27 June 2007

A new friend of mine, Mitch Albaugh, whom I met at the ZOE Conference in Orlando, wrote the following to me in response to yesterday's blog. I figured this is the kind of insight that must be shared.

It is insightful, prophetic, and true.

Hi Josh.

You’ve probably figured out that I read your blogs. Mainly because I want to know what makes you what you are. You didn’t say much about your friends whose son died.

Twenty-three years ago my first son (coincidentally, named Josh) died in Children’s Hospital in Boston following open heart surgery. He was 6 days old. Three days later, we buried him in our small family plot in Clearwater. Even after 23 years, I can’t IMAGINE hurting that much a second time. In fact, as my 3 living sons (ages 22, 16 and 10) have grown up, I have often drawn peace and security from the belief that God would NEVER allow me to go through that again because it would destroy me.

As I read your blog, I wondered if your friends felt like that, too. My heart and prayers really go out to them.

You probably don’t need to hear this advice, but ...

1. Don’t let appearances fool you; your friends may look like they’re doing ok. They’re not. They will need CONSTANT love and support. You CANNOT overdo, in this respect.

2. Don’t be afraid of making them sad or making them cry. Trust me, there is nothing you can do to make them any sadder than they already are. And crying is GOOD; it’s helpful and healing. This is especially true for the dad if he’s anti-tears. They HAVE to cry ... be there to cry with them. (When Josh died, I had to return to work the day after his funeral. I was a mess. I made a rule for myself that if I felt like crying, I was going to cry, no matter what situation I was in. There were a couple of times when it caught the people around me a little off guard, but they were fine – and sympathetic -- once I explained.)

(On the one-year anniversary of Josh’s death, we were informed by telephone that we were being disfellowshipped by a church in Tampa that we had recently left because of its adoption of the Boston/Kip McKean ideology ... the minister there (the fraternity brother who led me to Christ) was Kip McKean’s brother-in-law. The person who called was a longtime “friend” ... when I mentioned what day it was, he said he remembered, but hadn’t said anything because he didn’t want to remind me. That brother and I are once again close friends, but on that day he was a complete idiot. How could he possibly think he’d remember something that I’d forgot? My point: It is not wrong to bring it up. Your friends will NEVER tire of talking about their sons .... EVER! They’ll appreciate you for wanting to.)

3. Remember that 80% of couples that lose a child end up divorced. I don’t have a statistic for losing 2 children. The reason for this (I think) is because the grief cycles don’t coincide; one is up when the other is down ... and they begin to see each other from a different perspective (“Why doesn’t he/she care?” “How can he/she be so happy?”). Your friends may need someone there to remind them that they will grieve/mourn/heal differently.

26 June 2007

Burying Two Sons, Praying for a Brother

It is a tragedy for a mother to bury one son. It is sheer calamity when a mother as to bury two sons.

This week, we mourn with our sister and brother in Christ, the founders of God's Helping Hands, as they have now buried their second son in five years.

We pray from The Book of Common Prayer:

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favor, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name, and finally, by thy mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

My other brother (Duncan) is in Marine Boot Camp right now. Yes, The Book of Common Prayer gives us language for this season as well.

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face their perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


When I asked a world-known theologian who recently visited Rochester College why he was Anglican (where The Book of Common Prayer comes from), he reponded by saying, "I needed more words."

25 June 2007

Fentanyl (pronounced Fen-ta-nawl)

Here’s an excerpt from an outstanding piece on the devastating results of Fentanyl, a drug that some estimate to be ten times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl is on the streets of Detroit, having killed almost 300 people in the Greater Detroit area. This drug is an equal-opportunity killer—just as many rich folks from the Burbs are dying…
I’ve heard people who live and around Cass Park talk about “Super Heroin” (among other names), but I did not realize its potent destructive power as compared with Cocaine, weed, and heroin.


In the basement, anything goes. That's where everybody buys their dope. They can shoot it, snort it or smoke it down there. They can turn tricks to earn money for more drugs. It's all good.

Except tonight, something's bad. There are shouts from upstairs, and smacking sounds. And now water is dripping through the basement ceiling.

In this lair of strangers, where Detroiters get high next to users from Sterling Heights, Royal Oak, Pontiac and Ferndale, all of them drawn together by the pangs of heroin addiction, this is something different.
This is something alarming.

"Lauren!" someone shouts from up above, on the ground floor at 20152 Keating St. in Detroit. Then more of those smacks. "Lauren, wake up!"
"Sit her up!"

A guy known as Tommy comes through a side door with bags of ice, which he hauls upstairs.

The basement people watch him climb out of view.

What's going on?

Ralph, the man upstairs selling the drugs tonight, assures the people below that the girl's OK. Ralph is in charge of the dope house right now. And as lawless as a drug den might seem, there are rules. And one of them is: Customers don't go upstairs. She's OK, Ralph tells the basement people.

And so they return to their business. This isn't their sister or their classmate or their daughter. It's just another doper in a dope house, and, reality is, people overdose.

She'll be OK.

And the water drips. Someone moves over a bucket.

But it's not OK.

Upstairs, Ralph is shaking Lauren Jolly, a 17-year-old with a pretty face and light, shoulder-length brown hair, a former Brownie Scout, a junior at Birmingham Groves High School, a heroin addict her friends can no longer help.

It's May 24, 2006, and she is about to become the public face of fentanyl, a nasty laboratory concoction often mixed with heroin that exploded on the streets of Detroit, ending the lives of hundreds of metro-Detroit drug users, and more than 1,000 people nationwide.

The drug stole a once-promising young bowler from Shelby Township, a retired autoworker from Detroit, an ex-logger from out state and the lead guitarist in a rock band.

Inside the house in Detroit, a 21-year-old from Pontiac named Ben puts his fingers to the neck of the Bloomfield Township teen and feels a slow pulse.
Someone draws cold water and pours it over Lauren.

The girl is still breathing, but her pulse is faint, her blood pressure plummeting. Her eyes roll back ... and she is somewhere else.


The article can be read here.

21 June 2007

Cass Park Meditation

This past Sunday, a group of friends spent the afternoon working in Cass Park hosting a love feast for the poor and homeless. I’ve written about Cass Park several times over the last year. In all, we fed over 400 women, men and children BBQ chicken prepared by Stephanie Corp (one of the most dedicated disciples of Jesus I know).

One person commented to my wife upon seeing the “spread” of great food we brought: “Some days, being homeless ain’t so bad.” Those are words that stay with me through Monday mornings, and Thursday afternoons.

As you know, this Sunday I’m referring to was Father’s Day. Almost every person who came to the love feast knew this and welcomed us with hugs, smiles and “Happy Father’s Day” greetings. I don’t know why but I hadn’t thought about how regular holidays are perceived by those on the margin of society. I also hadn’t thought how grateful our friends would be for the time we gave to them when we could have been hiding out in our air conditioned homes, sipping lemonade (not that those are bad things).

It is easy to point out, as many do, the fact that many of the homeless men we work with are not exactly ideal fathers. Communication with their children is limited at best, non-existent at worst. Some are hooked on crack, heroine, speed, prescriptions drugs. Most are alcohol-dependant. Yet, these men are full of life, love, ideas, and generosity. One man, named Sid, drew a picture of Jesus with this inscription: “Josh, Jesus loves you.” Now there’s a message I never grow weary of hearing.

I’ve been holding on to this treasure from Barbara Brown Taylor’s memoir Leaving Church. Quoting Walter Brueggemann, Taylor reminds herself of God’s mysterious way of working in our lives: “The world for which you were preparing for all these years is slowly being taken from you, by the grace of God,” (my paraphrase).

I never imagined myself becoming a pastor, and teacher. I never imagined that one day I would look as forward to working with the poor and broken of Detroit as I do watching a great movie or attending a Pistons basketball game. I never imagined I would, week to week, stand between humanity and God, communicating to one side on behalf of the other. I never imagined I would cry with some as they bury another child, receive negative news regarding their cancer, or find out about their spouse’s infidelity. But here I am, the young boy who wanted to be a college coach, serving the church that introduced to me Jesus.

The world I was preparing for, by the grace of God, is not the world God was molding me to live in.

18 June 2007

It is Important to Disagree

I believe it is important to disagree.

Here's a story from the Talmud that illustrates why I feel this way.

And Resh Lakish died. And Rebbe Yochanan suffered his loss greatly. The Rabbi’s said, “Who do we have that hand help settle his mind? Let us bring him Eliezer ben Padat, for he is sharp in his learning.” Eliezer ben Padat went and sat before Yochanan and for everything Yochanan said, Eliezer ben Padat brought a text to support Yochanan’s argument. Rebbe Yochanan said, “You’re not like Resh Lakish. When I said something in front of him, he would challenge me with twenty-four questions which I would have to answer, and from that the Torah would be richer—and you, you just support me! So, I have no way of knowing whether what I’m saying is right!” Yochanan then ripped his cloak and wailed, “Where are you son of Lakish, where are you?” (From the Talmud as recorded in Judith Kunst’s The Burning Word, 44)

13 June 2007


I am, by experience and choice, a person of routines.

I need routines for they provide a framework of familiarity and transformation in my everyday life. When I pay attention to my life, I notices that God seems to be just as much interested in the minute knitty-gritty as he is the big and spectacular.

Justin Verlander, the phenomenal young pitchers for the Detroit Tigers, threw a no-hitter last night: The first since 1984 for a Tiger pitcher and only the sixth in the 107th season of Detroit Tiger baseball.

Last night and this morning people talked about the routines they kept during the no-hitter. One sportswriter said he kept his hand on his head, without ever moving it, from the sixth inning to the conclusion of the game. For you non-baseball fans, that’s at least one hour of resting one’s hand in the same awkward position. Another writer for the Detroit News made a similar confession in an interview. I confess that I did not move from the sixth inning on from my spot on the floor in my living room. The announcers calling the game never dared mention the phrase “no hitter” throughout the course of the telecast. We slip into routines because it allows us to be fully present in the moment at hand.

Here are some of my most common routines:

Studying/Reading. Reading is what calms my mind and my soul. Reading takes me into unknown worlds, changing my beliefs and awakening my imagination. I rarely go one day without reading.

Writing. Writing is so connected to reading (and teaching for that matter) that it is often difficult to distinguish between the two. I sometimes write so I even know what I think or feel about a particular person or experience. It is not as if I know what I believe and then try to figure out a way to articulate it. No, usually, as I sit down with a blank sheet of paper to prepare a class/sermon/teaching time (after I’ve studied of course) I write to see where my thoughts and convictions will lead. I’m often surprised at some of the things that flow out of me, things I did not know about myself. I rarely go more than one day without writing.

Sleeping. You may not think about sleep as part of your routines but sleeping is a spiritual experience for a few reasons: first, it reminds you that you are not God. Second, it reminds you that God is the one who is able to raise us from the dead (sleep as it were). I never go a day without sleeping.

Exercising. In an era where many sit behind desks, or drive cars, etc. exercise is as close to physical labor as many have the opportunity to experience (home improvement plans notwithstanding). There is a mysterious connection between our bodies and our soul—and that relationship is unlocked in physical exercise.

Working. I love to work. I love projects, problems, ideas, challenges, and yes, even people (one friend is famous for saying, “Church would be great if not for the people”). I believe that work can be redemptive if and when we see our particular vocations as contributing to the betterment of creation and other people. Whether one is a teacher, minister, accountant, or engineer, God gifts us with ways to bring about justice, solidarity, community and good. I rarely go a day without working and I’m working on that.

"Routine is one of God's great gifts to humanity." Fred B. Craddock

08 June 2007

Snickers Ice Cream Bars

Today and tomorrow, Kara and I are in Orlando (finishing our vacation) working with the ZOE Group who is putting together the Growing Deeper Worship Conference. Metro Church is hosting the conference—they are a fascinating church with a history of God working and moving them. The ZOE Group and the ZOE conferences are some of the best teaching and worship done in Churches of Christ. If you’ve never been a part of one, you should seriously consider it. The main conference takes place the first week in October in Nashville.

Today, in the leadership conference, I shared the story of Professor Jack along with the short film my good friend Sean and I put together.

Tomorrow, we board the plane to head back to Deeetrooooit—I miss home. I love living in the Greater Detroit Area. I love the people, the smell, the teams (Tigers and Pistons), the vibe—I love everything about it.

Sunday is a big day for the Rochester Church as we continue to move forward with our launch of Christ Church: Macomb.

I wrote the following in one of the books I read this week on the beach.

Kara's plane ticket to Orlando $150
Meals $150
Car Rental $250
Tickets to minor league baseball game: $20

Eating Snickers Ice Cream Bars for breakfast with your wife every morning: Priceless

03 June 2007


I have a good friend who, every time I mention the Pistons, thinks of the “Bad Boys” he loves to hate. This friend, I’ve concluded, only remembers the Pistons for the era in which they were known for hard fouls, trash talking, intimidation, and a little rough-housing.

I have been a Detroit Piston fan since the 1987-88 season—I was eight years old and the Pistons were the young, upstart team on the NBA block. They were formidable going into the ’87 season, but they were not yet feared.

Isaiah Thomas was the fearless leader. Pound for pound, Zeke is one of the best basketball players in the history of the game.

Joe Dumars was the glue: the team’s best defender and clutch three point shooter. Dumars, according to Michael Jordan, was the best defender he’d ever faced, period. Add to that Dumars character and integrity and you know why this unknown college player from McNeese State, and you can understand why he is one of Michigan’s most respected sports icons. In a blue collar town full of self-made men and women, Dumars epitomizes the Detroit ethos of effort and humility. This is why, for instance, Ben Wallace was adored during his time in the D. Detroit, like Pittsburgh and Cleveland, prides itself on not being “LA”-ish. This also explains why some point out the hypocrisy of adoring any NBA player for the $60 million dollar contracts one can secure in an inflated system.

Back to the Bad Boys.

Vinnie Johnson, the microwave, could come off the bench and score ten points in two minutes. It is said that Vinnie would have started for any team not named Detroit, LA, or Boston.

Adrian Dantley/Mark Aguirre played small forward. Dantley, a great player and rare scorer, was traded during this era to the Dallas Mavericks. Mark Aguirre was a childhood friend of Isaiah—they grew up on the tough streets of Chicago. Aguirre played at DePaul, Isaiah went to Indiana. The two remained close friends and it is thought of by most Detroit sports gurus that Isaiah demanded that Aguirre (his guy) be brought to the Bad Boys. Even if that meant parting with Dantley.

The post players for the Pistons were by “committee”. John Salley, from Georgia Tech, was an athletic shot blocker who brought swagger and confidence. I met Salley when I was in the seventh grade. I though he was a god. Then I touched his ring and I believed I’d received some of his deity. Dennis Rodman (before he went loco) was the energy, diving for loose balls, mixing it up with the other teams elite players. James “Buddha” Edwards was a seven foot small forward, raining fade-away jump shots from anywhere on the floor. Rick Mahorn was the muscles and grit. Bill Laimbeer was the hatchet man, Isaiah’s bodyguard and thug. Laimbeer, much to the chagrin of NBA enthusiasts, might be the best shooting seven footer (save Dirk) in the history of the league.

In all, the Pistons one back to back NBA Championships in 1989 and 1990. In ’89, the Pistons swept the Lakers, and in ’90 they defeated the Trail Blazers in five. The Pistons had to get past the mighty Boston Celtics, led by my earl childhood hero, Larry Bird. By now, ESPN has engrained this fact: every great team/player has to overcome another terrific team. The Celtics had to beat the 76ers. The Pistons had to beat the Celtics. The Bulls had to beat the Pistons. And on and on and on it goes.

Now, the Cavs have beaten the Pistons.

I’ve enjoyed watching, studying, and cheering for the second championship wave Pistons over the last five years. Who could ever forget their upset of Kobe and Shaq in the 2004 Finals, breaking up the best duo in the history of pro ball? Like the Bad Boys (who will be remembered for not shaking the Bulls hands after they swept the Pistons in ’91), there are things about this group I don’t care for (their haphazard attitude, Rasheed’s constant complaining)—but all in all, they have been a rare thing: a true team in an era of superstar promotion and attention.

Now it’s Nash (the best player in the world) Kobe, LeBron, DWade, and Dirk for the next several years. The problem with “team basketball” is that it’s too boring. That’s why the NBA is thrilled that the Pistons and Spurs will not be playing again in the Finals. It’s all about ratings. It’s all about money.

If I have a glaring idol in my life, it’s basketball. I fight it and fight it, and probably always will. “My name is Josh and I’m addicted to basketball.”

Basketball has been a huge part of my life. I’ve spent hours upon hours in the gym either a) practicing b) playing or c) watching (my father took my brother and I all over the state of Michigan when I was in middle school and high school watching other great players such as Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Robert Traylor, and Howard Eisley). It was the afore mentioned Pistons who captured my imagination with passing, defense, emotion and raw guts.

As trite as it might sound, until five or six years ago, basketball gave me a purpose, something to concentrate on, something to consume my mind.

Basketball has also forged unshakable relationships. A young man can never forget his father spending an entire Saturday, as mine did, installing a light on top of the garage which neighbors came to detest claiming the light “lit up the entire street.” How many cold fall, winter and spring evenings did I spend in the driveway with my dad first shoveling snow (it’s Michigan) then working on 10ft, 12ft, 20 ft jumpshots? Too many to count. A thousand? Five thousand?

I’m still friends with one of my high school teammates, who became a much better college play than I, earning All-American his senior year for a team that was ranked number one in the country.

And I’ll always be close to the guys I played college hoops with, along with the coaching staff. I tell people that this team was one of the best examples of church I’ve ever experienced.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve enjoyed the last five years of my life—playing my last college basketball game in March of 2002. I’ve been able to find new passions: theology (which was emerging as I entered into college and sat at the feet of teachers like David Fleer, Dave Greer and Greg Stevenson), ministry in the church and with the poor, and writing.

Just to show you how engrained hoops is in my soul—I could not turn down the chance to coach college basketball when my friend Klint Pleasant invited me to join his staff at Abilene Christian University. Balancing grad school, work, and Kara (we’d just gotten engaged) proved too much—I only lasted one year at ACU before I returned to Nashville to finish seminary and work with my rabbi, John York.

So, if blogs have replaced journals than this is the closest I’m getting to painful confession. I love hoops. I am a recovering hoops addict. There, it’s out in the open.