29 November 2008

LIFE OF PI

For the book junkies out there . . . if you want an incredible read for the coming weeks, check out LIFE OF PI. I cant' get enough of this book. I'm going slow because I don't want to come to the end.

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").

Missing from the Table

NOTE: I write this blog post in light of my brother-in-law (Ray) who is serving his third tour of duty in the U.S. military. Ray--we can't wait until you come home in a few weeks.

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.

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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

Sex and the Church

If this isn't holistic discipleship . . . I don't know what is. Seriously. I don't think a woman would ever come up with this idea.

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.

Prep

The week leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas are the only two weeks I find difficult to prepare to preach/teach. I am anxious to watch movies, get in extra work-outs, watch RC hoop games, spend time with family, etc. This week, we're starting a new series at Rochester Church called Visitation. It's our version of advent.

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

Who Ministers to the Minister?

(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

The Weekend

This weekend was eventful. I flew to Mission, Texas Friday (just north of the Mexico border) to speak at the North Mission Family/Youth Conference for a group of churches in that area. I only get asked to do one or two youth events a year. I'm fine with that. I really am. I personally think it is the hardest age group for me to connect to. I'm grateful for people like David Fraze, Patrick, et al who can speak powerfully into the lives of our teens. I'm more comfortable with a diverse audience.

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

Pocket of Sunshine

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

Looking for God

An American flag sits atop the Masonic Temple building located in the heart of Cass Corridor. It's ripped down the middle. The shredded cloth flops violently in the winter swirl. From the top of this building one can see the hundreds of homeless and almost-homeless men and women who live in one of the roughest sections of downtown Detroit.

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.

Cass Park

Unknown woman in Cass Park

Josh and Vivian (we've been friends for four years now)

My friend Courtney Strahan took these photos in Cass Park yesterday. I'll write more about our time there in the coming days.







15 November 2008

The Definition of a Saint

This is from Tony Hendra's memoir, Father Joe (4).

"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.

Scars and Secrets (Part Three)

Those who believed that Jesus was indeed God's messiah could not help but read Torah differently. They saw Jesus all over creation, in the the story of Abraham and Isaac, appearing in the wrestling match between Jacob and God/angel/man. Just to name a few.

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··' ); 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

Scars and Secrets (Part Two)

"I hear addicts talk about the shakes and panic attacks and the highs and lows of resisting their habit, and to some degree I understand them because I have had habits of my own, but no drug is so powerful as the drug of self. No rut in the mind is so deep as the one that says I am the world, the world belongs to me, all people are characters in my play. There is no addiction so powerful as self-addiction."

---Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz (pg. 182)

12 November 2008

Scars and Secrets (Part One)

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 Wichita, Kansas. I was at the mall with my next door neighbor who challenged me to a race. I took off at Michael Phelps type speed, and he decided his best chance to beat me was to trip me from behind. I went falling into a sharp indoor street lamp. The next thing I knew, I was laying in the ER, face-up, staring into a bright light with a doctor holding stitches, analyzing my grill.

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, “Graves, Graves, Graves.” That was the first and last time I’ve ever been knocked out.

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 Lipscomb University in Nashville. A teammate and I were lifting weights, getting ready for the Big Game the next night. There was only one other person in the weight room—a young athletic girl. We learned later she was a volleyball player. After we left the weight room, she started to feel ill. She went to her dorm room to lie down. During the night she became deathly ill. She died from meningitis. Just like that . . . a young athletic twenty-something dead.

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

Holy Brawl!?

When it comes to Jerusalem, you hear a lot about the tension between people of the Jewish and Muslim faiths, but not so much about the Christians, who also consider it a sacred city. A recent scuffle at one of the holiest spots in all of Christendom, however, reminds us that they're a fragmented people as well, with plenty of long-standing beefs among the various sects. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher - a Christian church located within the walled city of Jerusalem on what is believed to be the spot of Christ's crucifixion, burial, and resurrection - was the setting for a violent clash between groups of Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks this morning.

To read the rest of the article, click here.


To watch this Truth-Is-Stranger-Than-Fiction episode, click here.

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And I thought the fights were bad in the churches I've been a part of . . .

07 November 2008

Jesus Feast

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

A Scholar's Parrot

From C.S. Lewis . . .

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.

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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

The Dust is Beginning to Settle

For the last several weeks, I've fasted from commenting about the Presidential race. I am, like so many, glad the race is finally over. I was very disappointed with some of the rhetoric used back and forth from Democrats and Republicans regarding the other candidates. That some Christians joined in the fear-based, truth-skewing, rumor-mill is something I hope to be able to discuss with people one-on-one in the coming months.

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.

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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

Brueggemann Disciples



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.