30 July 2007


I was going to write a post about the lesson Kara's grandfather taught me while the family was in South Carolina for Duncan's graduation from boot camp.

But Patrick beat me to the punch and did a great job.

Here's the story as told by Patrick.

The trip to see Duncan graduate was a remarkable one. You can read more about it at Kara Graves’ blog (link on the right of this page) and my other blog. This is a related story.

My father was raised under brutal conditions. His parents treated him in a way that, had they lived in our time, would have sent them to prison. He was the family scapegoat. Desperately poor, uneducated, and without a faith family, they were on their own. When they needed water, Bill was sent for it. When some money was found to buy new clothes or shoes, they were never given to Bill. His parents had favored children and they made it plain Bill wasn’t one of them and never would be. Dad tells me about how he would find trash, sneak it home, and stuff it in the cracks in the walls of his room so that the cold winter wind couldn’t come in. It helped very little; when he would get the water late at night, by the morning it would be frozen solid, right by his cot. By the age of six he was given a bucket and sent deep, deep into the mines, working his way back in crevices that were no more than three feet high, skinning his elbows, hands, and knees so that he could get a bucketful of coal. He’d bring it out and they’d send him back in.

During the summer, he was the only child made to work; and he worked every summer in his memory. He worked in fields, hoeing, pulling weeds, stacking hay, or harvesting hemp (the government used to pay people to raise hemp to use as rope in the war effort!). I’ve seen the only existing photo of my father as a boy. He was eight years old and his eyes were hollow and blank like those of a child in Ethiopia. His stomach was swollen by starvation and worms.

When dad reached the legal age, he volunteered for the US Navy. That caused a great stir in the family. He was roundly criticized and insulted for his decision (they wanted him back home to work for them and weren’t keen on him being in the US forces) but he marched off anyway. This was during the Korean War and he believed there was nothing the Koreans could do to him that would be worse than he’d endured for his first 18 years at home… but he wasn’t sent to Korea. He spent most of his Navy experience in Columbus, Ohio (city motto: Why Do We Have A Navy Base When We Don’t Have Water?) and Bayonne, NJ. He met my mother on a blind date and they married before he was discharged.

He knew he couldn’t go home, but he had no money. He took two and three jobs at a time while going to college — all the time getting nothing but derision from his family. He would walk to classes with rubber jar rings around his shoes to keep them from coming apart, enduring the sneers and snickers of his classmates.

He never forgot. His heart for the poor is so strong, he can’t help himself; it drives everything he does. He has spent his time stateside speaking for poor, small, isolated congregations, taking thousands of tons of good clothes and food to the poor, giving his money and time to them. When he goes overseas it is never on a major campaign with write ups in Christian Chronicle or Gospel Advocate. He goes alone, or with my mother, or Duncan, or a very small team. He goes to unreached areas and, when he returns, he has no luggage, no goods, no extra clothes, books, Bibles, or money. He arrives back with only the clothes on his back and his passport (and, at his age, with essential medication. He’s been known to give most of that away, too).

So there we are at Parris Island to see Duncan graduate, but Dad can’t stay focused. He keeps wandering off, looking for someone who needs something. We packed the rented minivans (nine of us went from four directions so we had to rent vans) with picnic supplies so that Duncan could have a real feast with us on Family Day. Duncan was finally released to spend five hours on base with us the day before graduation and we were so excited! We walked with him and he showed us different parts of the base. Dad kept wandering off. Here was his grandson, graduating from the most intense boot camp in the US Armed Forces, and whom he hadn’t seen in nearly a year… and he kept wandering off.

Finally, he showed up, all excited. He had found four new Marines whose parents were late or unable to come. He had them in tow. He was taking them to the vans to feed them. I tried to pull him aside and explain that we had bought that food for Duncan — our son. You know? The Marine that’s related to you? He heard nothing, no matter how I tried to steer him. I was trying to find a way to feed the new guys he’d found AND Duncan. Maybe I could pay for them to eat with us at one of the base restaurants… but it was too late. Dad was leading the Marines to the picnic tables. Out came the food and they ate.

It was a beautiful thing, really. They were so grateful. They were happy to find people to talk to who would help them as they eased back into society and out of the rigid matrix of Parris Island. Duncan ate some of the food as he visited with his family. Dad didn’t visit with the family. He spent all of his time — and eighty percent of the food — on those four men.

I will confess to some frustration. I didn’t want this time with Duncan to be diluted. I was selfish and wanted to focus on my boy, my man, my Marine. I didn’t want to be faced with the problem of trying to find a restaurant to feed my family; a problem we had tried to dodge by bringing the food with us in the first place. It complicated the day, but Dad can’t help himself. He’s been poor. He’s lived without family support or love. He’s been alone. It isn’t that, when he sees someone in that condition he must help them. No, he looks for them. Constantly. And whatever he has, even if it doesn’t strictly belong to him, will be given to them. Duncan learned that when he took Hardy Boy books to read on a mission trip to Guyana when he was nine. He didn’t get to finish them or bring them back because, since it was within reach of Dad, it was available to be given away. And it was.

He just can’t help it. And that’s not all bad

24 July 2007

A few people (whom I consider good friends) have asked me recently “how do you prevent from being burned out?” That’s a good question. Since the invention of the light bulb and subsequent inventions (television, internet, etc.) the work day now stretches far passed the past the former marker of “sundown”.

It is no secret that I enjoy working. In fact, much of what I do I do not consider work. Between working with young adults and college students, preaching and teaching, and teaching college religion courses—I’m actually energized by most of this work.

Here’s what I do to prevent burnout.

First, I love to read. I read books other than theology, philosophy and history. I actually prefer a good novel like this one or this one.

Second, I love to exercise by running and lifting weights. Nothing remedies stress like the bench press and a three mile run. One of the great discoveries of living with Kara is that we enjoy working out together.

Third, I love a good movie (too many to name) or the occasional television show (The West Wing, Lost and 24 have been the escape points over the last few years).

Fourth, I love the Tigers and Pistons. Whether it’s going to a game (rare but fun) or watching a game, it gives me pleasure to know who the “good guys” are (the Pistons and Tigers) and who the “bad guys” are (anyone playing the Tigers and Pistons).

There are other ways I “regroup”. How do you relax? What fills you up when you are depleted? What breaths life into you?

23 July 2007

God in the City

If Cass Park is a novel, we are constantly being introduced to new and intriguing characters. Yesterday, for instance, was one of the more interesting Sunday’s we’ve had at Cass Park over the last several months.

We had several new Cass Parkers yesterday: Emily, Sean, Alex, CJ, Liz, Andrew, and Jenn came to the Park not knowing what to expect. I gave them a mini tour of the neighborhood, told them a bit of the history, etc. These young women and men did an amazing job: they cooked shared meals with people, listened to stories—they were fully present in the moment.

At one point in the beginning of the afternoon, I told this group, “I love Detroit. I love this city. I love the history, the people, the brokenness, and even the despair. This city is in my bones, it has become a part of who I am. It teaches me, challenges me, and pushes me to think deeper about reality, justice, the poor, and addiction. I cannot tolerate people, to my own demise at times, who bash Detroit and have never spent time in the D save a sporting event.”

I have been developing relationships with two women over the last year who, for the first time, welcomed me into their apartment yesterday. These two women have been fighting addiction and health issues for some time, but are on the path back to recovery. By the way, a little glimpse into life in sections of Detroit—there apartment is known in the neighborhood as the Dog Pound. If that doesn’t disturb you…

I met a man named Mr. Charity. He lives in the ‘burbs (like me) but spends three or four days a week in Detroit working with the poor, particularly with the VETS who live in the various veteran shelters sprinkled all over the city.

One group of Christians, whom we’d never met before, held a powerful worship service as we were ending the meal time.

I met three pastors who have a heart for Cass Park who constantly pray for the addictions to relinquish their control over some of the women and men who call this area home.

John Gresham (veteran Cass Parker) introduced me to a young man who lost his wife approximately a year ago and has been living on the streets while keeping a job as a security guard. We are going to work with him this week to see if we can’t get him into SOS—the best transitional shelter I know of in Detroit or Metro Detroit.

Each afternoon spent in Cass Park uncovers new stories, new people and new possibilities. There will be stories of death and failure…but we hold out hope that there will also be a few more stories of transformation and new life.

God is at work in the places we often ignore.

18 July 2007

My Wife is Smarter Than I Am

Husband: Do you ever wonder what it would be like to have your own brain, thoughts, passions, values, and interests switched with another person?

Wife: I’m not sure I know what you mean.

Husband: Ok, here’s what I mean. What if I had my brain, thoughts and sensibilities transferred to your body and voice. So, essentially, I would be you and no one would know it.

Wife: So, what you are saying is that you and I would switch personalities without switching bodies. Right?

Husband: Exactly. Would that not be crazy?

Wife: If that happened, you’d be the man of the house.

16 July 2007

Spanish Eyes

Tomorrow marks three years being married to Kara. We’ve moved from Rochester to Nashville, Nashville to Abilene, Abilene to Nashville, and Nashville to Rochester in the five short years we’ve been dating/married. Hopefully, the next five years is not nearly as disorienting.

God knew it would take a special girl to be able to handle someone who’s constantly dreaming, thinking of new places and ideas…yet; Kara’s handled me with grace, direct and open speech, and consistent love.

So, this girl with “Spanish eyes” (to quote “In a Little While”—one of my favorite U2 songs that describes how I feel about Kara) still takes my breath away, still makes me a believer after all.

10 July 2007


I read this in the Free Press today. This is crazy.

According to a June 22 report by Wisconsin-based Runzheimer International, Detroit is the most expensive U.S. city in which to insure a vehicle, with an average yearly premium of $5,072. Philadelphia is a distant second, at $3,779.

Add to that the rising costs of gas and you can understand why it is difficult for the working poor in our country to get out of the danger zone of the cycle.

For many working poor (often single parents)--they are one accident, freak injury away from being completely powerless.

When I have spent time in places like Atlanta, Dallas, and The Bronx, I've learned that food in the city costs much more than food suburbanites buy in their grocery stores.

Injustice is a word that the writers of Torah and the New Testament care about. Perhaps some of us should too.

09 July 2007

My favorite preacher/teacher/writer on the planet is Barbara Brown Taylor. She captivated my imagination concerning God when I was 19 years old and I've spent many days and nights wrestling with her words and insights.

Here's an example of Taylor's ability to connect.

"Gradually I remembered what I had known all along, which is that church is not a stopping place but a starting place for discerning God's presence in this world. By offering people a place where they engage the steady practice of listening to divine words and celebrating divine sacraments, church can help people gain a feel for how God shows up--not only in Holy Bibles and Holy Communion but also in near neighbors, mysterious strangers, sliced bread, and grocery store wine. That way, when they leave church, they no more leave God than God leaves them," (from Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith).

02 July 2007

The 313, Or, Why Detroit is the Best Sports Town in America

Detroit is the best all around sports city in the United States. I offer the following top five reasons (and no, I’m not writing this from work…I thought of this while spending too much time on the treadmill this weekend).

#5 The Detroit Lions: Now, before you laugh, hear me out. The Detroit Lions have been one of the worst Pro Football teams in the NFL over the last 20 years. And yet, do you know who is consistently in the top echelon of ticket sales, year in and year out—you guessed, the Detroit Kittens.

#4 The Detroit Red Wings: I don’t know much about hockey but I know the Red Wings are one of the storied franchises in the NHL with three recent Stanley Cup Championships.

#3 U of M Football: One of the oldest and most accomplished programs in the history of college football, Michigan plays in front of 100, 000 people plus every Saturday. While I admit that the Big Ten is not in the same class as the SEC, it is still one of the great football conferences around.

#2 The Detroit Pistons: Three championships over the last two decades, along with five NBA Finals Appearances in that same stretch, and too many Eastern Conference championships to count. Dave Bing, Isaiah Thomas, Adrian Dantley, Dennis Rodman, Joe Dumars, Vinnie Johnson, Grant Hill, Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton all make this one of the top five NBA franchises. And they play ten minutes from where I live and work. I've written about my obession with the Pistons in previous posts.

#1 The Detroit Tigers: I might have included the Tigers number one even if Leyland et al had not resurrected the Tigers last season. The Tigers play in one of the premiere ball parks (Comerica) with the one of the best (save Tampa Bay) core of young prospects in Brandon Inge, Curtis Granderson, Andrew Miller, Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, and Cameron Maybin. Not too mention Ordonez, Polanco, Guillen, Sheffield, and Kenny Rogers! One of the original teams of baseball, the Tigers are a joy to watch. Some of my best memories with my grandfather are from the rightfield bleacher seats at Tiger Stadium.

One writer for ESPN agrees with me.