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.

19 September 2007


This Sunday, Sara Barton and I will co-teach during our worship gatherings. We are in week three of a series entitled Urban Legends: Debunking Spiritual Myths. Here's a summary Sara wrote.

One of my neighbors asked me what the sermon will be about at church today, and I said “Suffering. Want to come?” Now, that’s one unique approach for inviting your neighbors to come to church!

Suffering is one of those subjects we usually want to avoid if we possibly can. We would prefer to think about beauty, power, happiness, and Good News.

Yet, life has its suffering. When God became human through Jesus Christ, he suffered.

The urban legend we will discuss today is that suffering is ugly. Some would look at Jesus dying on a cross and see an ugly scene. Those with eyes to see, however, can look at the same scene and see beauty.

We look around in our congregation, and we can see situations that appear to the untrained eye to be ugly stories of suffering. We’ve experienced the death of two children in recent history. What suffering it is to see a parent bury a child! Both of those funerals, however, were times of beauty because of the love we experienced toward Devin and Linsi and their families. What suffering it is for two of our wonderful Christian women to face cancer. Hualani and Nancy, however, have faced their struggles with faith that bears beautiful witness for us all. For those with eyes to see, these are lives of beauty and grace.

In our North American context and our fascination with beauty, youth, and surface appeal, we believe that the Gospel has something to say. We believe that the Spirit inspires us as readers and listeners to engage the powers of deception at work in the urban legend that says suffering is ugly.

By the way, my neighbor will be worshiping with us today. Andy said, in response to my invitation, “I have learned more in my life through the difficult times than in any other part of life. I would not trade those times of suffering for an easier life.”

Today, may we all experience the beauty of a suffering Savior and King, Jesus Christ

18 September 2007

West Texas

I'm in Texas for a few days, presenting at the ACU Lectureships. I'm teaching a class on the relationship between film and faith. So far it's been an interesting discussion. I normally talk about theology, ethics, working with the poor--this has been a great change of pace.

Yesterday, I was on a panel discussing Missional Church Worship. Missional Church is different than the Emerging Movement (Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, etc.) but it is also similar. I'll write more on that later. It is interesting that so many people think they are one in the same...anyways, I digress.

The highlight of the panel was the last 45 minutes. With everyone attending the session, we constructed a liturgy (order of worship) for a group seeking to be inherently missional in language, flow, and experience. Our text was Matthew 24:14ff. The contributions and ideas were outstanding--it was as unique a class as I've ever been a part of.

The best part about being back in Abilene (where I did part of my grad work) is the Mexican food. I got to eat at Los Arcos, favorite eating location of friend and guide, Randy Harris. The time I spent with Randy was invaluable and precious.

Off to teach...

P.S. I'm not giving up on the Tigers. They still have an outside shot.

14 September 2007

The Good News and Bad News of Blogging

I’ve been thinking about the value/role of blogging lately. It strikes me that there are advantages and disadvantages (or blessings and curses if you like biblical language) in the blogging experience. BTW—blogging and FaceBook are similar in my estimation. One could substitute the word “FaceBook” for “blog” in the coming paragraphs.

Just to show you how new, relatively speaking, this blogging thing is…as I write “blogging” or "blog" in a Microsoft Word document a little red line appears each time, indicating that this word “blogging” isn’t even a real word.

Ok. The possibilities/strengths/advantages/blessings of blogging…

First, blogging keeps you in touch with people from all over the world and throughout the United States. That is truly amazing—our world is ever shrinking.

Second, blogging allows you to consider perspectives of many different people.

Third, blogging can serve as a kind of “diary”, cataloging important events, experiences and thought-patterns on the journey of becoming truer disciples of Jesus.

However, there are setbacks/weaknesses/disadvantages/curses in blogging.

First, blogging can be an artificial way of staying in touch with people. You may have 55 people you stay in touch with via blogging (or FaceBook) but you may not have one authentic, real relationship in the bunch. Or, as my friend Randy Harris likes to say, “The only thing better than a dead friend is a virtual friend.”

Second, blogging, you can get caught in the trap of only reading bloggers who a) you disagree with (hence you must “defend the faith” even if that means you choose blogging over taking your wife out for a great date). Or, b) you only read people who agree with your perspective further cementing your already long-held conviction. In other words, it’s a great forum for group think.

Third, (then I’m done Ashley--he hates my long blogs), There are many things shared on blogs that simply should be kept to yourself or those closest to. It’s amazing (and scary!) what some people will confess to via a blog. It's also amazing what some people think other people care to know.

I’m really sick of the red, squiggly line underneath “blogging”—I’m done.

I told a friend recently that blogging is this generation’s form of French coffee shops which some historians give credit to for catalyzing the French Revolution. Her response… “Yeah, the French Revolution is the greatest secular disaster in human history,” (my paraphrase).

Touche ma copine!

12 September 2007

Lauren Winner Part Deux

Tonight, Lauren Winner shared some of her material from Girl Meets God. Again, there were many aspects of her story that resonate with my own, facets that will stay with me for some time.

Picking a few too highlight is like picking the best two or three songs from a U2 album. Nevertheless...

Lauren noted that she does not have a definitive moment of conversion. “I cannot say that I became a Christian (like the Apostle Paul for instance) at 8:40 a.m. on a Tuesday. My conversion to Christ has been a series of events; with many ruptures in the narrative,” (my paraphrase). "There are moments when God called me and I accepted--but it's been a process."

She also confessed to being a “yellow-dog Democrat”—which was brave considering she was in a room of 80% Republicans 15% Democrats 4% Anabaptists and 1% Libertarian (that’s for you Patrick).

My wife, the true judge of all things, appreciated “Lauren’s humor mixed with her engaging theology”—I suppose she’s not used to funny thinkers for she's married to me. Kara also noted that she admired Lauren’s ability to be “who she is”—unapologetically honest (see reference above to yellow-dog Democrat).

Perhaps the element that will stay with me in the coming months is Lauren's embodied reminder that Christianity comes out of Judaism. Baptism and Lord’s Supper, for instance, find their roots and meaning in the Jewish story. Of course, I’m not a Universalist Unitarian—I believe Jesus is the way. But I also remember that Paul was Jewish. Jesus was Jewish (he was not a Christian as it were). Many of the first Christians were Jewish who believed Jesus was the Jewish Messiah.

This movement called Christianity, is birthed out of Israel. That we have virtually ignored Israel’s Scripture (The proverbial Old Testament), approach to scripture, and spiritual disciplines—is something that truncates and flattens our faith.

11 September 2007

Lauren Winner Session #1

Tonight, Lauren Winner spoke to our faith community (and some other welcomed guests) about the practice of Sabbath as a needed and viable Christian discipline.

There were many elements of her presentation that impacted me. Perhaps the most interesting was this comment (my paraphrase):

When one compares the ancient near eastern creation accounts with Genesis, some interesting things jump out at the reader. First, in the other accounts, god/gods create the world and then create humans to carry forth the work; they are the labor force.

The Jewish story is different in that humans are called, as in other accounts, to work with and for God but they are also called to rest with God. God desires to spend a day of rest with the unique ones who also bear his image.

Thus, there is something necessary and sacramental about the practice of Sabbath. It isn’t a binding, heavy rule to be kept for Sabbath is when we allow God to have space enough to move and speak into our world (as it is with silence, working with the poor, etc.).

Note: Lauren speaks at Rochester Church tomorrow night at 7pm. She will share her faith journey similar to the material found in Girl Meets God.

10 September 2007

I'm not a scientist, mathematician or astronomer. But the following blows my mind.

If, one second after the Big Bang, the ratio of the density of the universe to its expansion rate had differed from its assumed value by only one part in the 1015 (that’s one followed by 15 zeros) the universe would have either quickly collapsed upon itself or ballooned so rapidly that stars and galaxies could not have condensed from the primal matter…The coin was flipped into the air 1015, and it came down on its edge but once. If all the grains of sand, on all the beaches of the Earth were possible universes—that, universes consistent with the laws of physics as we know them—and only one of those grains of sand were a universe that allowed for the existence of intelligent life, then that one grain of sand is the universe we inhabit (from scientist and astronomer Chet Raymo).

08 September 2007

Be Who You Is

A simple plea.

If you are a Christian, pay for the music you’ve downloaded. Even if that means going back and deleting music you obtained illegally, or outright deleting it from your system.

If you are a person of faith, don’t cheat on your taxes or manipulate cable access.

And…If you are a minister, don’t preach someone else’s message/sermon and pretend it belongs to you. If you are going to preach someone else’s message, give credit to whom credit is due.

I recently heard a pastor give a message that a good friend of mine (someone completely different) delivered over a year ago. The pastor in question never once gave credit to the one who actually wrote the message (along with specific quotes, stories, and key points). Sitting in the audience, stunned, I thought back to grad school, and the numerous discussions we seminarians held concerning integrity, honesty, and character.

The most important reason for not using someone else’s material often goes unnoticed. To be the minister (or accountant, artist, teacher…etc.) God made you to be, you must develop your own voice. You must learn the art of being the best “you God made you to be,”--to paraphrase my close friend and the one who taught me a great deal about preaching and teaching.

Integrity is the one thing a minister possesses. If she/he loses this, you lose everything.

Coincidentally, I’m going to see the pastor, whose message had been pirated, in a week or so while I’m in Texas. I think my opening line when I see him will be—“I didn’t realize that you could be two places at one time. You cracked the time-travel mystery!”

My college basketball coach used to tell us this bit of advice he once saw on a bathroom stall. “Be who you is. Because when you is who you ain’t, you ain’t.”

Notice the fact that coach told us the source of his street wisdom.

06 September 2007

Pick-Up Lines to Avoid

A friend recently shared a list of the top theological pick-up lines to avoid.

Here are my personal favorites:

“I could not help but notice you were exegeting me instead of the text during the sermon.”

“Until this moment, I thought I had the gift of singleness.”

“Well, gouge out my eyes and cut off my hands. If I hang around you much longer, I won’t have any limbs left.”

During communion say, “Can I get you another drink?”

But, the best theological pick-up line to avoid has to be…

“God may be the bread of life, but you are the butter.”

What are some of the worst pick-up lines you've ever heard?

05 September 2007

The last few nights, I’ve been going back and reading through Parting the Waters. It is an instant classic and I suggest this for anyone interested in reading about the life and influence of Martin Luther King Jr. and the greater struggle for justice for minorities in the United States.

Two of my favorite lines come from people in JFK’s entourage. Upon first meeting the young pastor (King) one person commented, “He’s the most self-effacing public leader I’ve ever met.” Another person said (with sheer understatement dripping from each word), “Martin Luther King Jr. was easy to underestimate.”

03 September 2007

Women in Leadership

Every generation is accountable for "injustices" which are allowed to continue and are often sanctioned by religious institutions. My grandparents and parents (and me to some degree) are accountable for the way our country fell woefully short of the notion that"all men are created equal with certain inalienable rights." "All men" meant "white men who owned property."

It is easy for me to look back and ask older folks, "Where were you when Dr. King was doing his prophetic and ordained work? How could you have missed that opportunity to represent the liberating work of God's kingdom?"

Each time I ask that question, I hear the voices of young children asking me "where were you during the discussion of women being treated as second class citizens and as inferior or unfit for public leadership in the church?"

By public leadership I mean serving as "pastor, minister" or playing the occasional role of preacher and teacher.

I always make it clear that the role of women in the church is far different than the discussion of acapella and/or instrumental worship--a topic of some interest in Churches of Christ.

Women's role is a justice issue because it involves women. The case of “Instruments vs. acapella”, though important, is about style of worship, preference, exegesis and interpretation.
One is about drums, guitars, and forms—the other is about women who equally reflect the image of God.

I should also note that I do not believe that every church in every culture is called to allow for women in public leadership. Some churches would implode were they to alter their current position. Some cultures are still predominantly patriarchal (c.f. most Middle Eastern) and are not in a place to hear the liberating words of Jesus and Paul. At least not yet...

Our community of faith wrestled through this discussion for four years before coming the conclusion that a women could serve in any capacity save senior minister and elder. We have two women on our ministry staff and we have women who use their teaching gifts during our Sunday and Wednesday gatherings. They provide great insight and wisdom and have led us to greater depths of insight and reflection on the nature of faith.

For an outstanding presentation of the egalitarian perspective (by a mostly conservative world-class scholar), click here. Our senior minister gave two oustanding classes on this subject last fall. Click on the link and select one of the teachings on "Women, Worship, and Ministry".

02 September 2007

I cannot believe that Major League Baseball did this. Moreover, I can’t believe this happened during a Yankees/Red Sox game.

Was this guy really doing his job?

An Ode to Those Who Prefer Pictures Instead of Words