Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Innocent Man by John Grisham

Audio books are a great way to pass the time while driving.

On our recent trip to Nashville, Julie and I listened to John Grisham's latest, yet first book of non-fiction titled The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town.

This true story with actual names (except for the names of the murder victims) is hard to hear. Not so much because of the ghastly murder, but because of the fumbling, bumbling of the (in)justice system in the small Oklahoma town of Ada.

Two innocent men, Ron Keith Williamson and Dennis Fritz, are sent to prison, one to death row and one for life, based on incompetent defense, arrogant refuse-to-admit-you're-wrong prosecution, what Grisham calls "junk science," and the testimony of jail-house snitches who are out to save their own hide.

What's serendipitous for Julie and me is that while in seminary, I was assigned to plant a church in this very same Ada, Oklahoma, and for a year Julie and I travelled up there from Dallas each weekend. We know something of the town. To read such a horrendous story about a small town we spent time in was amazing, even a little unsettling to us.

What happens when the justice system is driven by pride, arrogance, fear, desire to be "right" against plain evidence or no evidence, and some of the police are hiding their own crimes? What happens when winning the case is more important than telling the truth? It is a gut-wrenching story. The details are hard and the language is rough. Things are "not the way they ought to be."

I applaud Grisham, a professing Christian, for making this story known. He spent 18 months researching the factual details of the story, particularly Ron Williamson's case. According to Grisham, innocent people are being sent to jail and prison every week in this country.

Even though reading or listening to the unabridged story is hard, hang in to the end. There are hardworking, truth-telling people in the system, too.

Monday, November 27, 2006

"Shelley, Shelley, Mo Melly, Fe, Fi, ..." & Hair

Uncle John and Niece Shelley

There are two purposes for showing you this picture:

1. To show off my beautiful niece Shelley Mayfield who is a delightful young lady who lives and works in Nashville, TN. She is a tax accountant who lives in the artsy part of the city near Vanderbilt University. Someday she wants to be the business manager of an art museum, but in the meantime is dreaming of opening an avant garde coffee house in her part of the city. Julie and I had a great time Thanksgiving week visiting with Shelley, with her brothers Jon and Jeff, with Jeff's wife, Kristen and her sons Zachary and Austin, with Shelley's mother, Diane, who is Julie's sister, and with Larry, Diane's husband. It was very special to visit with Shelley's grandmother, Lois, who is Julie and Diane's mother and my mother-in-law.

2. To dispel rumors that I have lost my facial hair (because of the clean-shaven face in the previous post's picture with Julie). I am still sporting a graying, short-cropped beard that expresses the deep and wide-ranging wisdom in my head. [Yeah, sure, John.] When will the rumor mill cease grinding?

Now, let's have some left-over turkey and dressing with gravy on it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006




Sunday, November 19, 2006


We are Tennesse bound this afternoon.

Julie and I are traveling to Nashville to spend Thanksgiving with her mother, Lois, and sister, Diane, and Diane's family. They live in Brentwood near Franklin which is south of Nashville proper.

Julie's birthday is on Tuesday. That day we will travel to Linden (southwest of Nashville on the map). My mother, Margaret, and step-father, Neal, live there.

Our girls are spread over the States and will be having Thanksgiving with either their own families or with friends---Leah in Texas, Elisha and Lori in California (San Diego and Sacramento respectively), and Shamar in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Shamar has to work Thanksgiving Day, but she has some good plans made for being with friends.

I'll take the laptop with me and hopefully post a blog or two while we're on the trip.

"Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name." Psalm 100:4

To our "Blog Family"---Blessed Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Jesus the Word Artist

Jesus didn't shy away from giving people mind cramps.

Jesus wasn't afraid of being misunderstood.

Jesus lived in our reality, yet spoke from a different realm altogether; a realm that deepened the meanings of ordinary words.

Jesus was a masterful word artist. He was a brilliant conversationalist who could inject an ordinary term with mind-boggling or mind-cramping power.

With Nicodemas in John 3 it was the phrase "born again." Nicodemas does a mental double-take and asks dumbfoundedly "How...?" With the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, it was the term "water." With baffled curiosity the woman asked for the living water but wasn't sure Jesus could give it to her since he had nothing with which to draw that water.

Back in John 2 Jesus used the word "temple" with his new definition to the bewilderment of some very upset Jewish authorities.

Why do we evangelicals have this slavish penchant to be correctly understood and to make sure the minds of our listeners are always at ease? Why don't we dare to speak ordinary words filled with other world, kingdom of God, meaning? Why is Webster's (or whatever) dictionary our source for definitions and not the creative Jesus and his new world of meanings?

I anticipate the objection: But does this not make language too slippery? Are we going to fill a word with whatever meaning we want? To these questions I simply ask, Did Jesus do that? He was creative, not willy-nilly.

Jesus was an intriguing artist, not a ponderous exegete. He believed in a deeper, truer realm; lived from it and invited others into it. He used mind-cramping words at times to do it. His vocabulary while current and earthy nevertheless had a "...and beyond" dimension.

Our house church, exploring and playing with Jesus' word artistry, experimented with putting kingdom definitions into ordinary words. It was our attempt at exploring another way "to be like Jesus." We felt like amateurs. Like kids. Like we were starting from scratch. Born again.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

"Happy trails to you...Leah and Andy, Jackson, Trevor and Sylvia"

Today our oldest daughter, Leah, and her family departed Grand Rapids for their new season of life in Haslet, TX. Andy's division of the company is shutting down its Grand Rapids' operations and moving south.

We hosted them for their final days here and it was quite an active house again for the time. Today was eeriely quiet. Of course, Julie and I missed hugging and kissing little Sylvia. And I missed horsing around with Jackson and Trevor--two of the most energetic, 100% boys I know...and love. Leah is a great conversationalist and Andy is my MSU Spartans' buddy.

Andy spent the last days in Michigan cleaning, painting, tearing out old carpet so new carpet could be laid, and generally getting their house here ready to sell.

They left this morning from Gerald R. Ford airport at 7:15 a.m. The picture was taken just after they checked their bags in.

We will miss them, as we miss our daughter Elisha and her family and our daughter Lori---they all live in California. Shamar, our youngest daughter, moved out on her own in mid-August, but she still lives in the Grand Rapids area.

Leah was born my last year in Seminary in Dallas. In some ways, she is going back to her roots. Julie has relatives in the Dallas-Ft Worth metroplex. Julie also was born in Dallas.

So, Julie and I have reason to visit San Diego, Sacramento, and Haslet. If Shamar should ever leave Michigan, hopefully she'll move to the Bahamas or the island of St. Martin. Hey, it's fun to dream.

We have great girls; tremendous young ladies. We are very proud of each of them. But, dang!, that getting married and leaving father and mother bit is hard to adjust to. Yet, Julie and I did it, carting off our little girls from Julie's folks and my folks when we were It's that "circle of life" thing, I guess.

Remember that scene in "Father of the Bride" where Annie Banks is sitting at the dinner table excitedly telling her father and mother about the wedding and suddenly George Banks sees Annie as his 5 or 6 year old little girl? That's comedy on the one hand, yet very real in the minds of parents on the other. Younger minds have imaginative pictures about the future; older minds have actual memory-pictures of the past, accessible in a nano-second. Our children can be 31 and 3 almost instantaneously; two and twenty-seven in a breath; four and then living on their own in the wink of an eye.

May the LORD bless you and keep you and make his face shine upon you and give you peace.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Showdown in Levi's House

"I was not brought up like this," hissed John while his brother James nodded in agreement. "We were taught to avoid these people. They are low-lifes; they are murderers and thieves. How much of our hard-earned money have we paid to Levi over the years for the fish tax? And look how he's spending it; putting on this big party for his fellow thieves. This is getting way out of hand! We're "unclean" just by being in this room with them."

Huddled in a corner of Levi's house, Jesus' small band of disciples were agitatedly discussing their dilemma. Jesus was reclining at Levi's lavishly filled banquet table and laughing and talking with Levi and his tax-collector friends and other "sinners."

Peter, too, was fuming and disoriented. Never in his life did he imagine being in the home of Levi the tax-collector. Fidgeting nervously, he scanned the room and his eyes stopped at the door. Standing rigid and aloof with faces of shocked disgust were some Pharisees with a coterie of their legal experts. Peter whispered to Andrew, James and John, "We've been spotted. Slowly look over toward the door. Don't be obvious."

"Oh, Gehenna!" James said, "It's the Pharisees. I knew it. I just knew it. Following Jesus would get us into real trouble." Laughter erupted from the table and all eyes turned that way. It was apparent that Jesus said something hilarious. Levi was laughing so hard he almost snorted out his wine.

"What does he think he's doing?" John asked the others. "He can't be seen in here with these, these kind. We'll be black-listed for sure now. I bet Jerusalem hears about this. What are we doing here? I want out!"

"Pssst! Pssst! Peter, come here. And bring the three others." The lead Pharisee was motioning Peter and the others to come over by the door.

"As God as my witness, we are going to get excommunicated from the synagogue," Peter muttered to the others as they inched around to the doorway. As they passed by Levi, he was telling Jesus about how honored he was to have Jesus in his home. And Jesus responded, "No, Levi, my friend, the honor is all mine. I wouldn't rather be anywhere but with you and your friends." James rolled his eyes at John.

At the door the lead Pharisee in an offended tone asked Peter and the others, "Why? Why is he eating and drinking with tax-collectors and 'sinners'? These people are outcasts from this good, Torah-keeping town. And what are you doing here? You've been good boys. We know you. We know your families." One of the legal experts blurted out, "This is such blatant lawlessness that I am at a loss for words."

Peter's faced reddened and he stared down at the floor. The others, too, were burning with deep shame. Why in the world did Jesus call Levi to follow him? And why in the world did Jesus accept Levi's invitation to a banquet and bring them along, too? This is not a fun party.

Jesus turned toward the door and saw the dejection in his friends' faces. He also saw the look of self-satisfied contempt on the faces of the Pharisees and lawyers. Now everyone was looking toward the door. The laughter and talking turned to silence. Most of the tax-collectors mirrored the same contempt and disgust and aimed it right at the Pharisees. There was no love lost here. In the silence Jesus spoke up, addressing the Pharisees.

"Where do you find a doctor? Among the well or among the sick?"

A slight imbalance jolted the Pharisees. You could see a tremor in their eyes. They knew this well-known proverb and they had a hint as to where it was headed.

"Tell me," Jesus said, "Where do you find a doctor?" There was an awkward pause. It seemed like such an obvious question. Jesus continued, "No answer from the hasidim? But you know the answer, don't you?"

The lead Pharisee tried to stare Jesus down, but finally his face fell and he looked away, defeated.

"In the same way that a doctor is with the sick, so I have come to call 'sinners' to repentance, not the 'righteous.' "

The legal experts murmurred among themselves, "He's got us. We can't challenge him without looking like idiots."

Suddenly one of Levi's friends let out a loud cackle of laughter. The place erupted into a roar of hilarity. The Pharisees, embarrassed and angry, turned and walked away. Peter, Andrew, James and John, still shaking from the encounter, walked over to Jesus.

"Recline, my friends, eat and drink for the kingdom of heaven is here."

"You can say that again," Levi said loudly.

Years later a gospel was written by Levi, known also as Matthew. Many, many others would read it and learn to relax and be human again.

Friday, November 03, 2006


My theological-philosopher friend Evan Haskill let me borrow his copy of Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

Lynne Truss offers a delightful, yet informative tour into the history and use of grammar's little things like commas, exclamation points, colons, dashes, quotes, apostrophes, semicolons and the "full stop" (according to our British friends) or "period" to us USAmericans.

Where did these little marks originate? What were they used for at their origin? Why are they important (and Truss thinks they are very important)?

Do you know what "the Oxford comma" is?

She tells the story of a man hanged by a comma. He was trapped by a piece of legal writing with a deadly comma. As another example, Truss offers the same paragraph twice, but with different punctuation. The exact same words end up communicating very opposite messages.

Truss laments the dumbing down of correct punctuation due to Internet cyber-write, for example, the loss of capitalization, the use of --- and ... and the things like "C U B4 the game."

Don't let Truss get near signs that are wrongly "beets, potatoes and carrot's." Or, "used book's here." Or, worse, "used book,s here."

I done have had a reel gud timme redding the bouk. Thank yew, Evan.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bill Kinnon on CATCH A FIRE

My friend in Toronto, Bill Kinnon, wrote the following in the "comments" on my last blog about the movie "Catch A Fire." I publish them here because I believe you need to know these things and consider seeing the movie. --John Frye

Bill wrote,

"I was profoundly moved by the film, as was Imbi [his wife]. We are both lovers of South Africa. I went the first time in 1996 - Imbi, a year later. I was there shooting a documentary with an African-American pastor and was travelling with a team of Americans (who were predominantly black).

On our arrival in Cape Town, I witnessed a young female team member being rudely hassled by a six foot six inch, blonde customs person. Five years after the end of apartheid. She was African-American. I was treated with warm politeness. I'm pasty white. In George, I have footage of three white church members storming out of their church because the evening was being led by "black people." In East London, we were told in a white church that they didn't allow drums because drums came from the jungle and were demonic. (In the twelve times I've been in Africa, I've yet to see jungle.) Some years later, I walked the beach in Durban with a friend of mine who is Zulu. He told me of being on the beach "illegally" during apartheid and having thousand of eyes in white faces glare at him with hatred - he is one of the kindest, gentlest men I know and one of the finest bass players on the planet. They just saw a "kaffir" (a horrible word with roots in the Arabic word "kafir.")

After my friend told me the story, he took about half an hour before he spoke again - the memory still burned. Would that that was his only experience of evil in his country. He experienced much worse. And he discovered during the Truth and Reconciliation commission that he and his "twin brother of another mother," the white Afrikaner drummer he'd played with since his late teens were both on a hit list of the secret police. His Afrikaner twin was the nephew of a famous white South African poet. He was bringing dishonour to his family and race by his love for and friendship with a Zulu man.

I've seen the realities of race hatred that still exist in South Africa, even amongst Christians. And I am shocked that there wasn't widespread bloodshed when Apartheid came to an end. That can only be the hand of God. Catch a Fire captures the sorrow of Apartheid South Africa. Tim Robbins as the conflicted Police Colonel Nic Vos, shows the depths to which we can sink in "protecting our world." (I have no doubt that Robbins is making a strong statement from his own political point of view.) Derek Luke is exceptional as Patrick Chamusso. His transformation from a man focused on his work and family to a freedom fighter (terrorist to the Apartheid South African Police Special Brand) is a nuanced performance. This is a very good film. One I would strongly recommend. And there is redemption in the film.

Will it make you uncomfortable? I certainly hope so. I will be sending my three teenagers to see it. Thanks, John, for recommending it.