28 February 2009


When people ask me where I grew up, I usually respond by saying "Michigan/Detroit" but follow-up quickly by adding, "but I spent a good part of my childhood in Wichita, Kansas (hence my love/addiction/loyalty to Kansas hoops).

My (twin) brother and I were almost three when we moved from Detroit to Wichita. Almost nine when we moved back to Detroit. My sister, three years older than the twins, still regards her childhood in Kansas as a truly great time in the life of our family.

We were pretty poor. I knew it. My brother and sister knew it. My dad worked as a youth minister for a congregation in Wichita and also drove a school-bus to supplement his income. These were some of the best of times for our family. For starters, we had great relationships (too many to name) and we became really close as a family. From dedication to the church, to picking up the sport of soccer (the official sport of Kansas I think), our time in Wichita was incredibly formative. I will never forget the Friday bus rides with my dad and the reward afterwards--splitting a grape soda at the local Quick Trip to talk about basketball (it was in Wichita that my brother and I realized there was more to my mom than we'd bargained for--she frequently beat us in one-on-two hoops in the driveway on the backboard and hoop constructed by my father), soccer, and Jesus.

All of these memories are flooding my mind this weekend as I'm in Wichita for the first time since 1998. During my freshmen year of college I came to Oklahoma City to visit my brother in college (he was there to play tennis and study accounting). On a whim, we decided to come to Wichita, to see some of the people who shaped our lives when we were younger.

Yesterday, I stepped off the plane, and took a deep breath.

I am here to present to the East Point Church (and their leadership) all of the work I've accumulated in Jesus Feast. Last night went well. I'm on my way to meet with the key leaders of the church . . . to talk about this elusive phrase "postmodern culture."

Lucas is going to join Kara and me in a few short months. In fact, today's is the Baby Shower. I pray to God every day that I will provide the space and ethos for him as was given to me. A space to dream, ask big questions, go my own way only to know that for all of us, home is the most important four letter word we'll ever encounter.

25 February 2009

Rummage Sales

Every five hundred years, the church, whether she realizes it or not, has a rummage sale. The cultural, societal, and philosophical baggage gathered "along the way" must be re-constituted or tossed aside all together.

*Jesus came to bring Israel back to Torah-abiding, justice-executing ways.

*The important council's of the 5th centuries definitively gave the church language to understand who Jesus really was (fully God and fully human--a belief we moderns take for granted)

*The split of the Western Church (Catholicism) and the Eastern Church (Orthodox) and the Oriental Orthodoxy (Coptic, Syrian, etc.).

*Martin Luther's Reformation of Catholicism in the 16th century

*The Great Emergence of the late 20th/early 21st century (sometimes mentioned as postmodernism).

Every five hundred years, the rummage sale comes a knockin'. This is the premise of Phyllis Tickle's new book The Great Emergence. A "short epic" (thanks for that expression Jonathan), this book covers the major threads of Christianity as a social movement over the last two thousand years. Tickle masterfully weaves in and out the complexities of Christianity's spread: the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

Too many highlights to cover, so I'll mention just one facet. Towards the end of GE, Tickle attempts to describe the different branches/response of Christians in this new reality, this emerging world landscape (141-143).

  • Traditionalists: "Like those who have fallen heir to Grandpa's old home place and who still like things just the way he had them, they see no need either to fight with the neighbors or to change the furniture." This group is content, fine with business as usual.
  • Re-traditioning: This group has chosen to stay with their inherited group, but unlike the Traditionalists "they energetically wish to make it [the church] more fully what it originally was." These folks want to keep the house, but make major interior changes and modifications: create a new kitchen, update the plumbing, drop new floors.
  • Progressives: "[W]hile wanting to maintain their position in institutional Christianity, they want also to wrestle with what they see as the foolheartedness of holding on to dogma based ideas and doctrinally restricted governance and praxis." This group will knock out some walls, extend favorite rooms, even build additions if need be.
  • Hyphenateds: "[T]hey recognize theirs is the most schizophrenic of the encompassing circles . . . householders who have fallen heir to Grandpa's old home place, feel a compelling need to honor the land it sits upon and the trees that surround it, but no need to retain its structural shape. Imaginatively enough, though, while they may tear down the house, they will savage some of the material out of which it was built and incorporate those honored bricks and columns, plinths and antique doors into the new thing they are building."


Which stream do you find yourself in?

24 February 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Five reasons to go see Slumdog Millionaire:

I think it's wonderful that Slumdog beat out Milk, Nixon, Reader, and Benjamin Button and for the Oscar Sunday night. I was able to see all of the movies nominated for Best Picture . . . and . . . for the first time in a long, long time, I got it right. Or I should say, I guessed right.

1. SM is a great story.

2. SM is about globalization.

3. SM is about poverty and hope.

4. SM is about (remarkable) music.

5. SM is about love being the most reckless of all human capacities.

22 February 2009

An Altar in the World

If Barbara Brown Taylor has moved you in the past, this book will not let you down. If you've never read (or heard of) BBT, as I affectionately call her, this is an outstanding introduction. 

Taylor is a post-modern mystic who believes that God and God's miracles are awaiting in the everyday stuff of our lives. She can take a seemingly routine thing (making a sandwich, going for a walk, talking on the phone) and show us how God, as I love to say quoting Augustine, is closer to us than we are to ourselves. One friend emailed me this week to say how much An Altar meant to him: "I thought each chapter I read was the best until I got to the next one . . . "

Chapter Three, The Practice of Wearing Skin, is one of the better poetical understandings of Incarnation I've read. 

From walking to getting lost, listening to seeing, Taylor has blazed a new path for those of us trying to be tied to the God of Creation and Incarnation as Torah and Gospels teach us to be. 

An example:

At this advanced level, the practice of getting lost has nothing to do with wanting to go there. It is something that happens, like it or not. You lose your job. Your lover leaves. That baby dies. At this level, the advanced practice of getting lost consists of consenting to be lost, since you have no other choice. The consenting itself becomes your choice, as you explore the possibility that life is for you and and not against you, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.

This rock-bottom trust seems to come naturally to some people, while it takes disciplined practice for others. I am one of the latter, a damaged truster who hopes she has lots of time to work up to the advanced level before her own exodus comes. To that end, I keep my eyes open for opportunities to get slowly lost, so that I can gradually build the muscles necessary for radical trust (An Altar in the World, 80).

No Line on the Horizon

A friend of mine handed me a CD case this morning as he was leaving church. I didn't really think anything of it initially. Then, I started to put clues together. This friend is a radio exec in Metro Detroit . . . very savvy regarding music and film culture.

After I finished up the conversation I was in when said friend handed me the CD disc, I looked down and realized I'd just been handed an advanced copy of No Lion in the Horizon--U2's new album set to come out in a few weeks.

I'm listening to it right now. So far, it's solid. Get On Your Boots is rocking my world.

There are many reasons I love U2. Regarding lyrics, they are superior. Bono writes almost everything they do. Philosophically and theologically, their music fits together with so many of the things I'm interested in. And, some of the things I'm interested in are a direct result of U2's influence. I can't think of another band that sings as well as U2 in concert with things that matter. So many people are skeptical of religion. U2 represents an understanding of faith I want to emulate in my own life. "Religion is what's left over when God's left the building," Bono has (in)famously noted.

They do this album after album after album.

If you are interested in seeing what happens when a group of people learn how to intersect modern culture with deep spirituality, check out U2.

20 February 2009


Jesus is found in the little things.

I really believe that. Do you?


Ever since I can remember, I've been the toilet-cleaner. I'm not speaking in metaphoric terms here (as I'm often prone to do), I'm being as literal as one can be. I remember cleaning toilets as part of my weekly chores growing up in the Graves household. In addition, I also was responsible for the dreaded taking-out-of-the-trash. Compared to scraping the remains of my family's dinner from the bottom of the porcelain throne (as it was called in my circles of friends in high school), taking out the trash was picking daisies.

It is hard to take yourself too seriously when you clean toilets. It gives you a sense that we are all, as Genesis gently reminds us, created from dust and to that dust we will all return. We are created, finite, beings. Complex? Of course. But temporary. At least for now.

I ate breakfast with a respected friend recently when he started telling me how he now cleans the toilets where he works. Every week, he loads up his three children, and for nearly three hours, they vacuum, wash, scrub and . . . miracle of miracles . . . they clean toilets. One little detail I've left out--this friend is the Vice President of this company, on his way to being President in a few short years.

Since Kara and I have been married it's my job to clean toilets. Now to be fair, I probably don't do as much "around the house" (a Midwestern expression) as I should. Kara pays the bills, organizes meals, cleans, monitors the social calendar (did I mention she's pregnant and a full-time grad student?), etc. But the responsibilities of cleaning toilets are set aside for moi.

Barbara Brown Taylor says, in An Altar in the World, that God erects altars all over the world. Spirituality is asking God to give us the eyes to see these holy intersection. In his day, Jesus told his disciples that they couldn't really be his apprentices until they learned to clean toilets. Actually, he said they had to learn to wash feet--one of the most degrading and disgusting acts in the first century.

If we were speaking to us today, I think Jesus would make us clean each other toilets. Seriously. When we moved into our first house, the one we currently live in, our friends, the Barton's (John, Sara, Nate and Brynn) were some of the first to arrive to help us move in. True to their character (they lived in East Africa for several years prior to coming to Rochester), their very first act was to clean both of our bathrooms and replace our toilet seats. Top to bottom. Cleaned to the last detail. Including the toilet.

I've been known tease John Barton (twice my boss: V.P. at RC and elder at Rochester Church) that I think of him every time I'm in my bathroom and . . . well . . . , I'll stop there.

Jesus said that his movement was about towels not titles. I'd like to think that we need to bring people to the same teaching. Jesus' movement is not about titles . . . it's about toilets.

I'm sure marketing guru's all over the world are salivating.

18 February 2009

The Devil is 24 Hours

I got to hang out in Cass Park this morning with my friend Shaun Hover--just back from working with young adults in India and Pakistan. Some of you will remember Shaun from the stories told here and here and here.

This morning, we spent time following up with different people from this past Sunday's time in The Park. Overall, it was a good morning. We met up, at one point, with Mark. Mark is on his way back, getting out of the cycles of addiction and poverty.

Among other things, I took Mark a suit to wear for an interview he has this week. As I drove him back to where he was staying, the conversation turned to the everyday task of following Jesus ("keeping the Lord first," were his precise words). Towards the end of the conversation, he sad, "I ain't gonna lie to ya. Life's hard right now. Real hard. The devil is 24 hours. Devil don't quit. Always working. Always waiting to get you."

Mark wasn't simply describing a man with a red devil costume on with the proverbial pitch fork in hand. He was talking about the reality that evil is a power in our world. Evil is not merely something we choose, rather, it is an oppressive reality: it seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.

Most folks in the circles I run in don't talk like that. They talk about bad decisions, and poor choices. And I'm all for talking that way myself. But I wonder if we trick ourselves into thinking that we have all the power. That living a virtuous life is simply about me mustering enough logical will to be good. That might be a religion, but it is not the Christian religion. Christianity says that God, in Jesus, has overcome the powers of this world, to make us better than we could ever make ourselves. Or, as one friend wrote this week: God has overcome the strong by his preference for weakness.

The devil is twenty-four hours. All day. Every day. But so is God. So is the Spirit. So is the Jesus who walked among us.

14 February 2009

Valentine's Day Faux Pas

It was a dark and stormy night. Not really. Actually, it was a really nice day in Abilene, Texas. Kara was doing homework, staying ahead in her studies (as she does remarkably well). I was in Houston on a recruiting trip for ACU basketball.

I woke up early Saturday morning to watch several high school teams go at it. I had written myself a note in my coaching folder, "Don't forget to buy Kara something nice for Valentine's Day." Knowing exactly how much money I had in the bank ($6.12 or something close to that), I had to be creative. Kara wasn't looking for anything extravagant. She knew I was a broke grad student, barely making ends meet.

The day went by quickly. Towards the end, about four o'clock, I went to take a break from my recruiting notes. As I walked downstairs in the gym to grab a drink, I noticed a large table with boxes and boxes of girl scout cookies. I thought to myself, "I have ten bucks cash in my pocket, and six dollars in the bank . . . girl scout cookies could work." I bought the box of thin mints cookies. Put them in my car, returned back to watch a few more hoop games.

I drove from Houston to Abilene that night, getting in real late. The next morning, I picked Kara up early to go to church. We listened to Mike Cope preach a great sermon in his "More than Thunder" series from the Gospel of John. Some of those sermons sustained in ways I can't quite explain that year.

After church, we ate a cheap lunch (she probably paid) and went back to her place. I had tons of film work to finish for our games that week, so I was going to head back to Moody Coliseum to break down the game tapes. Before Kara got out, I leaned towards the back of my car, grabbed the thin mints, turned my body towards Kara and said, "Honey, you know I don't have a lot of money . . . Happy Valentine's Day." I should note that right before this, she had given me a bunch of simple but thoughtful gifts for our upcoming honeymoon to Maui (sandals, etc.).

Typical Kara, she didn't say anything in the moment. She went inside, I went to work. The next day, I came to her house to have dinner. When I walked in, there it was: the evidence of my stupidity. In a large vase, rested a box of . . . you guessed it . . . thin mint girl scout cookies. That was Kara's way of saying, "I didn't get flowers, or a card, or chocolates, or a poem. I got girl scout cookies." In that moment, I knew how bad I'd blown it. I apologized profusely.

The next year, to make up for this disaster (hey, penance is not always a bad thing), we had seven days of Valentine's Day in our house. Seriously. Seven days of thoughtful gifts. And I promise you, I've not blown Valentine's Day since the disaster of the thin mint cookies.

Barbara Brown Taylor notes that men can be a bit stubborn at times. "Why does it take thousands of sperm to fertilize a single egg? Because the sperm refuse to stop and ask for directions."

I've learned my lesson. Taking the easy way out is never the easy way out. With Kara, I get windows of opportunity to show her I care more about her than my normal routines and impulses. I'm sure I'm not the only guy who's learned the painful lessons of romance. Any of you care to share your blunders?

13 February 2009


I've been thinking about the power of words all week. And then I read this blog, and the wheels got to turning even more.


I’m aware that men and women use thousands of words each day to express emotions ranging from anger, despair, envy, to joy, hope, and excitement. Words, after all, give meaning to our emotions and feelings. Without words, we would be like a person who wanted to cry but did not have the tears to shed. Words embody what we feel deep in our soul. Often times, our words fall short of what we really feel. Elie Wiesel said, for instance, the reason so many poets and writers committed suicide post-Holocaust was because “we had no more words.” Take words away from us, and we become stilted people. By the way, contrary to popular myth, sociologists and other researchers now believe that men and women use about the same amount of words per day: 16,000. Over a period of one year, this means we use, on average, 5,840,000 words. That’s a lot of words.

Even though we utter an immense amount of words, I think words matter. Specifically, I think the precise words we speak are vital and worth our attention.

Some words have the ability to destroy relationships. “You look fat in that outfit,” the bitter husband might quip to his already struggling wife. “You don’t cook as much as you should,” the demeaning mother-in-law might say, “You got to keep this house running. It depends upon you.” The tyrannical boss, whom you are convinced is related to Joseph Stalin, comes to your desk, “You’re lucky I haven’t fired you yet. I’m not sure why I keep you around. What good are you anyways?” I will never forget the time an older friend of mine in high school (who I looked up to) turned to me and said, “Some people are saying you might make varsity next year as a sophomore. I don’t see that happening. You don’t have what it takes.” I filed that away, and brought it out in the open every night as I pounded the basketball in the driveway, working on my game.

As demoralizing as words can be, words also possess the rare ability to bring about life and hope. When the young got-it-all together hot shot lawyer confesses to her husband that she’s been unfaithful to her marriage vows, she waits for a response. Will he go into a rage? Will he curse her up and down, using demeaning words she probably deserves? He speaks. She listens. “I am so deeply wounded. However, I love you. Because I love you more than life itself, I forgive you. I will not forget. But my love will overshadow my memory of what you’ve done.” There’s power in that word forgiveness.

The young teen comes into the room after having run away a week ago. It’s late, two in the morning. “Mommy? Daddy? I’m scared. I don’t know what I was thinking. Can I sleep with you?” The loving parent, on a good day, says, through her fatigue and confusion, “You are always welcome here.” There’s power in the word welcome.

After all, God does not think Creation into existence. He does not hope creation into being. Genesis says that God speaks and the world is formed. God shows us the power of words to create unimaginable worlds.

12 February 2009

Time and Space

There are two primary ways the church teaches us to engage God: time and space. We must pay attention to time for it is the most precious gift we can give to God and to others. It is a gift that far outweighs any dollar amount (despite the consumerist notion that "time is money"). Equally important is space. We are called to willingly create space for God in the midst of our crowded schedules.

Time. This is a sensitive subject in our rat-race, gotta-do-one-more-thing culture. We feel a sense of pride when we look at our planners/palm pilots and see "our time" filled up. We feel important. We feel as if we matter. We feel full of purpose. The rub comes in our spiritual assessment of things . . . that is, after running (for God on our best days) we suddenly realize we ceased to pause for the things that ultimately matter, the lasting things.

Space. Though often ignored, space is as important as time. Especially in suburbia where "bigger is better." After all, we want bigger houses, cars, backyards, HD screens, and engagement rings. We may not always know what we want but we know we want it Super-Sized. The downside, of course, of living in a McDonaldized World is that we crowd out room for God's surprises and interruptions.

While technology promises to make life better so that we can have more time and space for others, we slowly become slaves to the very things that are supposed to set us free. We begin to stack bricks for the vacation home, ESPN, Apple, the Shopping Network, The Gap, American Idol, and e-mail (dare I say blogging?).

God wants to meet us in particular moments (time) and particular places (space). But he never forces himself upon us. Like a patient lover, he waits . . . and waits . . . and waits. He waits for us to get serious about how we spend our time and where we spend our space.

Last night, we held a contemplative prayer service at Rochester Church. It was filled with prayers, readings, silence, confession, worship, more silence, repentance, and listening. It was holy because we gave up "our" time and "our" space to hear from the One who spoke creation into being.

10 February 2009

Book Worms Beware

This blog is for the book worms. Holla. Hope this helps and encourages. Here are some books I read in January:

Like You'd Understand Anyway (Shepard). A terrific collection of short stories, this book is an amazing example of what it truly means to be able to write from the inside of a character/story/particular setting. From a nuclear meltdown in Russia, to a cataclysmic tidal wave in Alaska, this writer can weave a tale with the best of them. I highly recommend this for aspiring story-tellers and emerging writers.

Soul in Society (Dorrien). WARNING: This book is highly academic. Dorrien does an excellent job of capturing one segment of Christianity in America in the 20th Century: mainline Protestantism. It was a great read for me as I'm largely under-read in this area. From Hells Kitchen to the Ivory Tower of Columbia University, Dorrien captures the major players and movements that shaped Christianity from 1900 to present day. First rate primer for those interested in the intersection of history, religion and the public sphere.

Emerging Churches (Gibbs and Bolger). I read this in grad school and thought it was good. I picked it up a few weeks ago and was impressed with the authors' ability to survey emerging movements in U.K. as well as the U.S. Thoroughly researched and carefully crafted, this is the standard survey of the way different groups of Christian faith are choosing to engage contemporary culture with an ancient story.

A Theology of Public Life (Matthewes). Another WARNING: highly academic. The entire work is written for those who have a working knowledge of Augustine's writing and thinking. I know just enough Augustine to get me in trouble. Ha. Anyways, there are sections of this book which help contemporary debates come along. Make no mistake. Pack your lunch for this book. It's a heavyweight fight for 12 rounds.

Jesus Wants to Save Christians (Bell and Golden). Overall, a phenomenal interpretive work bringing the Exodus Story in contemporary American religion discourse. Missional to the core, this is Bell's most "political" book. Of course, by "political" I don't mean Republican or Democrat. I am thinking of the idea that the church is a political force. That is, they are interested in how people construct values, practices, and care.

These are the books I'm reading currently/about to read.

A Mercy (Toni Morrison). Compelling novel set in 17th century America. There are no good characters or bad characters. Every character is complex, full of potential for good and evil. I'm told by others who read a lot of Morrison that this is her best book in years.

An Altar in the World (Barbara Brown Taylor). If you read this blog, it will not surprise you when I say that BBT is perhaps, the best writer of our time. Period. Of course I realize that's an incredibly subjective statement (not to mention I get to study under her this summer). Since 2001, Taylor has been my voice for faith in the midst of doubt. After just getting into the beginning sections, I can tell I'll be reading this book a few times over . . . this year.

Praying Like Jesus (Mulholland). Recommended by this great blogger, Mulholland's ability to capture the mystery of The Lord's Prayer without making things too complex is appealing to me. Mulholland gives particular attention to the way in which The Lord's Prayer critiques consumer culture.

The Great Emergence (Tickle). Rave reviews have passed my ears on this book. Haven't started it yet. Looks powerful. I assume this will be written in the same vein as McLaren's trilogy: A New Kind of Christian, Story We Find Ourselves In, and The Last Word.

Walking In Memphis

We had a great time in Memphis this weekend. Our time with Josh, Kayci, and Truitt was special. The main focus of the trip (other than great food and conversation) was for a leaders retreat for the Sycamore View Church (where Josh preaches).

I walked through some of the material from Jesus Feast. Overall, it was a lively time of discussion, discernment, and dialog. I preached with Josh on Sunday "tag-team" (or, as some call it, "dueling banjos") . . . we did something I've never done before. We took two stories from Luke (Rich Young Ruler and Zaccheus) and told them side by side with a modern twist. I am always encouraged and challenged by being around Josh Ross. He has a heart for people that is unmatched.

Yesterday morning, Kara, Josh and I went to the National Civil Rights Museum downtown. I've been to Detroit's version a few times, as well as the King Center for Non-Violence in Atlanta a few times. If you have not been to the Memphis museum, you must go. It tells the stories of whites, blacks, educated, and uneducated who fought against Jim Crow racism. From soldiers, to Catholic priests . . . work-at-homes to retired school teachers . . . is there any better way to spend one's life than by giving it away?

One of my favorite MLK quotes (sparked by being in Memphis): "The arch of history is long but it is always bent toward justice."

08 February 2009

Praying with Truitt

Last night, Kara and I got to experience prayer time with Josh, Kayci, and Truitt Ross. Truitt is 21 months old. The biggest blue eyes one face can hold. He's not going to be a heartbreaker. He is a heartbreaker.

Before Truitt's bedtime last night, Kayci and Josh gathered Truitt next to us for prayer time.

We all bowed our heads. Josh led the prayer.

"God thank your for this day. Help us sleep in your arms tonight. Help us to live missionally and incarnationally this week."

So, if Truitt doesn't become the starting strong safety for the Dallas Cowboys in twenty-five years (as his dad would have) . . . he's going to be the only kid in seminary who can say he knew the words mission and incarnation before he could ride his bike.

05 February 2009

In an attempt to be creative . . .

I used this introduction last night to get a hearing on Paul's tough teaching regarding the man having sex with his stepmother in I. Cor. 5. At the onset of the worship time I told people I was going to "stretch their imaginations tonight . . . .so stay with me 'til the end." Here's what I did:

You might know Kara and I spent part of this past summer traveling. We worked it out to have time in London on our way to Uganda. On our way back, I spent some time in Paris. While I’m not necessarily in love with Parisians per se, the city of Paris is electric. One of my favorite aspects about being in Paris (in addition to Notre Dame) is the experience of walking through the Louvre. Known as perhaps the greatest art gallery in the world (though workers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC might quibble with me), the Louvre is the gold standard, the best of the best.

As Kara and I walked through the halls of the Louvre, in awe of the sheer age of much of the work (and incidentally, the easy-to-forget youth of our home country), we felt the buzz as we moved closer and closer to the Big Show—the Mona Lisa. I’d heard Sara Barton talk about her disappointment with her Mona Lisa Experience, but I was not to be deterred. As we closed in on Da Vinci’s sixteenth century masterpiece, I could barely see ahead of me. The large room was packed wall to wall. Camera’s flashed, voices spoke in dozens of languages . . . we were coming closer and closer.

Just as I approached the velvet markings, in church we call them sheep herders, boundary markers (the kind you see on television roping off runways for celebrities walking down the red carpet via their que’s) . . . a short man grabbed my arm.

“Excuse me, Monsieur,” he said with a degree of brashness.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Are you a priest?” This is what I get for wearing my black shirt with a white tee-shirt underneath. I thought about explaining non-denominational Christianity and the word ‘minister’ (“technically all Christians are ministers”) to the mysterious French-men. I reconsidered knowing this man’s only orientation to the world was Catholicism. Hence my black and white shirt.
“Yes. I am a priest.” I finally stammered.
“We’ve been expecting you.”
“You have?” All of the sudden I felt as if I was in some sort of version of Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code. Was this a new game show—DaVinci Code Pranks Gone Wild?
“Yes. Come with me.” Now I was getting a bit upset with this guy. Who did he think he was? I could no longer find Kara—we’d been separated from each other in the mad dash to get closer to the Mona Lisa—whose smile was now getting further and further away from me.

I followed the short Frenchmen (his name, according to his work nametag, was Jean-Pierre). Jean led me to an unmarked elevator on the south side of the hallway. We took that down about three levels to an awkward room.

“Wait here,” he said abruptly.

After a few minutes of waiting, he came back with another man. They had a portable table and a large steel box. “We think you will find some interest in the contents of this box. About a year ago, an archaeologist for National Geographic stumbled upon some ancient letters in Italy. They were written in a form of Greek that very few people recognized. After a few months, we were informed by religion scholars that these letters were written in Koine Greek, the Greek of the New Testament. Mr. Graves, I don’t know quite how to say it, but you are holding a letter written by St. Paul himself. This is not a letter that appears in the New Testament. In fact, only a few dozen people have even laid eyes upon this. We believe this letter was written by St. Paul near the end of his life, concerning a person that appears in his first letter to Corinthian Christians. Would you mind looking at it, and telling us what you think? The best we can tell, this letter refers to I Corinthians 5 and St. Paul’s dealings with Christians living in Corinth.”


I've had to explain to several people what I was trying to do (and why I was trying to do it). That is, 1) we only have some of Paul's letters/correspondence with Corinthian Christians and 2) It's a precious gift that we have any at all.

03 February 2009

Giving It (Jesus Feast) Away

In September 2007, I was on a small plane flying from Abilene to Dallas, Texas. I had just finished teaching a class on the relationship of film and spirituality in postmodern cultures at Abilene Christian University. As we were making our way to Dallas, I started to get an idea. So, I did what I always do, I grabbed the first thing I could find. Normally, on an airplane, that means one grabs a napkin. I know of one famous basketball coach, for instance, who wrote a book called My Life On a Napkin for this same reason--ideas come at you when you least expect. Writers, storytellers, poets, movie producers all talk about the creative inspiration and its unpredictability.

I started to write out an overall plan for a book. I would not start my doctorate for several months and I thought it was a good time to really pour myself into something that was not directly related to my "church responsibilities." I know far too many ministers and professors who make church/theology their life. If you don't have things outside of your particular call to sustain you, it's easy to dry up and lose your energy. Some of us, in short, need to get a life.

Several drafts later . . . after much painful editing . . . cutting at least five chapters and almost 100 pages . . . I submitted the final draft of my first book to the publishers this past week. I wanted to tell my small group that it felt like I'd given birth to a baby and now I was being asked to give it away. But, when I thought about the fact that two women in our small group have just recently given actual birth and that Kara was only a few months away herself, I elected to go with a different metaphor.

This weekend will be the first time I get to present material from my book. I'm doing a leaders retreat for Sycamore View Church (where my close friend Josh Ross preaches) Friday and Saturday.

When we give away what is most sacred to us, we give God power to do what he wants to do. Preservation cannot give us the peace of mind it promises for giving away what is most sacred to us is the path to finding real connection with those God has placed in our midst. "The glory of God is a person come fully alive."

02 February 2009


Ever since I had Walter Brueggemann as a professor this past year, I've taken seriously the power of carefully worded prayers. Of course, there are all kinds of ways to pray (some helpful some not-so-much). Here's the prayer I wrote for yesterday's gathering time at Rochester Church in preparation for experiencing Genesis 32 (Jacob's Prayer).

God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

Lord of Exile, Lord of Exodus

We plot, scheme, squirm and plan,

How we might do life without you.

We are all, at one time or another, scoundrels.

And just when we think we’ve got things under control,

Our lives break into a million little pieces.

Dreams dash. Hopes halt. Visions vanish.

And we are left standing before you,

Aware of our utter incompetence.

When we have no where else to turn and no one else to turn to,

We come to the place we should have come all along.

We come home, in prayer, with our hands open.

We come home to you.


01 February 2009

Life . . . Today

My friend Wade Hodges made a big announcement today. You can read about his courage to hear God's call on his life by clicking here. Wade--you have lots of people who believe in the ways God's gifted you. Count the yes votes, and don't worry about the naysayers.


Our small group is reading Sex God right now. I read the book when it first came out a few years back. I think it's a fantastic work about the "endless connections of sexuality and spirituality." If you have not read it, you'll love it. I know few folks who read Bell and fail to learn a great deal about the collision of scripture and life as we know it.

I particularly appreciate Bell's dichotomy of the temptation to be an angel (soul with no body) and animal (body with no soul) in light of God's work of creating humanity (body and soul). While I wish Bell would've at least footnoted C.S. Lewis (the 20th century "catalyst" for this anthropological distinction), I think Bell's right on. While many Christians bemoan the "animal" messages of our culture (What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas), the church offers an equally toxic one. Instead of talking about the possibilities of being human, we settle for stuffing sexuality and spirituality deep inside.

I also love this line from Bell. "Lust makes a promise it can't deliver on."


One of our students at Rochester College (and dear family member at Rochester Church) lost her stepmother in a car accident. Sara (pronounced Sarr-ah) Ageno is from Jinja, Uganda. When she was a young girl, her biological parents were both killed in a similar motor vehicle accident. Another family from her local church took her in. Now, her second mom's life has been taken. Pray for Sara. Pray for peace. Pray for mourning. Pray for her to ask big questions. Pray for her to take those big questions to God.


I preached from Jacob's prayer in Genesis 32 today. It's a remarkable prayer really. Walter Brueggemann says it is the only real full prayer in all of Torah. The thing that blows me away about this prayer is not that Jacob has the chutzpah to pray it (compared to some other stuff this is actually pretty mild). The thing that blows me away is that God goes along with this con-man, huckster. It seems God would rather work with a shady somebody than a pious pretender. I needed to hear that today. Because, before I'm a minister, I'm first a follower.