31 December 2007

New Year’s Resolutions (ok . . . the publishable ones)

1. Eat out less often and learn to make my own meals. Odds of this happening: moderate.

2. Spend more time doing cardio than weight-lifting. Odds of this happening: good.

3. Get less upset at the Piston’s and enjoy them for the great team they are. Odds of this happening: slim.

4. Speak that which only love requires. Odds of this happening: in January (great); February through December (slim).

28 December 2007

These are a few . . .

of my favorite things . . .

hot fudge sundae with bananas
argyle socks
Pistons basketball
anything by Barbara Brown Taylor
The Office
Rochester College
lazy Saturday’s with Kara
the Detroit Tiger’s batting lineup (are you serious?)
any book on Martin Luther King Jr.
home cooked meals
hitting the “stepper” at night before dinner
Barak (we're on a first name basis)
listening to Kara’s great stories/jokes (she’s an amazing preacher)
trading funny e-mail’s with close friends
witnessing a baptism
eating cereal for dinner
Lipscomb University
taking a nap (never happens)
watching RCC family members enact “the priesthood of believers”
learning from different ethnicities and cultures
telling childhood stories with my brother and sister
reading a great book
Gospel of Luke
watching a good movie
Denzel Washington (who’s a better actor than Denzel?)
sharing lunch with friends while debating theology/faith
dancing with Kara in our living room to a song only I can hear
ZOE Leadership/Worship Conferences (Wineskins too)
catching up with my prof’s from grad school (some of whom I consider my close friends)
experiencing a great sermon (usually not by me)
being present for Patrick’s propensity to shock people
getting articles/essays from my friend Andy (a.k.a. E-VA)
competing with my twin brother like we’re 13 (we’re doing a Triathalon in May)
hearing my niece laugh
working with talented men and women in ministry
spending time with RC students
assigning nick-names to close friends
thick, comfortable socks
my small group
Kara’s sweet tea
trying new restaurants
Cass Park
people who take risks for Jesus

26 December 2007

Lusoga Waters

Tonight, Sara Barton baptized Priscilla-- a member of our church family and student at Rochester College. I taught Priscilla and Sara Ageno (another Ugandan who's a member of our church and student at RC) this semester and was constantly impressed with their intellect and contributions to the broader discussion of global faith.

Priscilla and the Barton family go way back . . . as far back as the first day the Barton's spent as missionaries in Uganda. John, Sara's husband, met Priscilla's father while shopping for some mattresses for everyone to sleep on their first night. He became their primary language teacher their entire tenure in Uganda.

Some fifteen plus years later, John, Nate, Brynne, and Sara were able to administer the baptism of Priscilla on a cold night just north of Detroit. Before Sara baptized Priscilla she said, "I'm reminded of the way we sometimes baptize in Uganda. If we are not near water, we dig a hole, a grave really . . . and fill the make-shift grave with water. It's a reminder to me that God must first kill us before he can make us new," (my paraphrase).
The body of Christ is not bound by color, language, gender, nationality, political party, or ethnicity. It truly is the one community of people that transcends all things. That's probably the biggest reason, despite many faith struggles, why I love the church . . . why I am a follower of Jesus. In a country suffocated by tribalism (red state/blue state, white/black, rich/poor, etc.)--this is a source of good news!


Christmas was good this year.

I got several books I really wanted: some books chronicling the history of Detroit, Taylor Branch’s trilogy, etc. For the last ten years, I've used Christmas as the number one avenue to build my library!

Among other gifts, Kara got me a great photo of Detroit that I’ll cherish for a long time. Some of our best memories together since moving to Michigan have been at Comerica Park, downtown, and near Cass Park (just a stone’s throw from Ford Field and Comerica Park).

But the sleeper pick for “surprise Christmas present of the year” goes to PMiddy—aka Patrick Mead. He got me the new Springsteen album: Magic.

I’ve admired Springsteen from afar, knowing that he writes out of a deep spiritual place, not afraid to pick a societal or political fight ( . . . or two).

What was your surprise Christmas gift this year?

24 December 2007

Imagine Christmas

Check out Kara's blog for great photos and commentaries per our big Christmas musical/production/play/worship gathering!

22 December 2007

This Christmas I am grateful that "God is more for us than we are for ourselves."



20 December 2007

Sabbath, Liberation

For the past three months, Thursday's have been my Sabbath rest day. I used to practice Sabbath on Saturday's . . . but more and more that is proving to be impossible. Sunday's usually begin around 730am not ending until 9 or 10pm. Monday's and Tuesday's are fairly typical (9am to 5pm), while Wednesday is "marathon day"--I usually don't get home until 10pm or so. Thursday's a day of rest, while I use Friday to prepare for Sunday (teaching, preaching, pastoral care) and catching up one things that may have slipped through the cracks during the week.

All that to say, I crave Thursday's. I need them. I cherish them.

This fall/winter, I've been writing a book Jesus Feast: Spirituality in a Pluralistic World. It's been invigorating, tiriing, and frustrating--all at the same time. In less than a week, I send the manuscript to one editor, who seems to be interested in publishing the work. Then . . . the real work will begin.

* * *

If you’ve never read anything about liberation theology, I would suggest this article as a good beginning point.

In the 1970’s theologians in Latin America and Africa began talking about God’s heart for the poor as the primary way to understand the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures. I confess that I spent much of my time in seminary reading, and reflecting upon this approach to reading scripture and thus, thinking about the mission of the church as she heads into this time of uncertainty in these United States.

While, I’m not as convinced of its exclusive place at the table of theological inquiry, I still believe that one cannot possibly understand the prophetic punch offered by Jesus if one does not seriously consider the teachings of Jon Sobrino, Oscar Romero, and Gustavo Gutiérrez (to name a few). It is Gustavo who introduced me to the notion of "solidarity with the poor" as one of the purest experiences in life.

It is my interaction with liberation theology that has fueled my passion for Cass Park and thinking of the church as a missional body.

Here’s a snippet from the article I suggested per liberation theology.

I encountered Sobrino in the sacristy of his church after Mass on a cool April morning, but he at first declined to speak with me (as he had refused other interviews requests). Suddenly, I blurted out the one question that had gripped me since reading his books: What is reality? My question caught his attention.

In Where is God? Earthquake, Terrorism, Barbarity, and Hope, Sobrino wrote that reality is the Cross. “One must take charge of reality,” he wrote, quoting Ignacio Ellacuría, one of the Jesuit priests murdered in 1989 by U.S.-trained Salvadoran soldiers. “One must ‘bear the burden of reality’ with all its crushing weight.”

“Reality is what’s being covered up, the things that are covered up and are very hard to unearth,” Sobrino answered me, launching into a finely tuned reflection. “Hope is a reality. ... Reality is hard, but it’s wonderful. There is this energy, the will to live. ... I’m happy in this country. There are many good things.”

But Sobrino upends any simplistic view of the reality of El Salvador. True, 11 people are murdered every day and thousands flee every year, but many more stay and persevere. How easily we choose where to cast the lines of reality, from there choosing whose suffering merits help and who to kill.

“You know Sept. 11,” Sobrino states. “But what is October 7? It’s the day the democracies bombed Af­ghanistan. The poor of this earth, which are the majority, don’t even have calendars,” said Sobrino. “What should be said and what should be silenced is in the hands of the few and powerful, and that is what I fight against.”

Birthing Pains

Here are two of my favorite quotes regarding the birth of Jesus. Both are from Barbara Brown Taylor.

"In our own age of people who raise children without benefit of marriage, the issue of legitimacy sounds a bit quaint, but the heart of the story is much bigger and more profound than that. The heart of the story is about a just man who wakes up one day to find his life wrecked: his wife pregnant, his trust betrayed, his name ruined, his future revoked. It is about a righteous man who surveys a mess he has had absolutely nothing to do with and decides to believe that God is present in it…He claims the scandal and it gives it a name. He owns the mess—he legitimates it—and the mess becomes the place where the Messiah is born," (BBT in Gospel Medicine).

And regarding Mary's status as "theotokos" (the God-bearer, or God-bringer) . . .

". . . You can decide to be a daredevil, a test pilot, a gambler. You can set your book down and listen to a strange creature’s strange idea. You can decide to take part in a plan you did not choose, doing things you do not know how to do for reasons you do not entirely understand. You can take part in a thrilling and dangerous scheme with no script and no guarantees. You can agree to smuggle God into the world inside your own body," (BBT in Gospel Medicine).

16 December 2007

Liars Go to Hell

Just this week, standing on the corner of Auburn and Rochester Road, was a middle-aged white male. Some of you know who I am talking about.

Normally, this would not draw the attention of onlookers as Rochester is predominantly white. This person was doing something unusual for he wore a large sign that read:

Revelation 21:8

Kara first sited this man and reported to me via cell phone. This happened about a week ago. I responded to her journalistic reporting by stating, “Can you get a picture?” She was driving at the time, and thus, could not get a discernible picture.

As if the story could not get any stranger . . . my “liars-go-to-hell-sign-wearing-friend” held, in the hand not supporting the large sign under discussion, a miniature Santa Clause holding a camera.

“I suppose it is Christmas,” I muttered the first time I noticed, as I drove through Rochester, the figurine of the man from the North Pole.

I’ve heard several people comment on the new Rochester messenger throughout this week.

On Friday, I met a friend for lunch in Troy, the town right next to Rochester. I was early, for once, and noticed the “liars-go-to-hell-sign-wearing-friend” standing at a main intersection.

Santa was also with him, I should add. In his hand. With the previously mentioned photograph device.

I looked at my watch. “He won’t be here for another few minutes,” I thought remembering that my lunch partner had to stop at an ATM machine before meeting me for some Mexican food.

I’ve been thinking, reading, and writing a lot about reconciliation lately. The one constant in all of my reading is “going to the other.” Whether it’s the Tutsi going to the Hutu (Rwanda), the uptight urban-city-slicker going to the rural simpleton (work) or the victim approaching the perpetrator (countless scenario’s)— there’s something profound about one person, despite tension or awkwardness, going to another in genuine respect, searching for authentic understanding.

While some think it's the passive/weak/idealistic way . . . I think it is the harder way. What's easier: to avoid confrontation and tension or to embrace it? Nine times out of ten we choose the former while the latter offers the greatest potential for insight and, on the rare occasion, healing.

So I walked. Carefully. And slowly. Towards the man wearing the loud sign.

“Sir, can I talk to you?” I asked. No response.
“I’m not here to argue. I just want to talk. My name is Josh. I’m a minister.”

Apparently, the “minister angle” didn’t bring me anymore credibility. He only stared beyond me.

“Will you talk to me? . . . You won’t talk to me?” I was getting a bit agitated. I mean, I came all the way out here to . . . well, this story isn’t about me.

Then our eyes met. And I knew it when I saw it. It’s almost impossible to explain what “it” is. It’s like the innate ability of a point guard to find the open man in a critical juncture of the game. Or the negotiator, in the moment of intense drama, who knows the precise words that need to be spoken.

I did not find anger in his eyes.

I did not stumble upon arrogance.

I did not even locate confusion.

Instead I found the most dangerous thing in the world when mixed with religion.

I found fear.

So, I walked away knowing what is so true in all of us. Deep down, all of us wrestle fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. Fear of mediocrity. Fear of . . .

Tonight, before I sleep, I’ll pray for this man, whoever he is. Because, ironically enough, he’s not afraid of me or you or Rochester. He’s afraid of God. I know plenty of people in that boat. Just because he’s rather transparent about it, doesn’t mean I should love him any less than I love my wife, or you.

12 December 2007

Imagine Christmas

Several people at the Rochester Church have been working hard getting ready for our big December musical/play, Imagine Christmas (click here to read more about the production).

If you live in the Metro Detroit area, you should make plans now to attend this production beginning a week from Friday. If you want to see Patrick Mead play the guitar, Josh Graves sing a solo, or the most beautiful woman in the world do a Highland Fling, buy your tickets today!

Of course there are a dozen other reasons to come (and some, perhaps even better than the ones I mentioned. Like . . . Great writing, acting, music, dance, art, and performances by a host of Rochester Church people.)

10 December 2007

Uganda on the Horizon

I just got off the phone with my good friend Mark Manry. It's amazing that I can call him on his cell phone in East Africa and talk without missing a beat or connection.

Mark and I went to seminary together at Lipscomb University in the Hazelip School of Theology. Mark is now a missionary, with his wife and family, in Jinja, Uganda.

This summer, I’ll be going to spend time with the Jinja Mission Team to work with the Busoga Bible School, and to encourage the missionaries in their efforts of evangelism, creating avenues for clean water distribution, and reforestation projects. I'm also going with two groups of students (from Rochester College and Rochester Church of Christ). One group will be doing a six week internship while another is doing a survey trip to Gulu to see about the possibilties of starting their own team in the future.

We have not gotten all the details worked out, but we're hoping the most beautiful woman in the world will be joining me on this trip.

I’ll be teaching a class at BBS on “Preaching and Teaching.” I have to admit that I’m intimidated at the prospects of teaching the art of preaching to Africans who think, learn and live very differently. In fact, as many have argued, Most Africans live in a world that is much more akin to the world Jesus entered in the first century world than life as I know it in these United States.

I will have to comb my ideas on preaching and teaching for American/Western metaphors that might not translate: airplanes, advanced technology, individualism, digital information, etc. Instead I need to begin thinking about the role of communal formation, texts, spirits, and the spoken word (over the printed word).

This is not to say that American/Western life is superior by any stretch of the imagination. Rather than asking “which one is better?” I’m interested in asking “how are they different?” And . . . consequently, how might preaching and teaching look differently in Uganda but still be faithful to the preaching and teaching of the New Testament and the witness of the church in history?

In other words: I assume that preaching and teaching will sound, and look altogether different in Africa, not downplaying the role of “Christian colonialism”, for the questions, assumptions, language, and ethical staples are altogether different. I am not interested in teaching African ministers how to preach “white” any more than I trying to be a Hispanic preacher in my own setting of Rochester Hills.

The future belongs to the creatively maladjusted a great preacher once said. I’m hoping my time in Uganda will be an experience of seeing my world upside down.

06 December 2007

So You Want to Be a Prophet?

by George Williamson, Jr.

Gini said for me to speak to prophetic ministry with reference to Jeremiah. Okay. Jeremiah clearly says prophetic ministry's a damn fool thing to do. It's certainly not something you choose to do. You get chosen - like being entered against your will in the divine lottery, and losing. In which case, he would have you beg to get out of it, and failing that, whine and complain to God.

Jeremiah, you know, was not a happy man, because the depth of human wretchedness revealed itself to him. He was not a married man, because who would marry him? He was not a pretty man, or pleasant to know. But he had a huge voice, like a volcano stored in soul barrels between eruptions. His images got under peoples' minds and gnawed on them. He was a prophet. Everybody knew he was a prophet, and mostly left him alone.

Jeremiah never did any good. His first prophecy was of invasion by a mysterious "foe from the north," which never happened. He joined King Josiah's religious reformation, whose politically appointed revolutionaries didn't need him. Anyway, he decided it was a cover for rampant injustice, and, as it became law, he came out against it. He got ordained, but was defrocked and disfellowshipped for preaching unbearable sermons. So he preached from the temple steps and was jailed.

05 December 2007

What I Meant to Say . . .

We’ve all done it. We’ve all said something we came to regret. It might have been in a public setting where our nerves sabotaged our intentions. Or it might have happened in the context of a private conversation.

One thing that happens to humans—we say funny, embarrassing things. A friend recently shared this one with me:

I might have told you this already . . . but in one of my classes I was talking about Solomon's wives, and I was hoping to emphasize the enormity of the claim that is being made in the text.

So . . . I MEANT to say,
"1,000 wives . . . can you imagine how many weddings he had to do every month?"
And instead I said,
"1,000 wives . . . can you imagine how many he had to do every month?"

And that left me with a dilemma: I could pretend that I meant to say that, which would make me sound depraved . . . or I could reveal that I had misspoken, which would make the whole thing much more amusing. I went with door #2, and spent the next 10 minutes trying to regain control of the class.

* * *

What is the funniest or embarrassing thing you’ve ever said in public or in a conversation with someone?

02 December 2007


This weekend, our small group spent three days with several other couples at a marriage retreat in Grand Haven, Michigan. Our retreat was hosted at the Khardoma Lodge. This bed and breakfast, located some three hundred yards from Lake Michigan, was built in 1873--just ten years after the conclusion of America's Civil War.

On the whole, I've found much of the literature related to marriage analogous to cotton candy. For the first three bites, cotton candy is great. After those few bites, you begin to ask yourself, "What am I eating here . . . air?" So much of the literature, Christian and non-Christian notwithstanding, focuses on the selfish desires and destructive patterns already embedded within our souls. For instance, as important as "his needs, her needs" approaches might be--it is easily twisted into an I'd-better-get-what-I-want attitude that resembles the heart of a child and not that of a saint.

Instead of starting with this question, "How can I grow deeper in my own spirituality (i.e. contentment, selflessness, simplicity, honesty)?"—we turn relationships into yet another narcissistic pursuit, consumed with the way my spouse should contribute to my shallow happiness.

This weekend, we traded the cotton candy for steak and potatoes. There are a thousand moments lodged into my head as I write.

Two couples, who came on this retreat as their "last attempt" to reconcile their marriage, worked through years of pain and hurt, coming to a place of understanding and hope.

My high school football coach was there with his wife. We caught up on old friends and recalled highlight experiences. When I hear his voice, some twelve years later, my body wants to fall to the ground and do twenty push-ups. For the record, I did not indulge this premonition.

Kara and I had a host of meaningful conversations and funny moments: all of which I'll keep between the two of us.

I'm chewing on what our spiritual leader fed us with concerning the purpose of marriage as understood from the Genesis narrative. "God created marriage for three specific purposes. First, to remind us that we were created as reflectors of the divine image. Second, marriage functions to heal the wounds of our childhood. Abandonment, isolation, terror, hunger, pain, pressure, and identity-confusion once consumed our development. Man and woman coming together addresses the destructive patterns we instilled to numb the pain of our hearts. Lastly, marriage is a taste of God's new heaven and earth; the day when all will eat at 'the supper of the Lamb.'"

The weekend ended appropriate enough.

At 12:15 p.m. I handed a piece of bread to Kara saying words I've spoken so many times, "The body of Christ, broken for you." Then, after a few seconds, I handed her the drink, "The blood of Christ shed for you." She did likewise and we prayed for God's spirit to continue guiding our steps.

If that statistics are accurate, one out of every two marriage will end in divorce. Families ripped apart. Hearts broken. Dreams dashed.

How much more counter-cultural can one be than spending time focusing on the covenant that binds two people for life?

A friend of mine is remembered for saying, "If you want to change the world, love your wife.”I used to think this to be a, well . . . exaggerated sentiment. I'm beginning to think that my friend might be on to something important; something holy.