30 September 2008

ZOE Nashville

There are very few conferences Kara and I get to attend together. Actually, there are very few conferences either of us would necessarily want to be at together. However, this weekend is the exception. One of the highlights of the year, ZOE Nashville is this Thursday through Saturday at Woodmont Hills Church. Thursday and Friday is the leadership conference. Friday and Saturday is the worship conference.

I'm leading sessions"mission in the city" (scripture intersecting the urban context) and "preaching/teaching as public leadership" (with emphasis on media and film). In all, seven sessions.

First on the agenda Thursday morning . . . Kara and I will eat at Pancake Pantry. One friend told me recently, "They have special assessment programs for people with Pancake Pantry fetishes!" If there is a rehab place in America for people addicted to Caribbean pancakes, book me a reservation.

26 September 2008

Emerging Artist at Rochester Church

A few years ago, Chris Lindsey and I created EA at Rochester Church. EA (known as Emerging Artist Night) was created to give both Rochester Church artists and artists from our local community a space to demonstrate their talents and gifts inspiring all to see ourselves as artists. Two theological convictions drive this experience. First, God is an artist. This is the first lesson we learn about God in Genesis. Second, God chooses to reveal himself locally. God is not interested in abstract descriptions for he is a God that is about moving into real spaces and neighborhoods. Because our church is primarily committed to being in the Rochester Community--we have to reach and develop artists who help us to understand true beauty, justice, spirituality, and relationships.

Wednesday night was another EA night. It was powerful. From new songs to film, to another great sessions with Peter LeClair and Carmen Paradise (a.k.a. The Marvins)--it was a night to remember. Peter unveiled a new song, Mr. Foolish 2, inspired by my encouragement for them to watch The Notebook (of all movies) during our mentoring sessions prior to their wedding. We also had a special guest--my friend, Paul Blackburn from Gomez Band, showed up to play a little guitar. Kara and I had dinner with Peter, Carmen, Paul, Rachelle (and Rachelle's mom) afterwards and talked about life, love, music, spirituality, marketing in America, life in the U.K, Lars and the Real Girl, and Bono (of course).

Here's a video from Gomez. I love this song.

24 September 2008

Senate Prayer

Please join me in prayer . . .

We acknowledge God as Creator and Sustainer of this world.
You have charged us to be good stewards of your creation and your children.
We confess our fragility in this project for we sometimes fall short of this vision.

At times, we vote out of fear.
At times, we don’t tell the truth because the truth won’t get us what we want.
At times, we spin reality, hoping our creative tales will buy us one more day.

Hear our confession today.

Republican, Democrat and Libertarian—we pray to the same God, read from the same holy texts, and attempt to interpret the same constitution. Yet, our understandings of You, our implementation of holy texts and our convictions regarding the constitution are varying, often at odds.

We pray you would comfort those who are broken, distressed, and without hope.

We ask that you give those of us who have been blessed the courage to live our lives as a blessings to everyone around us.

Help us to take our jobs seriously, knowing that work is a gift from You.
Help us not to take ourselves too seriously, lest we think our passions and beliefs are the most important.

As we work today, remind us that “the future belongs to the creatively maladjusted.”
As we work today, remind us that we are all caught up in “an inescapable mutuality.”
As we work today, remind us that there is no greater love than that which compels one human to lay down their life for another.

You created us from dust, and to dust we shall return. That you have breathed life into all of us is something we cannot ever fully comprehend.

This knowledge dares us to live a life worth believing in.


22 September 2008

Prayer for the Senate

Tomorrow morning, I'm offering the opening prayer for the Michigan State Senate in Lansing. Alan Sanborn, a state senator who is a part of our church family, recently invited me.

In your estimation, the culturally savvy Christian engaged with the world, . . . what would you pray about were you in my shoes?

21 September 2008


Recently I (with the help of generous church supporters) purchased three eight-foot tables. The tables cost $76 a piece. Three tables plus tax . . . $237. The tables aren't much to look at. They are white with gray legs. The tables are plastic. Much lighter than the old wooden tables which still collect cob webs and spilled apple pie in many churches and synagogues all over this country. As we loaded up for Cass Park, I scribbled, in elementary-esque handwriting (due to awkward grooves clearly not designed for writing) Cass Park

Today, we put those tables to use in Cass Park. 

On these tables rested chicken, potato salad, cake, snacks, lemonade, water, pop, toothbrushes, deodorant, plates, forks, napkins, spoons and knives. Plastic utensils of course. 

Without these tables, the afternoon is awkward and artificial. Without the food, social power games of old rear their ugly head. 

With the tables (and the excellent food) . . . conversations break out, prayers rise up from the sidewalks, stories are told and re-told (and told again), friendships are renewed. Laughter then replaces a scowl, and despair gives away to hope. The trees are a bit greener. The sun is slightly brighter. The air, a little more pleasant. 

Christianity is a strange religion indeed. Brilliant but strange. 

God takes the ordinary things of life and turns everything upside down. Water. Blood. Food. Wine. Feet. Fishing. Perfume. Bread. And . . . of course tables.  

"Want to change the world?" I can hear Jesus ask his disciples. "Pay attention to your tables."

18 September 2008


Lao Tsu once wrote:

Go to the people
Live with them,
Learn from them,
Love them.
Start with what they know,
Build with what they have,
But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task
The people will say,
We have done it ourselves


Last night, during our mid-week service, several of our college students participated in our Can I Get a Witness? series; discussing their six-week immersion into life in Uganda with the Jinja Mission Team. They told stories, read poems, testified to the difficulty of being American in Africa, bore witness to the love and hope springing forth from poverty and H.I.V. . . . I could not be more proud of these emerging leaders and their commitment to live for the sake of others. "Don't ask what the world needs. Instead, ask what makes you come alive . . . because what the world needs is people who've come alive."

17 September 2008

Silence and News from U2

Richard Foster recently had this to say when asked "what is the discipline that you think we need to be exploring more at this point?"

Solitude. It is the most foundational of the discipline of abstinence . . . The evangelical passion for engagement with the world is good. But as Thomas a Kempis says, the only person who's safe to travel is the person who's free to stay at home. And Pascal said that we would solve the world's problems if we just learned to sit in our room alone. . . .

And of course, you can't be alone unless you've learned to be with people. Solitude teaches us to live in the presence of God so that we can be with people in a way that helps them and does not manipulate them.


New Testament scholar and close friend Greg Stevenson recently shared this breaking news on the U2 front regarding their upcoming album (and future in general).

‘This is our chance for us to defy gravity once again, ‘ explains Bono, calling in from a break in recording sessions in the south of France. ‘ We have what it takes, we have the songs, new rhythms and a guitar player who is not ready to re-enter earth's atmosphere until he's taken a slice of the moon!

12 September 2008

Believe What is Already True . . .

I've found myself drawn to this quote over and over again this week.

"We don't serve God to gain His acceptance; we are accepted, so we serve God. We don't follow Him to be loved; we are loved, so we follow Him. It is not what we do that determines who we are; it is who we are that determines what we do . . . To live the victorious Christian life you have to believe what is already true about you,” (Neil Anderson in Victory over Darkness).

10 September 2008

Teacher Man

Today is Kara's first day of substitute teaching. She started a graduate degree in education recently and decided to get out of the bank world and into the classroom.

As she left this morning, I was reminded of my one-year stint as a substitute school teacher in the Metro Nashville Public School System while I was finishing seminary. Nashville Public Schools is an interesting outfit. The overwhelming majority of students are minorities for, unlike Metro Detroit for instance, most of the white kids in Nashville attend a private school. Anyone who's taught in Nashville will attest to this. It's unusual. While I don't think every child should enroll in public school, I'm also skeptical of the idea of those who believe every child must, in the name of family values, be home-schooled or private-schooled. Every child is different. It's complicated. Jesus seemed awfully interested in being salt, light, cities on hills.

Laotian. Hispanic. Kurdish. Black. These were the four major groups I interacted with the year I taught in Nashville.

These kids are bussed all over the city, to sit in the classrooms which used to be filled with the more affluent white children. When Jim Crow Segregation fell in the South, the complexion of the school system changed. Some say Jim Crow didn't die; Jim Crow just went under-ground.

I will never forget one of my first teaching experiences in MNPS.

I reported to an elementary school on the east side of town in a well known Hispanic- Latino section. I was to teach First Grade.

I reported early (I frequently left our apartment early for fear that the engine in my Dodge would overheat, leaving me stranded and unable to get to the minimal paying job) and began to take attendance. These kids were shy. More so than most six and seven-year-olds.

We stumbled through the beginning, the Pledge, and the morning story-time. Late in the morning, I took the students to music class. One of teachers struck up small talk with me.

"So, how's the morning going so far?"

"Pretty good," I said mustering the most bravado one could hope for in light of the fact that as a substitute, I was a recognized, ordained, labeled Outsider.

"So, do you speak Spanish?"

"Me? No. I ummm . . . I had four years of French. No Spanish though."

"Wow. How are you connecting with the kids? You do know that it's an ESL class?"

In that moment, I ran the call letters E-S-L through my head a dozen times. ESL, ESL, ESL . . . I know that code. It's code for . . . oh my . . . it's code for English as a Second Language. My face must have turned into the same face I make when I drink sour milk.

"Oh, sure. It's a little difficult but were managing," I whispered with a lump in my throat.

Immediately, I turned around, walked back to my classroom. It turned out that I was "teaching" (if you could call it that) a class with students who barely, if at all, spoke English. No wonder I'd received large smiles and blank stares the entire morning.

Oh mon dieu. Que pasa?

09 September 2008

He Sent Them to Galilee . . .

“Only novels know of time machines reversing the tides of the centuries. The myth of a return to the golden age is more pagan than Christian. Christ did not leave his disciples with a promise to lead them back to the Garden of Eden. He sent them to Galilee . . . to the world of humble tasks, trials, sickness, sorrows which he had encountered in his ministry, and to the hopes, struggles, and expectations of common folk," Lucien Legrand in The Bible on Culture

05 September 2008


Christ Church Macomb (our first multi-site effort for the Rochester Church) launched in March of this year. I'll never forget that Sunday for it was a day to remember for many reasons.

I had been planning to spend all week (immediately following the launch day) in Cass Park with several students from Rochester College for an Urban Plunge. This is our annual urban spiritual formation retreat, one of the highlights of the year for me. Because we were coming from Cass Park, where we'd just fed almost 300 people, I decided to invite a few of my homeless friends to the opening worship gathering of Christ Church. I thought they would enjoy it . . . and I thought it would be good for the folks present at the launch.

About halfway through the time of worship, a friend tapped on my shoulder. "They need you in the men's bathroom right away."

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"They need you now."

Kara was sitting with me. Sitting next to her was one of our friends from Cass Park, Aleeya. I told both of them, "I'll be right back."

As I approached the bathroom, some of our students explained to me what had happened. One of our friends from Cass Park decided to make the most of the excellent facilities. Frank, an older man with a deep Caribbean accent almost impossible to interpret, was now standing mostly naked (work with me here) in the bathroom, in front of the sink, giving himself a make-shift bath.

Later, Ashley Harrison would report the reaction of the school janitor (CC:M meets in an elementary school) who, many of us have determined, talks exactly like Joe Pesci. "Ashley," in his high pitch tone, ". . . Ashley . . . this can't happen. He's naked."

Ashley handled the situation like a champ.

Eventually we got Frank dressed, disaster averted. The funniest part of this entire story happened a few days later when I e-mailed the leadership team of CC:M with a simple one line response: "Team: CCM's tag-line all year has been 'Come as you are' . . . I suppose Frank really believed this."

Sunday is the re-launch. I don't think Frank will be there. If he shows up, however, we'll make room. There's always room for Frank in this family.

04 September 2008


Christ Church Macomb is moving to a new time this Sunday. Join us for a great morning of worship and testimony followed by a block part from noon to three p.m. Worship begins at 10:30 a.m.


My friend in Nashville, Lee Camp, is continuing his interesting work of bringing together religion, music, art, and literature (among other things). Check this site out.

NOTE: I had the wrong site for the Lee Camp link. I apologize, it's now fixed!

02 September 2008


Kara is quite the organizer.

Recently, she went through a bunch of drawers, boxes, and files . . . in that process I found a card she'd written to me a few years back. Here's an excerpt:

". . . [T]o try and put into words the experience and feelings of the past two years is impossible. Yes, some days are rough, but if I could only live two years, it would be the last two. You have showed me a new and true part of myself, I have learned to love deeper and live out loud 'louder' since falling in love with you."

I would not trade these moments for anything under the sun.