31 August 2008


One of the big (if not biggest) debates happening in philosophical/religious circles is the nature of truth. There are all kinds of complex words one could throw in at this point . . . but that only caters to a select few. Suffice to say, the discussion of truth is paramount . . . especially if a church is serious about entering into culture (where people are currently "at") to offer a word of grace, forgiveness and hope (Paul called this "the ministry of reconciliation").

Let me use a baseball analogy here to illustrate how different people perceive truth. I did not come up with this, it's pretty common.

The first umpire says, "I call balls and I call strikes." Let's call this the naive objectivist viewpoint. This view is as arrogant as the next, though most in this camp would not admit this the case. The naive objectivist believes that truth is universal (for all times and places), transcending "particularities." For instance, for many years, sophisticated culture believed that the universe revolved around the earth (how convenient!) . . . now we know better for the earth, in fact, revolves around the sun.

The second umpire says, "It's not a ball until I call it a ball. It's not a strike until I say it's a strike." This is the arrogant subjectivist perspective. In this view, truth is always relative, contextual to my own understanding and/or experience. This understanding of epistemology (how we know what we know, or how we arrive at what we know) is suspicious of overarching stories (sometimes called metanarratives) which make absolute claims about reality. Why? Because for too long, these overarching stories have been used (e.g. science, religion) to silence minority voices, kill innocent people, inflict pain upon people who would not "convert" to a particular system.

The third umpire says, "I call it like I see it. If I think it's a strike, that's what I'll call." I like this view because it offers a third way. It rises above the first umpire because it admits that I make truth claims out of my own experience. I cannot NOT be me. It critiques the second umpire because it ultimately wants to make some kind of conviction about reality and life; some kind of moral structure to one's life.

One wise thinker is often quoted (at least by me) for his summary of this entire discussion. "I believe in absolute truth (also known in Christianity as God) but not in my ability to understand God absolutely."

If you think the previous is "bunk" at least this might provide you a framework for understanding how many in North America approach religion and values. How people arrive at "truth" means everything for how Christians do evangelism, church, gospel, faith, and community.

More on that to come.

30 August 2008

Same Kind of Different as Me

I won't spoil the plot . . . but, if you get a chance, check out the book Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore.

All I'll say is this. I was exhausted last night. I picked up to read a few chapters and ended up staying up halfway through the night to finish. I laughed, cried (but hey, I watch Chick Flick's . . . remember?), and I felt a sense of deep hope for this broken world.

It begins outside a burning plantation hut in Louisiana... and an East Texas honky-tonk... and, without a doubt, in the heart of God. It unfolds in a Hollywood hacienda... an upscale New York Gallery... a downtown dumpster... a Texas ranch. Gritty with pain and betrayal and brutality, it also shines with an unexpected, life-changing love.


In the spirit of Elie Wiesel (see posts from last week), I've decided I'm not going to blog about politics until after the election. There are many reasons, some good, some not so good . . . however . . . the venom being unleashed by Christians (right and left) is disturbing and I don't want to contribute to that in any way these next twelve plus weeks. So, that's my promise. I'm fasting from blogging about politics. If you are Republican, Democrat or independent . . . please show humility and grace to those around you.

29 August 2008

Lipscomb and Nashvegas

Thursday night, I had the honor (and scary proposition) of speaking at the opening graduate chapel for the students in the (ol' alma mater) Hazelip School of Theology. It's an exciting time around Lipscomb, there are so many things a changin'. The faculty is as good as any other faculty in Churches of Christ. I would highly suggest anyone considering going back to do graduate work in theology or ministry . . . do your homework and see what Mark Black, Terry Briley, John York, Philip Camp, John Mark Hicks, Lee Camp, George Goldman, David Fleer, Earl Lavender and company are dreaming for the future of theological training.

Lee gave a charge to all of the students near the end of our time of worship. It was brilliant. I'm going to try and get my hands on it soon.


This morning, I hung out with Doug Sanders. I thought I had a heart for the city. Doug took me from housing projects to shelters to a meeting regarding the incredible work being done by ROCKETOWN (Michael W. Smith's brainchild). I met several men and women who've given their life to working with people who lack a voice in mainstream culture. I could not believe how many of the workers, directors, and homeless people knew Doug by first name . . . the second he got out of his car, "Doug . . . what's up brother?"

Doug is going to help me with the leadership track (Th/Fri) for the upcoming ZOE Conference Nashville. If you haven't signed up for ZOE Nashville . . . the clock's ticking.

26 August 2008


If you have a chance to read Wade Hodges blog today on church leadership, do it.


After my freshmen year of basketball at the college level (which, no matter level that is, is so far removed from the world of high school sports) I decided that I wanted to transfer to a different school. Partly because I thought I should've played (I red-shirted that year), partly because I wanted to get out and see more of the "world"--something I'd get to do for grad school by living in Nashville and Abilene. I went to my coach, Garth Pleasant, who I've written about on this blog in the past . . . and the conversation went something like this.

"Coach, I want to be up front with you. I'm thinking about going to ______ instead next year."
"Yes. I've thought this over" (I'd pondered this decision for all of two weeks) " . . . and I think this is what I'd like to do."
"Well, I'm really surprised to hear you say that. We have big plans for you. We want you to be here. We think you have a chance to be a really good college player."

Something clicked inside of me in that moment. In my immature mind, I thought leaving was the answer. I thought my surroundings were the result of feeling depressed. The truth is always much more complicated than that. The truth is that what I was really looking for affirmation, for someone to say, "we value you" and "you have a place here." Instead I masked that need for something else.

This happens on college campuses all the time. Happens in marriages, at churches . . . we think that if our circumstances change, our hearts (and general disposition) will follow. This simply isn't the case. If it's true that "the hardest place to live is right where we are", as one great thinker has written, than "right where we are" is the only place God can break into our life.

It's also a reminder to us "leaders"--sometimes people aren't following us because we've simply failed to ask.

I decided to stay and play for Coach Pleasant for four more years. Four of the best years of my life.

25 August 2008

As I prepared to preach at Rochester Church yesterday . . . these words were on my mind: "For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, 'Do it again' to the sun; and every evening, 'Do it again' to the moon . . . It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we." --G.K. Chesterton

I know I've posted that before . . . but I love this depiction of God.

I was able to watch the U.S. Men's basketball team defeat Spain (thanks to modern technology). What an incredible game. One has to give credit to Spain for constantly coming back just when it looked like the game was over. If not for some guy who speaks fluent Italian (Kobe), Spain might have the gold instead. That was a fantastic game to watch. I still think this team is a notch down from the original Dream Team of 1992.

23 August 2008

Wiesel Continued . . .

I don't quite know how to describe the Elie Wiesel event from this past week. Patrick's recollection contains a great story.

The auditorium was at capacity by 6:30 p.m.--Wiesel didn't enter the room until 7:20 p.m. When he finally entered, the entire room (about 950-1000) erupted in sincere applause. There's something special about having a force like Wiesel in a smaller, more intimate setting. I suppose it would be similar to listening to Eric Clapton play in a smaller venue, or hearing Maya Angelou recite her work in a high school auditorium. The venue was large enough for the event to feel important, small enough that the audience felt like participants, not spectators (as happens in church most Sundays).

As for the speech . . . Wiesel stood in one spot the entire 50 minute presentation. He weaved rabbinic wisdom and story-telling, with personal wisdom and lessons regarding "the power of language for forgiveness and reconciliation." There were times he strayed into philosophical fields and historical nuance, but, for the overwhelming majority of his speech, he kept the diverse crowd within reach.

There were too many great quotes to list in their entirety (e.g. "I am defined by me relation to you. If I honor you I honor God. If I dishonor God I dishonor you." Or . . . "After the Holocaust, of any other profession, writers committed suicide at a higher rate than any other profession. Why? Because, writers need words to make sense of their life. And survivors of the Holocaust shared one conviction in common: we had no words for the abandonment we'd experienced." Or . . . "A handshake sometimes has the weight of a poem." Or . . . If Auschwitz did not end racism in the West, what could?")

Wiesel shared several incredible stories of his work in reconciliation with well-known world conflicts and leaders. One story lingers in my heart . . .

Following Nelson Mandela's release from prison, Wiesel held a reconciliation conference in which he invited the then President of South Africa, along with Mandela. After listening to Wiesel and Mandela describe the brutality of ethnic genocide and institutional racism, the young president stood up and declared to the entire audience, "I was born into apartheid, it's all I've ever known. My fervent wish is that I now am able to attend its funeral."

We only get one brief shot to make a difference in this world. Most of us might not have the opportunity (or burden) to impact the world to the degree of Elie Wiesel. I am certain however, that with our very words, we can create and heal more worlds than we'd ever thought possible. I left the Wiesel event with more hope than I've had in a long time. Enough hope to think that God might do his best work in the midst of human chaos and suffering.

22 August 2008

Cardboard Testimony

When you get a chance, watch what Richland Hills Church did recently in their gathering time recently. What a powerful reminder that all of us have a story of life, death, and resurrection. I'm grateful that Churches of Christ have a church like Richland Hills which is willing to re-imagine and re-think the task of reaching those who don't know Jesus. The mission drives everything they do.

21 August 2008


I'm about to enter our auditorium where, in one hour, Elie Wiesel will speak about reconciliation to a room full of Gentiles (some Christian, some not) and Jews. I am looking forward to this more than Michael Jordan's last game against the Pistons (as a Bull) in 1998.

Here are some of my favorite lines from Messengers of God:

"In the face of injustice, one may not look the other way. When someone suffers, and it is not you, he comes first . . . to watch over a man who grieves is a more urgent duty than to think of God," (57).

"According to Jewish tradition, creation did not end with man, it began with him. When He created man, God gave him a secret--and that secret was not how to begin but how to begin again," (32).

"Leaving the calm of the desert, Moses plunged into the whirlpool of history," (190). And, commenting on God's decision not to let Moses enter the promised land, "Who knows? Perhaps God's decision not to let him enter the promised land was meant as a reward rather than as punishment," (199).

UPDATE: Wiesel was fantastic. I'm absolutely speechless. If I find the words, I'll write more later.

20 August 2008


Every couple has to figure out how to work through difficult times and disagreements. Kara and I are very open that we sometimes clash due to our unusually stubborn personalities. Seriously, we are not afraid of conflict with each other, and we will challenge each other whenever we see fit.

Having said that . . . it's important, in my estimation, to develop a bond that transcends likes/dislikes/hobbies/gifts. On paper, Kara and I don't have a lot in common (other than the fact that we check "white" on most forms or surveys). We've learned to do new things together (we both enjoyed dance class, and love going to Tigers baseball games) . . .but we're still very different people.

Over the last few years, we've begun to discover what holds us together: we've learned to laugh together. That might sound trite, and it might not hold up under intense theological inquiry but I think it's actually pretty healthy.

Whether it's a quick one-liner (like the time Kara responded, "Don't look in the mirror" when I complained about getting older), or the regular "scare tactic" (recently Kara placed a horrible, ugly mask in the kitchen cupboard right before she asked me, rather innocently, to get her a glass of water). We've learned to laugh at each other . . . more importantly . . . we're learning to laugh at ourselves.

Laughter has been the tangible expression of grace in our marriage.

19 August 2008

The Perfect Time of Year

Today marks the beginning of a new college semester. I love this time of year. Students are back on campus at RC, energy is ever-increasing. RC is under new leadership this year; Rubel Shelly is serving as President. Though we became close in a different context (I interned at Woodmont Hills his final year), I have enjoyed watching the creativity, excellence and life he's already brought to campus.

Rubel's a fantastic thinker, writer, teacher, and minister (I tell people he gets more done by 9am than I do in an entire day). More than anyone I know, Rubel is a pure leader. He has that rare ability to draw people into his vision and convictions and I'm confident that his tenure (however long or short) will be a tremendous blessing for RC. The dozens of men and women who serve as faculty and staff at RC deserve to have such a leader at this critical juncture in the life of the school.

I'm constantly challenged to rethink my own vocation in light of his influence. There are certain things (the "it" factor) you can't buy or get with a degree . . . Rubel has that "thing."

Rochester College is hosting an evening with Elie Wiesel (one of the most important voices of the twentieth century in my humble opinion) Thursday night at our church. I read Messengers of God last year and now consider it my "go to Torah supplement"--I can't wait to sit up close as he challenges our community.

18 August 2008

Monday Reflections

Our vacation in Florida with Josh and Kayci was great . . . exactly what we needed. We are now ready for grad school/doctoral work (Kara at OU, me with Columbia), work, and everything else on the horizon. I'm sure Kara will continue to post great pictures.

I made a little list to remember this vacation/sabbath (a "by the number" if you will) :

(7) Olympic viewing sessions
(6) Snickers Ice Cream Bars
(5) Beach Bullpen sessions (I was Papplebon, Josh was Rodriguez from the Angels)
(4) Body Surfing expeditions with Kara (I'm sore today, do you feel sorry for me?)
(3) Good movies (Dark Night being one of them)
(2) Mini-golf competitions (I'm undefeated)
(2) Great books (Thousand Splendid Suns, Year of Magical Thinking)
(1) Best friend
(0) Regrets

= Sabbath Rest for the busy fall ahead!


I'm preparing to teach a new course for Rochester College this semester--Issues in Culture and Evangelism. Instead of doing a lecture-only experience, this course will be a discussion-centered course with heavy reading and dialog. For the course, they will read: The Shaping of Things to Come, Father Joe, Blue Like Jazz, A New Kind of Christian, and The Shack.

I'm sure there will be a great deal of great ideas and reflection coming out of this course. Let's just hope these students are ready to read.

09 August 2008

Michael Phelps is an absolute stud. He's in the same category as Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Joe Montana, and Babe Ruth.

I just watched him win his first gold medal at these Olympics.


If you missed last night's opening ceremonies for the Summer Olympics, find someone who taped/recorded the four hour extravaganza. I was blown away . . . speechless. Kara is the biggest Olympics fan I know--she has the schedule printed out, color-coded, ready to roll.


One of our elders at Rochester sent this link to me. These stories, as I pointed out a few weeks ago, rarely make it to mainstream dialog in our churches.

08 August 2008

Thin Spaces

This week has been full of "thin spaces"--the place where God and humanity intersect (see Celtic spirituality for more on that phrase).

1. Kara and I spent a few evenings together, hanging out, playing scrabble, reading books, and enjoying the sudden hilarious joke or one-liner (of which she has no equal).

2. Earlier in the week, I ate lunch with some good friends in Royal Oak. None of these friends would consider themselves Christian, yet, they are deeply spiritual people (c.f. they value honesty, friendship, transcendence, and love). We talked for two hours about the existence of God, Jesus, Christianity in relationship to world religions, politics, and an upcoming wedding. I worked hard to "represent" a robust Christianity--whether or not I was effective . . . I have no idea. One of these friends is a successful musician. His band is playing with Dave Matthews Band all summer. During the conversation I asked myself, "what kind of church/gospel/Jesus would it take for this friend to catch a vivid glimpse of God?" I'm still wrestling with that question . . .

3. Kara and I watched Larry King's interview (I absolutely love Larry King, btw) with Steven Curtis Chapman and his family. That was an incredible conversation. The depth and honesty exhibited by the entire family was a great representation of the power of family.

4. Last but not least. We're getting ready for a little "get-away" before the semester starts at Rochester College. Today, I get to swing by B and N, and pick up some new novels.

06 August 2008

The Lion Will Lie Down with the Man?

Any video set to Whitney Houston's music is solid. Add one of creations greatest animals and you have a match made in heaven. If you have not seen this film, it's incredible.

Who's Telling the Story?

I recently came across a story regarding the human brain. The story began by describing the genius of Virginia Woolf’s writing—specifically her propensity to create complex, paradoxical characters in Mrs. Dalloway. According to the author, Woolf had the ability to create real characters who were at one moment full of joy, the next, drowning in despair—and she was able to do so in way that felt incredibly “accurate” to our everyday experiences. Woolf writes from the inside of the “diffused, despaired mind” begging the reader to ask “what is that that holds me together?” If it’s true, as scientists tell us, that there is no single cell that performs the role of the “center”—what is the “there there?” What holds a single human together? Full of contradiction, opposing sentiment—the search for the “glue” becomes the chief obstacle for neuroscientists.

The writer began with this introduction because he was interested in recent discoveries regarding the human brain. It seems that recently, scientists and doctors have made great strides in understanding the relationship of the “right brain” and “left brain” within the human person (a fascinating area to read and research). In order to understand the relationship, doctors severed the nerves or connecting points between each side of the brain in patients who suffered from epilepsy and mysterious seizures.

The discovery made by doctors was remarkable. They found, that if the right/left brain were severed, a person, over the course of time, could actually develop as two people within one. A man, for instance, would fight himself over reading a book. He would open the book with one hand, and shut it with the other . . . turn the light on with one hand, turn the light off with the other hand. Once the mysterious connection between the (now) polarizing regions had been severed, the patients became a person at odds within their own person.

Fundamentally, we are narrative creatures. This is why the writer began with the observation regarding the writing of Virginia Woolf. She knew, decades before these scientists, that humans are complex creatures. Art and science are just now coming together on this issue. I personally think one could go back even earlier to, let’s say, the character of Jacob in Genesis.

Most important in this discussion is the notion that humans are people who primarily learn within the context of a story. We remember in narrative fashion. We react in narrative fashion. We look towards the future in narrative fashion. When the patients mentioned in this study went about the rehabilitation process, they did so within the context of stories—trying to remember where they used to go, who they used to go with, why they used to behave in certain fashion. The only way a human can perform the previous is by remembering and retelling the stories of their lives.

At the conclusion of the piece, the writer asked an innocent but provocative question, “We are narrative creatures . . . that’s for sure . . . But the question remains: we cannot for certain determine the identity of the one who is telling the story.”

01 August 2008

Changing My Mind

The sign of maturity is the ability for one to admit that he/she might be wrong about certain elements of life. Here's a brief list of things "I've changed my mind on."

Sprite has been replaced by Dr. Pepper (though I'm considering going back).

A marathon is not as fun as a triathlon.

I now enjoy (watching and playing) baseball much more than football.

I prefer liturgy, prayers, and scripture reading to more emotional expressions of worship.

I used to think that leasing a car was foolish . . . but we currently lease one!

Other things I now believe . . .

Mondays are as spiritual as Sundays.

Softball is a legit sport.

Snickers Ice Cream Bars are better than Cookies N Cream.

Chick Flick's can be redemptive.

Rifle is easier to shoot than a handgun.

Knowing God intellectually isn't as important as knowing God relationally.

Formerly I was convinced that a marriage's most important element was "chemistry"--now I believe it is commitment, and the community in which you invest yourself.

Regular t-shirts have replaced the "tank-top" t-shirt.

Cooking on the grill is as satisfactory as going out to eat.

(Some) Churches of Christ have a great chance to thrive in the postmodern world.

Classical music is more stimulating than rock/rap.

Having a college degree is not as important as being a person who knows "how" to think and not "what to think."

Taking the Lord's Supper every week is vital to my spiritual walk.

Sedans are just cool as a truck.

Mowing the yard can be a spiritual discipline (so can eating).

Books are better than movies.

Current T.V. programs are superior (plot, character) than most films.

A.L is better than N.L. in MLB.

Laughter is the best medicine (not serious dialog).

New York is the best city in the United States (NOT L.A.).

Becoming a good writer is one of the hardest things to do in life.

I respect people who, throughout their life, have the courage and ability to change their mind on the little things, as well as the big things (religion, politics, relationships).

What have you changed your mind on?