripture. So yeah how you guys been? I hope you guys are doing good. I be home before Christmas and I hope to see you guys again, I don’t got much to say

P.S. I would like to hear back from you.

I’m going to write “Sam” a note of encouragement this week. If you would like to write him and let him know that there are people praying for him all over the United States, let me know and I’ll get you his information. The more people who witness to God’s power and love, the better his chances are for making this critical transition. This is one example of blogs serving as a redemptive force in our culture.

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Today, in my Introduction to Christian Faith, I walked them through basic theological background information comparing the four Gospels of the New Testament. After having talked about the differences between the four gospels (point of view, emphasis, theological narrative, claims about Jesus, chronology of events in the life of Jesus, etc.) one student raised his hand and said, “But that is just more proof to me concerning the person of Christ. Four different accounts that testify to his divinity and power.” It’s moments like those when you think, “Ah ha…they are getting this.”

We concluded by talking about the focus of each Gospel. Here were the titles I gave them.

Matthew: Training for the Kingdom
Mark: The Suffering Messiah
Luke: Upside-Down Religion
John: When God Moves into the Neighborhood
Friday afternoon, 130pm to 3pm. I and 45 students were able to talk passionately about the life and teachings of Jesus. Is this a great country or what?

11 October 2007

Spiritual Disciplines


Lauren Winner makes the following observation regarding spiritual disciplines in Mudhouse Sabbath.

Jews do these things with more attention and wisdom not because they are more righteous nor because God likes them better, but rather because doing, because action, sits at the center of Judaism. Practice is to Judaism what belief is to Christianity. That is not to say that Judaism doesn’t have dogma or doctrine. It is rather to say that, for Jews, the essence of the thing is a doing, an action. Your faith might come and go, but your practice ought not waver…This is perhaps best explained by a midrash (a rabbinic commentary on a biblical text). This midrash explains a curious turn of phrase in the Book of Exodus: “Na’aseh v’nishma,” which means “we will do and we will hear’ or ‘we will do and we will understand,” a phrase drawn from Exodus 24, in which the people of
Israel proclaim “All the words that God has spoken, we will do and we will hear."

The word order, the rabbis have observed, doesn’t seem to make any sense: How can a person obey God’s commandment before they hear it? But the counterintuitive lesson, the midrash continues, is precisely that one acts out God’s commands, one does things unto God, and eventually, through the doing, one will come to hear and understand and believe. In this midrash, the rabbis have offered an apology for spiritual practice, for doing (Mudhouse Sabbath ix-x).

The most meaningful spiritual disciplines in my life are: exercise, tithing, working with the poor, weekly confession, sabbath-keeping, and reading.

What are the disciplines in your life that create space for the presence of God?

08 October 2007

Nashville, Washington D.C.

This weekend’s ZOE Conference might have been the best ever. The missional focus is exactly what the Spirit is doing in the larger Christian world (both domestically and globally).

One of the great joys and privileges of the last two years, has been working with the leaders and visionaries of ZOE. It is, without question, one of the best things we do in our little corner of the world—the Churches of Christ. In teaching at ZOE, I’ve shared wonderful conversations full of wisdom, pain, testimony, and insight.

I leave such weekends feeling pretty confident that a portion of Churches of Christ are positioned to do ministry in the coming religious climate. By “portion” I don’t necessarily mean the churches that would be a part of ZOE events. For some of the most missional (working with the poor, etc.) churches I know are, from my denomination’s perspective, conservative.

If you’ve never gone, they are having events this upcoming year in Searcy, Dallas, Fresno, Malibu, Tulsa, and Nashville.


On another note. Along with a group of pastors and Rochester College administrators, I was a part of a dialog session with one of Michigan’s Congressman this morning. The forum was an informal but spirited discussion about the issues that churches are passionate about.

Several good questions were raised and several statements were made ranging from Michigan's economy to the War in Iraq.

My question went something like this.


It is hard for some of us not to be cynical about the way in which America prioritizes involvement in other nations of the world. For instance, some have suggested that if oil was discovered in Northern Uganda (Gulu) or Darfur, the United States might suddenly being interested in the genocide that’s been plaguing this region for several years. How does government prioritize its involvement in humanitarian issues (which Iraq was advertised to be in the beginning)?


If you could, in-person, ask your Congressman one question; if you could make one statement to your Congressman—what would it be? And no, you can't ask if he/she has special powers to help the Lions prevent another debacle.

03 October 2007

Motown Healing Service

Last night, I attended a healing service at a local church. I went with a friend whom I deeply respect. He’s on a journey right now; a journey that, as his pastor and friend, begs my participation.

So, we jumped in his car and drove to the gathering of 50 plus Christians in suburban Detroit.

I’ve been to several other healing services before. Pentecostal. Catholic. Evangelical. I’ve seen it all. At least “all” in the American context. Some of the experiences were profound and powerful. Some were downright depressing and sinister.

Back to last night.

We walked into the church building around 7:00 p.m. The room was already full. The “healing pastor” (a position my church does not currently have) gave testimonies about tinnitus being healed, carpal tunnel syndrome quieted, autism defeated. In no way was this minister trying to bring honor or glory to himself. He was genuinely interested in asking a dangerous question, “How is God working in the world today?” People offered real stories of deliverance.

The pastor of healing taught us that God heals people in four ways. First, God heals through the Word (Scripture). God heals through anointing. God heals through word of knowledge (prophetic gifts). And last, God heals through prayer.

The funniest moment of the night came when the healing pastor asked if anyone in the room had emphysema. One man raised his hand in violent affirmation.

“I have emphysema.”

“How long have you had emphysema,” asked the healing pastor?

“I’ve had emphysema my whole life.”

At this point, I'm thinking, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it impossible to have emphysema one’s entire life?

Regardless, the entire room prayed for this man whose lungs were full of disease. I held both hands out in faith. “God, heal our brother.”

I don’t know if I believe that God works the same as the healing pastor believes . I’ve buried enough friends in my young life to know that some people don’t get healed; some get worse.

I believe that God works in powerful ways. I believe he sometimes chooses to heal people. I also know that God does not honor every request. One thing I know for certain…God is not a cosmic vending machine granting our every wish.

Nonetheless, I’m grateful there are church’s which challenge my practical atheism.

01 October 2007

Eat This Book

If you struggle reading the Bible, I have the book for you. It might be because you are no longer enamored with the stories. You might find the language difficult. The bridge between "then" (a.k.a. "In biblical times) and "now" might be too long a journey.

Eugene Peterson (author of The Message, superb translator, theologian and a "pastor’s pastor") has written a provocative, easy-to-read (I read it in a plane ride) guide. The book has an unusual title, Eat This Book.

Here are a few excerpts.

On exegesis (wrestling with the meaning of Scripture):

“..exegesis is an act of love. It loves the one who speaks the words enough to want to get words right. It respects the words enough to use every means we have to get the words right. Exegesis is loving God enough to stop and listen carefully to what he says. It follows that we bring the leisure and attention of lovers to this text, cherishing every comma and semicolon, relishing the oddness of this preposition, delighting in the surprising placement of this noun. Lovers don’t take a quick look, get a ‘message’ or a ‘meaning,’ and then run off and talk endlessly with their friends about how they feel.”

On the paradox of Scripture:

“We are fond of saying that the Bible has all the answers. And that is certainly correct. The text of the Bible sets us in a reality that is congruent with who we are as created beings in God’s image and what we are destined for in the purposes of Christ. But the Bible also has all the questions, many of them that we would just as soon were never asked of us, and some of which we will spend the rest of our lives doing our best to dodge. The Bible is a most comforting book; it is also a most discomforting book. Eat this book; it will be sweet as honey in your mouth; but it will also be bitter to your stomach. You can’t reduce this book to what you can handle; you can’t domesticate this book to what you are comfortable with. You can’t make it your toy poodle, trained to respond to your commands.”

From lectio divina, to background information regarding the formation of the canon—this book is one of the better introductions for the all-too-often-ignored task of reading the Bible. Or...as Peterson would say, the task of allowing Scripture to read me.

28 September 2007

My sister-in-law read this at my sister's wedding last month. Kara is going to read it this weekend at the wedding of her college roommate, Emily Kirk. I think it is simple yet true.



Why is it that people get married?
Because we need a witness to our lives.
There’s a billion people on the planet (actually six billion plus)
What does any one life really mean?
But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything…
The good things, the bad things,
All of it… all the time, every day.
You’re saying “Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it.
Your life will not go unwitnessed - because I will be your witness.”

25 September 2007

Fitness Follies


The following are Kara and Josh’s basic maxims concerning the universal work-out facility. You may add your own to this list.


If you can talk on your cell phone while exercising, it does not count as cardio.

Contrary to popular practice, women don’t really appreciate being undressed by the eyes of men.

Enter the shower, sauna, and hot tub at your own risk. Many a fungi have been known to find their abode in these facilities.

To the two friends who talk the entire time they are on the treadmill: If you put half your energy into the workout as you did gossiping about cheer leading tryouts and which neighbor stays up too late—you might get more out of your workout.

The consummate sweater (one who sweats) always seems to be the one who does not know where the germ/alcohol towel dispenser is located—even though there are dispensers at every turn in the work-out area.

Just because they make spandex shorts in your size doesn’t mean you should wear said spandex shorts. That goes for spandex pants too.


Patriotism and Nationalism

I want to think out loud here (which I suppose is a non-technical definition of blogging). I'm curious to hear what others think on this topic.


Is there a difference between patriotism and nationalism (borrowing the distinction from a Christian ethicist)? Let me define my terms here.

Patriotism is affinity and affection towards one’s country. This includes appreciating the sacrifice of soldiers from wars gone by as well as the work and dedication of so many in the current Armed Forces.

Nationalism, which is easier to spot in citizens of other nations (c.f. Iran), is total and complete loyalty to the country regardless of said county’s policies, practices, etc.

I am proud to be a U.S. citizen. I love the United States. I think we are one of the more unique stories in the history of civilization. I believe we’ve also influenced, for the good, countless nations into embracing ideas of equality, justice and freedom.

If I was a nationalist, I’d stop there.

But I’m a patriot, not a nationalist.

Because I’m a patriot I am also aware of U.S. blunders such as our inability and lack of desire to be involved in Rwanda and Darfur. I wonder what would happen if oil was discovered in these two regions.

So…is this semantics or is there a difference between being a patriot (a good American or German or Ugandan or Egyptian) and being a nationalist?


Specifically, if one follows the teachings of Jesus, should there be a distinction?

21 September 2007

The Patsy

I mentioned that I sat on a panel Thursday night at Michigan State University as a part of a program led by some Christian ministers entitled Join the Conversation—a dialogue about faith and spirituality.

Toward the end of a long night (in which we talked about theodicy, creation, evolution, theism, atheism, war, non-violence, ethics) one of the panelists ended the discussion with this story.

This is my recollection of his account.

When I was a boy, I remember responding to the story of Jesus without realizing it. I was watching a dramatic production entitled “The Patsy” starring Sammy Davis Jr. In the film, Davis plays the lone minority in a regiment full of white soldiers. Davis is ridiculed, mocked and despised. The soldiers tell him to go and get striped paint, and Davis goes to get it. When he comes back he’s jeered. The tell Davis to get a left-handed monkey-wrench, Davis goes but has no lock securing one from the commissary. He is, the quintessential “patsy.”

Towards the end of the production, the soldiers decide to play a mean trick on Davis. They take him out to the grenade field and hand him a grenade that is not operable. Davis, however, does not know this. One of the soldiers pulls the pin and all the soldiers, who’ve gathered for the tom-foolery, scatter like birds, leaving the young soldier all by himself.

They look back and see something they had no language for. Davis is lying prostrate on the ground using his body as a human shield while screaming, “Don’t worry guys, I’ll save you. I’ll protect you. Run!”

“And that was my first introduction to the gospel,” said this converted follower of Jesus who was now sitting next to me almost fifty years later.

Ruby Rudy, Michigan State, and Chaldeans

I’ve experienced three powerful things in the last 36 hours.

On Wednesday night, during our Emerging Artist gathering, Carmen Paradise played a song remembering her brother (Nic) who lost a battle with a drug addiction last month. I wrote about that here and here. She, and her fellow band member, played a song entitled "Rudy Ruby." It was a powerful lament/statement of faith. The most meaningful line (addressed to Nic), “You’ve been dying since I can’t remember.” We all mourn in different ways. The important thing is that we mourn.

Last night, I spoke on the campus of Michigan State University for Join the Conversation—a dialog about faith and spirituality for Christians, religious folks of different stripes and seekers. We talked about theodicy (God in the midst of suffering), ethics, war, non-violence, politics, theism and atheism…among other topics. It was a lively and enriching conversation. The other two panelists challenged me in various ways. If God is Absolute Truth we should have some humility when treading on the ground of holy conversation. I believe in “absolute truth but not in my ability to understand truth absolutely,” to quote one Christian thinker.

Last night, as I prepared to sleep, Kara and I engaged in a discussion about the things our children will challenge us on. My generation loves to talk about the Civil Rights Era, Vietnam, Communism and Democracy—what will our children challenge us on? My wife said something so true. “I think that our kids will challenge the way some white people view middle easterners.” (I should add here that one of Kara’s close friends is a Christian from Iraq…yes, there are Christians in the Middle East. She’s Chaldean. A side note: Microsoft Word doesn’t even recognize the word Chaldean.)

I think Kara’s right. Whites have slowly moved past the stereotypes of Blacks and Hispanics (for the most part) but now transfer those sentiments towards all people of Middle Eastern descent. Some Christians use the phrase “sand nigger” “rag-head” “or camel jockey." In these moments I tend to think to myself, “The Jesus of history was a poor Jewish man from said region. I wonder if we would be able to embrace him were he to move into our neighborhood today.” Jesus looked more like the men who receive extra screening at Metro Detroit Airport, than he does White-Suburban-Scandinavian-Romance-Novel-Jesus.