Friday, September 28, 2007

Dr. Tim Keller

My new friend and workmate Adam Dressler has recently given me some CD's by Tim Keller. I had heard about Redeemer Pres in NYC, but these messages (one on money and one on justice) have been my first encounter with his teaching. So far, he has given me several thoughts that seem to fill in some gaps in my kingdom theology...I'm hoping to bum a few more CD's from Adam.

One thing that he said today seemed to resonate with my story:

If a person sits under one thinker he becomes a clone.
If a person sits under two thinkers he becomes confused.
If under ten thinkers he develops his own voice.
If under 200-300 thinkers he develops his own voice and becomes wise.
Regardless, the first two thinkers who confused the man tend to remain among the most influencial.

I think that I'm somewhere between 10 and 200 thinkers - at least on the road to wisdom, and that Keller is the next person whom I'm excited to learn from. See the Redeemer site by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My Journey - Leaping and Limping

I was able to teach tonight at the Alpha class at VCC. This was my fourth different "venue" to teach at The Vineyard since arriving. I ended up spending a lot of my time with them telling my personal story of my years of secret skeptism and doubt that dominated my late teens and early to mid twenties. (I was in Bible College and planting churches at the time.) It is part of my story that is easy to tell to seekers, skeptics and agnostics, but hard to confess in a primarily Christian environment. Anyone who has sat under my teaching for a while knows that it eventually emerges, but it is always intimidating to admit a propensity to doubt wihtin a particularly theistic community. It is even more intimidating when you have been hired by them as a teaching pastor.

I wish I would have had more time tonight to unpack my daily "leap of faith" and how I have come to see faith as a daily decision to align my entire being with the story of Jesus. My natural propensity is toward agnosticism, perhaps even materialism (as classically defined, not the current popular meaning of the word.) I re-read Mere Christianity (CS Lewis) this week for the first time in a decade and it resonated more with this current manifestation of Joe circa 2007. Lewis was smarter on a dull day than I will ever be on my best, but our brains seem to be wired similarly.

I left the class tonight knowing that I hadn't played it safe. It was raw and honest, which should be helpful to those similar to me ...and a bit frightening to those who do not wrestle much with God.

I am forever a Jacob, afterall - the self-deceiver ("Jacob" means deceiver) who wrestles with God and receives a new name. (His new name, Israel, means "struggles with God but prevails.") This too, I hope, is my story. You can spot us spiritual wrestlers by our limp...and by the way we no longer try to hide it.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Current Temps at my various "homes":

Costa Mesa, CA: 70
Las Vegas, NV: 71
Cincinnati, OH: 93

I have this intense fear that we are going to go straight from summer to winter here just to add to my culture shock.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Dr. Salvador Antonucci

This is Dr. Salvador Antonucci, Associate Professor of Classics and Greek Studies at Butler Technical College in Hamilton, Ohio. (He's not real. He's me.) Dr. A was invented to open up the Alpha Course here at VCC last week. He burst into the back of the class and attempted to take over, before Dave kicked him off the stage.

I cannot overstate how strange it is to be me. There have been two moments since arriving here when I felt completely comfortable. One was my first time teaching at the weekend celebrations. (I was nervous, but strangely comfortable.) The other was when I fully became this character. I have come to believe that I have the most ridiculous skill set in the world. I'm happy to have found a place to explore it in a different way.

I'm not sure if Dr. A will ever live again, but there are 1,000 other people like him trapped inside of me. (Wow, that sounds a bit like mental illness.)

As Dr. Antonucci would say, "We must repeat the past or else be forced to rewrite the future."

Yeah, I don't know what he means either.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In memory

From all us ragamuffins. It's hard to believe that today is ten years.

Everybody each and all
We're gonna die eventually
It's no more or less our faults
Than it is our destiny
So now Lord I come to you
Asking only for Your grace
You know what I've put myself through
All those empty dreams I chased

And when my body lies in the ruins
Of the lies that nearly ruined me
Will You pick up the pieces
That were pure and true
And breathe Your life into them
And set them free?

And when You start this world over
Again from scratch
Will You make me anew
Out of the stuff that lasts?
Stuff that's purer than gold is
And clearer than glass could ever be
Can I be with You?
Can I be with You?

And everybody all and each
From the day that we are born
We have to learn to walk beneath
Those mercies by which we're drawn
And now we wrestle in the dark
With these angels that we can't see
We will move on although with scars
Oh Lord, move inside of me

And when my body lies in the ruins
Of the lies that nearly runied me
Will You pick up the pieces
That were pure and true
And breathe Your life into them
And set them free?

And when You blast this cosmos
To kingdom come
When those jagged-edged mountains
I love are gone
When the sky is crossed with the tears
Of a thousand falling suns
As they crash into the sea
Can I be with you?
Can I be with you?

"Be With You" - Rich Mullins

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Times - They are a'changin...

The last few days have hinted of Fall. The leaves on our big tree in the backyard and yellowing. The early mornings are just slightly uncomfortable and brisk. I haven't experienced a legitimate autumn since 1994. The smells of autumn ambush me with childhood memories. I've worn shorts on every Halloween and Thanksgiving for 14 years - looks like that streak will be over this year.

I'm interested in seeing how the seasons changing change me. I wonder if there are any emotional or spiritual ebbs connected to it all.

Speaking of the new season, I bought the kids a nerf football and they both seem to enjoy throwing it around and running from each other. It feels like football outside. I haven't "felt" football weather for a long time.

Autumn is easy to romanticize...but winter is coming. I'll have to search deeply to find something in her worth waxing poetic about.

By the way, here's a pic of Aidan with Deb under the aforementioned tree.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Good Week

It has been a good week. I'm getting more and more excited about the various aspects of my job. This week has certainly felt more settled. I am finally feeling at home. The Bengals won. Deb and the kids seem happy. Good times.

The last few days have hinted toward a season change - my first real one in 13 years. I think I will really enjoy autumn before the gray oppression that is winter attacks and does not relent for three months.

I'm teaching a leadership training event this weekend for the VCC group leaders, an Alpha class next week, and it looks like I'll be back on the mainstage in three weeks or so. I'm looking forward to each venue as I continue to learn about the church and my place within it.

Tonight I get to hang with two old friends - Tim Parsley and Kevin Rains. It is good to have them of those bonus blessings with the whole deal.

Monday, September 10, 2007

It's a Wrap

It was great to get my first teaching time under my belt at VCC. I was overwhelmed by everyone's positive response. It went a long way to helping me feel at home here. I'm emotionally exhausted from it all, but excited about what the future will bring.

If you are interested, the streaming video of all the weekend celebrations are found at the church website: Just click where it says "last weekend" to see it.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Getting Ready

I'm spending the day preparing for my first weekend message at The Vineyard. I've more or less figured out what I think I should say...just need to trim it down now. Tomorrow is Aidan's sixth birthday. Deb's family will be coming in and it will be good to have a birthday party with family for a change.

I threw up some new phots of Eli at my 747 site. I think photo-therapy is working and hope to get out at least once a week.

Monday, September 03, 2007


I've decided to explore photography as a bit of artistic expression and therapy. I had this idea on our first few days here in Ohio and have created a new blog to explore it. You can read about it and see my first few photos at

Sunday, September 02, 2007


I have spent my life changing. Most of you who have known me for more than a year or two can easily see that. When I was younger I desired to be known, at some level, as "the one who is changing." The changes of my youth were often reactionary and dramatic, while being largely sincere and calculated. Somewhere around my 30th birthday I grew tired of being known as the "changing one." Ironically, I have done a lot of changing since then. As I approach middle age (oh, the pain of seeing that in text), I wonder if I am somehow destined to be a changing person or if I have become addicted to change like a junkie needing a regular fix of newness. There is a strange desire for our family to settle now, to nest, to rest from change - at least in terms of where we lay our heads at night.

This is all a preamble to launch into how all encompassing my life has changed this month. It's not just a new zip code, though that is part of it. It's the new job, the new friends, the new schools, the new schedule, (having a schedule at all), etc.

I am not complaining - not yet anyway. I'm actually enjoying the new things. I have just never changed so much so quickly. It has made everything rather surreal. People keep asking us if we feel settled yet, to which my wife immediately says, "yes" while I just stare at them searching for an answer. It's a hard question. (For you newer friends, you should know that I do a lot of staring and very little talking during a conversation. It's annoying, but I can't seem to be otherwise.) I do feel ready and excited to be settled...but not quite settled.

Next week is my first time teaching at The Vineyard. That should help to take the next step in settling in here. I'm teaching on God's Passion for People. I've reread The Return Of The Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen this week and may use Rembrandt's painting to try to unpack God's love:

All this business of change perhaps hinges on the state of our hearts, like everything else. On one hand, God is a God of transformation, revolution, and journey. He's a compulsive change agent. On the other hand, God never changes - this is something that makes him God. Maybe it is the difference in trying to change ourselves vs. allowing ourselves to be changed. The difference between renovation and surrender. The prodigal's first change was to leave the Father and live his own life. His second change was to give up his own life and surrender to love. I've done plenty of both in my life.

Looking forward to seeing what will be...