Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Caroline Laura

For those of you who haven't heard, we've had a tragedy in our family. We went in to Hartford Hospital on Saturday to check on our baby (due Dec. 26th) and the doctors found no heartbeat. Our little daughter, Caroline Laura, has gone to be with the Lord. Katie underwent a C-section surgery to remove her, and they found that her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck.

Please pray for us during this very difficult time. Thanks to all those who have visited, called or emailed and come alongside us. We are at home now and Katie is resting and recovering with her parents here. Nadine is young enough that she doesn't understand what has happened, and we see that as God's grace to us. We are entrusting Caroline to God's hands--they are good hands.

We will have a small graveside service for Caroline tomorrow at 11am at the historic Center Cemetary in Coventry, CT.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Dustin Salter updates

For those interested in updates on Dustin Salter (RUF Campus Minister at Furman University in SC), visit this site, which is updated often. Please continue to pray for Dustin and his wife Leigh Anne as well as for his three young children, Jacob (9), Nathan (7) and Meredith (2). Also pray for the students in RUF at Furman.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Exculpating Jean Cauvin

Marilynne Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize this year for her novel Gilead. Her prose is beautiful, measured, and full of great theology. The novel is centered around a 70 year old preacher who is writing a memoir for the benefit of his young son. He reflects on his life--mistakes he has made, and what time has taught him about the glory and ruin of the human condition. John Calvin shows up a lot, which made me wonder about Robinson's own theology.

So I was excited to hear recently that pre-Gilead, post-Housekeeping she had written a series of essays on, who else, John Calvin (she refers to him by the French Jean Cauvin), in which she defends him against the bashing of modern critics like Max Weber (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism) and Perry Miller (The New England Mind), both famous for originating the now widely accepted belief that Calvinism and Puritanism were (and are) bleak, joy-killing, repressive movements. For her full take, read the book, but here's a sampling of her thoughts, here on the false association of the Calvinist doctrine of election with "elitism":

While Calvinists spoke of an elect, Leninists and suchlike have spoken of an elite. The two words come from the same root and mean the same thing. Their elect [Calvinists'] were unknowable, chosen by God in a manner assumed to be consistent with his tendency to scorn the hierarchies and overturn the judgments of this world. Our elites [American society] are simply, one way or another, advantaged. Those of us who have shared advantage know how little it assures, or that it assures nothing, or that it is a positive threat to one's moral soundness, attended as it is with so many encouragements to complacency and insensitivity...The American salvation myth and the Stalinist salvation myth have in common the idea that the great body of the culture is a vast repository of destructive notions and impulses, that certain people rise out of the mass in the process of understanding and rejecting all that is retrograde, and that, for those people, there is never any use for, nor even any possibility of, conversation on equal terms with those who remain behind. The history of elites is brutal and terrible.

Note: One theological side note worth mentioning: While it is true that in one sense we cannot "know" who is elect and who is not (since we don't have the Lamb's book of life open in front of us), Scripture is clear about who the elect are: they are those who sense their unworthiness before God and call upon the name of Christ. That is the only ground of assurance for Christians. In this sense, the biblical doctrine of election is quite the opposite to elitism--it should properly produce humility rather than pride.

Relating this to how we treat our unbelieving friends (or our believing friends who we think don't "get it"), think about the cruel and harsh words and tones we often use in speaking about individuals or groups of people who, in Robinson's words, "remain behind." If the world is ever going to be convinced that God's elect are not "elite," we must take heed of not only what we are saying but how we are saying it. More importantly, we must examine our hearts for elitist attitudes and begin to repent of them.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Wedding on top of Lookout Mountain, GA

Last month I had the honor of preaching at my cousin Lisa's wedding, and this is the transcript of my message. Note: As someone who often has to endure grief for my name (in New England, "Joey" is either a little kid or a baby kangaroo, not a pastor's name to say the least), it warms my heart to know that I now have someone (in my family no less) who must endure more. :)
The above picture is a lithograph of Lookout Mountain circa 1866.

October 28, 2006

Lisa and Trippy,

It is a great honor and a privilege to be able to give you a charge from Scripture to begin your marriage. For those of you who don’t know, Lisa is my first cousin, so this is a special honor for me to participate in this service.

Marriage is a picture or a drama that was meant to point us all to Christ. It is God’s idea, he created it, and he uses it again and again in Scripture as a metaphor to show how he loves us, that He has committed himself to love his people even as a groom commits himself to care for his bride, even tripping over himself in his eagerness to show us his love. Last night at the rehearsal dinner we heard all kinds of stories from family and friends about how God has already been at work knitting the two of you together, as different as you are, and we’re here tonight to witness God now binding you together to become one flesh.

Of course one of the tragic effects of the Fall is that marriage is often seen as a means to an end of personal fulfillment, and what God intended to be a drama of love and redemption becomes in reality a story of two warring kingdoms, each trying to gain power over the other. The question I want to consider for a few moments is this: What will bind the two of you together to make your marriage a gospel drama rather than a self-centered power struggle? What will make your marriage last? My charge to you from Ephesians 5 that you’ve already heard read is this: Let nothing come between you; but in order to do that you must let Christ come between you to be your example and to be your forgiveness.

In the drama of marriage, there are two roles to be played. Trippy, your role, your calling is to be the head of the household in the same way Christ is the head of the church. This idea of “headship” is often misunderstood. It is not as though men are superior to women, and so women should submit. Also there is no sense of domination or cruelty in it. No, the biblical idea of headship, Trippy, mirrors Christ, and is a loving and sacrificial responsibility to care for Lisa, to consider her needs before your own, to lay down your life for her, not only when she is in danger, but also in the more mundane moments of your daily lives. Like when you know you’re right; in fact, you know your point is so ironclad and logically airtight that it cannot be disproven, and yet you are willing to lay all of that aside and listen to her, not because it’s the noble thing to do, but because you are completely and utterly convinced that that is what Jesus has done for you. In fact, you will never be able to truly love Lisa sacrificially until you are convinced that you have been loved by God in that way. When his accusers brought him to the cross, Jesus knew, and he was the only person who ever lived who could say this, that every charge of wrongdoing that was brought against him was false—that he was completely in the right. And yet, because he loved us and considered our eternal security and happiness as more important than his own vindication, he laid down his life for us. So Trippy, your role, your calling as Lisa’s husband is that for the rest of your life, until death separates you, you are to serve her, to honor her, when there’s a choice between making you or her look better, you choose her. You are to listen to her, to be quick to repent when you fail, and to be quick to forgive when she fails.

Paul goes on and describes the wife’s role in this drama of redemption that marriage is mirroring. Lisa, Scripture says you are to submit to Trippy in the same way the church submits to Christ, and to respect him. What does that look like? Again, this passage can be misused and often it is exploited. Paul is not saying women are somehow inferior to men. If you look at how Jesus treated women and the teaching of the rest of the New Testament, you’ll find the Bible is radically opposed to that idea. No, submitting to your husband means that as you see him serving you and honoring you, you respond in kind. Now wives, before you elbow your husbands and say, “See, if you would just lay down your life for me everyday, this whole submitting thing wouldn’t be so hard,” one way the church submits to Christ is by forgiving the same way Christ forgives. And how has he forgiven us? Do you understand that Jesus, in dying on the cross and rising from the grave has not only removed every ounce of punishment our sins deserve, but has also said to us, “I remember your sins no more!” He is quite seriously saying to all who put their faith in him, “I have forgotten how you have wronged me.” How does that relate to your marriage?

Lisa and Trippy, you are each marrying a sinner! And there will be times in your marriage when it will be tempting to bring up past wrongs--there’s no more effective weapon than that when you have been hurt—but it will destroy your marriage if you let it. Forgiveness is hard, because it means forgetting how you’ve been wronged. Not forgetting that it happened (that takes longer), but it means you no longer bring it up. It is hard to do that, it costs you something, it means you can no longer use it to justify your anger. And listen, you’re not going to be able to do that by pulling a Dr. Phil—you know, “Just dooo it!” No, you have to look to Christ! The only person or thing that should come between you is Christ. Because He is the only one who can bind you together in love, to not only be your example for how to love each other, but also your forgiveness and righteousness when you fail to love each other well, and you will. It make sense that forgiveness is costly and hard, because it was costly for God! He couldn’t simply snap his fingers and forgive us, because he is just and justice would not be done. No, he had to give up the apple of his eye, his only Son, to take the punishment our sins deserved. Our forgiveness comes at a great cost to God!

Lisa and Trippy, I charge you to make Christ the foundation on which you build your marriage. Let him come between you so nothing else will. Don’t look to each other for the deep joy that you were made for, because you won’t find it there and you’ll grow bitter and resent each other for not being able to provide it. Jesus is the joy-giver of life; let him be the joy-giver of your marriage. And when people come into your home and look at your marriage, imperfect as it will always be this side of heaven, they will see a glimmer of the drama of redemption in it. I love you both and may God bless your marriage.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Dustin Salter and RUF Furman

Please be in prayer for Dustin Salter, RUF Campus Minister at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. Early this past week he was riding his new mountain bike one street over from his house when he fell and hit his head. He has been in a coma ever since and is showing no signs of improvement. The doctors at this point are hopeful he will survive, but he has most likely suffered extensive brain damage. Dustin is married and has three children. Please pray that God would bring Dustin out of the coma and pray for his wife and children during this very difficult time. Also pray for the over 100 students involved with RUF at Furman, that God would bring comfort and the peace of the gospel. I will post an update on Dustin's condition when it becomes available.

The Sunday before the accident, Dustin preached on the providence of God in Traveler's Rest, SC. You can listen to his sermon here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

G.K. Chesterton on Loving your Neighbor(hood)

My good friend Andy Black has a great blog called The Gash that you should check out regularly (the name is from a Flaming Lips song). He recently put up this short passage from G.K. Chesterton's seminal book Orthodoxy that is worth reading. A little context: "Pimlico" was a down and out London neighborhood in Chesterton's day (completely renewed today). Andy's challenge is this: "Substitute 'Pimlico' for anywhere - your job, your school, your church, your city, the suburb where you grew up. This is one of the most rousing, convicting calls I've ever read."
("Penny Dreadfuls," besides being a great name for a band, were mid-20th century dime novels, the precursors to today's graphic novels and even comic books).

It has been said that the primary feeling that this world is strange and yet attractive is best expressed in fairy tales. The reader may, if he likes, put down the next stage to that bellicose and even jingo literature which commonly comes next in the history of a boy. We all owe much sound morality to the penny dreadfuls. Whatever the reason, it seemed and still seems to me that our attitude towards life can be better expressed in terms of a kind of military loyalty than in terms of criticism and approval. My acceptance of the universe is not optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more. All optimistic thoughts about England and all pessimistic thoughts about her are alike reasons for the English patriot. Similarly, optimism and pessimism are alike arguments for the cosmic patriot.

Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing -- say Pimlico. If we think what is really best for Pimlico we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne or the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico: in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico: for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles; Pimlico would attire herself as a woman does when she is loved. For decoration is not given to hide horrible things: but to decorate things already adorable. A mother does not give her child a blue bow because he is so ugly without it. A lover does not give a girl a necklace to hide her neck. If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. Some readers will say that this is a mere fantasy. I answer that this is the actual history of mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great. Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well. People first paid honour to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


At the beginning of this semester a few RUF students (Tim Colegrove, Scott Colleran and Samantha Fink) decided to play four square in the middle of campus. Little did they know that by Nov. 1st they'd have two weekly games and 27 people showing up to play on Wed. nights--they're even official now. I'm convinced that they're tapping into the ubiquitous "meta-longing" for what we've lost (in this case our childhood innocence)--who knew 4-square could be redemptive?

The RUF-UConn crew (and Nadine as Princess Nadine)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Benefits of Brokenheartedness

We recently took a group of RUF students down to the Hartford Rescue mission to cook food and serve it to whoever came in off the street. University life can be pretty isolating--rubbing shoulders with the poor isn't something our students (or their campus minister) experience every day. Most Fridays Rev. Greg Woods asks the volunteering group to lead a short devotional, so I spoke on Psalm 51 and the "Benefits of Brokenheartedness." As I was thinking about the Psalm in preparation for my message, I was struck by something that should've been obvious to me: "I'm about to talk to a group of homeless people about how to be brokenhearted. Do I even have a leg to stand on?" Would it be patronizing to offer these people anything more than a hot meal and a smile? Certainly any kind of gospel message would be disregarded--"Easy for you to believe," I imagined them muttering under their breath as they nodded politely. After a few more moments reflecting on the Psalm, I remembered something Rick Downs, my pastor in Cambridge, had said: "You're not ready to do mercy ministry until you recognize that YOU are the one that needs mercy. You are the poor one, the destitute, the one who should cry out, 'Have mercy!'"

Is there a bridge the gospel can travel between the suburban rich and the urban poor? Yes, it is our spiritual poverty. The suburbanite does not condescend to the urbanite! He travels a level road because his poverty is no less severe. We are right in hesitating to speak the gospel if we see ourselves as somehow condescending to our hearers. The breathtaking reality is that King Jesus speaks to us from his knees, a servant ready to wash our feet. What a disarming thought! If nothing else, that should put us flat on our faces before the unbelieving world. "Sinners THEN will turn to Thee." (Psalm 51:13)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Alienation: A Forgotten Road for the Gospel

"If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy." (Yates in Boston Review, October, 1999). Should Christians be reading novels with themes this bleak?
It is true that joy (not alienation) should be the central theme of the Christian life. But joy that turns a blind eye to sorrow doesn't suit the reality of life in a broken world. Novels like Revolutionary Road are worth reading because they remind us of our true condition apart from Christ. Sin alienates us from God, and that's why even though we know that Christ has brought us near, we often get the feeling we are "inescapably alone." I need to be reminded of the gospel everyday--that although we turn away again and again, God draws us near again and again. My college roommate and I wrote a song called "Come Closer" that never made it to tape. That's what God is kindly saying to us as we look to the cross.

Books like this also generate compassion for people who feel (and often are) alone. How often in Christian circles does "ministry" get defined ONLY in terms of sharing a four point gospel plan? We've forgotten that alienation is one of the primary roads the gospel travels. One of the hymns we sing on Tuesday nights has this verse: "Let sorrow do its work, come grief or pain; Sweet are Thy messengers, sweet their refrain, When they can sing with me: More love, O Christ, to Thee.
Often grief and pain themselves are messengers that call us back to Christ. But when we see others suffering, they are also a call to show compassion.

We should be regularly reacquainting ourselves with the weight of the Fall. It will make our joy weightier and our hearts more compassionate.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Moz became Latino yet remained aloof

Chuck Klosterman's new book of old SPIN essays is out and I'm once again contemplating his pop-culture genius. One of his essays (my favorite of his) describes his surreal experience at a Smiths/Morrissey conference in 2002 East L.A. 75% of the people there were Latinos under the age of 20. Klosterman is mystified: Morrissey once sang that we must look to Los Angeles for the language we use, because London is dead. And so it is: The question is no longer "How soon is now?"; the question is "Es realmente tan extrano?"
And again, this time quoting 23 year old Albert Velazquez, a six foot eight (six five without the pompadour), 235 pound Mexican construction worker: The last time I saw him live, he looked into the audience and said, 'I wish I had been born Mexican, but it's too late now.' Those were his exact words. And the crowd just exploded. He loves the Mexican culture, and he understands what we go through.
And yet 43 year old Stephen Patrick Morrissey, the one with Irish blood and an English heart, lives as a recluse in a mansion in L.A. and has never once attended this convention.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

M. Ward

The best album of 2006 (so far). From Billboard: Ward says two pieces of post-war literature, Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" and Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five," helped inspire some of the new album's themes. The sound: World-weary-joy in a crowded tin-roof shack in Mississippi. My favorite line, worthy of a tombstone: "[he] stormed with his feet and clapped with his hands/ (And) summoned all of his joy when he laughed." For those of you who were there Tuesday night, this is what I was talking about when I said the best art in the world makes us ache for the joy it can never provide itself. Merge Records is currently streaming the album on their website.


Monday, September 04, 2006

One of the best videos ever made

I'm in awe at the amount of time this must have taken to get it in one take (notice there are no edits).

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Geography of Nowhere

Is a book by James Howard Kunstler, written in the mid-90s lamenting the loss of main streets and coherent communities in America. His main thesis is that the American cry of "you can't tell me what to do with my land!" has resulted in what he calls "scary" places--cement-block buildings, kitsch architecture, and "nowheresville" suburbs. Inner cities have been abandoned for "safer" places, thus making any kind of mutual dependency or community next to impossible (in fact, often the appeal of "the next great place to live" is its exclusivity/privacy/distance from the "down and outs."
I grew up in a neighborhood in Memphis, TN which was originally out in the country (it was on a beautiful pond surrounded by trees) but gradually got taken over by suburban sprawl (read Wal-Mart and six lane highway). Kunstler's book put into words what I had felt most of my life but couldn't express, plus I thought his solutions (you'll have to read the book) were quite in line with a biblical worldview (even though he is quite hostile to Christianity). I wrote him an email to say thanks and didn't think I'd hear back. But what do you know, some authors actually care about their readers! Here's my email and his response:

Hi James,

I wanted to drop you a short note to say "thank you" for your book. I read it this summer. You've given justification (and cogency) to my childhood's "backseat rantings" (as I imagine my parents calling them) about the horrors of living in a suburb. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood in Memphis, TN. I heard about your book through an interview with Thom Yorke in Spin.

One question that kept coming up as I read (I'm a Presbyterian campus minister):

Didn't Christianity/the church play a major role in establishing the town model you celebrate in The Geography of Nowhere? One of the things I lament about the modern church is how it has given up its stance in the center of life (especially in America's cities), and that seems to be concurrent with a weak understanding of/interaction with our own history (and a lack of faith in Christianity's relevance in the modern world). Memphis is a perfect example. When I recently went there to visit family, I noticed all the historically "city-center" or at least "community center" churches have all moved to a non-descript, blasted landscape (yes, pastors can read Ferlinghetti) with literally NOTHING around (no poor people, no buildings, no NOTHING!). They are communicating physically what they've concluded theologically/culturally: "We have nothing to say to the complex problems of life/we are no longer recognized as a source for answers to difficult questions/retreat is the ONLY viable option."
Granting you the modern church's failures, then, where would YOU trace the origins of the community model you're buying into? I'm buying it too, as I think it is a thoroughly BIBLICAL model--you may disagree! :) After all, the Bible begins in a garden and ends in a city!

I would LOVE to hear your thoughts (if you have time).



Well, thanks for the compliment.
Must have been an annoying childhood.
I've been to Memphis and the devastation of the city center is impressive.
The origin of the community model I buy into is the American civic experience prior to the end of World War Two.

"It's All Good"

TO MY READERS AND CORRESPONDENTS: I'm getting swamped with e-mails again, and it is necessary for me to ask for your cooperation. I will gladly answer urgent or compelling letters, but please don't overload me with links, clippings, or plain old chitchat. I appreciate your understanding.

Friday, September 01, 2006


We spent a weekend in Cape Cod last week (our first time there) with the Hickmans (RUF St. John's). The Black Dog (Martha's Vineyard) was monumental--do yourself a favor and get the Swordfish if you ever go. This is Nadine sporting her Black Dog tshirt. We don't call her the "Dean of Cute" for nothin.

Out of the ashes of Andytown comes...

This blog. While this is no attempt to re-create the genius that was the Andytown blog, I hope to at least make this worth your while. If you've come here from the RUF UConn site, welcome! I'll be posting some messages from Tuesday nights as well as some thoughts on culture, music, theology, ladder golf, Settlers of Catan, and pogo-balls. That last one is for my sister if she ever reads this. (Now THAT was a great Christmas. I bounced the snot out of that thing.) Also, you should anticipate a lot of pictures of my daugther Nadine (and my other daughter when she arrives!) Brace yourselves, this is going to be really, REALLY good. Or just better than average.