Standing In Grace

This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Jason Micheli about the readings for Trinity Sunday [C] (Proverbs 8.1-4, 22-31, Psalm 8, Romans 5.1-5, John 16.12-15). Jason is the lead pastor of Annandale UMC in Annandale, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including the podfather, personification, worship planning, advice, trinitarian metaphors, interpretative lenses, babes and infants, reading backwards, communal requirements, hope, and confession. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Standing In Grace

Story Time

Nehemiah 8.5-6

And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

Most weeks we find leftover detritus in the pews after worship. There’s the occasional candy wrapper, a handful of loose change, and (my favorite) children’s drawings. The drawings are usually confined to the margins of various pieces of paper like offering envelopes or prayer cards and whenever I encounter one I am hit with waves of nostalgia.

There’s no telling how many bulletins I covered with Tic Tac Toe, Hangman, and comic book heroes over the years. 

But, at some point, either from pressure applied by my parents or the wandering gaze of other church members, I gave up my artistic Sunday morning pursuits and I attempted to be a good Sunday morning worshiper. I said all the right prayers, sang all the right hymns, I stood up and sat back down just like everyone else. And yet, there were plenty of Sundays when the sermon could not hold my attention and I needed something to do.

So I did the only thing I could do: I reached in front of me, grabbed a pew Bible, and I started reading.

This is my confession: I fell in love with the Bible not because of some gifted homiletician, or from a remarkably profound experience of Vacation Bible School, but because I read the good book Sunday after Sunday while worship was happening around me. 

There’s this moment in the Old Testament when the priest Ezra pulls the holy scriptures up and the gathered people rise in reverence and then fall to their knees in prayer. Their love for the Word is palpable from the pages of the Bible precisely because they understood it to be the remarkable thing that it is. 

And yet, today, I’m not sure how we feel about the holy scriptures.

It doesn’t help that we often use it like a bludgeon against those with whom we disagree.

It doesn’t help that the words within it get cherry-picked to make whatever argument we want to make.

It doesn’t help that the Bible can leave us scratching our heads more than wanting to stand up in reverence or pull us down in prayer.

But perhaps we can reclaim a love for the scriptures when we start to see them as the strange new world that God has made for us. Or, to put it another way, maybe it would help if we stopped reading it as if it’s an instruction manual of religious behavior and instead we started watching it like a movie.

You can’t understand a movie, or say anything about it really, until you’ve consumed the thing as a whole. The Bible is the same. It is not meant to be taken apart in these little discrete segments – it is meant to be seen, appreciated, and understood as an entire proclamation. 

When you start to see the Bible like a movie you start to appreciate how all the separate parts might be entertaining or enlightening but in terms of their meaning, you cannot know what it is until the end. Each story/chapter/verse seems like it’s going somewhere, but only when you see Christ on the cross and Christ risen from the grave, all the sudden you start to understand what’s behind everything!

So the next time you’re in church on a Sunday morning, or watching the livestream from the comfort of your couch, and you grow bored with the preacher up in the pulpit, reach for your Bible and enter the strange new world that God has made for you. 

It might just change your life. 

The Story Within The Story

This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Todd Littleton about the readings for the 18th Sunday After Pentecost [B] (Esther 7.1-6, 9-10; 9.20-22, Psalm 124, James 5.13-20, Mark 9.38-50). Todd is the pastor of Snow Hill Baptist Church in Tuttle, OK. Our conversation covers a range of topics including the conundrum of context, Lupin, sacrificial honesty, reading between the lines, the manifestation of memory, hermeneutical tools, The Brothers Zahl, stumbling blocks, and selfishness. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: The Story Within The Story

Hold On To Your Butts


This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Lindsey Baynham about the readings for the 22nd Sunday After Pentecost (Job 38.1-7, 34-41, Psalm 104.1-9, 24, 35c, Hebrews 5.1-10, Mark 10.35-45). Lindsey is an ordained elder for the United Methodist Church in the Virginia Conference and currently serves as the Associate Director for Call, Candidacy & Discernment in the office of Clergy Excellence. Our conversation covers a range of topics including the daughter of thunder, reading before seeing, level playing fields, hospital texts, PTL, singing with clergy, guided prayer, Jesus as priest, and the spiderweb of scripture. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Hold On To Your Butts

Screen Shot 2018-10-15 at 12.51.13 PM

Devotional – Psalm 19.14


Psalm 19.14

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Weekly Devotional Image

I love to read. I love reading fiction in order to jump into a world I could never imagine. I love reading theology to help open my mind to all that God has done, is doing, and will do. And I love reading out loud to others.

I’ve often joked that if the whole “being a pastor thing” didn’t work out, I would love to be paid to make audio recordings of books. Between making up voices for particular characters, and adjusting my pitch to reflect the tone of a sentence, I just love reading out loud.

So when I was invited to read to a few classes at Featherstone Elementary School this week (to celebrate Dr. Seuss), I jumped on the opportunity.

My first class was filled with excited four and five year olds who mistook their teacher when she informed them that I was there to read Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham; they thought I was Dr. Seuss.

So I went along. And, for what it’s worth, they really liked my book.

My second class included those throughout the school who are autistic. I sat on the floor, and began reading The Cat in The Hat, when the teacher asked me to say something about the characters in the story. I tried to unpack the concept of character as best I could and then I resigned myself to just ask the question, “What is a character?”

Each of the students gave it a whirl, some of them getting closer to a definition than others, but then the last student spoke and this is what she said: “Character is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.”


I know that I froze for a few seconds as her theological wisdom percolated in my mind.

Of course, she was referring to one’s character and not the character of a story, but her answer was so profound that I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

In church I, or any leader, might say something like, “let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord” and though we specifically mention being in the sight of God, what we really mean is that we hope we say and do the right thing in front of everybody else!

How often do we do what we do so that we might be seen doing what we are doing? Do we do the right thing even when no one is watching? Or, perhaps it’s better to put it this way: Do we do the right thing even when God is watching?

The Top 10 Books I Read In 2015

The Sellout by Paul Beatty


Without a doubt, The Sellout is one of the most convicting novels I have ever read. Set in south Los Angeles County in an impoverished community with a farm, the story covers racism, comedy, subsistence farming, the Little Rascals, the (in)justice system, and a slew of other subjects. The main character, a black farmer raised by a controversial sociologist, attempts to reinstitute segregation in hopes of giving hope back to the black community. Favorite line: “It’s illegal to yell ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater, right?” “It is.” “Well, I’ve whispered ‘Racism’ in a post-racial world.”


The Good Lord Bird by James McBride


McBride’s novel is a fictive retelling of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. The narrative follows a young male black child who pretends to be a girl after meeting John Brown in order to avoid hard work and violence. The story is gripping to such a degree that I nearly read the entire thing in one sitting.


The Work of Theology by Stanley Hauerwas


Hauerwas’ new collection of essays is the closest thing to listening to him lecture at Duke Divinity School. Collected in an all encompassing format, the essays show Hauerwas’ attempt to wrestle with important subjects from how he thinks he learned to think theologically, to how to write a theological sentence, to how to be theologically funny (though other essays are actually funnier than the one on being funny). It is quintessentially Hauerwas and worthy of anyone wanting to know what it means to be theological.


Hear The Wind Sing / Pinball 1970 by Haruki Murakami


For years Murakami resisted the demands of publishers and fans for an English version of his debut novels. Written while he owned and operated a jazz bar in Tokyo, he claims that it took him two novels to figure out how to really write, and he describes A Wild Sheep Chase to be his first true novel. However, this year his first two stories were published in English together in one volume. It is clear that Murakami is learning his voice through these narratives, but as an avid fan of his work, is was a joy to see the beginnings of his imagination at play.


Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace


Full disclosure: This was my third attempt to read David Foster Wallace’s masterpiece. The first two times I would get through 50-100 pages and just give up. It is a struggle. With footnotes that propel the story forward but also drive the reader crazy, you have to really work to get through this thing. But if you can, it’s worth it. It is impossible to describe Infinite Jest in a way that does the thing justice, and that’s kind of the point. It is at times comedic, tragic, political, geographical, historic, and absurdist. If you have the time and patience to make it through, it will change the way you look at literature.

Also: the all-too-brief section describing the game of Eschaton is incredible.


The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman


Graphic-novels were a new thing for me this year. I read through all the great Batman works by the likes of Frank Miller, Jeff Loeb, and Alan Moore, but the one graphic-novel that continues to stay in my mind is The Complete Maus. Written and drawn by the son of a holocaust survivor, Maus tells the story of a man’s survival and destruction. Spiegelman’s use of animals to portray human characters makes the story approachable while also making the subject matter completely jarring. Spiegelman’s graphic novel is one that demands to be read in order to remind us of how quickly prejudice can lead to violence.


I Am Radar by Reif Larsen


Larsen’s follow-up to the incredible debut novel of The Collected Works of T.S. Spivet, is about a black child named Radar Radmanovic born to white parents. While at first the giant novel seems like at attempt to bridge racial tensions, it really avoids the subject altogether. Instead the narrative is about Radar’s father and the way that art can change the soul regardless of whether anyone is there to observe it. Additionally, Larsen’s use of fictive footnotes to books that do not exist draws the reader into a total world within, and outside of, the story.


The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan


Flanagan’s story is not for the faint of heart. There were times that I wanted stop reading because it was just too sad. The novel jumps time periods in Dorrigo Evan’s life from his childhood in Australia, to his love affair as a young soldier, to his work on the Burma Railway as a POW in 1943, to the effects of life after the war. Flanagan resists the temptation to stay with one narrator and shows both sides to every story within the novel, leaving the reader helpless to determine who was right or wrong, or whether we should even use those qualifiers to describe ourselves.


All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


Doerr’s novel deserves all of the strong reviews and awards it received this year. Set before, during, and immediately after World War II it follows a young boy who winds up fighting for the Germans, and a young blind woman struggling to survive in France. As their individual stories eventually come together, the reader beholds a beautiful and haunting novel about what it really takes to “see” the other.


Life After Life / A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson



I have collected the two novels as one because they really inform one another. The first portrays a young British woman living through World War II and the many ways that she dies. Every time she comes to the end of her life, whether from a disease or a bomb, the story starts over and the young woman makes minor changes to her life in order to avoid the previous outcome. It is unlike anything else I have read. The second novel follows the girl’s brother as an RAF pilot during the war and his attempts to find a normal life in post-war Europe. Atkinson’s characterization shows an author at the top of her game, and I can’t wait to see what else she puts out in the years to come.


Honorable Mentions:

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt



Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie



The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis



The Arab of the Future: A Graphic Memoir