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I watched the movie WALK THE LINE this weekend and once again found myself questioning the perpetual happiness shoveled by so many preachers, writers and much of the Christian Music industry in America these days. There are a handful of quotes within the film that felt like finger-pointing sermons jabbed into the gut of all us Christians who work as artists, preachers and story tellers of faith - me included. But the most unrelenting and hardest to dodge sermon comes not from the dialogue of the small scoped film (it covers such a small portion of Johnny Cash's life) but from the life of the Man In Black himself. I hope those who go to the theaters for a first taste of Cash delve deeper into the full story of his life, go for seconds and thirds listening intently to his music and see the lessons he taught in word and deed.

Far from perfect, Johnny Cash cannot be revered for the same reasons as Mother Teresa or Billy Graham. He stumbled often and fell hard. But his honesty is worshipable, his lack of concern for covering his bruises and breaks, his propensity to roll up his sleeves and show us more than we'd like at times. And his relentless revealing of his faults seems to have bred empathy and mourning for the rest of mankind, the other broken and poor of body and spirit, all of us in his audience. This empathy for the wounded and sinful isn't as clear in the film WALK THE LINE as it is in his vast song catalog. The earliest example I remember hearing is "THE MAN IN BLACK". I remember watching this midnight clad man with the baritone pipes crooning about poverty and criminals on the television one Saturday night. I had no idea that one day this song, his dress code, would affect my own theology and lyricism twenty years later. Here is Johnny Cash's own explanation for that dress code, and reason once again to question the upbeat and positive trends of today's Christian music business and pursue empathy fueled by honesty instead:

"Man In Black" by Johnny Cash

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.

I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you'd think He's talking straight to you and me.

Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen' that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen' that we all were on their side.

Well, there's things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin' everywhere you go,
But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You'll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black



Since I've slept in a few hundred beds over the the last few years, eaten as many muffins on styrofoam plates and frozen through my share of lukewarm showers, I have more than a few opinions about the major chains of non-luxury hotels. I hope this list of hotel bests and worsts, based only upon my memory of personal travel experiences, helps SHLOGGERS who planning to hit the road over the upcoming holidays:

BEST SHOWER: Holiday Inn Express. They boast about their Kohler Smart Stay shower head and it's truly something worth boasting about. Excellent spread and pressure. Better than home. Not a big deal? Yea, right. You travel all day for a while and see how great even the simple pleasure of getting clean and warm feels. No better thing on the road.
WORST SHOWER: Comfort Inn. Every shower is different and not always hot, sometimes dripping, sometimes peeling the flesh right off, sometimes hitting me in the eyes and the toenails and nowhere else.

BEST BED: Westin. The "Heavenly Bed" is just that. Thick down-filled duvet (that's french for expensive comforter), feather pillows, clean sheets every time. Every time!
WORST BED: LaQuinta and Best Western. Don't look at the mattress under those sheets. Every bed looks as if it were purchased from a murder scene. I'm not sure CSI can solve the mystery of how a bed gets this disgusting.

BEST SERVICE: Hampton Inn. I've never met an unhappy Hampton Inn front desk clerk.
WORST SERVICE: Most other places. Especially late at night. The people who work after 10PM at hotels are not happy about it and it shows. They get back at the world by talking on the phone to their friends instead of helping us and by "forgetting" to put our wake up calls into the computer. Oops.

MOST CONSISTENTLY GOOD STAY: Fairfield Inn. Most are laid out the same way, clean, reliable, easy to work with, allow early check ins, provide decent showers and beds and free cookies. Bonus.
MOST INCONSISTENT STAY: Radison and Marriot. Radison was once considered a luxury hotel. Now it's hit or miss. I avoid them altogether. Marriot is usually a nice stay but I've been burned enough times by dirty pre-haired bathrooms, mildew smelling rooms and rude front desk folks to not get my hopes up when I walk in the lobby. The best of times and the worst of times. Who knows what time it will be until you've already paid.

My favorites are the no frills Hampton Inn and Fairfield Inn where you won't be pampered but you won't be disappointed either. But for a little extra money, especially if it's not my own, dive into a Heavenly Bed at a Westin or gorge myself on a grand breakfast spread at Amerisuites. And if I just need to get happy and clean all at the same time, give me a Holiday Inn Express and at least an hour.

Happy travels.



I'm in Wisconcin and North Dakota for the weekend where, surprise, it's a little cold. In the twenties to be exact. I'll play tonight, Friday, in Janesville, 8PM, at Faith Community Church. Then tomorrow I'll play two shows, 6:30 and 8:45PM, in Greenbay at Cup O Joy. And finally wrap things up in warm sunny Grand Forks, ND at Grace Baptist Church at 7PM.

I set few rules for Brian as a booking agent. I'll go just about anywhere and play just about anything. But, and I've told him this many many times before, no shows North of Kentucky in the winter! Anybody want a job?

While you prepare your resumes I think I'll go warm myself over a large steamy pile of cheese curds.



There will be no SHLOGGING this week. Instead of blogging I'll be painting, fixing, packing, studying, teaching, interviewing, moving and then resting...hopefully. Check out the links to the right under the heading "Better Blogs" instead. Those guys always have good things to say so maybe they'll have the fix you're looking for.

For anyone in the Nashville area, you're invited as always to IKON this Tuesday night at 8PM at The People's Church in Franklin, TN. (615.794-2812 for directions) We'll be going through part two of the series we're calling "Evolution Revolution". Last week we looked at what "salvation" really is and this week we begin looking at exactly what it did to us - how exactly we're different than we once were. After Thanksgiving we'll conclude by looking at why we were "saved" - what we're here for. If Jesus died on the cross so that you could go to Heaven why'd He leave you here for seventy years or so waiting to get in? Maybe that's not why He died. Find out. See you there.

Thanks for SHLOGGING. See you next week.



For the last two nights I've been driving to the University of Alabama in Florence to speak to a group of students at the BCM there (Baptist Campus Ministry). Last night I left my house at 6:30 bound for bama, plenty of time to make the hour and a half drive to campus before the festivities were to kick off at 9.

But after a few minutes on the highway I found myself sitting still, having guzzled the largest Dr.Pepper a Shell station would sell me and with a sudden urge to expel a good bit of it from my system. (ie. I needed to go potty). I sat there in traffic purgatory for an hour and called the BCM in Florence to let them know I was running a "little behind" and might be cutting it close if I hit any more snags.

Just outside of Florence, much time later, I stopped for gas and that much needed restroom break at a QuickStop. I tossed my mound of keys into the floor board as I simultaneously slammed the car door. As the keys hit the floor the alarm attached to them was somehow triggered and the car beeped locked just as the door clicked shut.


The woman at the counter was less than helpful, speaking in a Southern drawl with cemented in place eyebrows and motionless facial muscles, "You can't dial 411 here. Costs us money."

I needed the number of my insurance company, but my insurance card was...locked in the car, so I called the first locksmith listed in the yellow pages and then waited while Mrs. Personality and I made small talk about the safety of service station wieners, how often they're replaced and whether or not greenish brown is the color they arrive as or a hue they mysteriously become during two weeks of turning over a low flame.

Fifteen minutes.

Thirty minutes.

It's 9:20. The hero of the evening appeared in a primer gray Astro van with slim jim in hand. I gave him thirty five bucks and he unlocked my car. I gave him five extra and he did it without laughing at me once. A bargain.

I sped away from the Quick Stop and fumbled and felt around the floor board for my cell phone and the scrap of paper I'd written the BCM's phone number on. BBy the time I found them both I was in Florence, just minutes from the University campus, with someone from the BCM on the line. "You're fine on time," they reassured me, though I knew my being thirty minutes late at this point had to have caused someone a little stress. "I'll be there in ten minutes," I promised and took the phone from my ear, my eyes off the road and tried to find the disconnect button in the dark.

When my eyes came back to the street I, speeding at this point, saw the red tail lights of a much slower car that had apparently pulled in front of me in the instant I'd stopped paying attention. Too late to break, I steered to the left, passing the plodding station wagon and driving for only a second in the turn lane before veering back into my lane.

Blue lights flashed in the rear view mirror instantly. My stomach rolled over. I pulled to the curb and a robust officer moseyed up to my window. "Is there a good reason why you passed those cars back there in the turn lane?"

Why do police officers do this? Is it sarcasm? Is it an interrogation technique designed to trap us into some sort of lie or grand admission of greater guilt like, "Yes, I dropped my joint when I was reloading my AK47 and when I reached for it I asked my underaged girlfriend to take the wheel for a second but she was too busy counting the money we just stole from that liquor store over there to hear me I guess. So I kinda lost control for a second, officer. I'm not a good multi-tasker I guess."

"No sir," I answered politely, hoping my manners would win the day. "I'm very late for a meeting at the University up the road here. I got stuck in some traffic and then I locked my keys in my car when I stopped for gas and-"

"So because YOU were late," he lectured, "YOU almost killed someone...So YOU could be on time?"

"Well, I was on my cell phone and - I'm getting a ticket aren't I?"

And then we round and round about whether the car was really mine because it was recently given to me by a family member and hasn't been registered in my name yet and it has Texas tags but I have a Tennessee driver's license that looks nothing like me and I have no title or...you get the picture. I'm just certain there's a rubber glove, a cavity search and a cellmate named Tito in my near future at this point. That's when the second police car showed up, about the time I was explaining whey I'm in Florence in the first place.

"I'm speaking to a group of students at the University."

"About what?"

"Um...I, Uhh...I'm a preacher I guess." I reached for my bible as evidence, as if only preachers have bibles, although they may the only once with them so handily located in their car.


"I was just getting my bible. Sorry. I don't get arrested very often. I'm not sure what all the rules are." No laughter from the cop with his hand on his hip.

"You're a preacher?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you're late so you're passing in the turn lane, speeding, in a car that has no registration and a Tennessee license that doesn't have your right address on it and no title and Texas tags on your vehicle."

"Yes, sir. That about sums it up."

"Uh huh...Reckless driving. Here's your ticket. Sign here. This is not an admission of guilt. See you in court."

I drove on to the University and preached to a good sized crowd of students about building the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. I taught that God's kingdom is in the heart and coming through us to the rest of the world. It's our task as Christians then to obey the authorities and rules of our nation while living out our citizenship and loyalty to the Kingdom of Heaven and the King of Kings in such a way that earthly authorities have less and less to do. We're to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth by accepting responsibility for the needs and needy around us and doing our best to bring assistance to them - replace government policies, programs and power with the mercy and love and wealth of the people of God. It's a revolution we've been saved for. "Be the Church, free the oppressed, heal the sick, feed the hungry, do God's will on earth as it is done in Heaven and all our governments will have left to do in time is write traffic tickets to preachers endangering the lives of others."

It was good night after all. Thanks to Brian Miller and everyone else at the BCM for your patience, Oreos, Cheese Puffs and great conversation. Now if you could just get me out of this ticket.



As Brian and I drove to Indiana this past weekend we listened to this song, Lay Me Down by Andrew Peterson, over and over again. The first time because he asked to hear it and the other forty because I became obsessed with it as I often am with songs that teach or touch me in some way. Kyle Lake's death is like looking ina mirror for us I think: we're all just past thirty, small kids at home, beautiful wives out of our leagues, congregations we pastor, and I was brought up in the same hometown and church as Kyle too. His death brought our lives into sharper focus, made our eventual passings more believable, and while we weren't as close to Kyle as most of his mourners, it's brought us our share of mourning, but also brought us into deeper conversations with each other about life, death, purpose and meaning and - of course - the hope of life beyond this far country. This song by Andrew expresses this hope better than I ever could, reminds us of the unchanging realities of our salvation from death and shallow living. I hope it brings some hope and reflection to you and yours too.

I suppose you could lay me down to die in Illinois
Bury me beneath the rows of corn
Or in-between the maple trees I climbed on as a boy
Where in the Land of Lincoln I was born

Oh, and I recall
We rode the combines in the fall
And there comes a time
For gathering the harvest after all

So when you lay me down to die
I’ll miss my boys, I’ll miss my girls
Lay me down and let me say goodbye to this world
You can lay me anywhere
But just remember this
When you lay me down to die
You lay me down to live

Well I asked a girl to marry me on a dock out on the lake
Our babies came to life in Tennessee
And the music of the mountains is still keeping me awake
Yeah, but everything that rises falls asleep

We are not alone
We are more than flesh and bone
What is seen will pass away
What is not is going home

When you lay me down to die
I’ll miss my boys, I’ll miss my girls
Lay me down and let me say goodbye to this world
You can lay me anywhere
But just remember this
When you lay me down to die

I’ll open up my eyes on the skies I’ve never known
In the place where I belong
And I’ll realize His love is just another word for Home

I believe in the holy shores of uncreated light
I believe there is power in the blood
And all of the death that ever was,
If you set it next to life
I believe it would barely fill a cup
‘Cause I believe there’s power in the blood

When you lay me down to die
So long, boys, so long, girls
Lay me down and let me say goodbye to this world
You can lay me anywhere
But just remember this
When you lay me down to die
You lay me down to live



We drove past the shaded stone mansions, their long driveways curving through crested iron gates and over sloped green manicured lawns, racing our way towards the title company's office to sign the papers before our minds changed. We arrived late and frantic. I'd forgotten my license and panicked wondering if we'd be allowed to close on our house without it, and secretly hoped we wouldn't. Maybe just a day's delay would bring us to our senses - I thought. One more late night conversation with Becky might uncover a never-before-thought-of reason for backing out, for staying put in this mansion of our own. Maybe Becky, in those few extra hours a delay would give us, could concoct a brilliantly persuasive argument for keeping our dream home and not downsizing, some kind of an argument with the phrase "for the children" in it, something I could lightly struggle against before caving into agreement.

But there was no delay. And no new arguments from Becky. Amazon.com, I was told, where my CDs are listed for sale - that's proof enough of who I am. "That doesn't seem like proff enough. I don't even look my CD cover," I argued, but they wouldn't listen. So, gathered around a mahogany table littered with papers and folders, Becky and I signed our house over to another couple, the house we designed and built and moved into just over a year ago.

Then those papers were packed up and carried out in a bulging binder by an assistant dressed in black, like a pallbearer shouldering off a loved one. Then more papers and more folders arrived and more signatures deeded a new house over to us. It's a smaller home carpeted in teal green shag at the moment. All of its cabinets don't open. The list of small repairs and patches our inspector thinks need to be done is five pages long. Mildew has grown over patches of its vinyl siding and sidewalk. Gutters have come unbolted from the roof line in spots and the dishwasher leaks through the floor and into the crawl space below. Two large dogs have periodically urinated on the floors for years, chewed chunks of trim away from doorways and scratched the backdoor windows until they can't be seen through anymore. It's perfect - I think - somedays I think. It's just enough house for us. Kids will share rooms. We'll bathe in a smaller tub. No space will be unused. And in time we'll make it look and feel like home. Until then it needs work. And I need confirmation that this whole downsizing thing is a good idea.

So on the silent drive back from the title company, the papers signed, the deal done and my stomach cramping with remorse, I asked Becky, "Is this a big mistake?" "We don't need it," she smiled squeezing my hand as we wound back through the wide avenues flanked by stone mansions and green manicured lawns. "I guess so," I said after a lengthy pause.

And I think I mean that. I think I believe her. But man, I'm gonna miss my bathtub.



It's 1 AM. I'm in a hotel somewhere near Indianapolis ready to go to bed. Brian and I drove from Nashville today to Ft.Wayne, IN, played a show at Seekers Coffee House, then drove almost two hours to the Indianapolis area where we'll play at Crossroads Church in Westfield, IN tomorrow (Sunday). We'll be in the morning services and then play a show at an area high school gym tomorrow evening to benefit a local ministry to students headed up in part by the pastor of Crossroads Church, Eric Lohe. Then it's back home on Monday.

I'll post more after the show.

Thanks to everyone who packed the house out at Seekers tonight...last night now I guess. Good food and music once again at Seekers. See you tomorrow night (tonight?) at Crossroads Church in Westfield. For details go to shaungroves.com.



The following is an article (slightly amended here) I originally wrote for CHRISTIAN MUSIC PLANET a few years ago but I thought it might be timely to bring it back out now. I'd say all this differently today but the essence of the essay still holds true for me. I still believe this is the answer we're all looking for.


Five thousand men and their families fed. Lazarus called out of his tomb. A sea of lepers touched and made whole. Deaf hear. Blind see. Lame leap. Why?

Five thousand stomachs empty again in a matter of hours. An old man rescued from his grave only to return in a few years. The sick are healed until infection invades another day. Ears and eyes are opened until closed again by age or infirmity. Why? I have to wonder why when the miraculous seems ultimately meaningless.

The bodies of Pharaoh’s great army washed up on the shore of the Red Sea. Sodom and Gomorrah reduced to ashes. Paul shipwrecked, infected and martyred. God’s Son betrayed, belittled and butchered. Why?

Why did soldiers leave their families to fight and never come home when it was their leader and not them who defied God? Why did the innocent die alongside the guilty when entire towns were decimated by the wrath of God? Why would a man give up a life of power and prestige for a destiny of disease and destruction? Why did Jesus obey His Father only to be repaid with crucifixion? Why? I have to wonder why when the penalty and pain seem senseless.

And after wrestling with questions like these for years, I believe I’ve stumbled onto the answer – and it happens to be the answer to everything, the whys of every life.

God’s glory. Glory means the full weight of who God is. It is the complete picture of God: His love, mercy, grace, AND His wrath, judgment and jealousy. It is everything He is, and it is the answer. How so? God is self-centered. God is consumed with His own glory and with making His glory known to us. He wants every creature great and small to recognize all that He is and center themselves around all that He is, to adopt His character as their own. To see the fullness of God – His glory - and become glorious. That's what God is after. That's why.

John 6:14 The crowd not only had their bellies filled by the miracle of Jesus, but also realized He was the “Prophet who is to come into the world.”

John 11:45 Lazarus came to life and “many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.”

John 4:48 Crippled, lame, leprous and blind were healed because Jesus knew the spectators needed to “see miraculous signs and wonders” or they would never “believe” – never know He was God.

The miracles of Jesus were not permanent solutions to temporal problems. They were billboards for God’s glory – evidence of God and glimpses of His character. They were invitations to believe in and worship the God of compassion and wonder. They spread His fame from village to village and heart to heart.

Exodus 14:31 Pharaoh’s army was swallowed by the sea and the Jewish nation “feared the Lord and put their trust in Him.”

Psalm 40 Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed; Paul was persecuted; Christ was crucified – so that many would “see and fear” God. So that many would see His power to sustain and strengthen. And so that His name would be “the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the GLORY of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)

What God wants more than my happiness, more than my understanding, more than my way is for me to acknowledge Him – to notice Him – when the blessings AND the tears flow. And to partner with Him, to become a tool, for the purpose of making Him famous.

We were made to know God and continually make Him known. And God is busy dousing us in extravagant kindness and devastating despair, all to broadcast Himself to us and through us. This is the answer that brings meaning and purpose to the blessings and pains of every life. This is God's plan, His reason. This is the great why we're looking for. But it only satisfies the questioner who can honestly say along with Isaiah, "Your name and renown are the desire of my soul." (Isaiah 26:8)



Evolve. Revolt. Beginning next Tuesday at IKON, 8PM, @ The People's Church in Franklin, TN. Check out IKONCOMMUNITY.COM for directions. We'll be discussing who we are and why we're here in this series. See you there:



I never show pictures of my kids to the "world" because 1)other people never think your kids are as interesting and adorable and worth talking about as you do and 2)I don't want people talking to them about me in public like preachers' kids - I might be known to some folks but there's no reason those ten people should be pestering my kids for autographs too right? But I'm making an exception.

I'm sharing because 1)my kids are the cutest most interesting kids in the whole world and are therefore probably an exception to the above rule #1 and 2)because so many people from my past and hometown have suddenly discovered this blog and reconnected with me (due to Kyle's death) who've never seen my kids and might not even know that I've reproduced at all.

Here are my kids on Halloween: Jasmine, a dalmatian, and Santa Claus. That's right, Santa Claus. He wanted to go as Santa Claus dressed up as Spiderman but we talked him into having only one alter ego this year. Perplexed people just a little bit to have the young before-he-stopped-shaving-hit-the-donuts-and-let-himself-go Santa Claus standing at their door on Halloween. Folks gave him extra candy just out of sympathy for his confusion I think. Confused or just brilliant? At the very least, interesting and adorable right?