29 March 2008


I'm back from spending a few days in Tulsa. The workshop was a great event. Terry Rush, Danna T. et al do a remarkable job putting such a big event together. They truly have the spiritual gift of organization. Also, I have to give a shout-out (that's what we say in Detroit) to the Priest family. Not only are they great lunch partners, their hospitality knows no bounds.


Here's another great snippet from Levine's The Misunderstood Jew (see two posts ago). Towards the end of the book she tells a rabbinic tale from the nineteenth century which recalls a conversation between two neighbors. This conversation serves to remind Christians and Jews that true reconciliation will only happen under one condition . . .

The first said: "Tell me, friend Ivan, do you love me?"
The second: "I love you deeply."
The first: "Do you know, my friend, what gives me pain?"
The second: How can I, pray, know what gives you pain?"
The first: "If you do not know what gives me pain, how can you say that you truly love me?"

"Understand, then, my sons," continues the teacher, "to love, truly to love, means to know what brings pain to your comrade."

. . . true reconciliation happens when we know what "pains" our neighbor.

27 March 2008

Live from Tulsa . . .

I'm in Tulsa for a few days speaking at the Tulsa Workshop. It is supposed to be 80 degrees today. I know, please pray for me as I endure this time of trial and tribulation. P-Middy and I are doing the keynote together tonight. Should be intersting!


Here are my top five favorite American cities based on where I'd like to live (culture, diversity, sports, museums, university access, vibe, friends, family, etc.).

5. New York
4. Dallas
3. Atlanta
2. Nashville
1. Detroit (though I may not always live here, it will always be home)

What are your top five? (Denver just misses out at #6)

26 March 2008

The Queen of One-Liners Lives in My House

Josh: "Kara. Ever since I turned 29, I feel old. Every time I look in the mirror, it's like I don't recognize myself. It's got me down and depressed."

Kara: "Really? I'm sorry honey."

Josh: "Yeah . . . ahh . . . what should I do? I'm down. "

Kara: "Don't look in the mirror."

24 March 2008

NCAA Tourney

The three weeks that comprise the NCAA Hoops Tourney is superior to almost any other sport (save the NBA Finals).

I heard this on ESPN last night. Of the 3.1 million brackets submitted, only 12 predicted the current Sweet 16.

That's crazy. Actually, that's madness. That's why this time of year has become a cultural phenomenon.

23 March 2008


Since eighth grade, I've collected quotes. Here are a few that have been on my mind lately. 

I love this quote from Bono. "I'm a believer, but religion is the thing when God, like Elvis, has left the building. But when God is in the house, you get something else. I'm happy in a Catholic cathedral or a tent show down in the South with gospel music."

I like this quote from Dr. King. "Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted."

I am still trying to fully understand this line from Annie Dillard. I really like Annie Dillard. "So once in Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid."


I re-told the story of the resurrection in John's Gospel four times today (three times at Rochester Church of Christ and once at Christ Church: Macomb). Here's the thing that strikes me every time: In the Gospel of John, women are key characters in the narrative. Jesus' mother initiates his public ministry (ch.2); Jesus reveals his true identity to a scandalous woman (ch. 4); Jesus stands up to the religious power-brokers who want justice over mercy (ch. 8); and Jesus tells Mary and Martha "I am the Resurrection and the Life," (ch. 11). 

We should not be surprised that Mary Magdalene is tending the tomb (ch. 20). She does not equate an empty tomb with resurrection. Yet, she wants to remain near Jesus, because, he is "the Lord."

Jesus comes to her as a gardener. He speaks her name and she instantly knows who stands in her midst.

Unlike the men of power (Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians), and the men concerned with reputation (disciples)--the women in Jesus' day had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Perhaps, that kind of sociological "thing" happens today. 

But those are the questions we usually avoid asking. 

22 March 2008

Jesus Was Not Russian

One of the benefits of doing my grad work at Lipscomb (in Nashville) was access to the Divinity Library at Vanderbilt, just a few miles down the road. Known as one of the best theological libraries in the United States, my “clergy” card got me unlimited access to every journal and book I wanted to get my nerdy hands on. I spent many a Saturday afternoons in a little cubby with a stack of books on theology, history, geography, etc. I said my hands belonged to those of a full-fledge nerd.

It was there, that some of the students told me about a prof from Vandy named Amy-Jill Levine.
I’ve finally been able to dive into her work (some three years later) and I’m kicking myself for waiting this long. She's one of the leading scholars of our time.

Levine is Jewish, but teaches New Testament background at Vandy. In a recent book, The Misunderstood Jew, Levine highlights and emphasizes the “scandal of particularity”—the historical context in which God became flesh. Here are a few sound bytes.

“ . . . The time and place therefore matter. Christianity follows Jesus of Nazareth, not Jesus of Cleveland or Jesus of Mexico City; the incarnation dates to the first century, not the twenty-first. Further, the Jewish tradition into which Jesus was born and the Christian tradition that developed in his name were ‘historical religions,’ that is, their foundational events took place in history and on earth . . .”

Regarding the development of Christianity, “At this point, matters get dicey. To preach to Jews the idea of a crucified messiah is dangerous enough, or, as Paul puts it, a ‘scandal.’ To speak of the ‘son of God’ or ‘god from god’ or ‘savior’ and to mean Jesus rather than Caesar (for these were titles given to the Roman emperor) was to suggest disloyalty to the state. To tell Gentiles that there were certain religious or social practices that they would have to give up was not only ‘folly’; it was seditious.”

All around the planet two billion people will celebrate the Jewish Prophet from Nazareth who died for Israel and Gentile alike. The Jewish man on whom the destiny of the world depends. The one who transformed the cross of condemnation into the cross of hope.

19 March 2008

Wineskins Interview

Here's an interview I did for Wineskins Magazine. Dry Bones Ministry is absolutely powerful and compelling. 

17 March 2008

Kierkegaard and the NCAA Tourney

The Luke-Acts course I’m teaching this semester had to wrestle with this little ditty tonight from Soren Kierkegaard, whom scholars and preachers love to quote, “ . . . sermons should not be preached in churches. It harms Christianity in a high degree and alters its very nature, that it brought into artistic remoteness from reality, instead of being heard in the midst of real life, and that precisely for the sake of conflict (the collision). For all this talk about quiet, about quiet places and quiet hours, as the right element of Christianity, is absurd. So then sermons should not be preached in churches but in the street, in the midst of life, of the reality of daily life, weekday life.”

Is Kierkegaard right?


over Duke

Is Josh right?

13 March 2008

1979, 1997, 2008

The year was 1997. I was eighteen years old. Because my brother, Jason, was my twin, he was subsequently the same age. Those two go together in this discussion.

The month was August. It was, if I recall accurately, a hot muggy Michigan Summer day. The kind you long for on a cold March Thursday as the writer looks out his window and still sees several inches of snow on the ground.

Back to August, 1997. A large R.V. is parked in the driveway. It’s full of Jason’s belongings: trophies from tennis, John Stockton memorabilia, posters, shoes, belts, tennis gear, nice clothes (Jason’s always had a taste for good clothing), photos, and tennis rackets.

The R.V. under examination is bound for Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Specifically: Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond. Jason has accepted a scholarship to play tennis for the N.A.I.A powerhouse.

Josh, (the other side of the “twin coin”) cannot bring himself to getting on the R.V. He knows why he can’t but he’s too proud and scared to articulate this to anyone in his family. Mom and Dad load the R.V. with their normal zeal and passion. Then, they look at Josh and say, “We’re about to leave Josh. Come say good-bye to your brother.” Those words pierced a portion of Josh’s heart that had been off limits to even Josh himself.

With those words, eighteen years of callousness, sibling rivalry, and good ol’ fashion competition came crashing down like an unexpected avalanche in Aspen. I could not speak. I could barely breathe. I could not move. My body and spirit were paralyzed.

This was Jason we’re talking about. This is the biological play-mate provided by God himself. This was my great ally and my great foe for eighteen years. This was the brother who spent hours in the driveway playing one-on-one basketball until one of us came inside the house with a bloody nose or a black eye. This was the brother who rushed the court as the clock went to zero when I won a state tournament basketball game against our bitter rival, Chippewa Valley High School. This was the guy I’d shared a tiny room with for seventeen of those eighteen years.

This was the man who once chased me around the house with a weapon of mass destruction (which shall not be revealed) leaving me convinced that he was much crazier than I. This was the young boy whom I fought for when kids in our neighborhood started calling him “four-eyes” (one of the more clever childhood sound-bytes in my opinion). And these are the merely the memories I’m allowed to say in public.

For the first eighteen years of my life, I was a poor friend to Jason. I teased him. Pushed him. Mocked. Provoked. Chided. I cannot recall ever showing any emotion towards him that could have been construed “love.” I’m sure that’s not true, but I honestly can’t remember.

That all changed in August of 1997.

As the R.V. pulled out of the driveway to make the long trek from Detroit to Oklahoma City (may as well have been Spain)—I realized that one of God’s greatest gifts was slipping through my fingers.

And I did something I had not done up until that point in my young life. I sat down in the living room of the house which sat at the corner of Michelle Ann St. and Elena Marie St. No one was home save me. Just me and a thousand memories; a million regrets. This is why many Jewish thinkers remind us that "memory is God's great gift and curse to mankind."

I sat on the floor and wept. Hard. Loud. For a long time.

I did not “cry”, shed a tear, or “tear-up” (as Kara likes to say)—those terms domesticate what I did. I wept bitterly. I wept for what felt like two or three hours. I still can’t possibly put into words the suffocating feeling that consumed me that August afternoon in 1997.

But I do know this. Since that day, our relationship changed permanently. Now, we would express our love daily. Now we would encourage each other. Now we would root for each other. Now, we would think of the other one first instead of our own individual need. Now, things were different. Now, we had space. And space, if nothing else, creates perspective. And perspective allows the possibility for change.

I’ve sought the forgiveness of my brother for the way in which I treated him. Now, I consider him my close friend, mentor, cheerleader, coach, and confidant. Moreover, I learned to change in all of my other relationships because of my relationship with Jason.

God does his best work through the people he places in our lives.

It’s no longer 1997. Thank God that in 1979, twenty-nine years ago today, (March 13th to be precise), Katherine and Phil Graves found out that she’d had, not one child, as the doctor had promised, but two. Two boys who’d put her through all kinds of drama, joy, stress, hope and chaos. Two boys, however, who, no matter what, decided that it was in the cards for them to do life together, come hell or high water.

12 March 2008

I Only Play Gospel

Friday night was our last night to stay in Cass Park, a place I’ve written about on several different occasions. Friday night is the night we came back from hosting an “emerging artists” night at Hope Community Church on the east side of Detroit.

Before we left, we invited some of our friends who live in Cass Park to come with us to the concert. Two (Chris and Elena) said, “Sure. Count us in.” It was truly a magical night. We experienced worship, slam poetry, guitar solos—it was as powerful a night as I’ve been a part of in a long time.

After the festivities, I did not have the heart to drop our friends from Cass Park back off at their pre-selected shelter. I just couldn’t, in that gut-driven moment, believe that Jesus would drop off his friends back at the shelter after a night of experiencing God as the original artist.

Eleya. Chris. Y’all want to hang out with us. Play some more music.”
“You know it Bishop Josh,” (that’s what Chris calls me).

We stayed up until 3a.m. playing hymns, worship on the piano and drums. At one point, I looked at Chris and said, “Hey man . . . let’s do some Ray Charles. ‘Georgia . . .Georgia . . The whole day through.’”

“Nah,” Chris replied. “I only play Gospel.”

Both friends stayed the night with us. By the time I woke up Saturday morning, Chris was gone. All his stuff packed as if he'd been sent by God to bless us and leave before the morning sun appeared on the horizon.

11 March 2008


A good friend of mine sent this to me recenly. Anyone else think of B.B. King's "When Love Comes to Town" when viewing this photo?

10 March 2008

The Bible and The Color of Water

Tonight, I begin co-teaching Luke-Acts for ministry majors at Rochester College. I usually begin the class the way I was taught by one close friend: we talk about Scripture.

I will inevitably talk about two important elements of reading and interpreting the Bible. By the way, simply reading is interpretation. First, we’ll discuss location. Physical location is crucial for, as is the case with real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. Where you read shapes what you read. Most people read the bible individually in a cozy space. However, what if you read, for instance, Jesus words about wealth and simplicity in the slums of Calcutta? Or the suburbs of Dallas, Texas? One’s physical location directly determines one’s “found meaning.”

Also, we will discuss social location. Who you are, shapes what you read. I’ve now taught for three years at the college level with students from all different perspectives. I can tell you that white men read the bible quite differently than black women (just one example). The point: we must read the bible in various spaces with various people to experience the rich depth and power of God’s story. I will never forget the time an African American female student twice my age stood up after I retold the Ruth/Boaz story and declared, "Josh, I'm still looking for my Boaz."

After talking about “location” we’ll discuss “nature.” I’ll deconstruct the myth that the bible is a rule-book or collection of timeless principles and (attempt to) make the case that the Bible was meant to be reading as a holy unfolding drama in which you and I are just as vital to the Message as was Lydia, Phoebe, Paul, and Peter.


I was able to read The Color of Water last week during the early morning hours of life in the city. It’s an amazing piece of American cultural life. This biography is about the life of a white Jewish woman who marries a black man during the 1940’s in New York City and her subsequent journey of raising “mixed” children in a politically divisive world. The author, James McBride, is the product of this woman’s determination and love for he is one of her sons.

The book challenges many assumptions that under-girds politics in these United States, both left and right, political and conservative. It’s a story of family, suffering, poverty, identity, faith, Jesus, and hope. I suggest it to anyone wrestling with the question, “What does it mean to be human?”

08 March 2008

The "D"

I just returned from our annual Rochester College/Rochester Church of Christ Urban Formation Week.

It was, to say the least, a great week. I'm worn out. 

I'll write more in the coming days (I think).

For now . . . I'll simply say this. Perhaps more than most places, Detroit is the ultimate paradox. There is an abundance of life, creativity, history, energy, diversity, talent, light and hope. And yet, there is an equal amount of death, stagnation, despair, idleness, homogeneous tribalism, darkness, and depression. I love Detroit and I mourn for Detroit--all in the same breath. 

God is on the move. I saw that truth up close and personal.

Out of the ashes . . . God does his best work.