30 March 2007


For those that might be interested in my writing, Wineskins Magazine, or N.T. Wright's work--you may enjoy the review I've written of Evil and the Justice of God.

21 March 2007

One Scandalous Party

Tony Campolo had a significant influence on me when I was in graduate school and thinking about the implications of his teachings for my own future, vocation, etc. I have other friends who have read more and been more influenced by Campolo-- I was a latecomer to the Campolo party. One friend recently told me about he and his best friend in college could be found walking around campus quoting Campolo word for word. Campolo has influenced thousands of young women and men to take significant risks for the kingdom of God.

One of the stories that has stayed with me over the last few years is the story he tells about Agnes, a prostitute in Honolulu he met while speaking at a conference for pastors and ministers. How he met a prostitute is interesting in and of itself.

Campolo could not sleep one night while in Hawaii due to the time change. He went looking for a place to eat in the middle of the night and stumbled upon a donut shop in a shotty area of town. While Campolo was having coffee and donuts, a group of women walked into the dining establishment. Campolo knew these were not your regular dinner partners--these folks were full-fledged women "of the night."

He writes in The Kingdom of God is a Party:

I overheard the woman sitting beside me say, "Tomorrow's my birthday. I'm going to be thirty-nine."

Her friend responded in a nasty tone, "So what do you want from me? A birthday party? What do you want? Ya want me to get you a cake and sing 'Happy Birthday?'"

"Come on!" said the woman sitting next to me. "Why do you have to be so mean? I was just telling you, that's all. Why do you have to put me down? I was just telling you it was my birthday. I don't want anything from you. I mean, why should you give me a birthday party? I've never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?"

When I heard that, I made a decision. I sat and waited until the women had left. Then I called over the fat guy behind the counter and I asked him, "Do they come in here every night?”

"Yeah!" he answered.

"The one right next to me, does she come here every night?"

"Yeah," he said. "That's Agnes. Yeah, she comes in here every night. Why d'ya wanta know?"

"Because I heard her say that tomorrow is her birthday," I told him. "What do you say you and I do something about that? What do you think about us throwing a birthday party for her right here tomorrow night?"

A cute smile slowly crossed his chubby cheeks and he answered with measured delight, "That's great!..."

"Look." I told him, "if it's OK with you, I'll get back here tomorrow morning about 2:30 and decorate the place. I'll even get a birthday cake!"

"No way," said Harry (that was his name). "The birthday cake's my thing. I'll make the cake.”

At 2:30 the next morning, I was back at the diner. I had picked up some crepe-paper decorations at the store and had made a sign out of big pieces of cardboard that read, "Happy Birthday, Agnes!" I decorated the diner from one end to the other. I had that diner looking good.

The woman who did the cooking must have gotten the word out on the street, because by 3:15 every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place. It was wall-to-wall prostitutes...and me!

At 3:30 on the dot, the door of the diner swung open and in came Agnes and her friend. I had everybody ready (after all I was kind of the M.C. of the affair) and when they came in we all screamed, "Happy birthday!" Never have I seen a person so flabbergasted...so stunned...so shaken. Her mouth fell open. Her legs seemed to buckle a bit. Her friend grabbed her arm to steady her. As she was led to sit on one of the stools along the counter we all sang "Happy Birthday" to her. As we came to the end of our singing with "happy birthday dear Agnes, happy birthday to you," her eyes moistened, when the birthday cake with all the candles on it was carried out, she lost it and just openly cried.

Harry gruffly mumbled, "Blow out the candles, Agnes! Come on! Blow out the candles! If you don't blow out the candles, I'm gonna hafta blow out the candles." And, after an endless few seconds, he did. Then he handed her a knife and told her, "Cut the cake, Agnes. Yo, Agnes, we all want some cake.”

Agnes looked down at the cake. Then without taking her eyes off it, she slowly and softly said, "Look Harry, is it all right with you if I... I mean is it OK if I kind of... want I want to ask you is...is it OK if keep the cake a little while? I mean is it all right if we don't eat it right away?"

Harry shrugged and answered, "Sure! It's O.K If you want to keep the cake, keep the cake. Take it home if you want to."

"Can I," she asked. Then looking at me she said, "I live just down the street a couple of doors. I want to take the cake home, OK? I'll be right back. Honest!"

She got off the stool picked up the cake, and, carrying it like it was the Holy Grail walked slowly toward the door.

As we all just stood there motionless, she left. When the door closed there was a stunned silence in the place. Not knowing what else to do, I broke the silence by saying, "What do you say we pray?”

Looking back on it now it seems more than strange for a sociologist to be leading a prayer meeting with a bunch of prostitutes in a diner in Honolulu at 3:30 in the morning. But then it just felt like the right thing to do.

I prayed for Agnes. I prayed for her salvation. I prayed that her life would be changed and that God would be good to her. When I finished, Harry leaned over the counter and with a trace of hostility in his voice, he said "Hay! You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?"

In one of those moments when just the right words came, I answered, "I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning."

Harry waited a moment and then almost sneered as he answered, "No you don't. There's no church like that. If there was, I'd join it. I'd join a church like that!”

16 March 2007

A Fresh Word

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking and teaching at the ZOE Conference in Lubbock in Texas hosted by the Monterey Church of Christ... It was, for several reasons, a rewarding experience. Each ZOE Conference is challenging and engaging for I enjoy working with church leaders from all over the country asking the question, “How might we better navigate the river of the Gospel between the banks of Scripture and Culture?”

On Friday, I co-taught a leadership class with one of my chief mentors/rabbis, John York. We talked with women and men in critical leadership positions about understanding the emerging context of practicing the Christian faith in North America.

On Saturday, I taught three classes on the subject of “experiencing God”—with a social justice twist, of course. We talked about seeing the image of Christ in the least of these and the “throwaway’s” of the larger world. I told some stories about the work Kara and I have done with college students from Rochester College and family members from the Rochester Church in Cass Park. Cass Park… one of the worst neighborhoods in one of this country’s most dangerous cities. I told them part of the story of Professor Jack, which I’ve shared with others in many different contexts.

One man, who came in for the third class of “experiencing God” in the margins, shared his testimony of being rescued from addiction, powers, and desires now leading the Monterey Church of Christ in working with incarcerated persons and persons who are without family, shelter, and basic needs. The spirit of God radiated from his very words.

But God was trying to speak to me in more subtle ways that Saturday in Lubbock.

One woman sat through most the three classes without saying a word. She was also volunteering as a servant for the weekend, helping with the hospitality room for the speakers. After I was done teaching this sixth class (third class of day two), she found me sitting at a table, exhausted from the two days of work.

“Josh. I just want you to know something. You’ve really blessed me.”

“Thank you for the kind words, I put a lot of time into this, I appreciate your words.”

She jumped in “…several years ago, I had a son named Josh. He fell off of cliff in a tragic accident. My only son Josh would’ve been about your age. I’ve been through a dark, dark time in my life…God has been faithful, but it was a dark place. And I can’t help but think that my Josh would’ve been serving the Lord much as you are doing with the poor and vulnerable of Cass Park.”

This friend-in-Christ went on to share more of her journey, how she’d completely quit church, experienced a tough divorce, come to faith (again) because of the grace and love the Monterey Church. Her words were fresh words of faith needed for this preacher on this particular day.

This, my friends, is why we cannot be Christians unless we are a part of Christ’ church. All of our stories bleed into one, a tapestry of redemption and transformation.

15 March 2007

I'm Due

Since 1995, I've picked the Kansas Jayhawks to win the NCAA Tourney--so far I'm 0-11. But this is the year, I can feel it. Ok, it could just be the crazy weather in Michigan. It was 70 on Tuesday, it snowed last night.

Florida vs. Kansas


GTown vs. Memphis


Kansas over GTown in a classic matchup.

I saw GTown at Madison Square Garden last week in the Big East Tourney–they look like an NBA team. I think they could take Charlotte, Memphis, and the Clippers right now!

But I’m fiercely loyal to KU after having grown up in Wichita. I’ve picked them every since ‘95–I’m due!

PS Kevin Durant could be this year’s Carmello Anthony, which would be bad news for KU fans.

13 March 2007


28 years ago today, Jason Dale Graves entered the world. Born into a family of love, grace, and Christian discipleship he’s emerged to be a young successful “who’s who” in the Michigan banking world. In high school, he became an all-state tennis player after only having a few years of real experience. He was third on the varsity golf team after one full season of practice. To say Jason picks up on things is like saying Howard Stern is drawn to controversy, both are huge understatements.

Jason, at 28, is a VP of Commercial Loans for Key Bank in Ann Arbor, MI. But more than that, he is a true ambassador of God’s grace in the world. I do not know many young men as successful as Jason who give the amounts of money to kingdom efforts like Jason and his wife Alayna. He is thinking carefully and intentionally about ways he can be a light in the dark world that is often “American banking.” He is out in the streets rubbing elbows with all kinds of folks “preaching the gospel, using words when necessary.”

T-ball, youth basketball, Friday night fights in the basement, traveling, triumphs (Both of us becoming all-state our senior year, he in tennis, me in basketball), and defeats (low points I cannot mention on a public blog)—Jason Dale Graves has been my best friend and closest confidant.

One little known fact: Jason and I are twins. 28 years ago Phil and Kathy Graves found out that they were having two sons, not one. The problem: they found out after Jason had already been delivered! Phil went to get McDonald’s for his young wife, and he came back to the revelation that his family just went from 3 (my sister was three at the time) to 5!

For the next several years, Jason and Josh Graves would be inseparable. Like Jacob and Esau, they’ve not always modeled the God-filled life with perfection, but God has been faithful to both of them, using their paltry gifts for the benefit of his activity on this earth.

May God continue to use these "jars of clay." Happy Birthday Jason.

12 March 2007

Lubbock, New York, Rochester

I just spent a week in NYC (the Bronx specifically) with eleven college students and three faculty/staff from Rochester College. We spent time in prayer, meditation, reflection, serving the poor at the Bowery Mission and local hospital, visiting some of the most historic churches in the United States such as Brooklyn Tabernacle, Riverside (Baptist) Church, St. Paul’s, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

We also spent the majority of the time with the leaders of the Bronx Fellowship of Christ, an emergent church movement led by a stellar team of ministers. They are bridging the gap of economics, race, and gender in "Jesus ways."

However, the most important part of being in The City (or any city for that matter) are the faces. Black, White, Hispanic, Puerto Rican, Laocian, Eastern European and African. Young, old, and middle age. Optimistic, worn-down, beaten, hopeful, and unsure.

These faces are the faces God’s heart beats for. These faces are the faces that reveal Jesus in our midst. THese faces are the faces that remind us of the sanctity of life.


Here’s a great article in the Detroit Free Press per people trying to live as “lights” in the city of Detroit.