30 April 2009

Due Date

Today is the (second) official due date for Lucas Joshua. Here's what I wrote on my blog back in October when we were still processing the joy of this new life. We're still waiting. Patiently waiting for this little guy to turn our life upside-down and inside-out.


Kara and I have been on many adventures together over the last several years. We’ve lived in Michigan (twice, once while dating, once while married), Nashville (Seminary and College), and Abilene (ditto).

We’ve traveled to many different places in the United States, usually catching a Major League Baseball game (Wrigley has been, by far, our favorite so far).

We’ve been to Hawaii and hit as many beaches as we could find. We just recently spent time in Paris, London and Uganda asking the question that’s been the theme of my life, “What is God up to anyway?”

We’ve been in the slums of Cass Park, finding ourselves in all kinds of unimaginable conversations and homes. We’ve broken bread with some of our homeless friends who are now, by the grace of God, off the streets. We even buried a few of our friends whose relationships, short-lived as they were, blessed our lives in gospel ways.

We’ve traveled deeper in our friendships with our small group of which we say all the time, “We are learning to do life together.” As a church family, we've traveled the path marked "missonal" learning from our mistakes.

But, we are now about to partake of a journey that will, in most ways, be all-together different than the other journeys mentioned.

Baby Graves will, by the goodness of God, join us on May 1st, 2009. Kara is eleven weeks pregnant for those curious . . . though you’d never know because she’s so skinny. If you happen to be at the Rochester Hills Public Library this week and find all the “baby name books” are checked out . . . now you know the whole story.

28 April 2009

The Task of Preaching

As I'm working on part three in our series on Heaven in the Real World, I'm reminded of Walter Brueggemann's belief that preachers and teachers must always keep in mind the two tasks of responsible sex educators:

(1) Don’t tell students more than they can handle.

(2) Don’t tell them anything they’ll have to unlearn later.

26 April 2009

All Our Bags Are Packed . . .

We are in the final days of waiting for Lucas' arrival. We thought he'd be here by now (mostly because the doctors thought so also).

He's not.

I guess we might as well get used to things going a bit differently than expected. After all, we're about to be parents.

Our bags are packed. We are prepared, we think, for most scenarios that might present themselves in a suburban sprawl space hospital room in Metro Detroit (short of an invasion by Russian Warlords). Seriously, Kara's so thorough. I think we have ten MRE's, four sticks of dynamite (for any difficult people who might stop by), one extra oxygen tank, towel rack warmer for the warm shower I'm going to take from the stress of having this baby, and a briefcase full of twenty dollar bills just in case we need to bribe a nurse or two for extra ice cream. Wait, we're not having a root canal, we're having a baby. My bad.

We have clothes, back-up clothes, cell-phone charger, MacBook, MacBook charger, snacks, more food, books (cut me some slack . . . you never know), Kansas Jayhawks t-shirt to catch Lucas in (of course), and an autographed picture of Bono to put in the window. If Jesus had signed my "Joshua Tree" CD I'd put it in the window. He doesn't do autographs these days.

For those veteran parents and grandparents out there in cyberspace--what one thing would you suggest the Graves take to the hospital (serious or sarcastic answers welcome)?

25 April 2009

Everything is Spiritual

I just finished watching Everything is Spiritual (hour long teaching by Rob Bell). In this film, Bell takes on the relationship of religion and science (specifically spirituality and quantum physics) and demonstrates the way in which religion and science are in dialog (not argumentation) with each other. NOTE: Bell admits his subjective starting point. That is, Bell is a theist. Bell is more than a theist, he's a follower of Jesus' teachings.

Everything is Spiritual is brilliant. Besides, if nothing else . . . you will watch it and finally understand every episode of LOST that's ever confused you (as I've heard is happening in some circles).

Everything is spiritual.

Everything is connected.

24 April 2009

Sabbath Reflection on Leadership

It (Christian leadership) is not a leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest. I, obviously am not speaking about a psychologically weak leadership in which the Christian leader is simply the passive victim of the manipulations of his milieu. No, I am speaking of a leadership in which power is constantly abandoned in favor of love. It is a true spiritual leadership. Powerlessness and humility in the spiritual life do not refer to people who have no spine and who let everyone else make decisions for them. They refer to people who are so deeply in love with Jesus they are ready to follow him wherever he guides them, always trusting that, with him, they will find life and find it abundantly. From Henri Nowen's In the Name of Jesus (63-64).

21 April 2009

Seven Things Luke Wants Me to Know

I've been teaching Luke-Acts for four years now at Rochester College. The first three years I co-taught with my good friend (twice my boss--he's an elder at Rochester Church and V.P. of Academics at RC) John Barton. His missionary/global experience was a great match for my pastoral/local interests. To say it plain: we made a good team. It was comfortable, fruitful.

This semester, I taught the course solo. The students have been excellent. Diverse: urban/suburban, male/female, white/black, conservative/liberal--we made a pack to dive into the world of Luke-Acts to engage the questions of what it might mean to find Jesus alive in both scripture and today's world.

I learn something new every time I teach this course.

Here are the seven convictions I'm left with this "time around." I could say more about each one, but I'll refrain. You can use your knowledge and imagination to push each one further.

1. Christianity is built upon the premise of "narrative rupture."
2. The Spirit of God is the force behind, underneath, in front of all life.
3. Normal values are turned upside-down in Jesus' economy.
4 . This faith is public.
5. Witness is more important than objective/subjective truth debates.
6. Maturity happens by being commissioned.
7. God wants to save the world via an alternative community.

19 April 2009


Joel Stein, Maria Shriver, Mark Twain and John Lennon--what could these four possibly have in common? All of them are interested, on some level, in the Judeo-Christian reality of heaven.

Joel Stein, a popular writer for the L.A. Times, wrote: "Last March, after some campaigning, I got Starbucks to put a quote from me on the their paper cups. It said 'Heaven is totally overrated. It seems boring. Clouds, listening to people play the harp. It should be somewhere you can't wait to go, like a luxury hotel. Maybe blue skies and soft music were enough to keep people in line in the 17th century, but heaven has to step it up a bit. They're basically getting by because they only have to be better than hell.'”

Maria Shriver wrote a children’s book about heaven (cleverly titled What’s Heaven?). In that book she describes heaven as: "somewhere you believe in. . . . It’s a beautiful place where you can sit on soft clouds and talkto other people who are there. You can sit next to the stars, which are the brightest of anywhere in the universe. . . . If you’re good throughout life, then you get to go to heaven. . . . When your life is finished here on earth, God sends angels down to take you up to Heaven to be with him. . . . "

John Lennon encouraged an entire generation (partly because of religion's misuse of the afterlife) to imagine the world "without heaven."

Perhaps Mark Twain captured cynicism and questions regarding heaven the best when we wrote, “The only thing that trumps the suffering of hell is the boredom of heaven."

We're starting a series on "heaven" at Rochester Church today. We're going to consider the diverse language and metaphors employed in both testaments. I firmly believe that "eschatology" is making a comeback in many religious circles because people are starting to realize (again) that your understanding of the end (that is, what God intends to do with humans and creation) shapes everything (ethics, morality, passion, calling) in the present.

14 April 2009

Best Sports Cities

We interrupt the deep philosophical/spiritual/political questions of the day to ask a really important question: what are the best sports cities in the United States? We all have different criteria (of which I'll have more to say) . . . I am curious to hear from all of you who live as far west as California and as far south Texas.

What are your top five sports cities?

Here are mine (NOTE: I'll provide detailed reasons in a later post).

5. Pittsburgh (not Dallas)

4. New York

3. Boston

2. Chicago

1. Detroit (I'm a homer, I admit it)

If you live west of the Mississippi River, you probably aren't happy with this list (don't forget though you got one city in Dallas). If you live in the Southeast (as many of my Nashville/Atlanta/Carolina friends will point out), you aren't happy with this list either.

Fire Away. What are the top five cities for sports fans?

12 April 2009

Film and Easter in Dialog

Film is a powerful force in our culture. Period. We can lament about "Hollywood" and movies about sex, violence, and power (which begs the question: what do we do with the Bible?). The reality is, Hollywood makes movies to sell tickets. If a movie about a cartoon character would sell more than a Bruce Willis action adventure, Hollywood is going to go with the virtual character every time. And vice versa. It's really that simple.

Occasionally, you'll have the Hollywood movie that challenges the status quo, pushes the limits of "accepted cultural norms" (which is not always a good thing, of course). Normally, Hollywood is preoccupied with one thing: money, cash, cheese, the Benjamin's, jack.

Having said that, here are (at least) three recent films worth watching. The power of Christianity's Easter Story is found in the truth that God takes the worst of this world (death, disease, sickness, murder of the innocent, and suffering) and transforms it into "all things new" (new friendship, families, possibilities, purpose, hope). These three movies, in their own creative and unique way, capture the truth that humans possess the raw ability to take on the strength of that which we overcome. Of course, for me, it's the grace of God that catalyzes this movement.

1. Seven Pounds. The main character demonstrates that love truly is the most powerful force in the world. In an unlikely twist of events (which I predicted to my friend Adam at the ten minute mark . . . let's just say he hasn't sat next to me in a movie since), this film takes us beyond the shallow waters of self-preservation and security.

2. Bella. I just watched this film a few nights ago with some dear friends. I'm still speechless. A truly remarkable film, I'm awe-struck by the manner in which this film seeks to convince us that life consistently offers us ways in which we can "be good again" (to borrow language from The Kite Runner) no matter how bad our past might be. Set as a "day in the life" of a few average dwellers of the Big Apple, Bella has a healing pace, with one of the best soundtracks I've ever witnessed.

3. Gran Torino. Not for the faint of heart. Eastwood does a masterful job of capturing the sharp edges of living in Detroit, racism, stereo-types and the deterioration of family systems. However, the real genius of the film lies in its ability to show the power of laying down one's life for another. This movie, at least in one interpretive school, powerfully imagines a way in which the cycles of violence are quenched. Ironically, this "way" is the Jesus Way.


Film is here to stay. It's shaping the language and meaning of life for many Americans. Christians don't have to swallow the bones, but we'd better understand why film is so meaningful and central. Moreover, how we might enter into the dialog happening all around us.

That Great Gettin' Up Morning

What happened in Jesus' borrowed tomb two thousand years ago? It's a question that has haunted men and women over the course of every generation and in virtually every part of our world.

Did the disciples lie?

Perhaps they hallucinated.

Roman soldiers stole the body.

Dogs ate the corpse.

Maybe Jesus never really died? He came close but the coolness of the tomb (a.k.a. the swoon theory) allowed for his body to recover. Jesus, after 48 hours walked away from the tomb (don't ask about the large stone).

It would not make sense for the disciples to lie. To declare the carpenter from Nazareth "Kyrios" was to put yourself on shaky ground with the powers of Rome.

If they hallucinated, they convinced others of the hallucination as well.

Roman soldiers were punishable by death for the body gone missing. Remember the Roman official who wanted to kill himself when Paul was busted out of prison? Why did he want to kill himself? He failed his primary mission and knew the consequences that faced him.

"Dogs eating the corpse" of Jesus (the viewpoint of noted scholar John Dominic Crossan) seems to me a logical leap from the amazingly similar canonical accounts contained within the pages of Christian scriptures.

I believe in Easter because I believe that if God can cut the grand canyon, paint the sky blue, inhabit the womb of a pre-teen named Mary, create the sun, form the giraffe--if God can do all of the previous, I believe he can step into his own story ("rupturing the narrative" as literature scholars like to say), show us what it means to be human, take on the evil of religion and society, only to transform by the Spirit's power overwhelming the power of darkness, sin and death. In short, if God can do this (everything I see around me), I know he can do that (walk away from a borrowed Jerusalem tomb).

I believe in Easter Sunday because I believe the disciples, women and men, had everything to lose and nothing to gain in declaring Jesus' victory. They spent the rest of their lives with Resurrection on their sleeves, in their hearts, beaming from their eyes.

Generally speaking: Post-modern Christians believe in the resurrection because they trust Jesus. Modern Christians believe in Jesus because they've intellectually accepted the tenets of resurrection (or at least the scientific possibility). I find myself going back and forth at different seasons in the faith journey.

Something happened Easter Sunday. I choose to believe that God overcame the greatest shackle known to man: death. It's a life-altering story. A story too good to not be true.

10 April 2009

New Look for Blog, Jesus Feast

While I'm working on new projects related to my first book (Jesus Feast), I've updated the look of the blog (now going by the same name as the book). The look will likely change again this summer as we get the final image/look set for the book. The final edits (syntax, comma splices, vocab, etc.) are being finished. Now, the book goes to the final stage.

Proofs should be done by early June. Publication is set for August/September.

I've been very fortunate to work with two great editors (and formidable writers in their own right) on this project: Leonard Allen and Greg Taylor. GT has pushed me to hone and craft this book so that it is a tight presentation of what I really think Christian spirituality should "feel" like in a postmodern world.

I received Brian McLaren's foreword this week. I'm really excited to see this entire project come together.

08 April 2009


"Well . . . it's a door . . . but it's not a door. You know what I mean." This is just too perfect. My friend, Adam Hill, one of the best teachers of N.T. Christianity I know, showed this to me.

07 April 2009

Are You a Bean-to?

Eugene Peterson believes that the task of being a Christian in our world today is intricately connected to the words that fall from our lips. Whether we preach in front of a community of faith, or offer a word of hope to a co-worker caught in the trappings of addiction and denial, the words we speak are the embodied means by which usher God's grace to this fragmented world.

Peterson thinks that story-telling is one of the most effective ways to do this.

In Tell it Slant, he tells the story of teaching in a graduate program on Jesus' parables. One of the students in the class, Father Tony, talked about the lessons he'd learned about story-telling in raising up leaders in Africa.

"When he [Tony] first began the work, whenever he would find men who were especially bright he would pull them out of their village and send them to Rome or Dublin or Boston or New York for training. After a couple of years they would return and take up their tasks. But the villagers hated them and would have nothing to do with them. They called the returnee a been-to (pronounced bean-to): "He's bean-to Boston." They hated the bean-to because he no longer told stories. He gave explanations. he taught them doctrines. He gave them directions. He drew diagrams on a chalk board. The bean-to left all his stories in the wastebasket of the libraries and lecture halls of Europe and America. The intimate and dignifying process of telling a parable had been sold for a mess of academic pottage. So, Father Brynne [Tony] told us, he quit the practice of sending the men off to those storyless schools," (Tell it Slant, 60-61).


I'm grateful that most of my education (history, english, and theology) was provided to me by men and women (starting first with my parents) who believed in the power of story.

06 April 2009

Tell it Slant

Eugene Peterson's Tell it Slant is a provocative book. I've been reading it over the last week or so . . . and it's making me remember why I love the teachings (and teaching style) of Jesus. A careful student of language (he is, after all, the catalyst behind The Message), Peterson walks the reader through the teachings and stories of Jesus (from Luke) reminding us that Jesus did not spend his public ministry using abstract theological proofs. Rather, he spoke plainly (albeit "on a slant") in language that farmers, peasants and lawyers could understand.

I'll write more on this later.

02 April 2009


We are in the final stretch of pregnancy. At the ten week mark, Kara posted this on her blog regarding an eviction notice for Baby Lucas. If you know Kara, you'll appreciate this.


I am issuing a 90 day notice for EVICTION. Tenant will have 90 days in which he can either gather his belongings and promptly vacate the premises, or wait until the final day. After which, he will be physically removed from the property.He's being evicted due to breech of contract and destruction of property. Expansions only to the FRONT of the house, within reasonable limits, were discussed. Not only have these limits been exceeded, but additions to the back of the house were also made!Remodeling and gutting of the home was never approved, nor was changing the initial layout and base structure. And due to property damage, there are now leaks in both the upper AND lower levels of the home. On top of which, the landlord has received numerous complaints about nightly disturbances. After 90 days from this day that he doesn't comply with the notice will result in immediate and forceful removal at my discretion.



01 April 2009

Palm Sunday on My Mind . . .

"The might of the world, the most sophisticated religious system of its time allied with the most powerful political empire, arrays itself against a solitary figure, the only perfect man who has ever lived. Though he is mocked by the powers and abandoned by his friends, yet the Gospels give the strong, ironic sense that he himself is overseeing the whole long process. He has resolutely set his face for Jerusalem, knowing the fate that awaits him. The cross has been his goal all along. Now, as death nears, he calls the shots," from The Jesus I Never Knew (241).