When I first met Jason Micheli in the fall of 1996 at UVA’s First Year Fellowship, he was already a full-grown man with a deep baritone voice. I was pretty goofy and socially awkward so I didn’t have many friends at First Year Fellowship but Jason was always willing to talk to me. I felt cool when I hung out with him since he was so manly. He wasn’t in the in-crowd but he was the cool outsider who turned all the girls’ heads. We lost track of each other over the years and reconnected when he was my preaching instructor at a retreat for provisional elders in 2011. Jason has the best craft of any preacher that I know. His sermons are masterpieces. You never know what to expect other than the fact that you’re going to get juked and surprised and undone in some kind of way. And they really are home runs every time, which is incomprehensible to me as a preacher who sucks at least a quarter of the time.
Jason has been blogging about as long as I have. I’ve always been blown away by the volume of his output. The blogs that he wrote during his recent cancer treatment were unlike anything else I’ve ever read. They were so damn funny and hard and real. They made me cry and things I read don’t make me cry ever. His first book Cancer Is Funny is the same way. I worry sometimes that people won’t get past the offensive title. What’s so sneaky is that the book pretends to be just another memoir about finding absurd humor in grim hardship but it’s actually a brilliant theology text. After reading it, I remember thinking why would anybody ever write about theology in the disembodied, un-incarnational, systematic way that we usually do rather than engaging the truths of Christianity in the context of impossible life circumstances where they actually have to matter?
All this is to say that when Jason invited me to join his podcast Crackers and Grape Juice, I was more than honored. I had no idea what a journey these last two years would be. I never thought I would actually get to skype with NT Wright. My horrendous Lenovo laptop did sabotage my ability to participate in the Rob Bell interview. But there were so many other great conversations. Some of my favorites were the ones that just involved Jason, me, and our podcast mates Teer Hardy and Taylor Mertins wrestling with things like Trump’s election, millennial church attendance, what salvation means, and whether or not to blow up the United Methodist Church. One of the best things about being involved with this podcast was the camaraderie of staying connected with Virginia clergy while I’ve been in exile serving in Louisiana. I didn’t feel lonely because I would see them on a weekly basis. It was one of the few times in my life when I felt like I was on the inside of a clique.
Crackers and Grape Juice has grown by leaps and bounds since its humble beginnings. There are now three podcasts as part of the family: the main Crackers and Grape Juice one, a lectionary podcast called Strangely Warmed, and a podcast on theological terminology with Jason’s friend Dr. Johanna Hartelius called (her)men.you.tics. All of them are available on itunes, spreaker, and stitcher. There’s a ton of great content for pastors and laity alike. If you’ve never had the opportunity to check it out, I promise you won’t be disappointed.
I’m grateful for the opportunity I had at Crackers and Grape Juice. In particular, I’m grateful for the tremendous boost that my podcast mates gave me when I was promoting my book. Having my book as the centerpiece of a packed-out pub theology gathering Jason and Teer arranged at the 2016 Virginia annual conference was one of the greatest honors I’ve experienced as a writer. That moment made up for the vast majority of my book events that summer where only 3 or 4 people showed up. I will always treasure that memory in my heart.
Thanks for letting me roll with you a while, Jason, Teer, and Taylor. May God continue to use your gifts to advance his kingdom!