31 May 2007


I have one measure for a good vacation: a stack of good books. Kara has one requirement for a good vacation: a beach on the ocean. So, you can picture me on vacation reading a bunch of books at the beach. Occasionally the old man (me) will venture into the ocean. Occasionally the young girl (Kara) will sit down to read a magazine…neither will give in too much to the other.

I also like scuba diving, good Mexican food, lots of access to Dr. Pepper, and a TV to watch the Pistons struggle through the NBA Playoffs. But, alas, if I have to choose one—give me some books.

On this trip, I’ll be reading The Kite Runner (Hosseini), Leaving Church (Barbara Brown Taylor), The Next Christendom (Jenkins), and No Future Without Forgiveness (Tutu). It’s a good lineup from top to bottom: a novel that’s received critical acclaim by several trusted friends (Kite Runner); a memoir of the paradox that is faith by a preacher/writer bar none and future professor of mine (Leaving Church); a scope of the globalization of Christianity, or…why Christianity isn’t about America and Europe anymore; And…Desmond Tutu’s account of one of the most fascinating achievements of the twentieth century: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.

The truth is actually a bit deeper, I have two requirements for a good vacation: good books and Kara (not in that order).

27 May 2007

Small Things

On Friday night, I and a group from the Rochester Church stayed the night with the South Oakland Shelter at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. Over 70 people from our church worked with St. Philip’s to care, nurture, feed, and share our lives with the 30 or so guests now homeless, trying to get out of the cycle of poverty that is consumes many in the Detroit area.

It was a relatively normal night, at least compared to some of my other experiences. I and two other friends had the distinct honor of pulling an all-nighter—we were tagged security for the night. I learned how to play chess (how I’ve avoided learning this game is beyond me), talked about life, politics, etc.

Three young women were in the shelter with their children. It’s one thing to fend for yourself in those conditions; it’s another to fend for your family.

Charles, Mary, Lucky, Steve, LaKeisha, Justin, Edward, Norma, and Tammy among others. It might seem like a small thing, to give up one night of your week to care for the invisible people of Metro Detroit. But the Gospel is all about the small things. To paraphrase one of Christianity’s greatest ambassadors, “We cannot do big impressive things, only small insignificant things with great love.”

25 May 2007


Tonight, I am staying (with some close friends) at the SOS homeless shelter in downtown Rochester with St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. But before I do that, some reflections on a great week. I hope to be able to relay some of the stories from this week’s work between the Rochester Church and folks at St. Philip’s. More on that to come.

The Rochester College Sermon Seminar was a smashing success. Gail O’Day (from Emory University) stole the show with her lecture on friendship in the Gospel of John. She combined great scholarship with deep pastoral convictions.

Richard Hays was, well, Richard Hays—one of the real studs in New Testament studies. Greg Stevenson (RC professor and good friend) was the equivalent of a great Major League pitcher: He throws in the mid-90s, with a great change-up, and is able to stay with those two pitches for all nine innings. D’Esta Love was the first woman to preach at this event. Women scholars have presented for several years, but this was the first time a woman has delivered a focal homily. Tom Boomershine challenged me about the inherent nature of the text. David Fleer and Jerry Taylor also delivered powerful and imaginative sermon’s from John’s Gospel.

Overall, it was a stellar gathering; one of the best events that occurs in Churches of Christ. Where else do Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics, Churches of Christ, Community Church, and Episcopal leaders gather under the umbrella of intense study of Scripture?

Seven days until I and the most intelligent and beautiful woman on the planet take our first vacation in a long, long time. The stack of books I’ve ignored in my office are crying out to me.

The Tigers continue to win in impressive fashion. This weekend’s series with the Indians will be fascinating to watch. One could make the argument that Guillen, Ordonez and Polanco are the most dangerous trio in any MLB lineup.

I’m trying hard to stay interested in the Eastern Conference Finals. Though the Pistons are up 2-0, I find myself thinking one thing and one thing only as this series unfolds: The San Antonio Spurs may as well get their rings fitted for Duncan’s fourth NBA Championship—because it does not matter who comes out of the East the way these Spurs are playing.

I hope I’m wrong, I really do.

20 May 2007

Rochester College, Rasheed, Birthdays, and the Tigers

The next three days marks a highlight event of the year for me: the 10th Annual Rochester College Sermon Seminar. One of my key mentors in undergrad studies (David Fleer) is the director. This seminar has had such teachers as Fred Craddock, Tom Long, Barbara Brown Taylor, Will Willimon, Stanley Hauerwas, Charles Campbell, and Walter Brueggemann. Evangelicals, Main-line, and Roman Catholics have come together to study Scripture, wrestle with contemporary situations, creating unexpected community.

This is the final Sermon Seminar as David Fleer is going to be teaching and working at my alma mater (and Kara's favorite school), Lipscomb University. I feel at a loss to see a mentor and friend move, but I know he'll bless the school richly.

This year, I’m leading a panel discussion on “The Many Faces of Faith”—Sean Stockman helped me write, produce, and film this video. Sean is extremely talented and I learn something new each time I work with him.

This morning, Tom Boomershine taught a special adult class at the Rochester Church on the power of Scripture being heard thus experienced in community rather than read as a scientific document to be examined. It was a powerful morning indeed. It was interesting sitting next to Tom and Amelia (his wife) during our Mosaic worship gathering. You do not realize how low church/charismatic you are until you are in a tight space with an ordained Methodist minister and an ordained Methodist elder/scholar. I will post the link to his class in the coming days.


Tonight, several of our friends threw a surprise bday party for the most beautiful woman on the planet. It was a great time of food, conversation, jokes, and music. What would a gathering of friends be without music?


The Pistons are one the path for a re-match against the Spurs. It would be sweet vindication to beat the Cavs (to the dismay of NBA officials who are enamored with King James) and then take down the Spurs. I’m not convinced it will happen, but the prospects are fun to consider. If Rasheed plays like he did in Game 6, the Pistons could have their second championship in four years.

Meanwhile, the Tigers continue to win despite having a depleted pitching staff.

As for the Red Wings, I’ve never gotten “hockey”—sorry, it’s too hard to follow the puck. If they make it to the Stanley Cup, I’ll be a frontrunner, cheering.

16 May 2007

You Would Do What?

Recently, I went to lunch 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 (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) 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 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.”

Jeff abruptly responded, “You all are such Westerners. I asked my friend from Africa 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.”


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

14 May 2007


Thanks to my friend Wade for suggesting The Burning Word by Judith Kunst. I’ve been doing extra reading the last year or so in Jewish studies. I find Jewish approaches to faith, community, interpretation and creation to be refreshing and invigorating. If you are looking for a place to start that’s not too intimidating, I suggest you read Girl Meets God by Lauren F. Winner. I have had the privilege of working with Lauren at two ZOE Conferences recently—she’s simply one of the best Christian writers I know of. She was raised Jewish, and in many ways, still considers herself as such. She is also a follower of Yeshua (Jesus), which means she’s had to think carefully about the relationship of Judaism and Christianity.

Back to The Burning Word…here’s a story from the Talmud about Abraham. I used this story recently to describe the word chutzpah—rare bravery in the face of opposition (think valor or courage).

“…Abraham was pious too, though not quite so well behaved. In fact, one legend holds, he was prone to rather violent confrontations with heresy, even when the heretic was his own father,” (Judith Kunst in The Burning Word, 99):

Abraham’s father was an idol maker. He would make stone images and sell them in a shop in the market. One day, Abraham’s father asked him to watch over the idols in his shop while he was away. While he was gone, Abraham seized a stick, smashed all the statues, and placed the stick in the hand of the biggest of them. When his father came back, he asked: “Who did this to the gods?” Abraham answered: “The biggest of them rose up and smashed all the others.” His father replied: “Are you making fun of me? They cannot do anything! They are merely pieces of stone!” Abraham answered: “Let your ears hear what your mouth is saying!” (From Genesis Rabbah).

08 May 2007

Pepperdine, College Church, Pistons

I just returned from being in California at the Pepperdine Lectures (I'm still trying to get back on this thing called Eastern Standard Time). One of the highlights for the trip, besides being with my wife for a rare occasion on a trip such as this, was spending time with the College Church of Christ in Fresno, CA.

College Church might be one of the most diverse Churches of Christ in the country with members and leaders in its family ranging from white, black, Hispanic, Jamaican, Hawaiian and Asian (Chinese, Japanese, and Hmong). And…they are the only Church of Christ I know that has a female worship leader, Sandra Henderson.

I first met this church while teaching for a ZOE Conference. It has been a blessing to see the many ways in which God is at work in churches all over.

In other news, I owe the Pistons a public apology. I told a good friend and sports confidant recently that I am certain the Pistons are near the end of their glorious NBA Playoff run (Nearly five consecutive Eastern Conference Finals, two NBA Finals appearances, one championship).

Well, it turns out I might be wrong. Thanks to Ben Wallace and the (very) Baby Bulls, the Pistons seemed to have found the edge and focus they boasted in 2004 when they defeated Kobe and Shaq and in 2005 when they nearly upset the Spurs after going down 2-0.

Hats off to Chauncey, Rip, Rasheed, Tay, C-Webb et al—they are handling these playoffs like true pros. I hope they have one more championship run in them. And…I hope Joe Dumars can figure out a way to bring Chauncey back after the summer.