29 February 2008

Confession and Baptism

Carol Bates, a woman who's visited our church for the last several months and studied on Tuesday afternoons with yours truly, was baptized tonight. After the pre-baptism instruction, a few nervous jokes, one powerful confession, the actual baptism, a few prayers from friends a reading from the New Testament, Carol looked at me and said, "You asked me if I believed that Jesus was the son of God."

Yes, I remembered asking her this question as it happened approximately 90 seconds previously.

A pause ensued. I didn't know what would come next. After all, Carol and I had discussed many elements of faith (suffering, incarnation, hope, Israel) in our Tuesday study time. Was she regretting her decision already? Was she unsure?

She calmed my ill-founded fears in the next breath.

"Well . . . it's taken me my whole life to be able to answer that question. Seriously. My whole life. My answer is yes. Josh, my answer is yes."


Last Sunday, Andrew, a young adult from our church, was also baptized. He read a powerful statement of faith to the entire gathered community. He was a little nervous being under the watchful eye of so many. Plus, his entire family was present. But he spoke powerfully of the necessity to make this public declaration.

After his baptism he squeezed me so hard I thought all the blood in my body was going to push up to my head. Lukcily, I survived with all my motor skills in proper working fashion.

I think baptism is the greatest confession. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I mean, letting someone hold you under water in front of a room full of people. Now, that's faith.

One Master Writer

I consider Anne Lamott to be one of the best spiritual writers of our day. Traveling Mercies, Plan B, and Bird by Bird have been great models of spiritual writing done well while avoiding the pitfalls of fundamentalism (that tends to use religious words the way a bowler smokes cigarettes) and liberalism (avoiding sacred words at all costs so that faith becomes the psychological equivalent of "differentiation.")

"I wish I had a secret I could let you in on, some formula my father passed on to me in a whisper just before he died, some code word that has enabled me to sit at my desk and land flights of creative inspiration like and air-traffic controller. But I don’t. All I know is that the process is pretty much the same for almost everyone I know. The good news is that some days it feels like you just have to keep getting out of your own way to write it. It is a little like when you have something difficult to discuss with someone, and as you go to do it, you hope and pray that the right words will come if only you show up and make a stab at it. And often the right words do come, and you—well—“write” for a while; you put a lot of thoughts down on paper. But the bad news is that if you’re at all like me, you’ll probably read over what you’ve written and spend the rest of the day obsessing, and praying that you do not die before you can completely rewrite or destroy what you have written, lest the eagerly waiting world learn how bad your first drafts are."
From Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird, pg. 7-8

28 February 2008

Upside Down Leadership

If you want to be a viable Christian leader in the emerging postmodern world you have no other option than to practice what you preach. The days of Star Search Leadership (when people followed because the leader was slick or dynamic) are dead. And that's a good thing.


Some churches are led by ministers/leaders who do not consistently put themselves in risky “scenarios”—their intellectual faith might be strong, but the embodiment of said faith is non-existent. And, at last, Christians and non-Christians alike are calling their bluff.

I’m preparing to lead an urban plunge formation retreat this coming week to downtown Detroit. For an entire week, we’ll be living in Cass Park at the Hope Baptist Center with a group of Christians from Michigan State University and Grand Valley State University.

Myself and several college students/young adults from Rochester College and Rochester Church of Christ will spend our time: working with a diverse church (Hope Community Church), volunteering in shelters, attending worship gatherings with diverse groups of believers, hearing lectures/presentations on the history and “world” of Detroit, social class simulations, museums, one underground railroad visit, repairing homes, Love Feast in Cass Park (our normal tradition), tutoring for students, reading, journaling, hosting a music conference, sleeping in shelters, living among the homeless in Hart Plaza and hosting a basketball tourney with a local church (you know who’s excited about that).

These are some of the things we’ll be engaged in throughout our stay.

This is an urban spiritual formation retreat. The focus is on the spiritual development of those who’ve given their week to hear the rhythms of Jesus’ teaching and how they intersect with the rhythms of life in a complicated city like Detroit. This is not about “fixing” Detroit. It’s about understanding what God might in fact already be doing.

This is the third urban spiritual formation trip I’ve led. The last two were hosted in the Bronx. Now, we take seriously the call of God to be immersed in our own backyard.

Pray for us.


Last night, 30 of us from my church gathered in a home to say “good-bye” to one of our beloved sisters in Christ. This new follower is going to join a holistic community in Arizona to focus on her emotion, spiritual and psychological self.

The blessing time was amazing. Skaters. Preachers. College Students. Auto Executives. Uncles. Family. Young Adults.

All under the liberating name of Jesus blessing our fellow sister to find out what it is in this life that “makes her come alive.” For the world needs people who’ve come alive.

26 February 2008

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

In, Brian D. McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy, written a few years back, he sketches the “seven different depictions of Jesus in his faith journey.” On page 64, he includes this summary:

1. Conservative Protestant: The human race is guilty of sin therefore Jesus’ death pays the full penalty for human sin.

2. Pentecostal: The human race is held down by disease and poverty. Jesus teaches us to receive miracles and healings from God through faith in God’s promises.

3. Roman Catholic: The human race is enslaved by the fear of death. Jesus’ resurrection defeats death and liberates humanity.

4. Eastern Orthodox: The human race is spiritually sick and needs healing; it has dropped out of the “dance” of creation. Jesus’ entry (or incarnation) into humanity and history brings God’s healing to the human race and all of creation.

5. Liberal Protestant: The human race suffers from ignorance of the teachings and ways of Christ. Jesus’ example and teachings inspire us to work compassionately for social justice.

6. Anabaptist: The human race is divided and violent and needs to learn the ways of Christ in community. Jesus convenes a learning community of disciples who seek to model lives of love and peace.

7. Liberation (nonviolent): Humanity is oppressed by corrupt powers, systems and regimes. Jesus commissions and leads bands of activists to confront unjust regimes and make room for the Shalom of God.

Growing up, I saw Jesus as #1. In High School, because I lived in suburban Detroit, I began to appreciate #3. My first two years of college were all about #2. My last years of undergrad and first year of seminary were focused on Jesus #5. Second year of seminary was #6. The last year of seminary was #7. For the last three years, I've been preaching and (attempting) living out a combination of Jesus #7, #4.

I don't think any one version or emphasis is necessarily "better" than the other. In fact, I don't think I would've appreciated Liberation Jesus had I not been raised in a family that worshipped Jesus #1.

Which Jesus do you currently subscribe to? Which one would you like to learn more about? Is there one that you deem "heresy"?

23 February 2008

Shaun Hover

Serving a local church if full of failure and success. In fact, the failures often seem to outnumber the success stories by a good margin.

When God does get a hold of a persons life, it's important to share those stories. In less than 8 months, Shaun Hover went from local skateboard legend with no purpose, drifting through life to local skateboard legend sharing the ancient story of God with the people of China.

Above are some pictures of Shaun's recent missionary journey to China. To read two posts I've written about Shaun click here and here. Tomorrow, Shaun will lead our church to Christ's table for the Lord's Supper, reminding all of us, that the story of Jesus is good news for everyone.

22 February 2008

Praying for Kenya

A dear friend of mine, Henry Oyer, sent this to me earlier in the week. Henry is a leader in our local church, with an incredible kingdom perspective. Henry is from Nairobi, Kenya. To read more about what's happening in Kenya, click here.


Most of you are familiar with the situation on in Kenya. After spending a good Christmas party with the homeless kids, this was immediately after the election, most part of the country turned into a battle zones, I was there when everything just started. I could tell from the people that they would love to switch their positions with me. I remember a gentleman at the airport stated to me that "you are lucky you are leaving, it's going to be really bad here, and where are we going to go?" he asked. I didn't know what to tell the gentleman, I was just as confused as he was. Of course going to the States was so much better than staying in Kenya.

I will never forget the sadness and uncertainty I saw on the people's eyes there. Here I was, with my ticket heading back and the plane was leaving in a few hours. It was tough and still is. I think of everyone at home, I spend so sometimes trying to reach them but the phone would be ringing some but no one will pick it up. When I wake up in the morning I don't hear gun shots like I did in
Nairobi, we used to watch the 7 o'clock news at night in Kenya and we would see people on the streets shooting each other in countries like Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan but never thought it will one day come this close to us. I probably don't have the right words to express the feeling of my people who are there right now, I don't worry when I drive down the main roads M-59 or I-75 that I maybe stopped or pulled over by the militia group to check what tribe am I from (NOTE: those are two major thoroughfares in Metro Detroit).

You all have probably heard that the government and opposition are working with the former UN secretary general - Kofi Annan to come up with a solution to end the violence. Both parties (government & opposition) appointed 4 members to represent them at the Kofi Annan's mediation group. Whatever they discuss in this meeting, they are therefore to go back and discuss with their parties and agree before coming back to the Annan's group and move forward. This last week Kofi Annan proposed a coalition government that will include the opposition to be part of the government. The mediator’s argument is that the government will not be able to run any business since it is a minority party in the parliament. The opposition won most of the seats in the parliament. Meeting continues this next week. The opposition felt cheated on the vote counting. They are working on a transitional government so that in 2 yrs from now, the country will go for a general election.

There is still hope; especially if the opposition agrees to be part of the government that they feel was unconstitutionally formed. Let’s keep praying that the lord will humble both parties and put the Kenyan people first and not their own interests.

19 February 2008

Skateboarding for Jesus

Yesterday, a local Metro Detroit skateboard legend, Shaun Hover, stepped off of a plane from Los Angeles to Detroit. Under normal circumstances, this would not elicit a blog posting. Shaun, just two years removed from being a teen, recently returned from training as a missionary in China with Y-WAM. Youth With a Mission is one of the best teen/young adult ministries I know of.

While in China, Shaun used his skateboarding abilities to draw crowds and befriend some of the thousands of teens who roam the streets of her large urban centers.

Eight months ago and because of other details I won’t get into, Shaun started attending our worship gatherings with a group of his friends. From day one, it was clear he was the leader. I knew, “If I get Shaun interested in authentic Christian spirituality, I’ll get the whole group.”

I’ll never the forget the day he called to tell me. I was speaking at a leadership retreat at a monastery not far from Rochester when I noticed I had seven or eight missed calls on my cell phone. The missed calls were all from Shaun. Monks don’t like it when you walk around the retreat center with your Ray Charles ring (“Georgia”) turned to level six.

Immediately, I thought, “Oh, my God. Something is terribly wrong.” So, I walked outside and called Shaun back conjuring up as many different tragic possibilities as I could imagine. Car accident. Death. Overdose. For some reason, I could only imagine tragedy.

“Shaun, this is Josh.”
“What’s wrong?”
“Dude. Relax. I just wanted to let you know I want to get baptized.”
“Oh.” My heart settled back to where it was supposed to be.

Here’s what I wrote the balmy Sunday in August in which we baptized Shaun.

We don’t know what the future holds for Shaun. The possibilities are endless. One thing I do know. One of the greatest joys of following Jesus is taking risks and watching different people come alive to his presence and mission in the world.

12 February 2008

Speaking Jesus (Out of Both Sides of Your Mouth)

Part of the focus of my doctoral studies at Columbia deals with the way language shapes reality, truth, and experience. Much of my reading so far explores this topic in relation to White and African-American Communities.

For instance, students are taught in Communication 101, that the first rule of public speaking is to know your audience. The second rule, then, is to speak in a way your audience can understand without compromising your material, and objective.

I find this fascinating. It takes great skill to communicate to a white affluent church as well as a road rally in Cass Park, Detroit. It takes intentional reflection and practice to walk into a public high school and effectively speak as it does to conduct a funeral for a family of first generation Americans. I recently did a funeral for a young man whose entire family comprised of artists. I had to figure out how to communicate in a way that spoke the truth of God’s mercy and justice to them . . . not to the accountants and engineers in the room.

Our world has changed. It isn’t that our world is changing for the world has come to us. Every nation, tribe, race, culture can be found all around us. If we are serious about being people who speak a word of grace, we’d better pay attention to the ones we are speaking with.

We must be able to speak to/with people according in a matter than connects and sparks the imagination. This doesn’t mean one is being “fake”—quite the opposite. To speak to people in a way that allows them access to what you are saying authenticates their story, experience, and plight. It is affirming and honorable.

There is biblical precedent for this. Paul once wrote, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings.”

Jesus had an amazing ability to communiate to the elite (Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees) as well as the ones who found themselves on the fringe (parables and personal accounts shared with sinners, tax collectors, sick, diseased, and divorced).

If you are interested in this discussion (which, by the way, relates to teachers, loan officers, insurance salespersons, nurses, lawyers, doctors, as well as ministers) Henry Mitchell has written a fine essay entitled, “Black English”—it’s been used in reading and communication textbooks all over the United States.

10 February 2008


Last night, just before going to bed, Kara and I watched the local news. That's part of our normal routine. Channel 4 (NBC). 11 p.m. Pretty much every night.

Unless Anderson Cooper has something interesting going on.

One of the leading stories focused attention on the plight of homeless men and women throughout Detroit on this unusually cold Saturday night (it got down to 0 degrees; with the wind chill, negative twenty degrees).

The reporter, rather excited for such a gloomy piece, interviewed a man. His name is Winzell Jarrell. The reporter (nor the TV screen) did not indicate this. But I knew who it was. I've known Winzell for almost a year now. I can't believe he's still alive. Honestly.

Winzell, and hundreds of other homeless citizens , defy the odds. I don't know how they do it. I really don't. I'd jump off a bridge.

Needless to say, I was messed up after seeing my friend on television. I woke up six or seven times last night from a deep sleep. Partly because it was just one of those nights. Partly because Winzell doesn't have a home.

09 February 2008


father's be good to your daughters
daughters will live like you do
girls become lovers
who turn into mothers
so mothers be good
to your daughters to

Last night, Kara and decided to spend our Friday night at the health club, getting’ a little work out in. Last night, at the health club, was also the annual “Daddy-Daughter” Valentine’s Dance.

There were a few hundred Dad’s and Daughter’s covering two small basketball courts. It was a sight to behold. Dad’s dressed up in their best suits, on the dance floor with their young daughter(s). Daughters who'd wouldn't want to be anywhere else than right where they were. Hair all done up. Corsage on the wrist. The color pink abounding. Little girls believing they were Cinderella, or Snow White; some kind of princess to be sure.

So much of my time working with college students is undoing or bringing healing to the wounds caused in the lives of young people by their parents. Wounds that are the result of Christian homes as much as non-Christian homes. In fact, sometimes the aftermath of growing up Christian (especially the fundamentalist stripe) is worse for there is no more dangerous combination than legalism, hypocrisy, guilt, and shame, mixed with religion.

If we are going to change the world, one good friend likes to say . . . we’d better first start by loving the family given to us by God.

07 February 2008

Priceless (v.2)

Reading a great novel on your day off: $19.95 (price of the book).

Eating two huge bowls of cereal ($4.95).

Finishing writing an exam: one headache.

Getting beat by your wife in Phase 10: one trip to the kitchen to make ice cream.

Going to the shooting range with your father and father-in-law: priceless. To read a bit about that, click here.

06 February 2008

Super Tuesday, There Will Be Blood, Lent

Things get real interesting now.

Hillary and Obama are in for a "heavy-weight" fight. Many so-called experts are giving Obama the edge, but I don't buy it. Hillary isn't going away that easily . . . If Hillary gets the nomination, I don't know if I could vote for her.

McCain, now likely to get the Republican nod, is creating all kinds of waves within the more conservative wing of the party. One friend pointed out this article to me recently--Rush Limbaugh is now saying he'd rather have a Democrat in office than McCain. This is better than anything else on television.

I guess I'll have to change my election final four in the left-hand column.


In other news, I watched There Will Be Blood (Daniel Day-Lewis) last night with a group of friends. No, I did not go to this movie to off-set the recent Chick Flick-Gate. I was sincerely interested in the plot and I was not disappointed. The film is a great comparison of two opportunists--one a pastor, the other an "oil man." Both are relentless in their thirst for power, money, and influence. Besides a rather weak ending, this movie deserves Oscar considerations.


Lenten Season is upon us. A time to focus on the things that distract us from encountering God in our daily lives. Some people give up chocolate. Some abstain from sports, gambling, drinking, and the consumption of specific foods. Last year, I gave up Dr. Pepper (a harder task than I thought it would be). This year, I'm working on my speech: I want to speak only that which love requires. I want to avoid the occasional cuss word, cynical remarks, and negative "put-downs" (my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Cizmas, used to say, "NO killer statements").

I have a feeling that giving up Dr. Pepper will prove to be an easier mountain to scale than the one I've selected.

01 February 2008

Chick Flick

What constitutes a Chick Flick?

I taught at our mid-week service recently on being “in the world, but not of it.” At one point I used the film Chocolat as an example of different ways of engaging culture. The two main characters, the Comte and Vianne, provide a rich example of the difference between religion and spirituality. (NOTE: I’m using those two words as they’ve emerged in our current postmodern lexicon).

At lunch this week, some of my fellow staff members (Patrick, Dana, and Chris) suggested that this film is of the proverbial “Chick Flick” genre. And an ensuing assault upon my masculinity occurred. I'm over it. Really. I am.

I disagreed vehemently.

During the teaching time under consideration, I asked the church “Who’s seen this film?” About a hundred hands went up—of the hundred, approximately eighty-five were women.

Afterwards, a few men came up and said, “Hey, Josh. We’re going to see 27 Dresses at 9:45 p.m.—want to come?”

So, I’m asking you . . .the educated, savvy cultural aficianado—what are the criteria that must be present for a film to be labeled “Chick Flick"?