Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Hermes, may your family be blessed

A trailblazer in New York City ministry passed away last night after suffering a massive stroke on Sunday. Hermes Caraballo gave every ounce of himself for the sake of the Gospel as a teenage evangelist, pastor, and, most recently, the faith-based liaison to the Bronx Borough President. Long before faith-based initiatives had become a federal policy mandate, Hermes served in what he affectionately referred to as "Pharoh's Court." He understood the inner workings of city government and offered practical insights how to engage Christians in public service, as well as policy advocacy and healthy debate. Hermes will be missed by his elders, peers, and those of us emerging leaders that he invested in so generously. Our prayers are with his wife Rosa, his daughters, and all those whose lives he touched during this difficult time. The funeral will be Friday June 3, 2005. Viewing @1pm. Service @7pm. Location: Iglesia Christiana John 3:16, 864 Westchester Avenue, Bronx, NY 10459. Read the June 2 obituary from the NY Daily News here.

Upcoming Billy Graham youth events

June 11, 17 & 18. Details here.

Extra, Extra: A-Rod in Therapy!

"I think it's a different life that I've discovered. ... [T]herapy is an incredible thing and you might get to know someone you didn't even know was in there." - Alex Rodriguez (NY Yankees 3B, 17 HR, 49 RBI, .330 BA as of 5/31/05)

By now this might be "old news," but I didn't have a chance to comment on it last week.

All-world athlete and future hall of famer Alex Rodriguez praised the benefits of therapy last week. In classic tabloid fashion, the New York Daily News turned his comments into front page news on Wednesday.

I'm glad they reported the story on the cover, headline and all, but not because it's salacious or otherwise newsworthy in itself. A-Rod's candor about the importance of therapy in helping him sort through the emotional difficulties of his past -- notably his father's abandonment as a nine year old boy -- affirms for kids (and hopefully adults as well) that it's safe, and critically important, to deal with the hard stuff.

Sadly, that hasn't always been so in our churches. A friend of mine recently shared how he sought counsel from a pastor and the dean of a Christian college regarding sexual temptation. Their cliche advice was to read the Bible and pray more, not taking the time to discover that at root his questions related to ten-plus years of sexual abuse, beginning at the age of four, by his sister and her friends. It was only through the assistance of a professional therapist, and the support of what he called an "authentic community" of friends around him, that he was able to find healing from the pain.

The mental health profession has stepped in to fill the role that many of our churches and ministers have abdicated -- the role that allows us to "confess sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (James 5:16, NIV). Despite this admonition, our traditions often mean that confession leads to exposure, ouster, humiliation, or rejection. Not healing.

Thank you, A-Rod, for having the courage to remind us what really matters.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Have a great holiday

The fam and I are off to the mountains for the three day weekend. Enjoy the holiday. Hasta luego.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Disappointed was I

I got home early tonight and discovered an unexpected opportunity to be spontaneous. Boom2 wanted to hang with Judah and Diana had some errands to run, so I could do whatever I wanted for a few hours. Nice. Since Diana HATES Star Wars and has already turned down several date requests to see the third prequel, I figured this was a once-in-a-long-while opportunity to see the movie. I couldn't resist. Unfortunately the Force failed to deliver for me. Not to sound too cliche, but at bottom my review is pretty standard. Visually stunning. Interesting to see how the Dark Side seduced Darth Vader. But the script was lousy and the acting stiff. I should have kept reading instead.

Another Manifold Mystery

"In the midst of [the] poorest neighborhoods and shantytowns, there are ... trillions of dollars, all ready to be put to use if only the mystery of how assets are transformed into live capital can be unraveled." - Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital (Basic Books, 2000), p. 37

Trillions of dollars are waiting to be transformed into economic freedom for the poorest of the world's poorest communities? A mystery indeed, one I'm intrigued to read. So yesterday I purchased South American economist Hernando de Soto's book, The Mystery of Capital.

In his own words, de Soto's basic premise follows:

"The major stumbling block that keeps the [non-Western] world from benefitting from capitalism is its inability to produce capital. ... "[Globally,] most of the the poor already possess the assets they need to make a success of capitalism. ... "But they hold these resources in defective forms. ... Because the rights to these possessions are not adequately documented, these assets cannot readily be turned into capital, cannot be traded outside of narrow local circles where people know and trust each other, cannot be used as collateral for a loan, and cannot be used as a share against an investment. ... "[P]oor inhabitants of [Third World and former communist nations] -- five-sixths of humanity -- do have things, but they lack the process to represent their property and create capital. They have houses but not titles; crops but not deeds; businesses but not statutes of incorporation. It is the unavailability of these essential representations that explains why people who have adapted every other Western invention, from the paper clip to the nuclear reactor, have not been able to produce sufficient capital to make their domestic capitalism work.

"This is the mystery of capital. Solving it requires an understanding of why Westerners, by representing assets with titles, are able to see and draw capital out of them. One the greatest challenges to the human mind is to comprehend and gain access to those things we know exist but cannot see." de Soto, pp. 5-7

I just started the book (halfway through Chapter 3), but it's a compelling read with applications for domestic poverty as well as economic development overseas.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Nominate Influencers

A national magazine just asked me to nominate 5-7 individuals "from media to the arts to politics to business, etc., who are the most influential Christian twentysomethings (18-34)." Any suggestions from the blogosphere?

Ramos the Wiser is Online

After much prodding from Jose, Mayra, Rudy, Liz, me, and who knows how many others, Dave Ramos is finally online. Check him out for the deep stuff.

Am I Gay?

Last week, two friends of mine -- one from California and one from the Bible Belt -- mentioned that their respective 7 year old sons asked what it means to be gay. One framed the question as, "Am I gay?" Children that age should not have to stress sexuality -- gay, straight or otherwise. Sex is difficult enough for teens and adults to manage. Yet our over-sexed culture demands kids' attention. The apparent omnipresence of nearly-naked, sensual bodies and innuendo on t.v., radio, department stores, malls, billboards, and cartoons means that even the most protective parents cannot shield kids totally from the subject. What, then, are attentive parents to do? Be proactive, and learn a few lessons from my friends. They responded to their sons' curiosity without shock and horror. Instead, they framed the discussion in a Biblically sound, yet age appropriate way, with sensitivity and without judgment. And they vowed to stay engaged. Better their boys continue to ask them about sex than someone else.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Caption Contest

Over at Rudy's blog. Enter to win Starbucks coffee.

Rudy took the picture with his Treo phone, emailed it to his Powerbook, then wi-fi'd the picture to his blog, all in about 3 minutes. Technology these days is sick. Meanwhile, we forgot to take a picture of Sam and Judah together yesterday.

SEXY prom nights

Planned Parenthood style. Thanks to Nicole Baker of the Boro Pregnancy Counseling Center for sending me the link.

[Offer] "prom survival kits" containing breath mints, confetti, condoms, and a $10 coupon for contraceptive services,
if there is even the remotest possibility that you are going to have sexual intercourse on prom night, then latex or female condoms should definitely be on your accessory list!
As an alternative to intercourse, PP suggests:

A lot of teens choose to skip intercourse and practice outercourse instead, which can include kissing, body rubbing (dry humping), and mutual masturbation. By keeping body fluids away from the vagina, anus, and mouth, partners greatly reduce the risk of pregnancy and infection.

Teens are talking about SEX these days. Are you?

Leaning Back

A couple of weeks ago a visitor to the Billy Graham office here in New York asked if I was from California. Said I was too laid back to be a New Yorker, and my shaggy hair gives off a surfer vibe. Nah, I'm definitely a New Yawka, born and raised. I love living in the Capital of the World, the Center of the Universe, the Big Apple. And I LOVE to represent The City. I wear my affection for New York all over my ripped sleeves, every chance I get. Still, I can get used to Southern California. Not enough to live there, but definitely to visit regularly. Sure, traffic may suck, the smog is grimy, and there are too many plastic bodies. But the San Gabriel Mountains are hot, the sun always seems to shine, and the weather is nearly perfect. Even the heat (high 80s, low 90s with no humidity) is of the pleasant variety. Throw in great company and good food, and I had a thoroughly satisfying trip last week. The Urban Youth Workers Institute was a blast. Few conference experiences offer the rich sampling of accents, ethnicities, and traditions as UYWI. The sounds and sights offer a snapshot of heaven, what UYWI guru Larry Acosta calls a preview of an eternal party. The entire UYWI team are to be commended for their intentionality and success pulling together such a diverse cast of characters and corresponding insight. Among the highlights:

  • a Star Wars screening,
  • Friday night block party,
  • multi-ethnic praise band,
  • hip hop,
  • comedy,
  • drum line,
  • salsa dancing,
  • step teams,
  • half a dozen DJs,
  • spoken word,
  • bonfire,
  • 79 workshop speakers (that's no typo) on every conceivable topic; and
  • an eclectic mix of keynotes, including yours truly.
UYWI is definitely not yo' mamma's conference. Thanks again for inviting me to participate. Also on the CA trip, I visited, like, the Valley, dude. Armando and Judy from Living Hope Community Church hosted me Saturday night in a guest suite at their home -- a lovely home, with a luxe backyard that felt like a retreat -- and served me great food. (Note to anyone who cares: feed me well and I'll love you forever!) Grilled carne asado, beans, rice, tortillas, homemade salsa and avocado salad for dinner followed by a sorbet medley with fresh fruit for dessert -- another taste of heaven. Thanks to the Living Hope family, especially Brian Meza and Pastor Sam, for your gracious invitation to worship with you Sunday. May you and your congregation live each day in the hope that resides within you. Yep, I can get used to this. From time to time, I just might follow NY emcee Fat Joe's advice and "Lean Back."


Two summers ago in California, I met a couple that helped inspire "What Would Jay-Z Do: Engaging the Culture." They're anonymous in the article, partly because their identity wasn't the point and partly because I forgot their names. (I'm terrible with names. Nothing personal, please.) Since then I've tried to figure out who they were, with no success. Then this weekend Kirk Scott, formerly of L.A. and now part of a church planting team in Memphis, was telling me about friends of his in the music industry that recently relocated to NY. A few questions later the mystery of their identity was revealed.

Supreme Court Politics and Abortion

On the same day that the United States Senate averted the so-called Nuclear Option on judicial nominees (at least for now), the current Supreme Court agreed to re-enter the abortion debate. Interesting that the litmus test issue of our day, about which most judicial broohahas relate, would apparently come before the Supremes one more time before another nuclear showdown on a Supreme Court nominee.

"Boy, it does make for an interesting summer -- potential chief justice retirement, the filibuster fight and the Supreme Court delving into the abortion issue once again," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the conservative American Center for Law and Justice.


What a week. California was great (more on that later), but yesterday was a huge faith builder for my son and me. Because of my trip to CA, we nearly missed the Carrasco visit to New York this weekend, but they extended their stay an extra two days so Judah was able to meet Samuel in Brooklyn last night. Regular readers of this blog know that Judah's been praying for Samuel since his leukemia diagnosis last August. One of his most frequent prayers is that Samuel will "jump as far as me." Last night, Judah experienced an answer to that specific prayer, as they chased each other with balloons from Sam's 5th birthday party, played cars, watched cartoons, and took turns jumping. From the ottoman to the couch, one after the other, Samuel jumping as far as Judah and vice versa. We serve such an amazing God who would allow a 4-year-old boy to experience so tangibly the answer to such a simple prayer of faith. Thanks again, "Samuel's Grandma and Grandpa," for your hospitality. My wife was amazed that Judah actually ate fish -- two servings! -- and wants to learn how to prepare tilapia just like you did.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

This is why she's on our board

"I have heard many times, from students who share the distinction of coming from the 'projects,' that their deepest fear is to try to 'finish college,' 'lead a ministry,' etc. -- and fail. As a certified project girl I would like to challenge that. I think the 'project plight' lies not in the fear of failure, but in the fear of success. Failure, despair, struggle, and 'the hustle to get by' -- we project folk know those experiences in and out. But to walk into unfamiliar, hostile territories and expect, to desire success -- well that’s something that I haven’t quite had the opportunity to practice too often. So I write all of this to say that the plight of a girl from the projects lives on. The elevators with pee have been replaced with conference rooms with condensation; but the hope, thank God, remains the same."
From Mayra Lopez-Humphreys, MSW, here. Mayra, associate professor of Social Work at Nyack College, is one of Generation Xcel's incoming board members, along with Rick Edrich, president of Spot Creative; Chris Eddy, co-owner of Barmarche; Evelyn DeJesus, UFT delegate; Kevin Cedeno, high school senior, and Lorreal Torres, high school junior.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Still a front page man

Today's USA Today profiles Billy Graham in a cover story called, "The gospel of Billy Graham: Inclusion." Some of the highlights, On S-E-X:

"Before he asks God's help, Graham says, he begins with praise and thanksgiving for God's gifts: the beauties and bounty of nature, 'even the pleasures of sex, within the boundaries of marriage,' for God's word as revealed in the Bible, for God's love, revealed in Jesus."
On youth:
"It's amazing to see how many young people are searching for something else and don't know what. They will come to the meetings out of curiosity — they want to see someone who has believed it (God's truth) and lived it."
On politics:
"If I took sides in all these different divisive areas, I would cut off a great part of the people that I really want to reach. So I've felt that the Lord would have me just present the Gospel" and stay out of politics, he says.
On attitude:
"I don't have many sad days."
On devotions:
"I used to read five psalms every day — that teaches me how to get along with God. Then I read a chapter of Proverbs every day and that teaches me how to get along with my fellow man."
On aging:

"I see all this going on, but I just understand the basic principles that will be true in every generation. My world is passing me by."

On watching the Yankees:

"It's on the short list of things he can do."

Kingdom Contradictions?

Is this what Jesus meant by the "kingdom of heaven"?

"So successful are some evangelicals that they're opening up branches like so many new Home Depots or Subways.... "For all their seemingly unstoppable success, evangelicals must contend with powerful forces in U.S. society. The ranks of Americans who express no religious preference have quadrupled since 1991, to 14%, according to a recent poll. Despite the megachurch surge, overall church attendance has remained fairly flat. And if anything, popular culture has become more vulgar in recent years." From Earthly Empires: How evangelical churches are borrowing from the business playbook, BusinessWeek (5/23/05)

I feel the need for speed

"'Internet2 is a thousand to 10,000 times faster than the networks that people typically have in their homes.' The network is so fast that downloading an entire feature-length film isn't a matter of hours or days, but mere minutes or even seconds." More here.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Big year for graduates - much love and respect

2005 is shaping up to be a HUGE college graduation year for me. Last Saturday, Ahndrea Allen got the party started by completing Northeastern University. Ahndrea was in my youth group for five or so years before moving to Boston for college. She's a track star and musical standout who is currently deciding between offers from two professional track teams and a job at BMG Music Group. Word on the street is if she sticks with track, she has a legit shot at competing in the 200M and 400M at the 2008 Olympics.
(Ahndrea breaking another record.)
Thursday, Mei-Ling Garcia graduated from my alma mater NYU with a nursing degree. She already passed her boards and started as a nurse at NYU Medical Center two months ago. Tomorrow Elsa Carlo, Luis ("Lou-Box") Velez, and Carlos Olivieri graduate Nyack College. In December, my brother Jonathan and Louis ("CoCo") Carlo are scheduled to finish at Nyack as well. Jonathan, Mei-Ling, and Luis all co-founded Xcel with me. Jonathan is the most loyal man I know, faithful to serve whatever and whomever, however possible. As a teenager, he tag-teamed a message with Lou-Box and Rollie (another Xcel co-founder, Nyack graduate, husband and father of two, and the current program coordinator at a New Life Youth Center) at our very first "Youth Sunday" service (circa 1996 or 97), where he said that if he ever had an opportunity to minister full-time, he wanted to be remembered as "Pastor Simple." Simple as in he focuses on what's important and minimizes what's not; he loves unconditionally and judges people not; and his life expresses meaning by impacting others rather than focusing on self. He has taken this attitude into his work as the Abounding Grace book-keeper and all-around problem solver, and, since last May, as the youth ministry co-director.

(Jonathan and Elsa. Photo by Mike Mowery.)

Mei-Ling also inspires me. I'll never forget the first time we met. She had a big bubble jacket, big hair, and a big crush on my youngest brother Jamie. The crush kept her coming to church, but instead she met one even better than my lil' bro as a soon-to-be love affair with Jesus transformed her life. She's one of those people who by all rights should have ended up a statistic. Essentially fatherless and surrounded by drugs and destitution as a child, she moved to Puerto Rico to live with a foster family, then returned to her mother as a teen. By then, her mom had become ill and before passing away, asked my parents if they would care for her sixteen year-old daughter. In the 10 years since, Mei co-founded Xcel, graduated high school, became an honors student, NYU alumnus, registered nurse, friend to many, daughter to my parents, sister to my brothers and me, and titi to my son.
(Mei-Ling's commencement at Washington Square Park. She's one of the purple dots surrounding the fountain)
Elsa and CoCo were part of my youth ministry team at Abounding Grace for three years, and CoCo directs Xpress and still leads worship at the church. CoCo was backslidden when I met him, running from God and his parents' rich spiritual legacy. But his sister Elsa, along with the effectual, fervent prayers of mom, dad, friends, and family, wooed him back. Roughly New Year's 2001, CoCo recommitted all to God. In the years since, he rediscovered a passion for people, community, justice, and, most of all, the presence of God. Even as a young man without any formal musical training, in my humble opinion he's hands down the most anointed worship leader I know, and his Joe Cocker voice, Latin flavor, and soulful style make him a unique package. Plus he's great with kids, willing to invest time, treasure, and talents into empowering their dreams.
(CoCo loving Lucas (l) and Jonathan (r). Picture by Mike Mowery.)

And what can I say about Elsa, other than Judah swears he's gonna marry her? That, frankly, says it all. Elsa is sweet as can be, caring, insightful, and gifted. She doesn't always agree, but I can't begin to count all the times she has amazed herself and inspired others after mustering the courage to be stretched. She has the voice of an angel, the heart of a servant, and the character of steel. She plans to return to school in the fall to pursue a counseling degree and a career as a high school guidance counselor. I've written several times about Luis (notably here and here). Who'd-a-thunk that after daddy's suicide and all the other baggage he had to carry that he'd ever be able to call himself a college graduate? I know a few people who thought exactly that, not to mention a lot of other cool stuff about Lou.

(Luis and his protege Jeremy. Picture by Mike Mowery.)

Carlos' sister Emily Olivieri was in my youth group for years before graduating F.I.T. last May, and Carlos joined the church through her and his relationship with Rollie and Lou-Box. I recruited him once to work at Xcel, but he turned me down. Now he and his fiance co-direct the SALT (Single Adults Learning Together) ministry at Abounding Grace.

There's nothing more gratifying in ministry than to see spiritual disciples excel in life and calling. I'm so proud of them. Much love and respect.


May 20 update (from UYWI) - I woke up at the hotel this morning horrified when I realized that I neglected to include Kenny Grohowski among my original list of graduates. Kenny makes eight this year. He's a world-class drummer/all-around musical genius with the DNA of his grandfather, legendary "Salsa King" Bobby Cruz, and moved to NY from Miami four years ago with a music scholarship for New School University. Kenny first attended Abounding Grace at the recommendation of Nicky Cruz, but quickly submersed himself into our community on a profoundly deep level. He joined the music ministry, the youth ministry team, and has been our most faithful volunteer instructor at Xpress. In the last year, his students have written 5 original songs, recording three in studio and performing two live at the Bowery Poetry Club. He has directed the music at every Xpress production, all the while traveling the world performing at festivals throughout Europe and just about every music nightspot in our City. Kenny, I love you and so appreciate you. Thanks for becoming part of our life and allowing us into yours!

(Photo by Mike Mowery.)

Vote for Seth

My nephew Seth was nominated for the "coolest hat" photo contest in American Baby magazine. Cast up to five votes here.

Breakfast in bed

Judah awoke this morning around 8:30. Mom and I weren't ready to wake up fully, so I laid down with him on the couch as he watched Caillou. Predictably I dozed until Judah gently shook me saying, "Come into the kitchen. I have a surprise for you." "Yikes," I thought. Kitchen surprises usually backfire, but I obliged. Eyes closed, he led me by the hand to the table, where proudly he announced I could look. He made me his favorite breakfast, with a twist: buttered bread, sliced cheese, a glass of milk, and, for a grown-up effect, leftover Chinese, with four place settings. Said he learned how to make me breakfast because that's what Caillou did for his daddy. Life doesn't get any better than this!

Friday, May 13, 2005

Under the Overpass

Judah with Grandma and Grandpa on Grandpa's Harley. More pics here. Pictures are courtesy of Michael Mowery, a world-class photographer and great friend. Email him for your next photo gig: mike at michaelmowery dot com.

UYWI - speaker schedule

If you're in LA next week, check out the Urban Youth Workers Institute.

Elective: What Would Jay-Z Do? Engaging the Culture Friday, May 20, 2005, Time: 2:00 PM - 3:15 PM

In the last thirty years hip hop has revolutionized pop culture while evangelical Christianity has created an insular subculture. How have self-proclaimed "controversies" like Eminem and "hard-knock" lifers like Jay-Z sold millions of records to suburban kids all across America? Fundamentally, it's because Jay-Z and his counterparts have become better fishers of men than we are. They identify with kids' pain and address their needs in language they understand and in a forum they frequent. The question for the Church is no longer whether to engage, but how to do so effectively.

General Session: A Place of Hope Friday, 6:30 PM - 9:00 PM

Elective: Taking Your Ministry from Irrelevant to Revolutionary Saturday, May 21, 2005, 8:30 AM - 9:45 AM We serve a generation desperate for authenticity, desperate to move beyond the rhetoric of cliché Christianity to something meaningful, transformative, and real. Christ's model of revolutionary ministry was to concentrate His activity in a small number of authentic relationships. By modern standards, the immediate results of that strategy were mediocre at best and a failure at worst. Yet His influence over twelve disciples split history in two and changed the world forever. How did He do it? Are His methods applicable today?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Hope springs eternal

"The Crusade's investment allowed us to create a prototype for how to strategically engage youth culture for Christ that can be implemented outside of the context of this particular event. ... Accordingly, we expect that He will use the Get Real message, comic, music, and website, even more effectively than how we first imagined."

For the latest on Get Real and the Billy Graham Crusade's youth emphasis, go here.

If there's room at Hip-Hop's table ...

for violinists and reggae can embrace a Hasidic Jew, why do some evangelicals still resent Gospel Hip-Hop?

Hip Hop prophets

From Jesus and the Hip Hop Prophets, by John Teter and Alex Gee (IVP, 2003):

"The biographies of Jesus ... include a story about three astrologers.... They were the first ones to figure out what God was up to, beacuse God wanted them on the inside. God could have communicated with them any way.... But these three saw the stars God had placed for them.... You would think the religious people would be in the front row for the birth of God's son. But it was the astrologers, not the stuffy religious folk, who were the first to give Jesus props and show him love. The religious people were too busy being religious."
And ...
"Jesus doesn't have weak beats. When he drops a beat or freestyles, our hearts hit heights we never knew existed. Jesus wants to be seen and he wants to be heard. And he wants to invite us into his inner circle."

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Response to MK re. ANKOC

Note to anyone not named Matt Kruse or Bob Campbell: Feel free to eavesdrop on our conversation about Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian and comment.

MK: J, here's my initial salvo on the book. [Caveats.]

Me: You said a mouthful for an initial salvo. Can't wait for the sequel.

MK: What I liked:

1) The idea that we are called to redeem the culture we live in, not isolate ourselves from it into a Christian sub-culture. (Amen, Brian.) 2) The idea that modernity does not equal Christianity, and that we need to be careful not to force God into our modern boxes. (This is true and hugely important for reaching a post-modern culture with the Gospel. Simple example... hitting someone with the 4 spiritual laws and a yes or no proposition on Jesus may have worked a generation ago, but it isn't working in this one. Church after church has died because they did church in modern ways rather than in missional ones.)

Me: I agree completely on both counts. Regarding your dislikes, I share them as well, in principal. But I didn't interpret the book in quite the same way. I'll respond to each in kind.

MK: Things I didn't like:

1) The m.o. of setting up generalized strawmen to the knock down.

Me: I agree that attacking strawmen is an intellectually dishonest form of debate. But off hand, I don't recall where McLaren simply set up strawmen that don't exist. Can you refer me to an example of one that was problematic for you?

MK: (Can you imagine someone saying Jeremy Del Rio and Benny Hinn are Christians... Benny Hinn is a heretical nutjob I wouldn't trust with my lunch money, so Jeremy must be too? Not fair.

Me: Not fair at all!

MK: McLaren clearly has had some bad church experiences, but the blame goes on those churches and not on all churches.

Me: I'm feeling you on this. It's not fair to over-generalize based on unique circumstances. But certain themes have played themselves out over and over again for decades across denominational lines as modern paradigms have been challenges by new ones. Take for example the issue of music styles in worship. There are still old-school evangelicals who believe any music that deviates from classic hymns is inherently evil. No way God can be in gospel or rock or, heaven forbid, hip hop. To acknowledge that this mode of thinking still exists in some contexts is not blaming all churches everywhere, nor is it creating a strawman. I've seen it and experienced it, and mentalities worse than it, in my own life and ministry experience.

MK: The title of the book for example... what does Different mean? If being 'different' means different than the Oral Roberts crew, than amen. If different means different than 2000 years worth of believers, no thanks. What I mean is, he seems to be rebelling against a flawed picture of the Christian faith, an easy one to find fault with.)
Me: Regarding the title, I think his reference to a new kind of Christian implies the same kind of meaning that Jesus used in his illustration about "new wineskins." He's not saying that Christ's eternal character or expectations for us should change just because cultures or individuals demand it, but rather that our forms of expressing his timeless Truths must be contextualized.

MK: 2) The idea that the text of Scripture is always defined by context. (Here he begins to tread onto some scary ground with the idea that there is no meaning in the text but that which we bring to it. If everything in the Bible is up for grabs and can mean different things at different times for different people depending on their context, then we are putting ourselves above the Scriptures rather than forcing ourselves to sit under the text. Clearly exegesis and hermeneutics are challenging endeavors, but we must hold fast to the belief that God has spoken in universal and eternal ways in the Scriptures. You pull that rug out and you've got nothing to stand on... you just make it up as you go based on your context, i.e. the idea that somehow at this point in Christian history homosexual intercourse is an acceptable moral activity... "I know God condemns homosexual activity from beginning to end of the Bible, but the Bible stopped being written 2000 years ago... if it was still being written, God would be inspiring people to condone homosexuality because our context has changed and God is love and God understands." Dangerous ground Brian.)

Me: Context certainly matters in the ANKOC framework, on many levels, but I don't think McLaren would argue that the meaning of Scripture can bend to fit contextual whims. I think what he means is, first, that understanding the context of the times in which the passages were written offers a deeper level of meaning to the texts themselves. For example, Jesus proclaiming the "Kingdom of Heaven" during Roman occupation of Israel gives that phrase a very loaded meaning that Americans struggle to understand from the vantage point of living in a 21st century political democracy.

Second, understanding the temporal context in which timeless Scripture must be applied in the real world requires us to differentiate between methods and message, Truth and tradition. Your example of the four spiritual laws, for instance. Those were groundbreaking, once, when they were written in the 1950s by a modern man for modern people. Now, some would argue they're practically written in a foreign language. Or the example of the Billy Graham phenomenon. God anointed him, no doubt, but he also appointed him "for a time such as this," and his methodologies and personality were perfectly suited to reach post-war Boomers. It's going to be interesting to watch how BG's ministry adapts in his absense. It's also fascinating that no "Crusade"-style evangelist in the last 25+ years has even remotely scratched the surface of BG's success here in the Western world.

Third, I think he argues that we shouldn't pick and choose scriptures to hold onto based on our contexts. It's easy for example, to compile a three point sermon that speaks to specific sensibilities by skipping verses that don't make sense and only citing those that fit neatly into our theology. On the contrary, he challenges us to wrestle with the hard passages, the ones that contradict our expectations. For instance:

The parts of the Bible that bother you most are the ones that have the most to teach you. ... Instead of minimizing your discomfort trying to explain those parts away, you should bear down on those passages and maximize how different they are, really wrestle with [them]. (ANKOC, p.79

Fourth, he resists the modern approach of removing particular verses from their respective passages to create cliche Christianity. For instance, his comments on degrading the phrase "born again" by divorcing it from its context.

MK: 3) The pooh poohing of individual sin in favor of corporate sin. (For example, the kid who stole the woman's wallet is only partially guilty. She is at fault for having her wallet stolen because she didn't give to the YMCA or vote Democrat. In fact, she is the bigger sinner because she was privileged and should have known better. So let's fix the system but not the individual. Now individual sinners are off the hook.)
Me: Where does McLaren pooh pooh individual sin? He clearly differentiates between Sin and Pharisaical "sins" such as snobbishly prejudging social drinking, for instance. (When I grew up, not drinking a beer was the equivalent of the eleventh commandment. While I still don't drink beer, it's not because traditionalists tell me not to.) Having said that, I agree that he emphasizes the problem of systemic, or corporate, sin, but I don't think he suggests that the two problems are mutually exclusive. Individual sin is bad, but so is corporate sin, and God will judge both. America's me-first culture built on the ideals of so-called "rugged individualists" has trouble conceptualizing corporate sin, but the Bible speaks to it repeatedly. The entire Old Testament is comprised of nations, cities, tribes being judged corporately for communal sin, because social structures reflect the hearts of the individuals who create them. Flawed people create flawed stuctures, which in turn perpetuate and in some cases exacerbate flaws in individuals. McLaren suggests that modern American Christianity has been infected by American individualism to the point where it seems, at times, incapable of accepting collective responsibility for flawed systems. (It's getting late -- I'm not sure if that makes sense the way I wrote it.)

MK: 4) The idea that preaching is less and less important in the life of the church. (God has ordained the preached Word as a means by which faith comes into the hearts of men and women. The day that we stop preaching Jesus because it doesn't 'connect' with the culture is the day that we set off on our own and leave God's Spirit behind. We need more preaching, not less.)

Me: I'm not sure he's diminishing the importance of preaching as much as restoring it to some level of balance within the community of believers. The book's central character was very preachy, in fact. Perhaps I'm imposing too much of my own thoughts into my interpretation of the book, but the kind of balance I imagine is modeled in Acts 2. That church was birthed out of Peter's preaching of the Gospel, but it also reflected a perspective of community that is radical by today's modern notions:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
Within this framework preaching and teaching are clearly vital cogs in the wheel, but so is fellowship, communal living (the the point, almost, of communistic living if one interprets the verses literally), food, prayer, praise, and meeting felt needs. My interpretation of McLaren's new Christian -- and if not his, certainly mine -- is one who lives the Word, not just preaches it. One who, like Christ, incarnates it -- "The word became flesh and dwelt among us" -- as he seeks to serve the needs of others. (John 1)

MK: I am blanking out on what else. Maybe if we get into details it'll come back to me. I am down with the church doing church in ways that the culture gets, but I am not down with softening the Gospel. This is the tough line that emerging churches walk.

Me: My buddy Rudy has been part of the emerging church conversation for some time. One of his friends, Andrew Jones, wrote an open letter to an EC critic that addresses some of the concerns about whether ECs soften the Gospel. Frankly, I'm so new to the discussion I'm still figuring that one out. But Jones has been part of the conversation for years and has far greater insight into the challenges.

Faith like a child

I've written several times about my son, the incomparable Judah Jeremy. I love his faith and spiritual sensibilities (among everything else about him!). Judah has been faithfully praying at home, before bed (and periodically at random times during the day) for Samuel C. just about every day since Sam's leukemia diagnosis last summer. Judah started school last week, and tonight before bed announced that he asked his teacher to pray for Samuel in class today.

The Gospel according to Neo

Church planter Matt Kruse started a blog last month. Yesterday's post was so "postmodern":

"We preached Jesus from a movie with guns and helicopters smashing into buildings, but everyone trusted me enough and is thinking missionally enough to go with it."

His church, Edgeworth, is also launching an innovative, web-based outreach this weekend at a community parade. Check it out: www.GoMalden.com.

Welcome to the blogosphere.

Falsely accused

In the span of two weeks, two dear friends have been falsely accused by former associates. Please pray Isaiah 54:17 for them:

"No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me," declares the LORD.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Revisting 9/11 when it's not an anniversary

It happened randomly this evening, but I discovered the New York Time's 9/11 archive. ... Three and a half years later and I felt myself again go numb looking at the images and skimming the articles. 9/11 was a defining day for me on so many levels.

Goin' back to Cali

... for the Urban Youth Workers Instutute in Los Angeles, May 19-21, where I'm presenting three messages in two days. Fun.

  • "A Place of Hope" - Friday Night Keynote
  • "WWJD (What Would Jay-Z Do): Engaging the Culture" - Elective (article here)
  • "From Irrelevent to Revolutionary" - Elective (article here)

[Descriptions and schedule here.]

You goin'? I'll also be preaching Sunday morning, May 22, (10 am) at Living Hope Community Church, where the youth pastor is my friend Brian Meza. Brian doubles as a 21st century missionary to youth culture, as an entrepreneur. Check out the website for GPeC, his "urban athlesure gear" company, whose mission "is to start a movement to promote peace to the Young People of America with every step we take." Directions to the church (hosted by Hillcrest Christian School) here.

Death to men like this

Stories like this one infuriate me even more now that I'm a dad. Politics aside, I have to believe that the Death Penalty exists for men like this.

Kingdom of Heaven?

This gives new meaning to "church politics."

The Pit we call Ground Zero

Check out MSNBC's blogcast for the scandal that has become the rebuilding of Ground Zero.


The Chronicles of Narnia, coming December 9th to a theater near you. Along with Pilgrim's Progress and the Danny Orlis adventure series, the C.S. Lewis Narnia classics were favorites that I read over and over again as a boy, and I would arrange my GI Joe action figures to recreate battle scenes from the books. It's going to be fun seeing centaurs and minotaurs and fawns and a magic wardrobe and the white witch and a messianic lion on the big screen. Trailer here.

Monday, May 09, 2005


The "Number One Christian Porn Site." Check it out. "More than 50 million hits so far." These guys take the S-E-X talk seriously.

"When I became a man"

Note to readers: This post starts rambling at the end and needs to be edited. Feel free to peruse it in its unfinished state or come back later for a bit more refinement. --------- Friday I fired off a quick post about needing prayer. Thanks to those who prayed. Today was an interesting day. Long story short, that thing that was dear to me that was killed then resurrected a month ago, was canceled again on Friday. This time, it seems, for good. Apparently the folks who nixed it in the first place figured out a way to get their hands on it a second time. Today I had the distinct privilege of sharing the news with the rest of the team that was invested in the project. Thank God for grace and favor. He led me to a passage -- actually reminded me of it last week, before the bomb dropped on Friday -- that says: "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face." The verse stayed with me all weekend. Finally this morning I looked it up in a concordance. I had forgotten that it comes out of a familiar passage: I Corinthians 13. The "Love Chapter." For context, verses 4-13 follow:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

They're beautiful words. We read them at weddings, recite them as poetry, preach them at church. Living them is an altogether different challenge. And this weekend, living them took on a whole new meaning for me. I discovered that I never really understood why verses 8(b)-12 were included in the rest of the passage. Love is ... blah, blah, blah (not really). That part I get. But then it talks about prophesies that end prematurely; tongues being silenced; knowledge being discarded. Then there's a random thought about putting childish ways aside. In between, references to seeing "in part," with the hope of one day seeing "fully." Yet verse 8 begins with a promise: "Love never fails." That's easy to believe when circumstances are well, but what about when the people we love fail us? When they kill that which would otherwise bring life to lifeless circumstances (prophesy); when they silence language that people actually understand (Acts 2 tongues); when they discard knowledge that provides understanding about situations and people? You know, the occasions that make us burn with anger and beg for retaliation. That's when true love refuses to fail others, when it empowers us to put childish reactions aside. When the pain and frustrations are raw, we see "in part" -- that is, only the immediate consequences of their failure. It's only after "we are fully known," that God promises that we will "know fully." Adversity reveals the character of a man so that God can trust us with more ...

Random Thought of the Day

From my friend, Pastor/DJ Kenny Mitchell of Tribe Church:

"Spirit and Sound: the connection of the vertical and horizontal, where our world and God's world become intertwined. Sonic vibrations translated into Spiritual Power. "The ancient people of God knew of this connection. The horns were played before the battle, musicians were used to calm and bring healing, to fight evil spirits, to assist the prophets to hear the word of the Lord, to bring glory and honor to the one true God.In those days it was the Harp, Drum, Cymbal, and Horn. "Today, along with those instruments, are the Turntables, CD players, Drum Machines, Samplers and Computers. These are the tools of our modern day temple musicians. Except now there is no more temple fixed to one location. We are the temple. This temple is beyond any one city.

"Our temple is mobile, global, diverse in sight and sound. But God's Spirit is the same. God has given us modern ways to express and engage with ancient truths. Enter the DJ…" (2002)

Where Grace Abounds -- UFT President Randi Weingarten spends National Day of Prayer in Church

Randi Weingarten, the president of one of the most powerful teachers unions in the nation, attended the National Day of Prayer service at Abounding Grace Minsitries last Thursday.

[Photos courtesy of Mike Mowery. For more pics, go here.]

It's not often that evangelicals and public school union chiefs see eye to eye on educational issues, but on this particular evening there was complete agreement that a public school system that educates 1.1 million students a day (a population larger than all but nine U.S. cities) needs "effective, fervent prayer." Thank you Randi Weingarten for attending, and Generation Xcel board member (and Abounding Grace deacon) Evelyn DeJesus for making the introduction.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Please pray this weekend

I got bad news today and need to process it with grace and dignity. Thanks.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Pray for peace today in SoCal

Ordinarily I would be skeptical of things like this as internet hoaxes, but Rudy is a source I trust. Apparently, Los Angeles anticipates gang bloodshed today between Mexican and black youths. Please join Rudy in praying for:

"Protection for anyone targeted, for people of violence to be removed, or the spirit of violence to be removed from them, and that God would help his people to be peacemakers, and intercessors in this time."

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

McLaren on being "Born Again"

I've thought long and hard about the best way to blog about ANKOC, beyond the random comments for several weeks now, and I think letting McLaren speak for himself is a good place to start. So I'm going to begin with one of his softball (sarcasm alert) notions that I have to believe riled a few evangelicals.

"To some people, the question ['Are you born-again?'] means 'Are you a judgmental, arrogant, narrow-minded, bigoted religious fanatic?' ... "Jesus originally used that term [born again] in a profound personal conversation with a sincere Pharisee. In that unique context, it meant a total reversal of everything Nicodemus assumed about what being religious was all about. It meant a radical humbling, a going back to the beginning, becoming a little child rather than a big religious scholar. ... In fact, it's really a study in the intentional use of ambiguity. But in typical modern fashion, we turn a profound and unique image into a simple, universal, mechanical formula and superficial slogan, and it becomes part of a slick sales pitch, and we mass market it everywhere. So now, 'Are you born-again?' means 'Have you said a little prayer at the end of a booklet?'" (pp. 104-05)

Note to self:

I realized a few minutes ago -- DOH! -- that my blogging about ANKOC is so 4 years ago. Apparently Andrew Jones (aka "TallSkinnyKiwi") and others are hosting McLaren on a "Blog Tour" promoting his third book in the ANKOC series. McLaren's "appearance" on TallSkinnyKiwi's blog? May 9.

My nephew Will

He's a playa! More pics from his little league game here.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The manifold wisdom of God

"His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known ... according to his eternal purpose ..." (Ephesians 3:10-11)

What a colorful concept, the "manifold" wisdom of God. I always imagined a sheet of paper folded many times into a tiny fraction of its former size, getting unfolded over and over to reveal something much greater than it originally appeared. Until today. Courtesy of the Tipping Point, I now have a far greater understanding of this verse, one that awes and overwhelms me. Of course, the Tipping Point is not an overtly spiritual book (although there was a rather odd reference to Billy Graham in a chapter called "Suicide, Smoking, and the Unsticky Cigarette" at p. 224). But a passage describing the power of exponential growth recounts that a single sheet of paper (if sufficiently large), folded in half fifty times, can reach from the earth's surface to the sun. Reread that carefully. One sheet of paper, folded just fifty times, can reach the sun - a distance of 93 million miles! Conceptually, we have a tough time grasping the depth of that scientific fact. Here's another illustration that may be easier to comprehend, with the help of a calculator. Double one penny every day for 31 days (not fifty), and your original $.01 becomes $5,368,709.12 (.01+.01=.02; .02+.02=.04; .04+.04=.08; and so on). Do the math 19 more times (totaling 50) and see how far one penny can stretch. Incredible.

Back to the paper folding for a second. Take a single sheet of newspaper, fold it in half 8 times, and watch how fat it becomes. It's a far cry from the sun's surface, but notice how few folds are necessary to start amassing some serious depth. Ephesians describes God's wisdom as "manifold." This awes me. If just fifty folds can extend 93 million miles, imagine how deep and wide "manifold" can get. Making matters more mind-boggling, the verse continues to say that God intends to make that wisdom known through the church. The church. The spoiled, whiny, largely ineffective, church. That's the part that overwhelms me. I'll never figure out God's fascination with the church, but at the same time, it's encouraging because it offers me hope.

Spoiled, whiny, and ineffective though I may be, God has something to say through me. "According to his eternal purpose."

Judah started school today

(For more pics, go here.)

You read that right. His first day of Pre-K was May 3, not September whatever. Technically he missed the age cutoff to start pre-K this year by two days. (His birthday is Jan. 2. The cutoff is Dec. 31.) Since Diana has been a full-time caregiver, no big deal. But she has had an opportunity to start an incredible job in the last month, a God-send for numerous reasons -- not the least of which is the lousy income I earn in full-time inner city youth ministry. Since her aunt and uncle pastor a local church with an excellent Christian school, a part-time (three-days-a-week) pre-K student now resides in our home. (A little well-placed nepotism goes a long way! Thanks again, Pastor Roger and Teresa.) And what a champ. He walked right into class this morning with confidence, introduced himself to the teacher, and made friends on Day One. Participated in "circle time," "story time," "play time," "lunch time," "snack time," and "nap time." Then grandma Arlene picked him up for tae kwon do, and Ms. Susan sent a note home: "Judah's easy to love. What a smart cookie." No doubt!

Congrats, Cortes!

One of Generation Xcel's primary funders the past two years has been the federal Compassion Capital Fund via Nueva Esperanza, a financial intermediary run by Rev. Luis Cortes of Philadelphia. Today's New York Times profiles Esperanza in "Hispanic Group Thrives on Faith and Federal Aid":

"Although a national study of the compassion fund is still under way, an evaluation of Nueva Esperanza's work offered good marks."
It's an ambitious article -- mixing Latino politics, evangelical Christianity, and Bush bashing -- and a fascinating read.

Monday, May 02, 2005

A new kind of Christian

... keeps his word, unlike my promise to blog about Brian McLaren's book of the same title when I read it last month. MK reminded me of my transgression so I'll make an introductory comment beyond the half dozen or so brief references weeks ago. God's timing remains ever mysterious to me. When it seems he tarries, I can lose patience with everyone else. But when His timing is clear, WOW. Nothing compares. Such was my experience with ANKOC. McLaren takes his readers on a journey toward a new wineskin paradigm of relational, post-modern ministry that I found eerily familiar. Reading ANKOC felt like friends of mine and I had been found out; like someone had tapped our phones or stolen our hard drives or recorded our conversations and wrote a book about them. That's not to say that any of us ever articulated thoughts about "postmodernism" in quite the same way as McLaren does. Frankly, I didn't even know for sure what that term meant or how it was relevant before examining the book and previously discovering my so-called "emerging church" brothers and sisters in cyberspace. (Rudy's blog was recently identified as a top-ten emerging church blog. Here I am friends with a so-called "emergent" thinker and had no idea for years.) But the concepts resonated profoundly with many of my own experiences and provided a constuctive framework for examining discontentments with American evangelicalism. For example, the timing of the the read for me personally couldn't have been more divinely orchestrated. Completing the book on the train-ride to work on the particular Friday morning when I finished it prepared me for what turned into an emotionally tumultous week that began that very same afternoon. Around 4 pm, I got called for an emergency meeting about an unconventional (my term for "postmodern") outreach project that is very dear to me. It had been quashed, summarily killed by well-meaning, "modern" Christians that I have to believe meant no harm but were woefully ignorant of the dynamics of the community the outreach engaged. I was furious. At least part of me was. The other part was amused at the irony of the moment. Sitting in the office listening to all the reasons why things had so abruptly changed course, I chuckled inside because the conversation could have come straight out of the ANKOC. Had McLaren scripted this? McLaren obviously hadn't but I believe God had. For completing the book when I did prepared me not to react the way my grassroots instincts demanded. Instead, the bearer of the bad news and I agreed not to make any hasty decisions and figure out next steps on Monday. In the meantime on Sunday night, my son grabbed one of his dozen or so David and Goliath books from his bookcase that we hadn't read in months. This particular version is noteworthy mainly for its bizarre artwork, which aesthetically I really don't like. Yet that artwork grabbed me. At the point of the story where King Saul agrees to let David confront Goliath but then demands that David wear Saul's ill-fitting armor, the silly illustration captured exactly how I felt! On Monday, we agreed to make one last appeal for our slingshot methodology, inspired by David's response to the king. By God's grace, the stone hit its target and a "modern" Goliath had been slayed, while a "postmodern" dream was resurrected. MK and Bob, feel free to reply to this or totally change topics, but I'm eager to read your responses to the book.

Eight days since my last post

... so I wanted this to be a good one. For time's sake, it has to be short as well. I read in the paper this morning that NJ Nets coach Lawrence Frank tried to inspire his team to victory in Game 4 yesterday by posting a classic MLK quote at the players' lockers. The tactic failed to prevent the Nets from a four game playoff sweep, but if nothing else, the quote inspired me:

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands at moments of comfort or convenience but where he stands in times of challenge and adversity." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.