31 December 2008
Some books that might interest you for 2009:
The Plot Against America (Roth). Outstanding novel asking the question what would have happened to America had the Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh defeated FDR just prior to America's entrance into WWII. Written from the perspective of one of America's most influential Jewish thinkers.
Life of Pi. All the rave the last few years. You can't go wrong with this novel. It's a modern Old Man and the Sea/Moby Dick meets Lost. Sort of. There are some great moments in this book. My two favorite . . . both of which I'm using in my book this year (Jesus Feast--shameless plug) . . . 1) The conversation with his three religious leaders (Buddhist, Christian, Muslim) near the beginning of the book--that was interesting. I would have added some different things had I been the spokesperson for Christianity :) 2) His section on fear is brilliant. Overall that's the strength of the book I think. Fear is woven into creation, humanity and how we "cope" is shaped by our ability to be okay with dying. Dying, after all, isn't the worst thing that can happen to us. That will preach!
Writing for Story. If you are a writer or storyteller or preacher or simply want to read about the way in which good stories are constructed, you have to check out Jon Franklin's book. The two short stories included are worth the price of the book alone.
Ultramarthon Man. Not my typical read but I promised my brother (who's becoming a top-notch triathlete) I would read it. Overall, crazy read. You can read it in a day. It's wild. If you love to read about extreme feats, the connection of our physical bodies and spirituality, this is a book you'll enjoy.
Everyman (Roth). There is some adult content (beware). But if that bothers you, don't read half the Old Testament. Roth tells a story like very few. This book is about meaning, narcissism, death, religion, the afterlife, the meaning of God, and family. Powerful story of the "everyman" in American culture and how we cope with mistakes, loss, and death.
Becoming a Dad (James and Thomas). Great book. I absolutely loved it. For any new dads out there (like moi), it is a pastoral guide to finding your voice as a dad and husband in a time of transition.
Out of the Darkness (Rice). Anne Rice's memoir, as memoir's go (one of my favorite genre's), is a decent read. Rice is the author (among other books) of Interview with Vampire. This memoir is essentially about returning to her Roman Catholic roots. Deeply insightful.
Last and perhaps least. If you are really feeling brave, you might want to check out A Theology of Public Life and Soul in Society. Both are highly academic but full of insight, historical perspective and new ideas about plowing ahead as the church struggles with her identity in American culture.
UPDATED: I forgot to mention the leadership analysis book, The Four Colors. It's based on the Birkman test, for leadership guru's out there. I am a lock, stock, and barrel "green" category. Good read. Thanks to my friend John Laster for this book.
The lineup for the next few weeks looks like this:
Acedia and Me (Kathleen Norris--one of my favorite writers on the planet).
The Four Agreements (Ruiz)
Three Cups of Tea (Mortenson and Relin)
Like You'd Understand Anyway (Shephard)
A Mercy (the great Toni Morrison).
What books moved you the last few months?
29 December 2008
The Cowboys suffered a brutal loss to the Eagles yesterday. Besides the Lions, that might have been the biggest story of the day. I thought Romo was going to light them up. Did Jessica make the trip?
I've been doing a good deal of research on the ancient city of Corinth for an upcoming Wednesday Night series Patrick and I are doing from First Corinthians at Rochester Church.
What a fascinating city.
On the "honor and shame" culture of Corinth.
*"Public recognition was more important than facts and where the worst thing that could happen was for one's reputation to be publicly tarnished. In such a culture a person's sense of worth is based upon recognition by other's of one's accomplishments," (B. Witherington). This sounds strangely familiar.
*"To be Corinthianized" was to be immoral and materialistic. Corinth was known for being one of the most competitive cities in all of the Roman Empire. It was the first Greek city to have Roman Gladiator contests.
*Some temple meals were followed by sexual favors by hired women.
And, for some reason, Paul thought this was the urban context in which the Jesus Story could flourish. Who would have guessed that a vibrant, diverse (albeit messy) church could emerge from such a place?
28 December 2008
My brother and sister-in-law are in Australia diving. They are now both certified scuba-divers. Here's a note he sent our family today. Obviously, he's a little braver than me.
P.S. I've attached a photo from one of our dives.
Any other scuba-divers out there?
24 December 2008
Advent reminds us that when God came among us in Jesus, he did not come as a ghost, hologram, vision, or media stunt. He came to us through a teenage girl not properly married. God came to us, not in the pomp and circumstance of royalty, but in the humility of a working class commoner. Jesus was born to a father who worked tirelessly with his hands and a mother who, most would say, wasn’t fit for the task of raising a child, let alone the child upon whom millions would rest their hopes for salvation.
Yet, in contemporary religious
In other circles of Christianity, however, Protestants snicker and scoff at such notions. “They worship Mary. Those people are strange. Why do they spend so much time talking about Mary and not about Jesus?” Part of that observation is fair, but part misses out on what’s really happening in the Jesus Story.
Church tradition teaches us that Mary is the “god-bearer” . . . the theotokos. Mary is literally the one who agrees to bring God into his own world, though it will cost her everything: her fiancé’s trust, her parent’s adoration, and public standing. The story comes to a grand crescendo and for a brief moment pauses, waiting to see what Mary’s answer will be. “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” (Barbara Brown Taylor in Gospel Medicine, 153). This is the meaning of theotokos. Mary is courageous enough to smuggle (tokos) God (theo) into our world.
Even in our modern, technology-driven world, risk-takers are needed. Moms who take great risks for their children. Moms who risk societal shame for the sake of their children’s spirituality. Moms willing to go to great lengths to make sure their children know that it is God— not Caesar, the U.N., the President—who rules our world and invites us into relationship with him.
When mothers commit to this story, the outcomes are unpredictable. Mary could not have known how her son would alter the course of human history. She could not have possibly been able to gage the effect that her spirituality would have on Jesus— the single greatest influencer of spirituality, politics, and man’s search for meaning and for God himself.
I’ve often wondered about the relationship of Jesus’ development to his own parents. We know that Joseph moves to the backstage in Luke and Matthew’s account. Some church historians believe that Joseph died not long after Jesus became an adult. Mary, however, is in the story from beginning to end. One of her other sons, James, would become a pillar of the
If you look twice at Mary’s story, you don’t see a statue planted on someone’s front yard or tucked away in a church sanctuary. Here’s what you see: A young mother, a mere teenager, hovering over her first born. Her other children would come quite normally (thank God!) but her firstborn is different. Angels, visions, visitors all point out that this boy is God’s agent of liberation. If you look close enough you can hear Mary singing over her sleeping child. Joseph is in bed, and she slips into Jesus’ room to remind him who he is, where he comes from. She begins to sing the same song God placed in her heart a few years prior. “My soul magnifies the Lord . . . His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty,” (Lk. 1).
When we say “yes” to God, he always answers with a resounding and eternal “Yes!” God’s yes to Mary is good news. God takes the messy, mixed, complicated, deep, and true spirituality of Mary and blesses the entire world.
23 December 2008
James McBride wrote a book about his mother, capturing the hearts of many readers. The Color of Water is a tribute to Ruth McBride Jordan who raised twelve children on her own in the Red Hook Housing Projects of Harlem, New York. “As a boy . . . James knew his mother was different. But when he asked about it, she’d simply say, ‘I’m light skinned.’ Later he wondered if he was different, too, and asked his mother if he was black or white. ‘You’re a human being,’ she snapped.’ On another occasion, after a rousing experience in church, James asked his mother if God was white or black. ‘God is a spirit . . . neither. God is the color of water.’”
James’s step-father died when he was fourteen. His biological father— a devout Christian who started the
The Color of Water is the story of his mother’s improbable life—the story of a rabbi’s daughter (she was Jewish ethnically but later became a Bible believing Christian because of the acceptance she experienced in the black community): born in Poland, raised a southerner, abused by the men in her life, only to escape to New York City to make a new life for herself and her children.
In the end, all twelve of her children attended college: they became doctors, lawyers, teachers, and psychologists. From the projects to Harvard, their mother’s eccentric ways and unrelenting love pushed them to seize all that life offered. In retrospect, all of her children now realize their mother’s love was like the power of the moon. “It’s what made the river flow, the ocean swell, and the tide rise, but it was a silent power, intractable, indomitable, and thus completely ignorable.”
There are two simple reasons why this story captured my heart and imagination the first time I read it. First, it brought back memories of my own mother and her deep commitment to her children.
I am not supposed to be here on planet earth. According to the doctors, prior to my birth, I did not exist. My mother was convinced she was having twins, but her doctor insisted that she was only bringing one child into the world. If you are wondering about the ultra-sound, in the late 1970’s it was still controversial to use this particular modern technology for fear that the procedure could harm baby or mother.
The doctor congratulated both my parents when my twin brother was born thirteen minutes prior to my grand entrance. My dad went into the waiting room to tell everyone and then proceeded to grab a bite to eat at the McDonald’s across the street from the hospital. My brother had already been finger-printed, weighed, and photographed. When my father returned, the doctor (and by now, my mom) had some additional news. “Phil, you have two sons now.”
My mom’s love for me was never less than her love for my sister, Kelly or my brother, Jason. She loved all of her children equally—with disregard for “balance”—she loved us with every fiber of her being. The Color of Water reminded me of my mother’s unwavering love and affection for her children. Lost in the story of James McBride in
The second reason The Color of Water resonated with me is that it reminded of the universal human truth that our mothers are perhaps the single greatest influence on our spirituality and who we believe God is. When I entered kindergarten in
As I look back, I realize that my mother’s love and constant presence (“Is that the right decision?” “Are you telling the whole truth?”) gave me a framework to understand the way in which Scripture describes God. A mother’s love is the seedbed for authentic spiritual connection to the world around us. God knows our thoughts. He loves us unconditionally. God has our name engraved on the palm of his hand. He delights in our lives. He holds us close to his bosom when we are in grief. He weeps for us as a mother hen gathers her chick’s. He will provide food for our belly and clothes for our body—so don’t worry about tomorrow, God will take care of us just as he does the birds of the air. The only way I could dare believe in a God I could not see is because I had a mom whose presence was with me regardless of if we were in close physical proximity together.
I am fully aware that, for men and women who cannot have children or for those who’ve had a difficult relationship with their mother, this is a subject that perhaps conjures unwanted memories. However, in the story of Advent, good news awaits for all who dare to remember the Story.
22 December 2008
Yesterday was Glen's first-ever homecoming to Detroit in his NFL tenure and he did not get to kick in front of friends and family because he was playing perhaps the worst team in NFL history.
That's how bad the Lions are this year.
Their timing couldn't be any worse. We're proud of Glen for sticking to his dream (he used to kick in his spare time while he was at RC) . . . not so much for the Lions.
The men keep their coats on. It is cold inside this church. They sit at tables, hungry for food, and listen as a woman tries to rouse them with inspiration.
"I AM ..." she yells.
"I AM ..." they yell back.
The lighting is dim. Some men hold their chins in their hands.
"SOMEBODY!" she yells.
"SOMEBODY!" they yell back.
It is a gym floor on a basement level, but two nights a week it is something else, a safe haven, a place to sleep during the frozen Detroit winter. Most folks come here for one reason.
"BECAUSE GOD ..."
"BECAUSE GOD ..."
They have no place else to go.
Click HERE to read the whole thing.
Kara wrote a great blog about our vacation last week. She's great with photos.
Randy Harris is doing an interesting Advent series right now. I'm listening to each one a few times. I've introduced him to some of my Methodist and Presbyterian friends at Columbia Seminary and they love him.
Book reviews to come for the book-junkies out there.
21 December 2008
To learn more about this creative project (bringing together music, film, books, and theology) click HERE. Great work Lee. As always, you help us to see the Jesus Story in our midst.
Our family has great news today, for my brother-in-law (my sister's husband) returned home from Iraq today after one full year of military duty. Major Stemitz received a bronze medal while serving in Iraq, but, I suppose, he won't want to discuss it too much at Christmas this year. He rarely talks about his work, passions, and accomplishments. This is his third war (two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan). Ray--we love you. We're glad you are home to be with your new wife and daughter. They missed you as much as it is humanly possible to miss someone. We cannot wait to spend Christmas with you. The best gift we've ever received.
20 December 2008
[L]ife’s only true opponent. . . . Your lungs have flown away like a bird and your guts have slithered away like a snake. Now your tongue drops dead like an opossum, while your jaw begins to gallop on the spot. Your ears go deaf. Your muscles begin to shiver as if they had malaria and your knees to shake as though they were dancing. Your heart strains too hard, while your sphincter relaxes too much. And so with the rest of your body. Every part of you most suited to it, falls apart. Only your eyes work well. They always pay proper attention to fear. . . Quickly you make rash decisions. You dismiss your allies: hope and trust. There, you’ve defeated yourself. Fear, which is but an impression, has triumphed over you.
The matter is difficult to put into words. For fear, real fear, such as shakes you to your foundation, such as you feel when you are brought face to face with your mortal end, nestles in your memory like a gangrene: it seeks to rot everything, even the words with which to speak of it. So you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you, (Life of Pi, 203-204).
13 December 2008
The three most important ingredients to ensure a great vacation are:
1. The people who go with you.
2. Where you go.
3. The books you take with you.
So, let’s do inventory.
1. Kara is coming with me. She’s the best travel partner. She loves adventure. She loves to eat good food. And, she doesn’t mind that I love to read on vacation.
2. We are doing our first ever cruise. I can’t wait to scuba-dive in
3. Last but not least, books. I’m taking Plot Against America, Everyman, Writing for Story, Called out of Darkness, and Becoming a Dad. It’s a good mix: two novels by one of my new favorite writers, one book on writing by a Pulitzer winner, one memoir from Anne Rice, and one book about parenting.
It will be a week of Sabbath. Rest. Space. Time. Food. Kara. Water.
Sabbath is spiritual.
If you are busy and burned out, Sabbath is God’s remedy.
11 December 2008
Today, their final exam consisted of only one essay question: what does it mean to be the church in a post-modern culture? It's one of the most important questions many churches ask . . . it's one of the most tragic questions some churches fail to ask.
I'm curious . . . readers in the blogosphere . . . what practices do you think are extremely important for churches to participate in as they travel on the journey?
09 December 2008
The spare bedroom has experienced a transformation of sorts. The ceiling is white. The walls are a cool shade of green. The furniture has been replaced. A baby crib now sits where the bed used to. A miniature soccer ball, football, and basketball rest on top of a shelf. Who knows, Baby Graves (name still TBD) might be an artist or musician or writer or photographer . . . he might not even be interested in his dad's sports (basketball and baseball). That's fine with me.
This room used to be my least favorite in the entire house. The living room is for sports and good movies (and Gilmore Girls). The kitchen is for laughing, preparing, and joking. The dining room is for the occasional special meal. The den is for reading by the fireplace. The nook off the den is for writing blogs like this and papers for grad school. Our bedroom is for sleeping, one of God's magical gifts I'm convinced.
I never knew what to do with the yellow spare-bedroom. It just kind of sat in our house, with little attention. Occasionally I'd sleep in there if Kara was sick or just sick of me (yes preachers can be difficult to live with). Or, I'd hang my clothes for the next work day in there.
Things are different. The former room known as the yellow room is now my favorite room of all. It's become a sanctuary of sorts. Partly because of the work Kara's put into it. Mostly because it is a symbol of new life and new possibilities. The little life that will spend so much time in this room is proof that God works in the subtle, the whisper, the ordinary seasons of our lives.
I think I'll go to the sanctuary now. The yellow room. And pray for all of God's children.
08 December 2008
My brother has not looked back since doing his first triathlon. He did another one in August and is now training for a big triathlon in Florida, set for the end of April. All of the money he raises goes toward cancer treatments for Haley Ray--a five-year-old from Ann Arbor fighting Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia for almost 2 years now. She will be undergoing chemotherapy and steroid treatment until July of 2009.
To donate money to this, or to learn more about Team-In-Training, read here.
If you have a desire to become a good (or even decent writer), Stephen King has much to say on this subject. I just finished On Writing and have a great deal to digest.
King says that if you want to be a good writer, you have to become a voracious reader.
I also appreciated his metaphor on writing that drives his entire thesis. King had a huge desk that used to sit in the middle of his austere writing room. The desk was mammoth. After bouts with alcohol and drug addiction, King realized that he'd tried to make his life fit into his writing instead of allowing his writing to flow out of his life. Now, he has a simple, unimpressive desk in the corner of his writing room to remind him that art is not meant to dominate life.
I really like that.
05 December 2008
Abraham then looks up. He sees the men coming. He looks again. Abraham teaches us an important lesson: seeing is not the same thing as perceiving; looking is not the same as comprehending what’s taking place. What’s his immediate inner-thought? Robbers? Young teens selling steaks out of the back of their old truck? Abraham meets the men as they approach and recognizes there is something “other” about them; something worthy of prostration. Abraham does what a good ancient Near-Easterner would do . . . he offers them food, drink, rest, and most importantly, shade. Like the Godfather, Abraham makes and offer these visitors can’t refuse. The Big Three accept his offer and this sends Abraham into frenzy. His idea has consequences for those who are still in the tent.
Sarah is inside the tent minding her own business. Switching between the weather channel and Oprah (o.k. . . . Dr. Phil), Sara hears Abraham run inside, breathing heavily. “Sarah, we have guests. We have guests.” Sara thinks to herself “another great idea from my husband to be carried out by me. Lovely. Just lovely.” “Make bread, lots of it,” Abraham declares!
Just as fast as he’s entered, Abraham leaves. A cloud of dust where he used to stand . . . Abraham is outside preparing the main course—beef: it truly is what’s for dinner. Once the meal is ready, the father of Jewish and Christian faith “set it before them (the Big Three); and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.” Just as Ugandans and Hondurans did for me when I stayed in their home/hut . . . people of generosity love to watch their guest eat—it gives them great joy. They are so concerned with your well-being; the thought of eating never crosses their mind.
Things are just now heating up in the story.
The Big Three turn and ask Abraham a rather odd question, “Where is your wife Sarah?” Uh-oh. Is Abraham going to sell her out again? Surely he won’t tell them too that Sara “is not my wife . . . you thought Sara was my wife . . . ha . . . no she’s my sister.” Not that again.
Apparently Abraham has learned his lesson. Three weeks on the couch will teach a fella. “My wife is in the tent.” What Abraham is told next will forever change his life and life on planet earth. “Sara’s going to have a son” says one of the men. “Yep, when the time is right. You heard me. She’s going to have a boy.” Sarah is eavesdropping at this point (Oprah is on commercial break). The narrator pauses to let you know an important detail: THIS IS CRAZY. Abraham is old. Sarah is old. Two old people do not cancel out “old” . . . it just makes you really old. This is exactly what Sarah’s thinking (the story-teller is no longer interested in Abraham). After all, she’s so far past menopause; it might as well be the name of a foreign country. Sara does what we all do in the face of ludicrous information—she laughs. Hard. Intense. Pointed laughter. Sara can’t stop laughing. It’s the kind of laughing that happens in church at the worst possible moment (during a prayer, in the middle of a funeral) and the harder you try and stop, the worse it gets.
Just when Sarah catches her breath she laughs again at the thought of the claim. Pay attention to the details of the story for Sarah laughs mostly not at the notion of being 90 and pregnant (material enough for beginning comedians) but at the notion of what it would take for someone her age to get pregnant in the first place. In verse twelve, the text reads, “After I have grown old . . . shall I have pleasure?” The word for pleasure is “ednah” which denotes sexual gratification. Sara is laughing because she literally can’t remember the last time she had sex with Abraham. Or . . . she can remember and quite honestly she doesn’t think she’s up for it . . . not in her currently physical condition, anyway. Conceiving a child usually requires that you increase your sexual activity. For an older woman, the prospects are humorous. That ship has sailed baby. No way. Now how. More laughter . . .
God asks Abraham why Sarah is laughing (as if God doesn’t know). And he asks the question that runs all the way through the drama of Jewish and Christian scriptures “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” It’s the same idea Jesus captured when he told his disciples that anything is possible with God (Mt. ). It’s the question the young parent asks when she finds out their daughter has Down Syndrome. It’s the question the young man asks as he buries his 45 year-old wife who’s just died of cancer? It’s the question the Old War Vet asks as he stares into his 12th beer of the night as he sits alone at the bar in a run-down part of town.
“Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”
That was, of course, a retelling of Gen. 18:1-15 and the Hospitality Story.
04 December 2008
Check it out.
For tickets to this year's show, click HERE. Read about the great event HERE. Chris and Vicki Lindsey (et al) are incredibly talented.
03 December 2008
Kara wrote a blog about it today with great photos. Read it HERE.
I am now officially taking basketball recruiting letters from (ONLY) Duke, Kansas, and Gonzaga. Please let the respective programs know. Coach K sent me a text tonight during church.
01 December 2008
I called home to tell Kara the good news. "We should celebrate by going to dinner tonight," I said with a good amount of passion. "Sounds great, I'm in," Kara responded. I should note here that since about the middle of October, Kara has been craving steak on a regular basis. Angus. Sirloin. N.Y. Strip. Makes no difference.
"We could get steaks!" I added.
Fast forward three hours later . . . I came home from work, sat down on the couch, looked Kara dead in the eye and uttered words I now regret, "Kara--let's just stay home tonight. I'm tired. We can celebrate the book contract later. I know . . . I will make some tomato soup."
A death glare that rivals anything Hitler, Pol Pot, or Mussolini came my direction. Not only was I a) changing date plans (something that I should know by now is a death wish) but b) I was asking my pregnant wife to give up eating steak for c) tomato liquid. The perfect storm began to come together.
Being the perceptive man I am . . . (and feeling the death stare like a 125 degree heat lamp) I immediately said, "Or . . . we'll get steaks. Steak sounds good. I'll get my keys. Grab your coat."
Lesson #437: If you promise your pregnant wife the very food she craves, you'd better deliver. Your life is on the line.
29 November 2008
Yann Martel's imaginative and unforgettable Life of Pi is a magical reading experience, an endless blue expanse of storytelling about adventure, survival, and ultimately, faith. The precocious son of a zookeeper, 16-year-old Pi Patel is raised in Pondicherry, India, where he tries on various faiths for size, attracting "religions the way a dog attracts fleas." Planning a move to Canada, his father packs up the family and their menagerie and they hitch a ride on an enormous freighter. After a harrowing shipwreck, Pi finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean, trapped on a 26-foot lifeboat with a wounded zebra, a spotted hyena, a seasick orangutan, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker ("His head was the size and color of the lifebuoy, with teeth").
On my drive from my parents-in-law to my mom and dad's home, I listened to a show on NPR dedicated to the people who were missing from the family table this Thanksgiving weekend.
One caller told about his dad who was killed in Vietnam several decades ago. He was just two. He never knew his dad, yet he desperately wanted him at the table. Another caller wept as she described her son's drug addiction, his status in rehab, and the grim reality that his spot at the family table would remain empty for the foreseeable future.
An Alaskan called in saying this was the first time he would not be in the "lower 48" (a phrase that is now in mainstream culture thanks to Gov. Palin) for the first time ever. He was sending out a word of encouragement and thanksgiving to his family.
A middle-age man called in lamenting his parents unexpected divorce. Now the family was divided into two camps: those spending Turkey Day with mom . . . and those spending the beloved holiday with dad. His call was essentially a lament.
The Greek word for which we get communion and Lord's Supper is the word "eucharisteo" (often used in English as simply The Eucharist). The word simply means "to give thanks" or "I give thanks."
I've always been convinced that Thanksgiving has the potential for Christians to really be the church. To welcome all sorts of people to the table (family, friends, estranged, broken, forgotten) and the midst of sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, green-beans take the bread and the wine and give thanks for the tables and people in our lives.
And . . . to remember that Jesus himself would remind us that a day is on its way when he will reside at the table and we will no longer have to lament the broken relationships, addictions, divorces, and death in our lives for all things will be made new.
26 November 2008
GRAPEVINE, Tex. — And on the seventh day, there was no rest for married couples. A week after the Rev. Ed Young challenged husbands and wives among his flock of 20,000 to strengthen their unions through Seven Days of Sex, his advice was — keep it going.
This week we're exploring God's visitation to Abraham and Moses in the form of conversation and a burning bush.
I love this quote from Elie Wiesel on Moses (The Messengers of God, 182).
It is not surprising that Moses occupies a special place in Jewish tradition. His passion for social justice, his struggle for national liberation, his triumphs and disappointments, his poetic inspiration, his gifts as a strategist and his organizational genius, his complex relationship with God and His people, his requirements and promises, his condemnations and blessings, his bursts of anger, his silences, his efforts to reconcile the law with compassion, authority with integrity—no individual, ever, anywhere accomplished so much for so many people in so many different domains. His influence is boundless, it reverberates beyond time.
25 November 2008
(Most) Ministers are known for their dedication to providing pastoral care, wisdom, hospitality, and counseling. However, we are curiously poor in receiving the care and concern we dole out to so many others. Perhaps it is because so many of us have a messiah complex—we’ve morbidly convinced ourselves that we are the hope for the world; that we have the power to heal the sick, calm the storms, restore sight to the blind as Jesus did.
I am a part of a mentoring group this fall that is ministering to me. Wayne, Curtis, Cody, and Jon (four students at RC) are all younger than me but they have wisdom, questions, and insights beyond their years. This fall, we’ve spent our time doing our genograms (think: life maps, narrative introductions). Yesterday I finished telling them my story.
As I drove home yesterday from our mentoring group time together, I prayed a simple prayer . . . God, thank-you for placing men and women in my life who accept me for who I am; remind me that you could not love me anymore or any less than you do right now; that challenge me to become more in tune with the spirit of Jesus.
24 November 2008
I flew Saturday to Dallas to speak at Highland Oaks Church. This might be the most organized church I've ever associated with. Seriously. They got mad skills when it comes to staff, series, direction, and implementation. They are also one of a few in the Churches of Christ doing "multi-site" (one church many locations). The other is Farmers Branch Church with visionary leader, Chris Seidman. Our journey to/in "multi-site" for Rochester Church and Christ Church Macomb has been one of many mistakes, celebrations, victories and defeats. It is good to know we have fellow travelers along the way.
You can click here to listen to my teaching time at Highland Oaks.
20 November 2008
Kara and I have struggled to know just how to refer to Baby Graves in conversations without sounding harsh and distant (“it” . . . “that”) naïve (“he” . . . “she”) or too generic (“Baby Graves”). Leave it to Kara to come up with a clever description—after all this is the woman whose one-liners are so famous in our house, we regularly spend our evenings laughing so hard at comments Kara made the night before (like the time when she said in response to my lament that I was getting older every time I looked in the mirror . . . “I have the perfect solution. Stop looking in the mirror.” Or the time when I asked her what it would be like if we switched minds and not bodies. She responded like an assassin, “You’d be running this house").
Recently, Kara started referring to our baby as “our little pocket of sunshine.” At first I thought this was cheesy—a bit too dramatic. But the more and more I hear her use this phrase, I like it. In a few weeks, we'll know if the "pocket of sunshine" is of the male or female persuasion. And then we begin the journey/battle/process/negotiation process/bartering/election of selecting a name that will look more respectable on the birth certificate than "little pocket of sunshine."
19 November 2008
17 November 2008
Across the Masonic Temple is Cass Tech High School. My grandfather graduated from Cass Tech. After Korea, he came back to Detroit, got his G.E.D. and went on to live a rather adventurous (in the good and not-so-good sense of the word) life. Cass Tech and the Masonic Temple form a parenthesis around Cass Park. A rather ironic inclusio. On one side, life, music, art, expression, and joy . . . on the other . . . learning, grit, ingenuity, and creativity.
In between, a rather unassuming park. Those who live here call it Crack Park, Jurassic Park, and other unmentionables.
Next to the park is a half-way house, rehab center (known as The Mariners Inn), an empty parking lot where a Salvation Army Shelter used to stand, a shelter for vets of Vietnam, a Salvation Army High-Rise (now empty) which used to be one of the largest homeless shelters in the United States.
In a word . . . this piece of land can be depressing. Yesterday as I walked around Cass Corridor by myself praying for the city, praying for our church leaders, praying for the first-time volunteers . . . I asked myself a question: Why do I keep coming back to this place? Every four months or so I start asking myself this question. The answer varies: because I'm the extension of Jesus in the world, because God requires that I use my blessings to bless others, because it feels good to serve, because . . . Yesterday a new answer emerged.
I keep coming because Cass Park, as paradoxical a place as it is, reminds me of my own spiritual poverty; my own need to experience God in the midst of silence. So, I keep coming because I'm looking for God. I look for him everywhere else (relationship, music, art, film, family, marriage, fatherhood) . . . if I find God here, I know it won't be the God I'm used to preaching and teaching. Re-thinking God used to scare me. Now, it's what sustains my faith.
15 November 2008
"Saint" does not mean merely dedication, or selflessness, or generosity, though it subsumes all those. Nor does it mean the apogee of religious devotion, though it can subsume that too--sometimes. There are many pious people who believe themselves to be saints who are not, and many people who believe themselves to be impious who are.
A saint is a person who practices the keystone human virtue of humility. Humility in the face of wealth and plenty, humility in the face of hatred and violence, humility in the face of strength, humility in the face of your own genius or lack of it, humility in the face of another's humility, humility in the face of love and beauty, humility in the face of pain and death. Saints are driven to humbling themselves before all the splendor and horror of the world because they perceive there to be something divine in it, something pulsing and alive beneath the hard dead surface of material things, something inconceivably greater and purer than they.
Isaiah 53 also becomes an important text for early Christians. "But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed," (53:5).
The word for bruise is chabbuwrah ( khab·bü·rä' ); it can be translated bruise, stripe, wound, blow. It was, for the earliest Christian theologians . . . the means by which the scars and secrets of life were healed. Because God did not do an end-round around suffering--rather he entered into to our suffering, shame, oppression, manipulation and abuse of which we have perpetrated . . . of which we have been the victims of.
When Jesus appears to all of the male disciples at the end of John's Gospel (the female disciples had stayed with Jesus during his honor of pain and shame . . . a lesson for another day), he has an interesting conversation with Thomas.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit."
Healed from the wounds of being marginalized (by Rome and Jews alike), perpetrators of violence, religiosity, competition, indifference, despair, disillusionment and despair . . . the first disciples (both men and women Luke reminds the reader) are sent into the world to do the business of healing the corporate and personal sins of the world because of Jesus' presence among them.
It's the kind of story I have to choose to believe. Every day, before breakfast and before my feet hit the cold bedroom floor I choose to believe because I think it's a story too good to not be true.
13 November 2008
12 November 2008
I know men are not supposed to dwell too much on their physical appearance, lest they become suspicious to their surrounding friendship network. I need to confess that lately I’ve been thinking about my physical appearance. I’m not talking about my receding hair-line, or my height, or the teeth that bare the reality that I chose not to wear my retainer after the braces came off in middle school.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about a few of the physical scars I carry.
I have two identical scars on my forehead—the result of two completely different events. Some people tell me that if you get close enough, it looks as if I used to have horns growing out of my head. Had I participated in the political drama many Christians fueled, the horns might have come literally true.
One of the scars on my head came from a running accident when I was two. Not being the polished athlete I am today, I ran into the corner of a brick wall.
The other scar is from a time when I was five living in
I should note that these scars used to be separate. In pictures from adolescence, they are on opposite sides of my forehead. But as I’ve grown older, these two scars have decided they need to be closer. Hence, the horns.
Another scar I am aware of is the one located just beneath my chin. This scar was given to me by one of teammates on my college basketball team. It was innocent enough. We were doing a routine drill when he accidentally elbowed me right beneath the chin. My screen went black. Again, the next thing I knew, Garth Pleasant (the coach) was standing over me as I stared at the ceiling, saying, “
I also have a scar on my side that I’ve had since childbirth. You don’t have to be a M.D. to know this is known as a birth-mark. One of the eerie things that happened to me in college was the time I discovered that my roommate and best friend had an identical mark in the exact location. If the Apocalypse was upon us, we surely bore the mark of the beast.
I’m starting to believe that scars are incredibly important in our journey as people of deep spirituality. Not just physical scars we can detect with the eye, but the spiritual scars we carry with us.
For one, scars remind us that we are all fragile people. Even the toughest, macho-men must remember that from dust we came and to dust we shall return. None of us are as invincible as we convince ourselves. We might live a little longer, but the fragility of being human waits each day as we enter into the world.
I will never forget the dramatic reminder of this I received my sophomore year of college. I was in the weight room at
Our scars remind us of our inescapable fragility.
Scars also remind us of a truth that holds the universe together. Some of the events and experiences of our lives are the result of our choices. Yet, some of the events and experiences of our lives are the results of choices other people made. If the statistics are correct, many of the women in our churches have experienced some form of sexual molestation. I realize that’s not taboo to talk about but if we don’t who will?
Scars are also significant, because immediately beneath the scars are the secrets we keep from one another. Underneath the surface, when he dig deeper and become fully transparent: we have to deal with the generational sins that haunt us: alcohol and drug addiction, physical and sexual abuse, pornography, sexual addiction, anorexia and bulimia, lying . . . and the list spreads as far as the veins in the human body (if you doubt . . . check out this site which is closing in on 200 million hits).
I just mentioned personal scars . . . but societal scars can also be detected in all of us: ageism, sexism, racism, classism . . . all of these are part of our experience.
Physical scars . . . spiritual scars . . . going deeper, we’re reminded of the secrets that rage below the surface. These secrets that sit right below the surface of our scars have the potential to destroy us. They are, like skin cancer, absolutely toxic if we do not open ourselves up for treatment.
11 November 2008
To read the rest of the article, click here.
To watch this Truth-Is-Stranger-Than-Fiction episode, click here.
And I thought the fights were bad in the churches I've been a part of . . .
07 November 2008
In the coming months, this blog will be changing names from joshgraves.blogspot.com to Jesus Feast (www.jesusfeast.org). The reason: My first book will be published in 2009 under the previously mentioned name. Stay tuned for more samplings.
Here's a quick overview . . .
According to Christian scholar, Alister McGrath, almost two-thirds of all Christians lived in the West in 1900. And now, only one-third were still recognized as “Western” by 2000. In the last fifty years, Christianity shifted to the far corners of the world: China, South America, and Africa. Scholars now note there are more Anglicans in Africa, for instance, than in all of Great Britain. In fact, it seems there are more Christians living in China and Africa than in the United States—a statistic unimaginable even fifty years ago.
My own religious tribe, Churches of Christ from the American Restoration Movement, has been slowly declining the last three decades in the United States. Besides two major segments of Protestant faith—Pentecostal and Independent/Community—most of Western Christianity is in the midst of a season of stagnation or severe decline.
In virtually every part of America (including the Bible Belt), Christianity is dying a slow death. Out of these ashes exists the opportunity to continue to dream about God’s activity and the potential for the story of Jesus to receive a fresh hearing.
Part autobiography, social justice manifesto, historical reflection, treatise on grace, journal from the urban/suburban world, and narrative reading of Jesus’ life—Jesus Feast is a book seeking to bridge the world of reflection and practice. The chasm of belief and practice (a product of the Enlightenment and its quest for facts and objective truth) is evident even in many of today’s “post” modern writings. Jesus Feast is one attempt to do reflection and practice in a harmonious dance.
06 November 2008
All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through;
I want God, you, all friends merely to serve my turn.
Peace, reassurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin;
I talk of love--a scholar's parrot may talk Greek--
But , self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.
In times of great debate (family, church, politics, etc.) I'm always drawn back to the heart of The Jesus Story: sin, evil, and corruption do not exist "out there" . . . sin, evil, and corruption run right through the middle of me. I think that's what Lewis's poem is doing.
05 November 2008
I was impressed (thoroughly) with McCain's speech last night. I think he demonstrated class, humility, and character. Kudos to him for taking the high road and making this election about the coming weeks and months ahead and not his own personal interests. I hope Obama will use his wisdom during his tenure in office.
It is remarkable that, after being one generation removed from a time when African-Americans could not even vote in this country, we now have a Black President. I have already heard some people suggesting that he was elected because he was black . . . that's insane. This election was much bigger than any of that. The proof: Latinos voted for Barack in record numbers. Something else was in the air.
I hope those on the left who want Barack to be a Messiah of sorts will sober up and realize that there's no way one person can accomplish what needs to be accomplished. I hope those on the right (especially those who claim the story of Jesus as their central identity) will pray for the new President (as some forget is required by Paul), play their role in changing the key issues of our day, and get beyond bumper sticker ethics and cookie-cutter slogans to build relationships with people who might not see the world exactly as they see it.
My primary mission in life (as a minister and religion teacher) is to help people's imaginations be resurrected to the power, hope, and possibilities of The Jesus Way. So, I don't wake up this morning putting my trust in what is happening in Washington. I voted. It was fascinating. It will be interesting to see how things unfold.
I hope that Christians who spent hours fretting, and worrying about the outcome of this election will be able to use that raw energy of taking up the local mission of healing, forgiveness, and community--what it means to be the church.
03 November 2008
This is a picture of me and Dr. Brueggemann after he'd announced that the course he taught at Columbia Seminary would be his last academic teaching experience. None of us in the class had any idea that we would not only be sitting in on a true legend but that this would be his final "game". The final thirty minutes Friday were dedicated to allowing the students to ask whatever question we desired (theology, future of the church, etc.). The one that impacted me the most was his "admission" that he stayed at Columbia Seminary all these years (instead of being at a place like Harvard, Yale, etc.) because he wanted to teach and form students who'd directly become "doctors of the church" (Brueggemann classic).
I don't know if I've ever been around a person who knows Scripture as well as Dr. Brueggemann. The conservative myth that liberal scholars (and he's liberal because of his commitment to taking postmodern culture seriously) don't know the text is just that . . . a myth.
Doctoral students from South Korea, China, U.K, Jamaica, India, Atlanta, Detroit, New Jersey, Alabama, Mississippi (among other places). We had Hispanic, Anglo, black, African, et al brothers and sisters from a mix of different tribes: Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ (me), Baptist, Congregationalist, Pentecostal, Anglican, gathered to study the Torah. And in doing so, we left believing that God might not be done with us. God just might be up to something we don't yet even have the language to express.
30 October 2008
I took French because I had to. My dad said, "If you are going to go to college, you'd better get used to doing things you don't want to do."
Eventually (by year three) . . . I loved it. I was amazed the first time I read, by myself, The Little Prince. To read it in the original language was incredible because there are words and sentences in French that simple do not translate into English very well (and vice versa).
Then, I took Greek during my undergrad years. I was captain of the basketball team at Rochester College, opinions editor (big surprise) of the school paper, and . . . oh yeah . . . part-time campus minister. Let's just say I was a bit too busy to appreciate the aorist infinitive of agape. Greg Stevenson still likes to remind me of this "baptism" by fire. I remind him that I was a history major and therefore simply taking Greek to expand my horizons . . . see . . . I was learning to play the existential card.
When I went to grad school to study theology, I knew I had to buckle down and become much more disciplined. So, flash-cards became my best friend. Ask Kara, she still has nightmares of my saying, "will you quiz me during the commercial break?" Greek became so much a part of me I had dreams about Greek tests, quizzes, words, and sentences.
Then came Hebrew. If Greek is mathematical, Hebrew is more art. I thought I would do really well in Hebrew since I'm more of a literature/art person. I was wrong. Part of it was due to my situation in life (which is always the case) . . . that is . . . Kara and I were juggling crazy schedules of making the transition to Abilene and then back to Nashville. I did okay in Hebrew. But not nearly as good as I did Greek.
The last two weeks I've been forced (or "welcomed" might be a more pastoral word) to dive back into the world of language: both Hebrew and English translation. I've been reminded how much of translation is interpretation. For instance, sometimes the translators use the word displease when they should use wicked, evil, detestable (see Gen. 38 and Onan).
But there is a great value in paying attention to the differences and possibilities of language. For one, learning a language only happens if you are disciplined to work at it every day. Kind of like learning to follow the teachings of Jesus. We are not instinctively good at following Jesus . . . we must learn to become a disciple (mathetes means student). Every day we wake up and choose to believe that God invaded the world . . . especially on days when our physical surroundings suggest otherwise.
Learning languages is also important because we miss the mystical relationship between words and meaning. To be human is to experience life with God. To experience life with God means we need words to make sense of our experiences. We also don't know what are experiences often mean without assigned words.
For instance, did you know that the same word in Hebrew for womb (as in the piece of the human body that belongs to a female) is the same word for compassion? That takes on special meaning for a husband and wife who are going to have their first child in the coming months.
I've written of my passion for the Pistons in the past. I'm not convinced the Pistons are any better this year than in years past.
So, on the second day of the NBA season, I'll make some simple picks.
Pistons VS Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals
Celtics over Pistons in 6
Lakers VS Houston Rockets in Western Conference Finals
Rockets over Lakers in 7
Rockets VS Celtics in NBA Finals (that will remind people of Larry Legend versus the Original Twin Towers of Olajuwon and Sampson)
Celtics repeat as NBA champs (in 6)
26 October 2008
I love thinking about Sunday Worship as the dress rehearsal for the rest of the week. Sunday morning worship is the time when all of God's actors come together to receive their script for the week. This morning, at Rochester Church, we came together to pray, to listen, to confess, to sing, to worship, to be still, to laugh, to hug, to catch up, to encourage, to remember, to hope, lament, to pause . . . but most of all to hear from the still small voice of God. The real test of today's worship will be the manner in which 900 followers live out their mission Monday morning.
After a long week of reading, writing, studying in my doctoral class at Columbia Seminary I really needed to worship with my local community of faith. I preached in all three today on the meaning of "witness" in Acts 1 and tried to connect that with the film Mr. Holland's Opus. All three services were powerful in their own ways. I was especially touched in Mosaic (our third service) when, as I preached, I looked into the eyes of many of our family members and witnessed a great deal of energy, conviction and hope.
I saw Henry Oyer . . . a Kenyan who one day hopes to return to Nairobi to work with "street kids."
I saw Tom Ngobi, Sara Ageno and Priscilla Batzamuliza . . . three Ugandan students who've blessed my life beyond words.
I saw Lori and L.J. Manry . . . home on furlow from the mission field.
I saw Bert and Ann Bryan . . . two of the best leaders our church has.
I saw John and Sara Barton . . . two of the best partners in ministry anyone could ask for.
I saw Andrew and Eli . . . two young men who've overcome addiction, now claiming God's grace for their life.
I saw Kara . . . my baby-mama (I've been waiting to say that on this blog for a long time) and closest friend on the planet.
I witnessed a room full of people with real doubts, struggles, and concerns coming together to claim the promise that God is with us when we are with each other. Just as he was all over the world today . . . Jesus was among us, inhabiting our words, prayers, speech, and silence. And, sorry Lebron James, we all are witnesses to his justice and mercy.