Creche If No Cross?

Jason Micheli —  December 18, 2016 — 3 Comments

Here’s my sermon for the 4th Sunday of Advent. My text was Matthew 1.18-25.

“…You will name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sin.”

     To those of you who know me, it may come as a surprise to learn that I tend to be contrary by nature.

Towards the end of my first semester at the University of Virginia, my freshman year, I was invited one Saturday night by my friend Ben to a Christmas party. The party was hosted by Campus Crusade for Christ and was held in the home of their campus pastor.

Back then, I was still new in my faith and in many ways I wasn’t confident about being a Christian. Back then, Ben was the only Christian I knew at school.

As their name implies, Campus Crusade is an evangelistic organization. Of course I didn’t know that at the time and Ben had grown up in the mountains of Southwest Virginia where most of the Christians he knew hoarded guns and canned goods in their basements in anticipation of the apocalypse. An organization like Campus Crusade probably seemed tame to him.

It was during my first semester, about this time of year, that Ben invited to this “party.”

Now I shouldn’t have to tell you that the word ‘party,’ to a college student, conjures particular images and elicits very specific expectations- none of which were matched by the gathering Ben took me to that Saturday night.

In fact, in all my years of college and graduate school, this was the only party where I was asked to take my shoes off at the front door.

Ben and I walked there that night, in the cold and thin snow, to a neighborhood just off of campus. Walking up the short driveway to a small ranch home, I could spy through the big bay window in the living room a glimpse of the evening that lay ahead of me.

At first I thought we must be at the wrong house; this must be a Tupperware party or a bridge club. Ben though assured me it was the right address.

I thought about running away then and there- and probably I should have- but Ben’s a lot bigger than me and I didn’t want to aggravate him.

When Ben knocked on the door, this skinny guy with a soul patch under his lip and a guitar slung across his back answered the door. When Ben introduced me, the guy- the student pastor- shook my hand with disproportionate enthusiasm and said: ‘Jason, yeah, Jason- Acts 17.7.’ 

     And I replied: ‘What?’ 

This must have been his secret Christian greeting and because I didn’t know what he was talking about, because I didn’t even know my name was in the bible and because I didn’t reciprocate with ‘Michael, yeah, archangel of the Lord, Daniel 12.1’ he gave me a sad, pathetic sort of look and ushered me inside.

But first he asked me to take off my shoes.

Everyone else must have drank the Kool-Aid before I arrived because I didn’t fit in and couldn’t understand how people seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Once we were inside, Ben abandoned me. He mingled around the house while I stood near the dining table in my threadbare socks eating chocolate covered pretzels and looking at my watch between bites.

You can imagine how much my mood improved when Mike, the campus pastor, asked us all to circle up in the family room for a sing-a-long. I ended up sitting shoulder to shoulder on a sofa with two other people.

On my left was a girl who began every sentence with ‘The Lord just put it on my heart to ________‘ and who looked at me like I was as crazy as I thought she was.

On my right, with his arm resting uncomfortably behind me, was a 50-something man who worked in the dining hall. He had a long, scraggly beard and was wearing a Star Trek sweatshirt and had earlier over chocolate covered pretzels asked me if I thought the incarnation was a violation of the Prime Directive.

Across from me, sitting on the brick hearth, was a girl named Maria. I recognized her from the little Methodist church I tried to worship at a few times.

I remembered her because every Sunday when it came time for the congregation to share their joys and concerns Maria would grab the microphone and hold the congregation hostage for 20 or so minutes while she narrated the ups and downs of her romantic life.

Unwisely, I thought, Ben sat next to her on the hearth.

We sang songs whose words I knew only vaguely and whose tunes seemed unseasonably fast-paced. Mike, the pastor, strummed his guitar and led us in a breathy, earnest voice while his pregnant wife accompanied him on a small plastic keyboard on her lap.

When the singing was over, Mike, assuming a serious tone of voice, asked us to open up our bibles. I felt like the music had stopped and I was the one without a chair. I hadn’t noticed before but I was the only one who hadn’t brought a one.

‘Luke, chapter 2’ Mike said. Everyone but me read along as Mike read aloud: ‘In the days of King Herod…’ 

After he finished the reading, Mike asked everyone to share what the passage- what Christmas and the incarnation and the coming of Jesus- meant to them. And for several long minutes people around the room said things like:

‘I’m so thankful Jesus came into the world to die for my sin.’ 

Each person’s sharing was slightly different, but they were all about Sin- about Jesus reconciling it, suffering the wages of it, dying for it.

Then for a few moments a pause settled over the room. It took me a while to realize that it wasn’t a holy silence or even a meaningful one. It was everyone waiting on me to say something. Eventually I realized I wasn’t going to be released until I offered some testimony of my own.

Okay, maybe it sounded sarcastic but with all sincerity I wondered out loud what was genuinely on my mind. I asked a question:

‘If there’d been no Fall, would Christ still have come?

If humankind had never sinned, would there still have been Christmas?’ 

From the group’s embarrassed reaction you would have thought I’d just called Jesus’ mother a dirty name. Everyone looked at me with confusion. Mike looked at me with pained sadness and Ben looked as blushed as the pastor’s wife’s red corduroy dress.

An awkward silence fell over the room until Ben summoned a fake laugh from somewhere in his belly and somehow just kept the hahaha’s going.

I suppose it was only obvious to me how Ben was hoping he could just keep laughing and laughing and laughing until we sang another song or did something. But for pastor Mike I was clearly a neophyte to the faith (or a fool) and this was what he would’ve called ‘a teachable moment.’

He slung his guitar behind his back and started to gesture with his hands like it really pained him to break it down so simply for me.

     ‘Jason, the reason Jesus came,’ he explained, ‘is he had a job to do: to rescue us from our Sin so that we can have a relationship with God.’ 

For a few minutes more it sounded like he was rattling off lines memorized from a pamphlet about the wages of sin.

     ‘But what I was wondering: If we had never sinned, would Jesus still have come?’ 

‘But Adam and Eve did sin; we do sin. I’m a sinner. I’m not ashamed to admit that’ Mike replied and did so rather condescendingly.
That’s when any hope Ben had for me to keep my mouth shut went out the window.

     ‘That’s not my point,’ I said. I mean…

“Is the incarnation something that comes out of God’s frustration and disappointment with us? Or out of God’s overflowing joy and desire for us?” 

“Is Christmas just the beginning of a rescue package that bails us out of our suffering and sin, or is Christmas even deeper and more mysterious than that?” 

The group just watched us go back and forth, staring at me like I was either an idiot or a heretic. The pastor’s wife was biting her lip, and where I had spent the first 30 minutes of the evening wondering how I could escape she was now clearly wondering how she could get me out of her house.

No one seemed to appreciate the budding theologian in their midst.

It didn’t help matters that the only person sympathetic to my perspective was the bearded 50 year old with the Star Trek shirt whose sole contribution to my cause was to say ‘Dude, that’s deep.’ 

Meanwhile the girl sitting next to me had placed her large KJV bible in the crack of the sofa cushions, erecting a barrier between us and making clear that she was not with me.

     Finally someone said out loud: ‘Well, I know I sin all the time and I’m just grateful he came to die for mine.’ 

As if rendering a verdict, Mike said: ‘Praise God!’ Then he swung his guitar around like Church Berry and we sang another song.

For all the confusion my question caused, the answer is YES.
Would he still have come?
Would there still be Christmas if there’d been no Fall? YES.
Even though I couldn’t have articulated it back then, that’s what John’s Nativity story is getting at when it proclaims: ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’

Even before Joseph dreams his dream, before he’s felt in Mary’s womb, HE IS. He’s before time.

Before the stars were hung in place, before Adam sinned or Israel’s love failed- before creation is even set in motion God had already chosen to one day take flesh and live among us.

The ancient Christians had a catchphrase they used to think through this. In Latin, it’s: opus ad extra, opus ad intra. That was their way of saying: Who and what God is towards us in Jesus Christ, God is eternally in himself.

If what Jesus teaches us is really the Word of God, if the Cross is in fact a perfect sacrifice for your sins, if your salvation is indeed assured, if the one born at Christmas is truly Emmanuel- God with us- and nothing less, then who and what God is in Christ on Earth, God is antecedently and eternally in himself.

If Jesus is the supreme expression of God, then he must’ve always been so. Before he’s Jesus of Nazareth, in the flesh, he’s the eternal Son, in the Trinity.

That’s what Christians mean when we say that Christ is pre-existent.

That’s what we profess in the creed when we recite that Christ is the one ‘by whom all things were made.’

In other words, the incarnation only unveils what was true from before the beginning.

So what we unwrap at Christmas isn’t simply a rescue package but an even deeper mystery:

The mystery that the Nativity is an event that God has set on his calendar from before the first day of creation.

The mystery that the incarnation is God’s primal, primordial, eternal decision not to be God in any other way but God-with-us.

The mystery that there is literally no limit to God’s love.

There can be no time at which you can exhaust God’s love for you because Jesus Christ is before time.

And so Jesus doesn’t just come to forgive us our sins. He isn’t born just to die. Because when we say that Christ is pre-existent, we say that he would’ve come anyway, that he always going to come, that even if there hadn’t needed to be a Cross there still would’ve been a cradle.

Because before he brought forth light and life on Earth, God’s shaped his whole life to be Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Jesus isn’t made simply to forgive or die for our sins.

Because if Christ is preexistent, then everything goes in the other direction.

Jesus isn’t made for us; we were made for him.

We are the ones with whom God wants to share his life.

It’s not that Jesus is the gift God gives us at Christmas.

It’s that at Christmas we finally discover that we’re the gift God has given to himself.
I waited until we walked to the end of pastor Mike’s driveway before I said to Ben: ‘Well, that was an awesome party.’

And he belly-laughed, not at the evening but at me, at what he thought was my contrariness.

‘But it’s a good question!’ I growled. Ben just laughed some more, and by the time we were leaving the neighborhood he said: ‘I don’t see what difference it really makes.’ 

Back then our friendship was still new and it was governed by politeness. So I let it go.

Back then I wasn’t bold enough to push the difference.

But I’m the pastor now, so listen up:

INCARNATION names a love every bit as deep and unconditional as CROSS.

You’re holy and you’re loved and you’re graced not only because God took flesh to save you but also because even before creation morning God chose to be with you.

The Gospel’s not just that in the fullness of time God came among us to suffer for our Sin.

The Gospel’s also that before there was time God decided to join his life to ours no matter what.

The Gospel’s not just that Christ died for you.

It’s also that before there was even the promise or notion of you…

Before you did your first good deed or told your first lie…

Before you made your life a success or made it a disaster…

Before you said your wedding vows or before you broke them…

Before you held your children in your arms or before you estranged yourself from them…

Before you first laughed or wept or kissed or shouted out in anger…

Before you gave your life to the Lord or before you turned your back on him…

Before the oceans were even born God said ‘I do’ to you.

Forever.

That’s the Gospel too.

Would he still have come? Would he still have taken flesh?

Absolutely.

And that means-

The invitation for you to come to God is always there.

Because it’s always been there.

Book Launch Roast Notes

Jason Micheli —  December 16, 2016 — 1 Comment

15350442_903671816401166_318112112921664168_nTwo friends in my congregation organized a Friar’s Club Roast of yours truly at the local country club to kick-off my book’s release. It turned out to be a hilarious evening.

As part of the night, Dr. Tony Jones, author of Did God Kill Jesus? and the one who first encouraged me to start this blog, to launch our podcast, and to write the book, came from the Twin Cities to be a featured roaster. Also on tap, Dr. Jeffrey Pugh, author of Religionless Christianity: Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Troubled Times and Professor of Religion at Elon University, was another guest roast master. Along with my friend and mentor Dr. Dennis Perry and a host of others.

The Roast Master for the night was my dear friend Brad Todd, a frequent guest on Meet the Press who runs OnMessage Inc and is one of the architects of Trumpocalypse.

I’ll post the video when it’s edited, but here’s the manuscript of my roast of all the roasters at the end of the evening. Obviously the humor here is blue and the language profane so be warned.

social-media-buytickets

I want to thank you all for coming out to tonight to Mt. Vernon Retirement Home, for this occasion where you numb yourselves with alcohol while listening to me talk about myself nonstop. Or, as my wife likes to call it, marriage. Who knew when I arrived at Aldersgate Church over 11 years ago that one day you’d be willing to sling back liquor and cough up $75 a head just for the privilege of hearing me get mocked and ridiculed and raked over the coals.

The jokes on you. You could get that for free after every 8:30 worship service. Well maybe not quite as biting as the jokes have been here. Some of the teasing from you all tonight has cut pretty deep, so deep…I almost don’t have the heart to tell you I found out just yesterday I’ve only got a few months to live.

Oh, come on. Knock it off or I’ll let Dennis have the mic again.

In this whole process of writing and publishing my first book, I’ve had a lot of highs- and not just from the medicinal marijuana Steve Larkin sold me at his discounted geezer rate. I’ve had a lot of highs during this publishing journey. Tonight’s not one of them, but it’s is an experience.

But seriously, if I’d known that Megan and Libby Todd, the Immelda Marcos of Old Town were going to go to all this trouble, I never would’ve pretended to have cancer. Now I feel bad. With Dennis taking a sabbatical every time Donald Trump gets a new wife, cancer’s the only way I could get a little time off.

Let that be a warning to you Karla. You’re probably going to have get AIDS in order to get a vacation.

[This is where Ali wanted me to add the disclaimer that ‘AIDS isn’t funny.’ However next fall Tony Jones is publishing a book by that very title, AIDS is Funny.]

First, I think I need to say it’s not easy to be the final speaker at such a dud of an event- especially when you consider that as a preacher I’m used to speaking at church, not the Mt Vernon Nursing Home, and most of the time at church the only person who’s been drinking is Steve Larkin.

Dr. Tony Jones, Dr. Jeff, Dr. Dennis Perry, Dr. Maureen Marshall…just looking at a lineup of pretentious prefixes like yours, I think I speak for everyone when I say…I expected you guys to have more talent. All you had to do is make fun of me. How hard is that? That’s easier than making Melania Trump jokes at a MENSA meeting.

I’m like the Gallager of the theological world. I’m my own punchline. Tonight should’ve been like shooting fish in a barrel.

You all gave up your Friday night for this? I mean, Giada Hot-Laurentis is at a Cooking Festival at the Washington Convention Center right now, tonight. I appreciate the sentiment but if this were the first and only good Matrix movie, Giada was the smokin’ hot red pill and you, by being here tonight, chose the blue one.

Of course, Dennis has been chewing those little blue pills for a while now but for the rest of you…

I want to thank Brad Todd for being the Roast Master tonight. Even though tonight was a dud, Brad’s a good guy; in fact, my brother-in-law, Mike, dates Brad’s wife.

When I heard Brad was the MC  for tonight I got excited. This event should be good, I thought. After all, Brad does political advertising for Republicans. Bullshit is his job.

You might recognize Brad from his gigs on Meet the Press where he somehow manages to make Chuck Todd look well-tanned and camera ready. Brad was excited to MC tonight too; in fact, Brad is happy to have anything to do these days besides pretending he’s happy the Donald got elected President.

But he did get elected and people like Brad convinced people like you to elect him. You just remember that…when you order drinks tonight at the open bar on Brad’s tab.

Of course, I have to thank Megan Gianchetta for brainstorming and spearheading this event tonight. Megan’s a great friend and because she’s a friend I know how happy she was to have something to do other than breastfeed for a change (she’s gluten free).

Seriously though, it’s no exaggeration. I know Megan’s breasts better than my wife’s or the future first lady’s. Maybe you didn’t notice but Megan delivered their 11th son in between cocktails tonight.

And my friend Andreas Barrett is here tonight. You might not know- after my wife, Andreas was the first person to mouth kiss me while I lay in the hospital. You also might not know that Andreas Barrett is a huge fan of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, which just proves the liberal media elites don’t produce any real news. If Andreas had heard anything but fake news from Rachel Maddow the last 8 years there’s no way he’d still be wearing his Cosby sweaters out in public.

Speaking of lesbians, my assistant Terri Phillips is here tonight too. Not only does Terri make our church hum, she’s also the only straight person to have ever worked at the Walt Disney Store.

My mother, Sue, is here tonight from Richmond. Her on-again, off-again foot on the gas only made her carsick four times during the trip. Truthfully, without my mom, I wouldn’t be nearly narcissistic and dysfunctional enough to have written a book.

Over the years, some of you ladies at Aldersgate- I’m thinking especially of Juanita Csontos and Val Gass (bless your hearts)- I’ve told you how you’re just like a mother to me. Well, here she is. Talk to her for a few minutes and you’ll see what I mean.

Megan had wanted me to roast my wife, Ali, tonight too. But I’ve only recently recovered from the chemotherapy drugs that rendered me impotent and I don’t want to push my luck tonight.

But, I digress.

In between child deliveries, Megan told me that I was supposed to roast my roasters. So here goes:

According to the late Steve Allen, the “art of the comic roast lies in the speaker’s ability to hug the line of what’s appropriate and clean without going over the line.

I think we can all agree that’s a skill I have in spades.

Rotation of Roasters

Jeff, you are the greatest contemporary theologian in America. Dr. Jeffrey Metaxas of Elon College, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

Jeff, you are a great man, as you told me yourself right before we started tonight.

I asked Stanley Hauerwas- a mutual friend, who recently preached at Aldersgate, what I should say about you. Stanley rubbed his bald head and told me: ‘Jeff is an asshole.’

If any of you have read Jeff’s new book on the End Times you know that back in the day Jeff was a follower in a batshit crazy end-times cult.

Jeff my mom read your book and she asked: ‘He was a follower in an End Times cult? Why not a leader?’ And then she sighed and said ‘That’s a shame.’

He never got to be a leader of that batshit crazy end times cult so he left it…for the United Methodist Church, which was an easy transition, requiring only that he give up most of the illicit drug use.

Jeff you are the most foul-mouthed, vulgar, profane, and inappropriate United Methodist Elder I know. In other words, you give me something to aspire to.

Dr. Maureen Marshall– I hope you’ve had your rabies shots.

Just kidding, I love Maureen like that TSA Agent who winked at me once.

For those of you who don’t know, Maureen is the Polit Bureau-approved principal of Stratford Landing Elementary School. Thanks to her inspiration, communion will now be levied by a meals tax.

This June, I drove all-the-way, non-stop to Ft. Apache, Arizona with Dr. Marshall. And Laura Paige Mertins and Karli Eddinger went with us because that’s a 70 hour drive, that’s way too long a drive for just one designated driver.

Except, her taste in road trip music could lead you to drink that much. You try listening to CC and the Music Factory and Barry Manilow on an endless shuffle loop and see if that endless array of Jersey walls across Oklahoma don’t start looking like Elysian Fields to you.

Kelly Wolschlager I mean Garr – I’ve known Kelly longer than anyone else here, including Dennis and my wife. In those terrible Social Darwinism years of Middle School, Kelly has the distinction of being the only- the only real live, human style- girl who was always nice to me.

And as a Nurse Practitioner, Kelly was there for us several times during my illness. In those sad, neutropenic times, I routinely would say to Kelly “I don’t want you to see me like this.”

And Kelly would always say “I’ve seen worse.” I always thought Kelly meant “I’ve seen worse cases of cancer.” But now that I’ve seen the pictures she’s shown, I realize she meant “I’ve seen YOU worse.”

And I have no idea how many other pictures from my Middle School years Kelly might posses so I just want to say tonight…Kelly, you are the nicest, kindest, warmest, most compassionate and beautiful person I’ve ever known…

Andrew DiAntonio – I’m glad to see you decided against the sweaty crotched stained basketball shorts and flip flops that was your Aldersgate employee “fashion.”

Andrew, our former Youth Minister. Andrew, I never got the chance to tell you before but you earned every penny the church hardly paid you. It’s funny timing- tonight- only yesterday we finally received all the parent permission slips for your last youth mission trip.

But, Andrew, we were so close. I thought I knew you. We worked so closely,  planned confirmation together. We traveled together and slept together in Guatemala. We ministered together through some pretty tragic times. We knew each other well. And I’ve always been perceptive. I’ve always had really good radar (or so I thought).

I don’t know how I missed all the clues: the fake spray-on-tan, the fastidious man grooming and neatly trimmed beard, the man jewelry, the love of Jersey Shore, HBO’s Rome, the Cher poster in your office.

I don’t know how I missed it. And it makes me sad the church was never the open and affirming space where you could come out of the closet and let us all know that you were in fact…an Italian-American.

Tony Jones – Tony, I’ve never said this to anyone before but you are the greatest  contemporary theologian in America. Or, as his wife says, Tony’s narcissism has prepared America for the Trump era. Speaking of his wife, you might not know that Tony trains and raises hunting dogs. It’s true. He gave it up though when his wife complained that you can’t mount Christian Orthodoxy on the wall nor can you grind it into sausages.

In case you didn’t hear it in his voice, Tony’s from Minnesota. Whenever you wonder how heartland, midwestern Minnesota goes blue every year just consider that Tony Jones is to the left of Garrison Keillor. Tony is my editor, publisher.

Just yesterday a number of you who’d pre-ordered my book forwarded me the emails you’d received from Amazon telling you that my book which released yesterday would get to you in February. It speaks for itself, Tony’s great at what he does.

And not just with me. I don’t want to spill any secrets, but Tony’s also the editor of other forthcoming titles like ‘Zika is Funny,’ ‘Gonorrhea is a Giggle,’ ‘Herpes is Hilarious,’ ‘Leukemia is a Laugh,’ ‘Testicular Cancer is a Tickle,’ and ‘Syrian Refugees are a Riot.’

(It’s a niche market.)

Finally of course there’s Dr. Dennis Wayne Perry, a man whose name will go down in history with names like Michael Scott, Gomer Pyle, and Roscoe Peco Train. I think I speak for everyone at Aldersgate when I say:

‘Huh, I completely forgot that worked here.’

Over the years, nearly every day Dennis has actually worked I’ve spent with him, which is to say: Holy Week.

I’ve known Dennis for over 20 years, and the only thing I think when I look at this man is ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’

Megan asked me in between breast-feedings, but why would I roast Dennis tonight and tempt the providence of God to afflict incurable cancer-stricken me as he’s afflicted this man?

Why would I tempt God to reduce me to a humorless, passionless, useless husk of my former self, haunting the halls of Aldersgate Church like some walking, talking VH1 Behind the Music cautionary tale of former potential wasted.

Many of you know that the church world is littered with ministers whose success eventually went to their heads: Billy Graham, Jimmy Swaggert, that lady with the purple hair on TBN.

But not Dennis Perry. I’ve worked with this man for 11 years, and I can assure you this man has never overreached. He’s never attempted to do anything that was in any way different from the last thing he did.

And that kind of unchanging sameness is just so refreshing in a church.

Instead of roasting Dr Perry, I should close tonight by honoring him.

Sure, what bankruptcies and sexual assaults are to the President-Elect, sabbaticals are to Dennis Perry but, I can assure you, this Rev works hard for you. Any one on staff can tell you, Dennis is working on the same thing on Thursday that he was working on on Monday.

He never gives up. He never throws in the towel even though he types like a stroke victim relearning the use of their limbs.

Dennis Perry works hard. He’s not a quitter.

Not like that quitter Hillary Clinton. Conceding?! When Donald and Brad Todd both sharted in their pants when they found out they’d won?

I can tell you Dennis Perry never concedes in the face of reality.

Here in the Beltway Democrats whispered for months that Hillary Clinton was too old to be President.

Nonetheless, Dennis Perry doesn’t let his worn-out body, rapidly fading mind, and prehistoric job skills stop him from showing up to work at least a couple of hours a week to take credit for our work.

No sir, he’s not a quitter like Crooked Hillary.

And instead of closing tonight with a roast of him I should honor him. After all, Dennis interrupted one of his sabbaticals to come visit me when I was in the hospital and here he’s interrupted another sabbatical to be here tonight.

For that, we should honor him, not lampoon him.

In these hyper-partisan times, Dennis Wayne Perry is perhaps the last remaining bipartisan citizen among us.

He expresses his ‘reach across the aisle’ spirit by sharing the same hair stylist as Gov. Mitt Romney. And in his work ethic and career achievements, Dennis strives to perfectly embody Barack Obama’s famous line: ‘You didn’t build that.’

We should honor this man, not ridicule him.

Because Dennis Wayne Perry- he’s not just a great man. No sir. He’s a great boss too.

Having Dennis Perry for a boss is almost like not having a boss at all. You have the freedom to do anything- just ask our most recent Bishop.

All it takes is telling Dennis Perry: ‘Remember, we talked about this two days ago.’ And Dennis will agree, pretending to remember the conversation we did not have two days ago. He’s a great boss.

He doesn’t deserve for me to finish tonight with a roast of him. I tried to tell Megan but she was too busy open-air breast feeding their 14th son. I tried to tell Brad but he was too busy preemptively taking our civil liberties away.

I tried to tell them that Dennis Wayne Perry doesn’t deserve for me to rebut his roast. He’s a sensitive guy. He’s not Andreas Barrett sensitive, but he’s a sensitive guy.

Dennis has been sensitive- some might say touchy- ever since his twin brother made millions by recording ‘Islands in the Stream’ and starting a successful franchise of Fried Chicken Restaurants.

You all know how much I love Dennis, but you might not know that I harbor some unresolved anger towards Dennis Perry too. You see Dennis Perry wouldn’t perform my wedding to Ali, 10 or 12 years ago. I’m not sure which.

Dennis wouldn’t perform my wedding, which is preposterous because we all know Dennis Perry will marry anyone. He’s the Johnny Cochran of the wedding industry. From drive-by I-Do’s to Destination Nuptials, Dennis Perry will marry any biped with a faint heartbeat and a damp, sweaty roll of quarters.

But he didn’t marry Ali and me, and, truth be told, I’ve always been a little bitter about that, and that’s why I think we should focus on praising Dennis not poking fun at him.

For example, a lot of you give me credit for my ability to use words, like foreskin, to create mental pictures that stick with you long after the sermon ends.

But we should give credit where credit is due. I’m a novice compared to Dennis. Just consider this verbal-visual gem that Dennis once served up in a word picture that sticks in the mind like genital warts: ‘One morning when my daughter was a little girl she snuck into our bed and aroused me.’

Absolutely brilliant! He said that 10 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. I might have just said something wooden and pedestrian like ‘my daughter woke me up.’ But this man, this man is a master wordsmith I can’t possibly ever hope to match.

And Megan should’ve asked me to close tonight by celebrating him for it not roasting him.

I mean- what would a roast of Dennis even look like? Me making jokes about how old Dennis is? How lame would that be?

I guess I could stand up here and joke that Dennis’ life is like a glass that’s half empty, but technically at his age the glass is 9/10 empty, and we all know that last third is always just backwash.

And yes, I know I make jokes on Sundays about how Dennis is old and forgetful and lazy and complacent. But that’s just a preacher’s exaggeration.

I’ve known Dennis for 20 plus years. His forgetfulness and laziness and complacency have nothing to do with his age.

I knew Dennis when he was young and, other than the obvious physical and mental deterioration, he’s the same person today he was then.

The first time I met Dennis was in a worship service my mother forced me to attend when I was a teenager. I’ll never forget that sermon.

At the beginning of the sermon, Dennis had us turn to our neighbors to share something, while he tried to come up with a sermon in his head.

After we shared with our neighbors, he told us he had three points for us and asked us if we were ready. We said yes and he began to preach.

He preached for about 20 minutes and then he told us what his second point was.

That was the first time I met Dennis.

What really matters though is that Dennis was the first person I called when I learned I maybe, probably, had cancer.

What really matters is that Dennis was the first person who showed up.

And when you think that person is probably the person who’s going to do your funeral, you take a good, long look at that person.

What matters is that Dennis was there before I went into surgery. He was there with Ali while I was in surgery, and he was there for us for the 12 months of shit that followed.

And so were all of you. In different ways.

Some in ways I name in the book.

Others in ways I’ll name in the 2nd Edition (if you buy enough copies).

One of the arguments I make in the book is that Christians don’t have an explanation for suffering because any god that can ‘explain’ suffering and evil and tragedy isn’t a god worthy of our worship.

Christians don’t have an explanation for suffering.

We have a community of care.

That’s an argument I could not have made without all of you-

from Terri leaving beer on porch to Teer and Andreas and Karli showing up in my hospital room, to Mikey moving in with us, to James and Paul and LP driving me to chemo, to Megan and Libby organizing events like this to Andrew and Brad and Tony emailing with me and Jeff encouraging me. Shit, this has already gone on too long. I can’t name you all.

I’d dedicated this book to all of you, but then you roasted me.

So, I just want to say from the bottom of my heart: Go to Hell.

 

You probably know him from the Colbert Catechism and his many appearances on the Colbert Report.

Here in Episode 62, Teer and I talk with Father James Martin is a Jesuit who serves as the Editor of America Magazine, My Life with the Saints, and The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. 

Not only did James give me an idea for my All Saints sermon and not only is he a friend of UVA’s own Father Fogarty (my old undergrad advisor), he shares a bit with us about his own prayer life.

Just a reminder:

The Cracker & Grape Juice team will be part of Home-brewed Christianity’s Theology Beer Camp this January in L.A..

battle-of-the-podcasts
Want to join us?
All you need to do is head over to theologybeercamp.com, click the button to buy tickets, and use the discount code below to receive $100 off:
BLITZEN4JESUS
But this discount will only be good through Christmas!

Be on the lookout for future episodes with Colby Martin and Mandy Smith.

You can download the episode and subscribe to future ones in the iTunes store here

We’re breaking the 1K individual downloaders per episode mark. 

Help us reach more people: 

Give us 4 Stars and a good review there in the iTunes store. 

It’s not hard and it makes all the difference. 

It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

Oh, wait, you can find everything and ‘like’ everything via our new website: www.crackersandgrapejuice.com

If you’re getting this by email, here’s the permanent link to the episode.

 

 

Have Book, Will Travel

Jason Micheli —  December 14, 2016 — 1 Comment

img_2522I want to thank all of you here on the blog who’ve supported my first book, Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo. The response has been tremendous.

Now, I’m in the shameless self-promotion stage of the writer’s life. I’m okay with that though because I believe in the book and believe an honest wrangling with pain, fear, and faith can be helpful to everyone.

We’re all terminal cases after all.

I’ve got a few gigs lined up.

I’d be happy to consider speaking or preaching to your group, gathering, or church- or to talk on your podcast.

Give me a shout out: jamicheli@mac.com

theology-beer-camp-2January 19-22

I’ll be doing an interview with Tripp Fuller @ The Home-Brewed Christianity Theology Beer Camp

Sunday, January 22

I’ll be preaching @ The Loft LA Church

 

 

progressive-youth-ministry-e1439238507268March 8-10

I’ll be a presenter at The Progressive Youth Ministry Conference

Sunday, March 12

I’ll be preaching @ Bryson City UMC

 

 

unknownMarch 22-26 

Virginia Festival of the Book

Sat March 25, 2017 @ McLeod Hall, UVA School of Nursing @1pm

  • Main Festival of the Book event

Sat March 25, 2017 @ Pub Theology/Student Gathering (Tentative)

Sunday March 26. 2017

  • Preaching @ Wesley Memorial UMC @ 11am
  • Preaching @ Wesley Foundation Worship @ 5pm

And don’t forget:

You can get my book direct from Fortress Press. Discounted. No shipping.

Just use promo code at checkout: TFTP30.

Good through Dec 18.

crackers-and-grape-juice-beer-camp-editionWe never tire of working for you at Crackers & Grape Juice, and before you complain about the audio quality in #60 just remember we do this for you gratis in our spare time.

We’ve got two episodes that dropped early this week.

For Episode #60, the C&GJ posse got together to argue about Advent and my assertion that we’d be better off focusing on the second coming not during Advent but as part of the Ascension.

For Episode #61, Morgan spoke with Ana Yelsi Sanchez and Alicia Crosby about their experience as women of color at the Standing Rock protest.

Just a reminder:

The Cracker & Grape Juice team will be part of Home-brewed Christianity’s Theology Beer Camp this January in L.A..

battle-of-the-podcasts
Want to join us?
All you need to do is head over to theologybeercamp.com, click the button to buy tickets, and use the discount code below to receive $100 off:
BLITZEN4JESUS
But this discount will only be good through Christmas!

Be on the lookout for future episodes with Father James Martin and Mandy Smith.

You can download the episode and subscribe to future ones in the iTunes store here

We’re breaking the 1K individual downloaders per episode mark. 

Help us reach more people: 

Give us 4 Stars and a good review there in the iTunes store. 

It’s not hard and it makes all the difference. 

It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

Oh, wait, you can find everything and ‘like’ everything via our new website: www.crackersandgrapejuice.com

If you’re getting this by email, here’s the permanent link to the episode.


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The problem with many theories of the atonement, which imply that God ‘can’t’ love us- sinners that we are- until someone dies for the infinite offense, is that they neglect to notice how the gulf between Creator and creature is already so inconceivably severe that…

God can’t love us anyway.

Not if ‘love’ is to have any meaningful definition.
As Herbert McCabe argues:

One of the primary characteristics of any definition of love is equality between the lovers.

Love entails a recognition between two of the other’s existence as as valid as one’s own existence. To put the point more clearly, says McCabe, just consider how ‘fostered inequality’ registers with us as the opposite and enemy of love.

If equality is an essential attribute of a loving relationship, then it becomes evident that ‘whatever relationship there may be between God and his creature it cannot be one of love.’

The relationship is instead as unequal as it can possibly be.

We might think of God as caring benevolently for his creatures or as the Source of all value in them or as a Master rewarding/punishing them, but we can’t, McCabe argues, ‘think of God has giving himself in love to a creature.’

The gulf between Creator and creature is such that to say God loves me is on par with saying that I love yeast creature that made my beer possible.

Those hackneyed Christian songs might speak of the singer being in love with God, but it’s even more ridiculous to suppose the singer could sing about God being ‘in love’ with us.

McCabe, the philosophically trained might notice, takes with complete seriousness Nietzsche’s critique of the Christian God. Nietzsche didn’t argue that God was evil, wicked Boss in the sky; Nietzsche resisted because the relationship between God and us could never be anything other than Boss to slave.

That is, to Nietzsche the relationship between God and creatures could never be a relationship of love (between equals).

Nietzsche, in other words, did not disbelieve God; he rebelled against God. God in his estimation was not worthy of worship, for why would I care if the yeast creature in my beer worshipped me?

McCabe takes Nietzsche’s critique with seriousness and in turn laments how many have reacted to Nietzsche:

‘with a deplorable and idolatrous tendency to diminish God. In order that God may stand in relationship with his creatures, God is made one of them, a member of the universe, subject to change and even disappointment and suffering. Even the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation is interpreted in these terms.’

God CAN’T love us, McCabe (a Dominican priest, no less) argues.

And this is where Herbert pivots to scripture:

“The most important thing Jesus said (and he does not only say it in John’s Gospel but shows it and implies it in a thousand ways) is something about himself: the Father loves him.”

Italics all McCabe all the way.

To sing ‘Jesus loves me for the bible tells me so’ is to miss the point in McCabe’s mind. We should be singing: ‘God loves Jesus…for the bible tells me so.’

For Jesus to claim the Father loves him is itself to announce equality with God, that sort of equality implied by and required for love.

Jesus, the Incarnate Logos, is the (only) One who makes it possible for God the Creator to love his creatures. And we Him.

It’s not just Sin that separates us- of course Sin doesn’t help.

God, McCabe, says, loves Jesus and loves him from before all time as his co-equal Son, ‘owing his existence indeed to God though not created but, as I suggest, loved into existence.’ 

Regardless of what went down in the Garden, the Son would’ve still come down to be Mary’s son because:

‘it is into this eternal exchange of love between Jesus and the Father that we are taken up, this exchange of love that we call the Holy Spirit.

And this means, of course, that we are taken up into equality, the equality demanded by and involved in love.’

Nietzsche was right.

God could not love creatures. God still cannot.

What did Nietzsche miss, according to McCabe?

We’re no longer just creatures. Because the Son became a creature, we creatures now share in the Son.

God can’t love us, but God loved the Son.

And in the Son, through the Spirit, the Father loves us.

We who were once creatures have been made children of God.

img26064At-One-Ment

It was the Council of Chalcedon in the mid-5th century that hammered out the Christology (‘speech about Christ’) that became orthodox for Christians everywhere. According to the Chalcedon formula, the best way to refer to Jesus Christ is as ‘the God-Man.’

Makes him sound like a super-hero, I know, which is unfortunate since that’s the last thing the Church Fathers were after. Their formula was just the best way to insure that latter day Jesus-followers like us didn’t forget that Jesus the Son is true God and true Man, without division or confusion between his two natures.

He is fully both God and Man.

And, in a latent sense, he has always been both.

Eternally.

In other words, the Son who is the 2nd Person of the Trinity was always going to be the eternal Son who became incarnate and thus the son of somebody like Mary.

According to Maximus the Confessor– indisputably one of the greatest minds in the history of the faith, someone who could even out smoke, out drink and punch out Karl Barth:

the Chalcedonian formula necessitates that we affirm that the incarnate Logos is the elect unifier of all things that are separated.

Whether- and this is key- by nature or by sin.

We all know Sin separated us from God. That’s an every Sunday, altar call kind of presumption- so much so, in fact, that we neglect to remember or notice that less nefarious but even more fundamental fact separates us from the infinite.

Our finitude. Our createdness. Our materiality.

That the son of Mary is the eternal-eventually-to-become-incarnate Son of the God we call Trinity shows, says Maximus, that the Logos is the One through whom all things physical and spiritual, infinite and finite, earthly and heavenly, created and uncreated would be united and made one.

Union, says Maximus, was God’s first and most fundamental aim.

At-onement of a different sort.

Jesus isn’t made simply to forgive or die for our sins. Because if Christ is the God-Man, then everything goes in the other direction.

Jesus isn’t made for us; we were made for him. By him.

We are the ones with whom, through him, God wants to share God’s life.

It’s not that Jesus is the gift God gives us at Christmas; it’s that at Christmas we finally discover that we’re the gift God has given to himself.

We’re the extravagance the superabundant love of Father, Son and Spirit gratuitously seek to share with one another.

Jesus is the reason for the season, but the reason for Jesus is that before the stars were hung in place, before Adam sinned or Israel’s love failed God’s deepest desire is, was and always will be friendship. 

With us.

087-conversation-with-science-mike-mchargue-conversations-on-faith-and-culture-an-irenicon-1024x512For Episode 59, Morgan and Mike talk about growing up as weird nerdy kids. Mike shares about his loss of faith and powerful encounter with Jesus on the beach that brought him back to Christianity. Then Mike talks about the brain science of fundamentalism and other nerdy topics.

The Cracker & Grape Juice team will be part of Home-brewed Christianity’s Theology Beer Camp this January in L.A.. There’s only 15 tix left so if you’d like to be a part of it, check it out here. Be on the lookout for future episodes with Father James Martin and Mandy Smith.

You can download the episode and subscribe to future ones in the iTunes store here

We’re breaking the 1K individual downloaders per episode mark. 

Help us reach more people: 

Give us 4 Stars and a good review there in the iTunes store. 

It’s not hard and it makes all the difference. 

It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

Oh, wait, you can find everything and ‘like’ everything via our new website: www.crackersandgrapejuice.com

If you’re getting this by email, here’s the permanent link to the episode.

 

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When we say that Jesus comes in order to suffer for our Sin- that he’s born to die- we suggest that suggest that Jesus might not have come.

The incarnation then is ‘accidental’ in the way the philosophers used the term; that is, God taking flesh is occasioned by Sin and not something more determinative and essential.

The incarnation then is something less than an eternal, unchanging decision of God’s.

But that goes against the grain of what scripture tells us in Colossians: that the Son is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation through whom all things we’re made. Or as John testifies, in the beginning, before creation had a beginning, was the Word.

Before God had determined to create us, before God had ‘decided’ to save us from Sin, scripture tells us that God had decided eternally to be God for and with us.

To be God the Son, the God who would take flesh.

Jesus’ arrival can’t be limited to his role in saving creation from Sin because God’s decision to become incarnate precedes creation itself.

Put the other way around, as Nicolas Malebranche argued, if the incarnation is not a metaphysical necessity apart from the Fall then there is no purpose for God’s act of creation itself.

The way we so often speak of creche and cross mis-orders God’s intentions, implying that Christ is made for us rather than we for him.

As the 13th century theologian, Duns Scotus, put it:

“The Incarnation of the Son of God is the very reason for the whole Creation.

Otherwise this supreme action of God would have been something merely accidental or ‘occasional.’

Again, if the Fall were the cause of the predestination of Christ, it would follow that God’s greatest work was only occasional, for the glory of all will not be so intense as that of Christ, and it seems unreasonable to think that God would have foregone such a work because of Adam’s good deed, if he had not sinned.’

To think the incarnation is something less than an eternal, unchanging decision of God’s raises not just scriptural problems, but logical ones too.

If the incarnation is not an eternal decision of God’s, if the incarnation is not something God was always going to do irrespective of a Fall, then that means at some point in time the immutable God changed his mind about us, towards us.

Those who insist that Jesus was born in order to die attempt to safeguard an interpretation of one doctrine (substitutionary atonement) at the expense of an even more fundamental divine attribute:

God’s immutability.

God’s unchanging nature.

And this isn’t simply an abstract philosophical problem, for if God changed his mind at some point in the past about humanity, then what’s to stop God from changing his mind again in the future?

What’s to stop God from looking at you and your life and deciding that the Cross is no longer sufficient to cover your sins?

It’s true that Jesus saves us. It’s true that his death and resurrection reconcile God’s creation. It’s true that through him our sins are both exposed and forgiven once and for all, but that’s not why he comes.

That’s not why he comes because the even deeper mystery is that he would’ve come anyway.

Because he was always going to come.

7a63ce_e82efcd055154c0585e1d54dc63a55c1mv2For Episode 58, Teer and Morgan caught up with Mike Morrell to talk about his new book with Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation. 

In the pages of this book, internationally recognized teacher Richard Rohr circles around this most paradoxical idea as he explores the nature of God—circling around being an apt metaphor for this mystery we’re trying to apprehend. Early Christians who came to be known as the “Desert Mothers and Fathers” applied the Greek verb perichoresis to the mystery of the Trinity. The best translation of this odd–sounding word is dancing. Our word choreography comes from the same root. Although these early Christians gave us some highly conceptualized thinking on the life of the Trinity, the best they could say, again and again, was, Whatever is going on in God is a flow—it’s like a dance.

But God is not a dancer—He is the dance itself. That idea might sound novel, but it is about as traditional as you can get. God is the dance itself, and He invites you to be a part of that dance. Are you ready to join in?

The Divine Dance recently provoked this incredibly uncharitable review at the hyper-Calvinist site for the Gospel Coalition.

Any frenemy of the Gospel Coalition is a friend of mine.

So, by all means, help support Mike’s and Father Rohr’s work and get the book! 

Check out Mike’s project at Speakeasy too. He’s been responsible for sending some of the books I’ve reviewed here on the blog in the past.

The Cracker & Grape Juice team will be part of Home-brewed Christianity’s Theology Beer Camp this January in L.A.. There’s only 15 tix left so if you’d like to be a part of it, check it out here. Be on the lookout for future episodes with Father James Martin and Mandy Smith.

You can download the episode and subscribe to future ones in the iTunes store here

We’re breaking the 1K individual downloaders per episode mark. 

Help us reach more people: 

Give us 4 Stars and a good review there in the iTunes store. 

It’s not hard and it makes all the difference. 

It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

Oh, wait, you can find everything and ‘like’ everything via our new website: www.crackersandgrapejuice.com

If you’re getting this by email, here’s the permanent link to the episode.

15317970_10211005366952360_5805070194313765446_n    For this weekend’s sermon, I decided to preach an ‘old’ sermon to coincide with the launch of my new book. This was actually the last sermon I preached before cancer whisked me away from the pulpit for a year. Some of this makes its way into the first chapter of the book.

     In addition to the Isaiah lection for 2nd Advent, my text was 2 Corinthians 5.17-21

‘God was in Jesus reconciling the world to himself…’

     So I’ve got this mole, right here on my shoulder.

It’s not gross or anything. It’s just large and discolored and has a few hairs growing out of it. ‘Suspicious’ my former pre-med Mrs calls it, right before she points at it and quotes that line from Uncle Buck about finding a rat to gnaw it off.

My wife, Ali, had been after me for months to go to the doctor and get it checked out. But, because I’m an idiot, instead of going to the doctor I consulted WebMD, a website- I’m now convinced- that was designed by ISIS to frighten Western infidels. If you haven’t checked out WebMD already, don’t. (Right after Breitbart) it’s the most terrifying internet you’ll ever browse.

I consulted it for a suspicious mole, and 12 hours later I logged off in black despair, convinced that I suffer from IBS and TB, convinced that my kids have ADHD and maybe scolios too and that I might as well pre-order those little blue pills because ‘that’ is likely right around the corner for me as well.

To be honest, even though I spend 2-3 hours every day admiring myself in the mirror, I didn’t even notice the mole was there. I didn’t realize it was there until the summer when I took my shirt off at the pool and Ali threw up a little bit in her mouth.

Now as all you Waynewood Pool members already know, me taking my shirt off at the pool is normally an Event (with a capital E).  A moment that provokes jealousy among men, aspiration among boys and awakens 50 shades of Darwinian hunger in women.

Like Bernini unveiling his David, normally me taking my shirt off at the pool is a siren call, overpowering all reason and volition and luring the primal attention of every female to be dashed against this rock.

But I digress.

The point is when I took my shirt off at the pool that summer and saw Ali wipe the vomit from the corner of her mouth it got my attention.

Ali got after me to go to the doctor. My youngest, Gabriel, who tried to biopsy my mole for his new microscope, got after me. My mom, who is a nurse, got after me. And the voice in my head confirmed what WebMD and all the rest had told me.

But my personal philosophy has always been that if you wait long enough the worst will always happen so for months and months I didn’t do anything about it.

Then one behind-closed-doors-kind-of-night Ali whispered across the pillow that she was never going to touch me again until I scheduled an appointment.

I called the doctor the next morning.

Of course, because I have health insurance, I can’t just call the dermatologist to schedule an appointment. No, that would make us socialists.

No, first I had to blow a morning and a co-pay at the general practitioner in order to get a referral to the skin doctor.

The nurse at the general practitioner’s office weighed me and, with a toll booth worker’s affect- took my blood pressure. Even though I told her I was just there for my mole, she insisted on typing my age into her tablet and asking me the questions that my age automatically generated.

First question: Have you experienced depression or thoughts of suicide in the past month?

Her second question was ‘Have you noticed an increase in memory loss recently?’ ‘Not that I recall’ I said.

Stone-faced, she moved on to her third question, asking for the date of my last prostrate exam. ‘Uh, never’ I stammered and, not sensing my sudden anxiety, she asked me when I’d had my last colonoscopy.

‘Wait,’ I said, ‘I’m not old enough to need those things done, am I?’

‘Just about’ she replied.

‘In that case can we go back to the depression question?’

Ten days, a copay and 3 double-billing mistakes later I went to the dermatologist, clutching my referral like a winning lotto ticket.

When I last went to the dermatologist in 1994 as a puberty-stricken middle schooler, the dermatologist’s office was one step above the guy who showed up at gym class and told you to turn your head and cough.

Now, it’s like something from the Capital in the Hunger Games.

I walked into the steel and glass, Steve Jobs-like office where a receptionist with impossibly purple hair and a dress made of feathered, bedazzled boas handed me paperwork on a clipboard and told me to have a seat.

‘All I Need for Christmas’ was playing overheard on the stereo while a flatscreen on the adjacent wall advertised the dermatologists’ many services to do away with age, imperfection and just garden variety ugliness.

A slide advertising the office’s newest service, eyebrow implants, slid horizontally across the plasma screen.

Judging from the model’s face on the screen, eyebrow implants are a procedure designed to give septuagenerian realtors Alex Trebeck mustaches above their eyes.

The next slide was a photo of the office itself along with its staff, centered above a cursive catchphrase. Their mission statement.

“Feel as perfect on the outside as you do on the inside.”

And as I started to fill out the paperwork, I wondered what sort of psychotic person came up with a slogan like that.

I mean- if the goal is to appear on the outside how I normally feel about myself on the inside, then I’m already as ugly as I need to be.

Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ started to play as a door opened and a nurse, who looked a little like the supermodel Elizabeth Hurley, called for Mr. Michelle.

Liz led me through a maze of hallways to a room so antiseptically bright I half-expected to be greeted by the Giver.

Inside the exam room, Liz handed me a hospital gown and instructed me to take off all my clothes and promised that the doctor would be in in a few minutes.

All my clothes?’ I begged for clarification.

‘Yep, even your underpants’ she said.

For some reason Liz Hurley using the word ‘underpants’ on me made me feel like a 5 year old boy whose mother makes him follow her into the ladies’ room.

She closed the door gently behind her as I unfolded the baby blue gown.

Now, I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals, but up to that point I’d never been a patient before and most of the patients I had seen were underneath sheets and blankets.

Now that I held my own hospital gown in hand, I discovered that the correct way to wear it is not as self-evident as you might think.

Are you supposed to wear it open in the back, like a cowboy’s chaps? Or should you wear it open in the front, like a bathrobe? Or maybe, I pondered, you should take your particular ailment as a guide?

Since my mole- the cause for my visit- was on the front of my body, I reasoned, I decided upon the latter ‘style.’

So there I sat, like The Dude in The Big Lebowski except I didn’t have a White Russian in hand.

And, I was naked.

If I was unsure about the correct way to wear the gown, I got my answer when the doctor knocked, entered, and immediately snorted and said ‘Oh my.’

‘I wasn’t sure…’ I started to explain, but he waved me off and said ‘It’s okay, not a problem. You won’t have it on for long anyway.’ Words that proved to be more auspicious than temporal.

‘Are you cold?’ he asked, looking at me. ‘We can turn up the heat.’

‘No, I’m fine.’

The doctor sat down on a round stool in front of a black computer and I proceeded to give him my professional diagnosis based on my degree from WebMD.

He listened and rolled his eyes only once when I told him my suspicions of also having MS and when I finished said ‘Let’s have a look.’

So I showed him my mole, which- I’ll point out- was very easy to do since I was sporting the gown like a smoking jacket.

He looked at it for a few moments, looked at it through a magnifying glass for a few moments more and then, just as Rod Stewart started to sing ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,’ the doctor said ‘I don’t think there’s anything to worry about. The hairs growing out of it make it look worse than it is.’

Relieved, I started to get up to get ready to go, but the doctor said: ‘Not so fast. While you’re here, we should probably do a full body scan.’

‘We?’ I wondered to myself as he left and returned a moment later with Liz Hurley, who- I noticed- struggled to suppress a giggle when she saw me in the gown.

With Liz gawking on, he proceeded to peel back my gown like it was cellophane on a pound of ground beef, which is probably a good analogy because there’s nothing quite like being naked, perched on top of butcher paper, clutching your bait and tackle to make you feel like a piece of meat- that grayish, 50% off, sell-by-today-kind-of-meat.

The date-rapey Christmas song ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ started to play, which seemed appropriate since they then both started to bend me in impossible positions as though I was a yoga instructor or Anthony Wiener on the phone.

Bending and contorting me, they both picked over my every freckle and blemish like we were a family of lice-ridden Mandrills.

‘Anything suspicious down there?’ he asked ominously.

‘I hope to God not’ I said, but apparently invoking the deity did not provide sufficient medical certainty for him because he took his examination south, which was when he decided- for some reason- to ask me what I did for a living.

Normally when strangers ask me my profession, I lie and tell them I’m an architect. It helps avoid the awkward and endless conversations that the word ‘clergy’ can conjure.

But with no clothes on and even less dignity, there seemed to be little reason to pretend.

‘I’m a minister’ I said.

‘Really? What tradition? You’re obviously not a rabbi’ he said with a wink.

‘I’m a Methodist minister’ I said.

‘My grandmother was a Methodist’ he muttered.

Maybe it was because this was about the last position I wanted someone associating their grandma with me or maybe it was because the whole situation was so impossibly awkward, but once I started talking I found I couldn’t stop.

You’d be amazed how interesting you can make denominational distinctions sound when you’re as in the buff as Wilfred Brimley in Cocoon and being pawed over like a 4-H cow.

John (Cougar) Mellencamp’s ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa’ came on as the doctor finished and said in a measured tone: ‘You do have some moles on your back that concern me.’

Then he ordered me to sit back down and lean forward as far as I could, which I did, clutching the last corner of my gown against my loins.

The doctor took a black sharpie and drew circles on my back, which struck me in the moment as not very scientific; meanwhile, Liz Hurley grabbed a digital camera off the supply counter.

Under normal circumstances, the combination of supermodel, a nurse’s outfit and a digital camera would pique my interest, but somehow I knew what was next.

She told me to lean forward again so she could snap some close-ups of my back, which she did with slow, shaming deliberation. Then, I can only assume to degrade me further, she actually showed me the close-ups of my back.

Now it was my turn to throw up a little in my mouth.

‘That’s what I look like from behind? It’s like a flesh-colored Rorschach test. I should call my wife and tell her I love her’ I said to no one in particular.

She laughed and said: ‘The images are magnified so don’t worry. Trust me, everyone appears kind of ugly and gross when you get up that close for a look.’

‘And that’s not even the ugliest part about me’ I said.

She frowned. ‘Do you think there’s something we missed?’

‘No, no, you were thorough all right’ I said, ‘I was just thinking of something else- my soul.’

‘I guess that’s your speciality, huh Father?’ Liz laughed.

The doctor laughed too.

They thought I was joking. They both thought I was joking.

James Taylor was finishing his rendition of ‘Lo, How a Rose Ere Blooming,’ that line that goes ‘…true man, yet very God, from sin and death he saves, and lightens every load’- he was singing that line as I sat on the butcher paper and watched as Liz loaded the snapshots of me onto the black computer.

Watching each unflattering image first pixilate then load on to the screen in front of me, I thought again of that cursive catchphrase in the lobby and what rubbish it was: “Feel as perfect on the outside as you do on the inside.”

Because if you could get close up- all over- to me, not just looked at my skin but lived in my skin, lived my life- and not just in my shoes but in my flesh- then you could come up with a lot more ugly, indicting pictures of me than a hairy mole.

Because the cold, incarnate truth is, I’m even more pockmarked and blemished on the inside than I will ever appear on the outside.

On the inside-

I’m impatient and petty. I’m judgmental and a liar. I’m angry and insecure and fearful and unforgiving and…and I’m just a normal guy.

The cold, incarnate truth is- if you stripped me all the way down, not just of my clothes but of my pretense and prevarications, stripped off the costumes I wear and the roles I play right down to my soul, then you’d see how unsightly I really am.

I mean, the prophets Isaiah and John the Baptist wouldn’t tell us to make straight the pathways for the Lord if we weren’t all twisted up, tangled and knotted on our insides.

And really, that was what was so unbearable about baring it all in that exam room. It reminded me how seldom I allow myself to be made vulnerable.

What being exposed exposed was just how much I try to cover up my true self. What being revealed revealed was how often I hide behind masks and manipulations, how often I fail to be authentic because I’m afraid of failure, how seldom I’m fully, genuinely me with others because I’m convinced there’s a whole lot of me I don’t think is worth sharing.

So I pretend.

I act like everything’s alright when it’s not. I pretend me and mine are happy when maybe we’re not. I act like I’ve got my _______ together even when my _______’s falling apart all around me. I project strength when I feel weak, and I wear other people’s projections of me like masks.

I don’t keep it real. I pretend. I play-act. I hide.

And so do you.

And since we’re baring it all, we might as well go full monty: the truth is we feel the need to hide and pretend and put on a good face more at Christmas than any other time of the year.

Which is odd.

Because when it comes to Christmas, we don’t just believe that God takes flesh. We don’t just believe that God puts on skin. We don’t just believe that God puts on a body. We don’t just believe that God puts on Jesus’ body.

No, we believe that, at Christmas, God assumes- puts on, takes on- our humanity.

All of it. Every bit. Of every one of us.

The pathway God chooses to get close to us is our humanity- all of it, every bit of it. 

Every bit of every one of us. 

On the stereo Aretha Franklin belted out ‘Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe, the Son of Mary’ from the second verse of ‘What Child as This.’

As Aretha sang and Liz finished up with my snapshots, the doctor gave me a patently false promise about not feeling a thing just before he started to dig out my first mole with the finesse of a mobbed-up Italian barber from North Jersey.

Hearing Aretha overheard and seeing my snapshots on the computer screen and thinking of my shame that morning and every unsightly truth it brought to mind, I thought of St. Gregory.

Gregory of Nazainzus.

The 4th century Church Father who taught that what it means to say ‘God was in Christ,’ as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians, is to say that all of our humanity is in the God who was in Christ.

All our humanity. Every bit of every one of us.

It has to be.

     Otherwise, as Gregory put it, ‘that which is not assumed is not healed.’

Those parts of humanity not taken on by God in Christ are not healed.

Those embarrassing parts, those imperfect parts, those shameful and fearful and broken parts of us- if it’s true that Christ comes to save all then all those parts of us are in him; otherwise, they’re not healed.

Every bit of every one of us is in Him, Gregory says.

So there’s no need to hide. There’s no to pretend. There’s no need for shame or masks. We can give every embarrassing bit of our selves over to him because it’s already in him.

We’re not perfect on the outside and we don’t need to pretend that we are on the inside because every part of us is in him already.

Says Gregory.

————————-

With the gentleness of a cycloptic, differently-abled butcher, the doctor removed the rest of my blemishes and finished up by saying ‘You should come back in a year so we can do this again.’

‘I can’t wait’ I said as I started unfolding my street clothes.

Dressed, with my back looking like Clint Eastwood’s in Pale Rider, I found my way back to the lobby.

Someone, I’m not sure who, was on the stereo singing “Cast out our sins and enter in, Be born to us today.”

O’ Little Town of Bethlehem.

The plasma screen on the lobby wall was back to flashing their mission statement: “Feel as perfect on the outside as you do on the inside.” Accompanied by phony photos of people who pretended to feel both.

And, as I left, I said a little ‘Thanks be to God’ to myself because that that is not our Gospel.

 

Micheli_WebAd_300x250For Episode 57: Teer linked up with an all-star lineup for a conversation about Jason’s new book, “Cancer is Funny.”

Rolling Stone writer and author of Learning to Breath Fire, JC Herz offered her thoughts along with Tony Jones, author of Did God Kill Jesus?, Todd Littleton, host of Patheological Podcast, Jeff Pugh, author of Religionless Christianity, and Kendall Soulen, Professor of Theology at Emory University.

All of them chimed in on why cancer is funny and why this book is needed in our theological discussions. And Taylor Mertins intros with a reflection that made me tear up putting this post together.

All of the guests know Jason from different arenas of Jason’s life and because of that you will hear differing perspectives on Jason’s newest book.

Buy the book! In case you needed a reason:

15317970_10211005366952360_5805070194313765446_n

In case you needed another reason, listen to the podcast below.

The Cracker & Grape Juice team will be part of Home-brewed Christianity’s Theology Beer Camp this January in L.A.. There’s only 15 tix left so if you’d like to be a part of it, check it out here.

You can download the episode and subscribe to future ones in the iTunes store here

We’re breaking the 1K individual downloaders per episode mark. 

Help us reach more people: 

Give us 4 Stars and a good review there in the iTunes store. 

It’s not hard and it makes all the difference. 

It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

Oh, wait, you can find everything and ‘like’ everything via our new website: www.crackersandgrapejuice.com

If you’re getting this by email, here’s the permanent link to the episode.

img_2451The Home-Brewed Christianity #LectioCast was kind enough to invite me as a guest for the next two weeks to talk about my new book, Cancer is Funny, and discuss the Advent lectionary readings.

Hosted by Dr. JR Daniel Kirk, #LectioCast aims to get preachers’ jumpstarted on their prepcrastination by honing in on issues and themes in the scripture passages assigned for the upcoming Sunday and to do so in a way that is sharp, practical, and seasoned with a bit of snark.

Daniel accuses me of skirting wrath in the lectionary readings for Advent 2, but I think it’s just a good honest dose of Barth.

You can listen to the podcast here. If you’re getting this by email, click over the blog to listen.

And here’s a sermon I preached for A Sermon Every Sunday on these very readings:

 

For Episode 56 of Crackers & Grape Juice, we talk with Max Kuecker and Jane Liu.

Max and Jane worked for years with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical college ministry that recently decided to purge its LGBT-affirming leadership. Max and Jane have launched Incarnation Ministries, an LGBT-affirming evangelical college ministry.

Be on the lookout for future episodes with next week with Brian McLaren and Father James Martin and, this week, a special book debut episode to launch my book Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage Serious Chemo. 

For that episode, Teer Hardy spoke with an all star lineup including Tony Jones, Todd Littleton, Jeffrey Pugh, Kendall Soulen, and JC Herz. 

The Cracker & Grape Juice team will be part of Home-brewed Christianity’s Theology Beer Camp this January in L.A.. There’s only 15 tix left so if you’d like to be a part of it, check it out here.

You can download the episode and subscribe to future ones in the iTunes store here

We’re breaking the 1K individual downloaders per episode mark. 

Help us reach more people: 

Give us 4 Stars and a good review there in the iTunes store. 

It’s not hard and it makes all the difference. 

It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

Oh, wait, you can find everything and ‘like’ everything via our new website: www.crackersandgrapejuice.com

If you’re getting this by email, here’s the permanent link to the episode.

A Sermon for Every Sunday

Jason Micheli —  November 28, 2016 — 1 Comment

adcfd2d05c188b8c49c4a8f5f709e357Jim Somerville, the pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church, founded A Sermon for Every Sunday a couple of years ago with David Powers, President of Belltower Pictures (check out Shooting the Prodigal) as a way to help churches that didn’t have, or couldn’t afford, a regular preacher.  They recorded sermons in high-definition video that could be projected during worship. Now they are being used by small churches, house churches, Bible studies, small groups, Sunday school classes, and for individual viewing on laptops, tablets, and smartphones all over the country.

Their preachers include the likes of Brian McLaren, Will Willimon, Amy Butler, and Lauren Winner.

Jim invited me to participate recently and below is my sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent.

Not only am I thrilled to be counted among the other preachers on this roster, I was grateful to make the acquaintance of Jim and David, the former is a homiletics nerd like myself and the latter is the kind of lay person who makes you happy to be a preacher in the first place.

I encourage you to check out A Sermon for Every Sunday‘s website. On most Sunday’s they’ll deliver you a better sermon than I will!

Advent for Average Sinners

Isaiah 11.1-10 

Matthew 3.1-12

Maybe its my Contrary Personality Disorder, but am I the only one at Advent who hears a fire and brimstone indictment like ‘…you brood of vipers…even now the ax is lying near to cut you down and throw you into the fire…’ am I the only one who hears that and thinks ‘eh, that’s a bit much?’

I mean, I don’t know much about you but does God look at this face that any woman could love and just see a sinner? Chaff to burn up in God’s unquenchable fire?

Does God look at you with a broom in one hand and a match in the other, ready to strike at the first sign of your sin?

I mean- am I even allowed to ask the question:

Is God’s ego really so fragile?

True, I’ve been a sinner since I hit puberty and received my first SI Swimsuit Edition in the mail, but does my sin really make me no better than a fruitless tree to be tossed into the fire?

Is this crazy guy in the camel hair coat correct?

Does my sin so inflame God that God would just as soon sweep me into the rubbish fire? Does yours?

And I don’t know if my sinfulness extends all the way back to the womb like David indicts himself in Psalm 51- seems awfully grim to me- but I do know my guilt extends at least as far back as yesterday to that guy I cut off in traffic.

Even if I am everything he swore at me (at the traffic light) and even if my mother is everything he shouted at me (at the next light) and even if I deserve to do to myself everything he suggested I do to myself (at the light after that), to say that I deserve to be cut down by God’s holy hatchet and thrown into fire sounds a bit heavy handed, more than a little over the top.

Is God really so quick to anger and abounding in steadfast wrath?

With the Feast of the Incarnation only a few weeks away, shouldn’t we all agree that God is at least as nice as Jesus?

Shouldn’t we concur that the God whose Second Coming we anticipate at Advent is the same as the God who came to us in Christ?

—————

Since John the Baptist isn’t the kind of preacher who puts his listeners to sleep, you probably noticed how Christmas begins in the dark.

With the season of Advent, a season when we hunker down and confess that the world is full of darkness and depravity because the world is filled with people like you and me.

And that it’s into such a world as this that the Son of God came and to such a world will he come again.

And so, during Advent we Christians sing not about how Santa Claus is coming to town but about how Judgment is coming.

Before we light candles on Christmas Eve, in Advent we grope through the dark.

We brace ourselves and read prophets like Isaiah who, just before this pastoral image in chapter 11 of wolves making nice with sheep, promises that the destruction of sinners has already been decreed, that God’s hatchet- guess where John gets his imagery- is raised ready to lop off all the unfaithful.

And every Advent the first character to step onto the stage is John the Baptist, whose lunch box full of locusts is meant to evoke the prophet Elijah, which his happy news only to those who don’t know their bibles, for the Old Testament ends with the prophet Malachi foreboding: “Behold I will send you Elijah before the great and terrible Day of the Lord arrives.”

The Medieval Church, taking their cue from Malachi, spent the Sundays of Advent on the themes of Death, Judgment, Heaven, and- the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Eternal Hell.

No wonder we’ve always been in a rush to get to Christmas.

Advent, says Fleming Rutledge, is a season that forbids denial.

Denial that we are sinners.

Okay.

But, since Advent is a season for honesty-

What about just average sinners? What about mediocre sinners?

Like you? Like me?

Just read through the Advent hymns the Church with a capital C has given us through the centuries, hymns like the Dies Irae– which means, the Day of Wrath.

I don’t know if I’m allowed to say it, but our Advent hymns are so filled with the world’s depravity, there’s no room in them for us run of the mill, grump at your kids, cheat on your taxes, fall asleep watching Game of Thrones types of sinners.

Or take another scripture that’s a standby for the Advent season, where again it’s the prophet Isaiah who declares that we’re such rotten sinners that ‘…all our good deeds, to God, are like filthy rags.’ 

     It’s over the top.

It’s a bit much even for these Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 3.

I mean, the average American Christian is willing to drive through no more than 3 traffic lights to go to church on a Sunday morning.

Yet these Pharisees and Sadducees hoofed it some 20 miles from Jerusalem to the Judean wilderness to check out John and be baptized with his baptism of repentance.

To call us, much less them, a brood of vipers with hearts of stone seems like overkill.

You all come to church during Advent to anticipate the cute baby Jesus in his golden fleece diapers and maybe you come to confess how you don’t pray as much as you should or how you feel badly about blocking your neighbor on Facebook or how you secretly voted for Trump or Hillary and what do we the Church do?

Bam.

We hit you over the head with a winnowing-fork. 

And we holler through our bullhorns, all sticky with honey, that unless you repent and start blooming some righteously good fruit, God’s gonna clear his threshing-floor and burn up chaff like you with unquenchable fire.

     What? 

No wonder we anesthetize ourselves with presents and pumpkin spice lattes.

     You listen to John’s brimstoney bullhorn long enough, Advent after Advent, and you can start to hear some crazy things.

For example, it can start to sound like your sins anger God.

—————

Advent, says Fleming Rutledge, is a season that forbids denial.

So let’s be honest: when it comes to you and me, a lot of this Advent language- it misses the mark.

As an almost English major, I gotta say a lot of this Advent language is bad language.

It’s to use the language badly because it misses the mark about you and me and just what kind of sinners we are.

Advent, says Fleming Rutledge, is a season that forbids denial. So here, of all seasons, we shouldn’t lie or exaggerate about ourselves, most especially to God from whom, about us, no secret is hid.

So, let’s be honest. Most of us are ordinary, mediocre sinners. Boring even.

I mean, I’m a United Methodist, and I can tell you the average United Methodist church would be way more interesting if we sinned like, say, King David, but I for one don’t have the energy for that.

We are not great sinners.

I mean- you’re listening to a sermon on a computer screen. You’re not a great sinner.

We’re not rebelling day and night against God.  Church people have made passive aggressive behavior an art form, sure, but seldom do they rise to the level of brood of vipers.

We certainly haven’t been sinful since our birth. I dare you to come up with even one truly evil thing you’ve done.

No matter what the baptists will tell you, you’re not totally depraved. When God made humanity he called it ‘very good’ and then God considered you and me good enough to put on our skin himself. So, no, you’re not totally depraved.

Most of us, we’re not great sinners. We’re not murderers or predators or oppressors. Advent is a season that forbids denial so forget the Baptizer’s brimstone and bullhorn for a moment and let’s be truthful.

Your sins do not offend God.

There, I said it.

Your sins do not offend God.

No doubt you commit ordinary, mediocre sins against a great many people in your lives, probably against the people you love most. And probably your sins leave most of those people PO’d at you. But your sins- they don’t anger God.

John’s brimstone bullhorn and winnowing fork make it sound like you’re a Game of Thrones-level sinner, but let’s be honest: most of you are basic cable, Modern Family kinds of sinners.

You may hate your ex or grumble about your pain in the butt neighbor, but those sins don’t mean God takes it as though you hate God.

No, your sin just means you’re lazy and shallow and stingy and careless in how you love God and love your neighbor.

You’re not worthless, burn-worthy chaff to God- that’s insanity. No, you just block your mother’s calls. You won’t forgive that thing your spouse did. You don’t give near the value of your beach rental to the poor. You’re only vaguely aware of the refugee crisis.

Those are the kinds of sinners you are. We are.

But brood of vipers? Don’t flatter yourself. I don’t know you, but I know enough church people to bet on it: you’re not that much of a sinner.

No matter what you hear in the hymns and liturgy, your sins do not- your sins can not- provoke God’s wrath.

I know it’s Advent, but we don’t need to exaggerate how sinful we are just to prove how gracious God is. Seriously, don’t take yourself too seriously.

As it turns out, not taking yourself too seriously as a sinner is the best way to understand what sin, for most of us, really, is.

—————

Sin isn’t something you do that offends God.

Sins are not errors that erode God’s grace.

They’re not crimes that aggrieve God and arouse his anger against you.

They’re not debits from your account that accumulate and must be reconciled before God can forgive you.

Don’t take yourself so seriously.

Advent is a season that forbids denial so let’s get this straight and clear:

Sin is about where your love lies.

Sin has nothing to do with where God’s love lies.

God’s love, whether you’re a reprobate like King David, a traitor like Judas, a jackass like me, or a comfortably numb suburbanite- God’s love doesn’t change.

Because God doesn’t change.

There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more and there’s nothing you can do to make God love you less. The Father’s heart is no different when the prodigal returns than on the day he left his Father.

God’s heart is no different whether you’re persuaded by John the Baptist’s street preaching or not.

So before you heed John the Baptist this Advent season, before you repent of your sin, do not think you need to repent in order for God to love you.

Do not think your sin has anything to do with where God’s love lies.

God’s love for you is unconditional- unchanging- because God is unchanging.

Don’t think an Advent repentance keeps the winnowing fork at bay.

Don’t think Advent penance in any way persuades God’s pathos in your favor.

Don’t think that by confessing your sin you’ve somehow compelled God to change his mind about you.

No.

When God forgives our sins, he is not changing his mind about us. He is changing our minds about him.

God does not change; God’s mind is never anything but loving because God just is Love.

Who the heck are you to think your mediocre, run of the mill sins could change God?

You could dive into the Jordan River and eat a feast’s worth of locusts, but it wouldn’t change God’s love.

You see, we grope in the dark during Advent not to change God’s love but to change our love. To stoke not God’s affection for you but your affection.

Because that, says St. Thomas Aquinas, for most of us, is what our sins are. They’re affections. They’re not evil. They’re things we choose because we think they’re good for us: our booze and pills and toys, our forgive-but-not-forget grudges, our heart is in the right place gossip. Our politics.

Most of our sins- they’re not evil. They’re affections, flirtations, that if we’re not careful can become lovers when we’re, by baptism, betrothed to only One.

And so we grope in the dark during Advent hoping to grab ahold of and kill our lovers.

Advent is a season that forbids denial because only by confronting our sins can we to die to them.

And die to them we must because Jesus said there’s no way to God except through him, and Jesus shows us there’s no way to God except through suffering and death. There is no other way to God.

You listen to John’s brimstone bullhorn long enough and the honey sticks in your ears. You can start to hear the wrong message.

Jesus didn’t die for us instead of us.

Jesus didn’t suffer and die so that we don’t have to die. Jesus died to make it possible for us to die (to our sins) and rise again. And that isn’t easy because there’s no way to avoid the cross.

Even boring, mediocre sinners like us. We have to crucify and die to our affections and our addictions, to our ideologies, and our ordinary resentments.

Like Jesus, we have to suffer and die not so God can love us but so that we can love God and one another like Jesus.

13502037_1615405398788080_7321135075900787492_nIn the wake of the 2016 election, Morgan Guyton from the Crackers & Grape Juice posse and author of How God Saves the World from Us talks with Suhuey and Jen, United Methodist Hispanic Youth, about how racism recently intruded upon a gathering of youth in North Carolina.

Be on the lookout for future episodes with next week with Brian McLaren and Father James Martin and, this week, a special book debut episode to launch my book Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage Serious Chemo. For that episode, Teer Hardy spoke with an all star lineup including Tony Jones, Todd Littleton, Jeffrey Pugh, Kendall Soulen, and JC Herz. 

The Cracker & Grape Juice team will be part of Home-brewed Christianity’s Theology Beer Camp this January in L.A.. There’s only 15 tix left so if you’d like to be a part of it, check it out here.

You can download the episode and subscribe to future ones in the iTunes store here

We’re breaking the 1K individual downloaders per episode mark. 

Help us reach more people: 

Give us 4 Stars and a good review there in the iTunes store. 

It’s not hard and it makes all the difference. 

It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

Oh, wait, you can find everything and ‘like’ everything via our new website: www.crackersandgrapejuice.com

If you’re getting this by email, here’s the permanent link to the episode.

 

l31686703_beccastevens2-creditkristinsweeting-jpg_extcolorconv“It’s a noble thing for a community (of faith) to have a decent beggar (a pastor).”

In one of our best conversations yet, in Episode 54 Jason and Taylor talk with Becca Stevens.

Becca is an Episcopal priest at Vanderbilt Chapel in Nashville, Tennessee, author of Snake Oil and many other books, and, most importantly, she is the founder of Thistle Farms, the largest social enterprise in the U.S. run by survivors of sex trafficking.

She’s also up for CNN’s Hero award. Voting is open until 12/6 and you can vote as many as 10x/day – please support this impressive endeavor.

You can vote for her here

Do it. And buy your Christmas presents from Thistle Farms too!

I don’t throw around the term ‘blessed’ very often but that’s how I felt for having gotten the change to talk with Becca.

Be on the lookout for future episodes with next week with Brian McLaren, and Father James Martin.

The Cracker & Grape Juice team will be part of Home-brewed Christianity’s Theology Beer Camp this January in L.A.. There’s only 15 tix left so if you’d like to be a part of it, check it out here.

You can download the episode and subscribe to future ones in the iTunes store here

We’re breaking the 1K individual downloaders per episode mark. 

Help us reach more people: 

Give us 4 Stars and a good review there in the iTunes store. 

It’s not hard and it makes all the difference. 

It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

Oh, wait, you can find everything and ‘like’ everything via our new website: www.crackersandgrapejuice.com

If you’re getting this by email, here’s the permanent link to the episode.

img_2451
No, the title isn’t an appeal to my ego. The Home-Brewed Christianity #LectioCast was kind enough to invite me as a guest for the next two weeks to talk about my new book, Cancer is Funny, and discuss the Advent lectionary readings.

Hosted by Dr. JR Daniel Kirk, #LectioCast aims to get preachers’ jumpstarted on their prepcrastination by honing in on issues and themes in the scripture passages assigned for the upcoming Sunday and to do so in a way that is sharp, practical, and seasoned with a bit of snark.

Daniel credits me with a “fascinating” interpretation of the Matthew 24 lection. “Fascinating” is most likely NT scholar speak for “incorrect” but I think it’ll preach all the same.

You can listen to the podcast here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MicheliCover_FINALHere’s a review of my new book Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo that my friend Libby Todd wrote for the Alexandria Stylebook.
The first time I learned about cancer was when I was in middle school. A childhood friend’s dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He passed away when we were freshmen in high school. I remember not understanding how someone like him could get sick. He was a handsome, healthy man in his early 40s – a heart surgeon and former quarterback for Ohio State. A few years later cancer hit closer to home when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. At 16, I became personally familiar with words like biopsy, malignant, lymph noids, mastectomy and chemotherapy. I got to see first hand how the disease took a  toll on my extremely healthy 43-year-old mother. It was the first time I saw my father cry and the first time I was ever truly scared. I remember looking at my then 5-year-old sister and thinking “what if?” The good news is there was no what if – my mom beat cancer and is alive and well and probably on on the back nine of the golf course in Vero Beach as you read this.

 
As I got older, it seemed I just couldn’t escape the disease and I am sure everyone reading this post feels the same way. We all have relatives, friends, or spouses who battled cancer or maybe you even faced this horrible disease yourself.  And no doubt we have all known cancer’s toll. For me, first it was grandparents lost and a few years back Brad’s mom ended her bout with breast cancer.  As I get older now, however, the people diagnosed seem to be getting younger.
 
In  2011 one of my college roommates and closest friends husband with Stage 3 testicular cancer at age 38. Now it’s not just our grandparents and parents who get sick, it is us. In 2013 the unimaginable happened in my most intimate group. One of my best friends in Alexandria’s 3-year-old sons was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. What that little boy had to endure in the way of spinal taps and chemotherapy and pure fear is truly horrifying. 
 
The good news is in two weeks, that little boy will take what we hope is his last chemo ever and in January I am headed to Key West with my college roommates and our spouses to celebrate Todd’s final scan and his victory over testicular cancer.
 
Through all of this you can’t help but ask “why,” – especially to God. When my mom was diagnosed, I spent a lot of time being mad at God. I was 16 so I spent a lot of time being mad at everyone to be honest.
 
Some of you reading you might know this, but I am a Christian – no doubt a few of my friends are rolling their eyes as they read that statement.  I know many people who are Christians but don’t have a local church they call home. I, however, am lucky to have a church I love and I go as often as I can. My participation in a congregation is not because I think I am a “good Christian” — more like the opposite. I am usually a pretty bad Christian and I figure with all the other personal up-keep I do – you know the manicures, the facials, the highlights, the exercise classes and we can’t forget the fake eyelashes- how can I not think that my faith doesn’t need maintaining as well?
 
A few years back we joined Aldersgate Methodist Church primarily because of the Associate Pastor, Jason Micheli. He was one of the few people I had ever met that I considered to be as smart and funny as my husband. During many conversations with both of them I often times have had to look to my best friend, Mr. Google, to understand what they were talking about. Jason’t humor is also a bit off color and juvenile at times, which I completely appreciate. His sermons are serious and comedic and his edge keeps the pews packed and the bishop on notice. His ministry is having an impact on a lot of people.
 
At age 37,  Jason was diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Don’t go look it up – it will only depress you. At the time of Jason’s diagnosis he was literally one of the fittest people I knew. I am pretty sure he ran a marathon at a 7-minutes-per-mile pace a few months prior to his diagnosis. I had spent part of the prior summer in the Highlands of Guatemala with him, slinging cement piping. He just was not the guy you thought would get sick. 
 
I found myself often thinking about the irony that Jason had probably spent countless hours in his office helping people reconcile their own faith with their diagnoses. But what happens when it happens to the minister himself? 
 
Luckily for us, Jason wrote a book to talk about just that. 
On December 2, he will release, “Cancer Is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo.” Whether you are religous or not, this book is sure to be a very honest journey of life with cancer and how to somehow make sense of it all. You might not only enjoy it but find something you can use. I guarantee he will even make you laugh when talking about something we all wish we never had to address.
I hope you will buy Jason’s book. You’ll be glad you did.

maxresdefaultFor Episode 53 we have another installment of Fridays with Fleming (Rutledge). I invited my friend and new member of the Cracker and Grape Juice Posse, Taylor Mertins, and Fleming’s #2 Fan, Kenneth Tanner, to be a part of our conversation.

We recorded this several weeks ago, talking with Fleming Rutledge about a variety of subjects including preaching preparation, Black Lives Matter, difficult sermons, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Be on the lookout for future episodes with next week with Becca Stevens, Brian McLaren, and Father James Martin.

The Cracker & Grape Juice team will be part of Home-brewed Christianity’s Theology Beer Camp this June in L.A.. There’s only 15 tix left so if you’d like to be a part of it, check it out here.

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