Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Spirit of Nicodemus

This weekend I spoke about Nicodemus. I find his story to be a very interesting subplot in John's gospel. He has only three appearances. In the first one (John 3) he appears as a curious seeker of truth. Like all seekers, he has a distinct point of view. He's a Rabbi, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Ruling Council.) To quote Anchonrman Ron Burgandy, he's "kind of a big deal" - at least in religious circles. Maybe that's why he comes to Jesus "at night." Under the cover of darkness, it is safer to ask the controversial unsanctioned teacher some questions.

In 15 verses, Jesus seems to confuse the doctor of theology with his statements on being born again and receiving the Kingdom via the pneumas (spirit/wind). Finally, Jesus leaves the world of metaphors and allows Nicodemus' ears to be the first in history to hear John 3:16. "God loves the world, so he sent me." John doesn't tell us how Nicodemus responds, but it appears that he leaves Jesus with more questions than answers.

Nicodemus in many ways is a subtle antihero in John's account. He ought to be against Jesus. Politically speaking, he is an enemy of Jesus. Nicodemus seems to honestly struggle with Jesus - not as quick to follow him as the blue collar fisherman and desperate "sinners." Yet not as quick to codemn him as his elitist peers. He represents something rare in the gospel accounts - the voice of the thinking theist. He's open-minded. Cautious. Careful.

This is made even clearer in his second appearance recorded in John 7:45-52:

Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why didn't you bring him (Jesus) in?" "No one ever spoke the way this man does," the guards declared. "You mean he has deceived you also?" the Pharisees retorted. "Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them."

Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, "Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?"

They replied, "Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee."

In a black and white world, perhaps there is nothing more brave than the one person who stands up and screams, "Gray!" It is in Nicodemus that we see the courage to say, "I'm not sure that this Jesus is all that his followers claim him to be, but neither am I convinced that he is not that." He asks for what all true seekers ask for...he asks for the time to hear him for himself and to see with his own eyes what he is doing.

We hear no other words from the mouth of Nicodemus in the Bible, but we do see him again in chapter 19. At the cross:

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Mysterious, isn't it? I wonder if John wants it to be. He takes the time in his account to note that the fence-sitting curious Pharisee buries Jesus. History has assumed that this means Nicodemus eventually became a disciple of Jesus, but John doesn't let us know. Tradition tells us that Nicodemus became a preacher and a martyr. Perhaps he did. Regardless of what he became, Nicodemus teaches us that there is room at the cross for people with questions. It was a seeker who was among the first to the cross, and for twenty centuries they've never stopped gathering there.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Improv Classs Starts Tonight

Like I said earlier, I'm teaching a six-week Improv class at VCC starting tonight. I'm pretty excited. I tell Brad all the time that improv is magic. It has special powers to build community and change lives. I can't explain it, except that it makes us adults like children. Here's a quote from our Improv Matriarch, Viola Spolin:

"Improvisation is not exchange of information between players; it is communion. The heart of improvisation is transformation."

There are still a few spots left if you get this before 7:00 tonight.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sentimental Sojourner

We arrived back home from vacation on the one-year anniversary of our moving here to Ohio. It was strange to fly into the Dayton airport, a place I had only been twice before, and convince myself that I was now home. I've returned home to McCarran in Vegas at least fifty, maybe one hundred times, in my life. LAX or John Wayne a few dozen times. It is odd when home is not yet a familiar place.

Vacations make me homesick. The more places I have called home, the more homesick I get when I travel. This idea of life as a pilgrimage is foundational to me. The idea of being a "rebel pilgrim" is more than a title I've given this blog or my production company. It's my spiritual mandate: to be engrafted into the story of Israel and Christ as a wanderer/traveler/seeker. Part of being a pilgrim is being content with never having a home - at least not until the journey ends. The literal pilgrimage of my life has been simultaneously exhilarating and emotionally devastating. I desire to be grounded and yet I desire constant change and movement. Part of my soul never left Las Vegas. A smaller part stayed in California. Part was left here in Cincinnati from my college years, but when I returned I could not find it...because I had changed and returned home a different person.

And now nostalgia meets reality. Home is here. I would not go back, though sentimentality gets the best of me. Maybe there is time travel in the eternity we call Heaven. I'd give all my fortune (it's a lot, trust me) to have one more ping-pong match with Ernie, Doug and Lumpy in the second floor lounge at President's Hall in 1992. I'd love one more day with just Debbie and Cosmo (our cat) in our tiny first apartment in Las Vegas in 1995. One more early Sunday morning setting up for Canyon Ridge at Cimarron High School in 1996. Planning an early Apex service with Doug Citizen, Kristi Andrade and the gang in 1997. Waking up in the middle of the night at a time when I could hold Eli with just one hand and prepare a bottle with the other in 1999. A leisurely espresso with Kevin Rains in Quebec City in 2001. Just one more warm summer night in 2002 in the backyard of our first house on Tame Place. One more hour to read Nouwen or Willard or Hauerwas or Yoder for the very first time at the Starbucks at Lake Mead and Rainbow. And how I long for just one more performance at Tony n' Tina's Wedding circa 2005. To be Michael Just or Barry Wheeler for just two hours again. To step on stage and teach my friends at Lifelines one more time in Costa Mesa in 2006. To walk down Hollywood Boulevard with my headshot and resume in hand, muttering the lines of my upcoming audition and carefully not stepping on anyone's star out of respect for the auditions they endured decades before me. To slate my name and agency and nail one more reading would be a taste of heaven. But those days are over - all of those days. And I couldn't pick any one of those days that I liked more than the others. They are my pilgrimage. I loved them. I miss them.

And though I can't always feel it in the moment, I trust that a few years from now I will miss the summer of 2008 - the trip to Disney World with two boys who will still hold my hand and aren't too grown up to cry if they get hurt. Someday soon I'll wax nostalgic over my first year at The Vineyard: diving headfirst back into vocational ministry, being loved and accepted by a wonderful church, forging the foundation of what will be life-long friendships. Someday this very moment will be a romantic memory in the light of a future reality.

I'm a sentimental guy. Hauerwas says that sentimentality is the most dangerous enemy of the gospel. I've never fully understood his point, but part if it involves the easy choice we all make to live in the past as the future spontaneously unfolds all around us. As I manage through a strange bout of melancholy after a wonderful vacation, I am encouraged to see that my life has been so full of joy that my only sadness comes from remembering how good my life has been until now.

Monday, August 18, 2008


One more day in Kansas and then we fly back home. It has probably been the best vacation ever...a perfect mixture of doing stuff and not doing stuff. This last week has been relaxing and I think we are all ready to return home again. I'll have a few more days off work when we get back and I'm looking forward to doing a little reading and writing before jumping back into the chaos.

Since my brain has been on vacation for a few weeks, that's about all the thinking I can muster up for you for now. I'll plan on being witty and inspiring in my next post.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Intermediate Improv Class

When I get back from vacation, I'll be teaching a six-week improv class as part of Vineyard University. It starts Wed, Aug 27 at 7pm. It's intended for people with a little improv (or acting) training or experience who want to go to the next level or catch a refresher. Limited to 14 spots.

If you want to sign up or get more info, click here and click "Intermediate Improv."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Leaving Las Disney

Tomorrow we pack our bags and head to KC to visit my mom and dad. The first half of our vacation was great. I could easily go to a cynical place regarding the Disney Empire, and maybe I will here in a few weeks, but my kids (and wife) have had a wonderful time. (OK, I have had fun too.) My kids will remember this week for the rest of their lives. We were here for six days and maybe saw half of all there is to see. Over forty square miles of magical-ness. I think we'll come back...but not next year.

I'm more or less over my illness and the last two days were much happier for me than the early sick days...

Talk to ya'll in Kansas.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The good and the bad.

Vacation is in full swing. Two days at Disney down. We spent yesterday at EPCOT. Good times. Fun in a kinda nerdy favorite park by far.

However, I write to you from my bed at the fabulous Port Orleans Resort. Alas, not all is well in the Magic Kingdom. At least, not everyone is well. I have a terrible cold or flu or something. I sneezed about a thousand times yesterday and went through a few Kleen-ex mini-packs. Breathing is a chore today and the coughing has started. I haven't been sick like this for three or four years. I've been a trooper though. You'd all be proud of me.

Debbie and the kids are at the water park for a few hours now while I recoop. This afternoon I'll rejoin the family fun for the Animal Park. The kids are showing a few early signs of the plague as well, so hopefully they can fight it off.

Favorite things so far: Soarin' and Test Track at Epcot and the crazy vegetables they grow in The Land exhibit. I also strangely enjoyed my tuna sandwich at Earl of Sandwich in Downtown Disney.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Stuck in the Cleveland Airport - three hours delayed for my flight home. Yes, that means I could have driven faster. But if I had driven, would Continental Airlines be paying for my dinner at Max & Erma's right now? No.
That said, I need to get back to Dayton so that I can drive home and drive my family back to Dayton to get on another airplane. Well, Sean is driving us to Dayton, but you get the idea. Mickey awaits. Then a flight to KC next week. Then the flight back home the following week. This may not be the only extended stay in an airport this month for me.

I enjoyed my time with the good folks at Fellowship Bible today. Last night, I had to kill a few hours, so I found a community theater in Chagrin Falls. I caught their last performance of Urine Town, a musical I've wanted to see for a while. It was fun. Three of the leading actors were great. The dancing was painful in parts, but for community theater it was good and a nice little find. Downtown Chagrin Falls is actually quite beautiful and retro-urban-trendy. It reminded me somewhat of Laguna Beach...which is really odd since it's in northern Ohio. The downtown is actually built around a waterfall...pretty cool:

Friday, August 01, 2008

I'm Outta Here...

I'm headed up to speak again at Fellowship Bible Church in Cleveland this weekend. I really enjoyed my time with them earlier this year. It will be good to see them again. After that, it's all vacation all the time. We are headed to the self-proclaimed happiest place on earth for a week, then onto see my folks in Kansas City. It's kind of our first real family vacation ever since we have 1.) normally used any off time to come back to the midwest and visit family and 2.) always lived in a vacation hotspot. When you live in Las Vegas and OC, mini-vacations are easy to pull off.

For those of you in CIncy, the new AWE series launching this weekend at VCC is going to be very cool. I'm sorry to miss the first three weeks of it. (Not sorry enough to not go on vacation, but a little bummed.) Dave is back and rockin' a Dave Letterman post-writer's strike beard. You don't want to miss that.

On another note, I produced a few viral web commercials for my buddy Kevin Rains' auto body shop, Center City Collision. There are a lot more to come, but here's the first one on youtube: