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Booklist 2006

In Books on December 26, 2006 at 9:03 am

Just in time to put those gift cards to work, here’s my 2006 booklist (with reasons and rankings – 10 is highest) for your consideration. I didn’t take the time to link the books, but you should be able to find them easily enough.

In general, I didn’t get as much fiction in as I would have liked (seminary syllabi tend to have that effect); however, I did exceed my goal of three books/month in a big way, reading 59 books this year. Feel free to post recommendations or links to your own lists in the comments below.


  • Old Testament Ethics for the People of God by Christopher Wright – fascinating look at the “whys” of OT living (9)
  • Fidelity by Wendell Berr – not my favorite, but it’s Wendell (6)
  • The Game Plan by Joe Dallas – one of the better books on the issue of dealing with porn addiction (though that’s not saying much) (5)
  • Nathan Coulter by Wendell Berry – variation on the theme of the plight of rural America; I liked Hannah Coulter a whole lot more (6)
  • The Writing Life by Annie Dillard – okay book on writing (6)
  • Before We Get Started by Bret Lott – Megan liked this writing guide more than I did (5)
  • The Soul Tells a Story by Vinita Hampton Wright – could have been 75 pages shorter, but a good take on writing (7)
  • On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner – whoa; read this one, as Gardner writes with authority (9)
  • The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis – they all kind of blur together for me; okay (7)


  • The Heart of Evangelism by Jerram Barrs – deals with (duh) the heart of evangelism instead of just the techniques; helpful (8)
  • Chameleon Christianity by Dick Keyes – more good relational apologetic stuff (7)
  • The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis – a fitting climax to the series, I suppose (7)
  • Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Christopher Wright – Wright is the daddy when it comes to the OT (8)
  • The Openness of God by Clark Pinnock, et. al. – interesting (but wrong) theological perspective on the will of God (5)
  • Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck – some of the best Reformed systematic theology you’ll read; amazing work (9)


  • Above All Earthly Pow’rs by David F. Wells – very educational book on postmodernism (8)
  • Introducing Postmodernism by Richard Appignanesi and Chris Garratt – a fun little book(let) on postmodernism (7)
  • Out of Control by Ben Young and Samuel Adams – was asked to review this one; didn’t like it, so they didn’t use my review (2)
  • The Stand by Stephen King – haunting book on viral contagion in the hands of evil and the end of civilization as we know it; frightening, but needs a better ending (8)
  • To Own a Dragon by Donald Miller – an okay read, especially for someone who doesn’t know his father (6)


  • The Bark of the Bog Owl by Jonathan Rogers – the first in a triology for children re-telling the story of David; the best of the three (7)
  • Evangelism in the Early Church by Michael Green – the church fathers were wild hairs; great look at the spread of the gospel 2,000 years ago (9)
  • Between Two Worlds by John Stott – Stott’s take on preaching; a helpful read (8)
  • Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright – a bit verbose at times, Wright’s credibility in the critical world is why we need him in the evangelical one (7)
  • Created in His Image by Anthony Hoekema – good, basic book on humanity (7)
  • Salem’s Lot by Stephen King – vampires on the east coast; ho-hum (5)
  • Truth with Love by Bryan Follis – more apologetics, this time from Francis Schaeffer’s perspective (7)
  • Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures by Herman Ridderbos – poorly translated/written, but Hermie has some good things to say about canonicty of the Scriptures (7)
  • The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings by Robert H. Stein – very helpful book on interpreting and thinking through how Jesus taught in the gospels (8)


  • The Secret of the Swamp King by Jonathan Rogers – David’s story continues…and unfortunately gets longer (6)
  • Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be by Cornelius Plantinga – one of the better modern treatments of the topic of sin you’ll read (9)
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding – this one’s always been a favorite since junior high; hence, the re-read (8)
  • Hey, Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland – I never remember his characters or storylines, but I love his cultural observations in the midst of his fiction (6)


  • In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen – powerful little book(let) on leadership and humility (9)
  • Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland – more character development than normal for Coupland; more good cultural observations (7)


  • On Being a Pastor by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg – dated and formulaic take on pastoring; a few practical nuggets, but that’s about it (4)
  • Pastor by William H. Willimon – despite a few of his theological views, this was one of the better (and better-written) books I’ve read on pastoral ministry (8)
  • Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition by Andrew Purves – a historic look at five familiar pastors through the ages; interesting (7)
  • Freedom and Discipleship by Jerram Barrs – helpful booklet on the difference between legalism and discipleship (7)


  • Getting the Message by Dan Doriani – full of good tools to properly interpret the Scriptures; written well, too (8)
  • The Old Testament Speaks by Samuel J. Schultz – concise summary of the OT I used to prep for my Bible class this fall (7)
  • Kingdom of Priests by Eugene H. Merrill – ditto, except a little more technical in dates, places, debates, etc. (7)
  • How to Read the Bible Book by Book by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart – if you teach the Bible in any capacity, this book will serve you well; a nice surprise (9)


  • TrueFaced by Bill Thrall – still one of my favorite books in understanding and working through sin cycles (9)
  • The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks – hated it; what Paperback Swap is for (1)
  • Getting Marriage Right by David P. Gushee – okay book on marriage (5)


  • Rabbit, Run by John Updike – Updike is such a good writer, but the dysfunctional story of infidelity was almost too depressing to enjoy (6)
  • The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero – a needed book in today’s fundamental(ist) churches and parachurch ministries (8)
  • Take Back Your Marriage by William J. Doherty – respected secular psychological take on marriage that basically affirms every marital principle in the Bible (7)
  • Red Azalea by Anchee Min – up-and-down story of one woman’s hard life in Communist China (7)


  • Mentoring for Mission by Gunter Krallman – a detailed look at Jesus’ methods in discipling the twelve (8)
  • Holding Hands, Holding Hearts by Richard and Sharon Phillips – good book on dating (and, therefore, marriage) (7)
  • Hebrews by William Lane – one of the more definitive works on the biblical book; great stuff on structure (8)
  • The Way of the Wilderking by Jonathan Rogers – David’s story just keeps going, and going, and going…just read 1 and 2 Samuel instead and call it a story (4)
  • What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Behn – fascinating book about how to help people learn; great resource for teachers of any material (8)


  • The Message of Revelation by Michael Wilcock – believe it or not, Revelation will (sort of) make sense after you read this commentary (8)
  • A Practical Grammar for Classical Hebrew by J. Weingreen – hate it, hate it, hate it; exercises are good, though (or so my prof says) (3)
  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion – Didion’s sad, haunting experience with the near-death of her daughter and the death of her husband, all within five days; still waiting for the “magical” part to kick in (9)
  • Lisey’s Story by Stephen King – famous dead author leaves clues for his still-living wife to traverse worlds and ease her pain; 510 pages of weirdness (6)

Merry Christmas to All

In Family, Pop Culture on December 23, 2006 at 10:28 pm

We’re at the grandparents’ in Illinois through Christmas Day, when we’ll then head to Megan‘s sister’s near Kansas City until Wednesday, (finally) finishing moving in at the new place Thursday. We’re 90% there, but that last 10% is always the hardest.

In the meantime, we’re catching up on some sleep and some reading (sans highlighter), and letting the grandparents do their thing with the little ones.

I’m also playing with my parents’ new dog, Annie (a really sweet black lab), enjoying my folks’ new high-speed Internet, and hoping to get some extended time to walk and pray before Monday. It’s good to be home.

Coming soon: my 2006 booklist (with rankings). Look for it Monday or Tuesday.

Merry Christmas.

PS: Pray I can endure the gift exchange(s) with grace. Not real fond of those…

Gift Cards: Yea or Nay?

In Thought on December 20, 2006 at 11:34 pm

Finished finals, turned in my last paper of the semester, and spent the rest of yesterday (as well as today) schlepping stuff from our apartment to the new house we’re renting. I’ll post more on the move soon, but suffice it to say, it’s going to be a great place for our family.

While making my umpteenth trip back and forth between places, I heard on the radio that, according to this American Express survey from a month or so ago (not sure how I missed it then), 66% of Christmas shoppers plan to give gift cards this year, a nearly-ten-percent jump from last year’s survey. Here’s why:

“Among those planning on purchasing gift cards, two thirds (66%) want the receiver to choose his or her own gift, and a large majority (57%) say that the option of giving gift cards has changed how they think about shopping. Seven in ten (73%) say they finish shopping faster with less stress. Shoppers also say they will go to the mall and stores less often, including Thanksgiving weekend (60%), some will likely get their holiday shopping done earlier (59%) although other shoppers say they plan to start later because they know they can always get a gift card (45%).”

How do those receiving the cards feel about this trend? Apparently they don’t seem to mind:

“By letting people get what they want for the holidays, gift cards have changed the dynamics of post-holiday shopping. According to the survey, a majority (56%) say they return fewer gifts when they receive gift cards. A third (32%) will redeem their gift cards within a month, and nearly one in four (23%) will redeem their cards within six months. Seven percent say they plan to redeem gift cards during the post-holiday week.”

The survey goes on to talk about who people are buying gift cards for, as well as that those giving gift cards have no expectation of receiving a thank you note from the recipient.

In listening to the story today, it seems obvious that the trend of our nation’s gift-giving frenzy this time of year revolves not around what someone wants to give, but what someone simply wants. Perhaps it’s too subtle an observation, but when I listened to all the commercials following the story, this was their clear theme.

Full disclosure: I’m not much (okay, I’m not any kind) of a gift-giver myself, so I don’t stay up nights thinking about this. But for those who are (and those who do), is what’s keeping you up your indecision about what exactly you want to give to someone else, or are you losing sleep trying to figure out exactly what the other person wants? Again, it’s a subtle difference, but it seems to me the latter causes a whole lot more stress than the former.

A friend of mine and I were talking about this (sort of) at a recent Christmas party we were both attending. As we were discussing the latest books we had been reading, George made the comment that he loves the holidays because his family always gives him some new books to read for the new year. However, when he’s asked what books he would like, he tells them to pick out something they think he would like, rather than him tell them what he wants. He says he’s never disappointed with their selections, and his library stays a little more varied than it would otherwise as a result.

I like that philosophy, but I recognize that it takes time and thought. Is the gift card phenomenon simply a function of limited calendars and creativity (it certainly doesn’t seem to be due to a limited pocketbook)? Do you buy gift cards for others, and if so, what’s your main motivation? And if you don’t, why not (and what do you do instead)?

A Night with Chihuly

In Arts, Places & Spaces on December 15, 2006 at 11:25 pm

chihuly-chandelier.jpgSo last night I took Megan to the Missouri Botanical Gardens for the special Chihuly Nights Glass in the Garden exhibit.

If you’re not familiar with Dale Chihuly and his glass-blowing artistry, it’s pretty visually amazing, especially when well-lit and seen up-close (which some pieces were more so than others). The colors are amazing and the designs absolutely alive. Chihuly is quoted as saying that his goal is to create art that looks “as if it just happened,” and his work certainly evokes a “live” feeling to it.

The installation has been in St. Louis for several months now, but I’m glad we went last night – it was a beautiful, warm December evening (60 degrees!), and the glass metaphor was a particularly good one for the occasion. As beautiful as the art was, I couldn’t help walking in and among the pieces wondering just how he and his team transported and installed these things all over the world without shattering them to pieces? What happens if somebody breaks just a piece off? Is the work ruined? Salvagable, or just recycled for something else? I’m sure he’s got insurance, but I don’t even want to think about what his premiums are.

All this caused me to think about why we were there last night (to celebrate our tenth anniversary) and how much the glass metaphor seemed to make sense to me in describing marriage. Megan and I have truly had some absolutely beautiful moments together – vows honored, ideas shared, children born, hospitality created, grace given – but, in thinking more about them, the most beautiful moments seem to always have been the most fragile ones.

When I shared with Megan my thinking on this, she made the comment that she wasn’t sure she liked the idea of describing our marriage in such a way (i.e. as glass). I told her I didn’t necessarily like it either, but if marriage is anything, it is beautiful and it is fragile; in fact, it seems to me that at least part of its beauty is in its fragility, and sometimes – as with Chihuly’s glass creations – I wonder just how God has kept ours from shattering to pieces.

“There are three things that are too amazing for me,
four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a maiden.”

Proverbs 30:18-19

December and You

In Marriage on December 14, 2006 at 8:53 am


Here are the lyrics to the song I wrote for Megan to walk down the aisle to ten years ago today:

Beauty unlike any snowfall I’ll ever see
Lovely as winter could ever aspire to be
For you are the essence of holiday
No Christmas cards or carols say
Remember December like you do
And here now, tomorrow, and all my days
No matter how, I’ll always
Remember December and you

Happy tenth anniversary, Sweetie. I love you.

When Did Women Become an "Issue"?

In Thought on December 13, 2006 at 9:53 am

From a one-page reflection Learner turned in for his Epistles class:

Whether you are a traditionalist or an evangelical feminist, describe how you believe women should use their gifts in the church effectively in the church today.

My experience with women in ministry has been primarily within a parachurch organization rather than a church. As a result, I am not uncomfortable with the idea of women leading men (at least within parachurch ministries), though I would say I am traditional in my perspective of men being theological leaders within the church.

That said (and perhaps blending my parachurch experiences with my church theology), I think there is much more room for women to use their gifts in the church today than they perhaps have opportunity to do so. I appreciate our church’s efforts to incorporate women into the worship service (formal welcome at the beginning; reading the Scriptures; leading musical numbers; co-teaching with men on topics that are more relational than purely theological). In addition, our church is reinstating the role of “deaconess” in 2007, a move which I think is great for meeting crisis needs women in the church might have through a woman trained and commissioned to deal with them.

The key to allowing strong women gifted in the area of leadership is to ensure that strong men are positioned to provide leadership for them. The women in the New Testament were strong women, but there was no question that Paul, Peter, and the other apostles were equipped, confident, and over them in a leadership function and role. I think this fits both biblically as well as experientially, and I hope that my generation can do more to strike a happy medium in which men are fulfilling their roles within the church so women can as well.

It’s a little short and under-developed, but you get the gist.

Whirlwind Weekend

In Family, Places & Spaces, Seminary, Wildwood on December 11, 2006 at 8:34 pm

As of tonight’s General and Pastoral Epistles class, it’s officially Finals Week. Thank the Maker.

Whether in college or in seminary, I’ve always loved Finals Week, not because I’m a particularly good test-taker (I’d say I’m average), but because there’s freedom to really read and study with the majority of assignments done (or almost so). I’ve only got a 5-page paper to write, ten pages of Greek translations to do (some of which I’m going to knock out this evening), and two finals to prepare for and take between now and the 19th. Glory, hallelujah.

However, before I get started on all that, I wanted to update you on one of the more social weekends we’ve had in a long time. Wildwood’s annual Christmas concert was last Thursday night and was musically amazing (though no pic to show for it).


Friday night was the One Night Under the Star Christmas Banquet I helped produce. Here I am – in 1956 sepia tone – with buddy and budding Vegas star, Tom Rubino, who stole the show with his performance of “The Rubino Man” a la Billy Joel’s “The Piano Man”, which we re-wrote as a tribute to/roast of our Covenant professors. (For something completely different, click here for the Student Council version of the Ocean’s 11 soundtrack that I edited together for a dessert-serving background – it’s 7:30 minutes long and 8.6 MB. The script and voices are Covenant Seminary‘s Dean of Students, Mark Dalbey, and Student Council President, Ryan Anderson.)


Saturday afternoon saw my folks come down from the farm in Illinois for the St. Louis Children’s Choir concert and my two oldest daughters’ debut at Powell Symphony Hall.


They (along with 500 other kids) put on a very well-done 2 1/2-hour concert, ending with one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs, “All Is Well” by Michael W. Smith).

Sunday morning was church and Sunday evening was Vespers at Memorial (sorry, no pics).

In the midst of all this running around, I studied a little bit, slept a little less, and signed a one-year lease on the house we’re going to start renting at the end of the month. Needless to say, Megan has big plans for my life in between study sessions as she’s a packing mama. Our landlord has graciously allowed us the entire month to move in before officially starting the lease on January 1. Thus, in addition to the books, I’ll be lifting a lot of these in the near future:


Despite the lack of classes, it’s going to be another full week. Oh, and our tenth anniversary is Thursday, so I’ve got something special planned for Megan (and miraculously, she hasn’t coaxed it out of me yet). I’ll post details (and probably a picture or two) later this week. In the meantime, I’ll happily entertain your guesses as to what it is, as well as any suggestions as to what else I can do to show my appreciation for her staying married to me for ten years.

Language Day from Hell

In Thought on December 11, 2006 at 7:57 pm

Learner has spent a majority of the day (and is continuing this evening) in the arena of the biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew. Beginning at 5:30 a.m. this morning and running until (he guesses) approximately 10 p.m. tonight with nary a break in between, he has been reading both right to left and left to right en masse.

If you know anything about Learner and languages, you know today has not been a fun one. One week to go before semester’s end.

History in the Making: Our Last Financial Appeal

In Family, Seminary on December 8, 2006 at 2:00 am

December has always been a month of multiple celebrations for Megan and me. For instance:

  • we’ll celebrate 10 years of marriage on the 14th
  • we’ll celebrate Christ’s birthday on the 25th
  • we’ll celebrate our oldest’s eighth birthday on the 29th
  • we’ll celebrate the end of another year on the 31st
  • and every December, we send out our annual year-end appeal, asking for financial help for our ministry

Okay, so that last one is not necessarily cause for great celebration…but it is this year, as this financial appeal will be our last! But, as we have every year, we need to ask for help to finish well this stage of the journey.

We’ve raised money for 13 years. We’ve learned much about depending on God and others, and we’re grateful for those lessons as well as those whom God used to provide for our financial needs over the years. Fundraising has been hard and good at the same time. But it’s time for a change…and we’re making it now.

Over this past summer, we transferred our support from The Navigators to Memorial Church. August was a good start, as donor gifts exceeded our $2,600/month goal, but we have seen giving drop every month since (less than 50% of that goal), and our account is now in deficit.

I know we may not know you, but we’re asking you to pray and be part of a final six-month push of generous giving to fully-fund January-June of 2007. This will enable us to get through our second complete year of seminary with me as a full-time student and prepare us to transition financially from support to other employment by summer.

We’re not sure of all the details just yet, but by God’s grace, we’ll figure them out. For more specifics on what we're asking you to do, click here.


In Church on December 7, 2006 at 2:00 am

Following up on my semi-whiny previous post (sorry – my narcissism got the best of me), one of the things that's important to keep in mind this time of year is our need for meaning in the midst of the madness. I doubt the 6th-century Church dealt with the same type of distractions we in the 21st century do (theirs was a different kind), but they seemed to understand the need for reminders of what's important nonetheless.

That said, in addition to the Advent readings we're doing with the little ones at night, I'm looking forward to the upcoming Vespers service that Memorial is offering this coming Sunday, December 10, at 5 p.m, as another way of staying focused on the reason for the season.

In addition to the meditative nature of the service, Worship Arts Director Gene Campbell (along with many Memorial musicians – we have an embarrassment of riches) has gone all out in putting together a worship experience that includes seasonal highlights from Africa and the West Indies, a 16th-century medieval carol from Finland, and a traditional 19th-century American spiritual, all accompanied by a 23-piece orchestra.

If you're in the neighborhood or, like me, just need to spend an hour or so focused on something other than yourself (my favorite pre-occupation), think about joining us at Memorial this weekend for a very special opportunity to worship God.

Looking Forward to Christmas

In Seminary on December 5, 2006 at 9:32 pm

It’s been quite a week already and it’s only Tuesday. All semester long, my weeks have been severely front-loaded (i.e. Monday and Tuesday solid with classes, meetings, and teaching responsibilities, evening out over Wednesday and bottoming out by Thursday noon) and I’ve not minded too badly; however, with my headache tonight, I’m not quite as sure.

We’re in the last week of classes and I’m trying to come out of denial long enough to acknowledge the fact that, indeed, it is December. I’m turning in my 10-page genogram paper tomorrow morning (sorry you only got the edited version in previous posts, but I trust you understand), and I hope to get more input on the 5-page concept map project due in Marriage & Family on the last day of finals (the 19th).

Other projects this week include:

  • writing a quiz (for tomorrow) and final exam (for next week) for my high school students at Wildwood, as we finished the entire Israel narrative in the Old Testament yesterday (woo woo)
  • finalizing details and rehearsing various musical numbers for the One Night Under the Star Christmas Banquet this Friday night that I’m co-chairing for the seminary (we have 240 adults and 76 kids signed up)
  • going to more Christmas parties than one should be allowed to be invited to
  • attending a couple of Christmas concerts (Wildwood’s on Thursday and the girls’ concert with the St. Louis Children’s Choir on Saturday)
  • working through and studying about 10 hours’ worth of Hebrew homework in hopes of pulling out a much-needed good grade on the final
  • finishing 35 verses of Greek translation of various New Testament epistles
  • catching up on approximately 400 pages of reading I’m behind on this semester
  • and beginning to grade the ever-growing stack of Pastoral Theology papers (probably over 200 by now) I’m supposed to return by the end of the semester

Oh, and we might be moving before the end of the month…but that’s another blog post.

Someone please tell me they moved Christmas up this year. I think I’m ready.

Real Theological Heroes

In Thought on December 5, 2006 at 11:43 am

Learner thought this anonymous submission to the seminary’s bi-weekly newsletter was pseudo-clever. It’s a play off the Bud Light’s “Real Men of Genius/Real American Hero” radio commercials. (I’ve edited the lyrics slightly to protect our locational anonymity):

The seminary presents real theological heroes
Today we salute you First Year Seminary Student.

You answered the call, now you’re reading The Call.
Soon you’ll learn things you never thought could be learned:
parsing Greek, reading books, and oh, drinking lots of coffee.

Where there’s a personality test, you’ll take it.
A genitive, you’ll parse it.
An FCF, you’ll find it.

So crack open that Metzger lexicon, oh master of the Divine languages. It may be Greek to you now, but someday you’ll get it.

First Year Seminary student…..

The Seminary, Somewhere in the Midwest

Granted, he says, it loses a bit (okay, a lot) in the Web replication, but if you’ve heard the commercials, you can imagine it.

At Last

In Thought on December 4, 2006 at 8:47 pm

From the seminary’s student portal (and much to Learner’s delight):

“Cell phone users need to avoid disturbing others who are studying in the Library. Please be considerate by turning down or off the phone’s ‘ring’ and going to a place away from others, such as a stairwell, to carry on your conversation. If you are disturbed by cell phones and, for whatever reason, do not want to accost those disturbing you, please alert a library staff member.”

“It’s about time,” says Learner.

Marriage and Family Paper (part 3)

In Family, Marriage, Seminary on December 3, 2006 at 1:03 am

In my genogram, I charted six generations – approximately 150 years – of my family, from my great-great-grandparents (mid-1800s) to my children (early 2000s). For my purposes here, the first and last generations have been included for little more than historic reasons, as space restrictions in representing the former and age limitations in understanding the latter came into play.

One more disclaimer: I have not fleshed out in great detail those branches of my family not directly in my particular line, as (again) space was limited and general statements seem to suffice in explaining any effects on me.

Other general background: as all lines of my family involve agriculture as a vocation, the Depression of the late-1920s and early-1930s seems particularly significant in shaping the attitudes and actions of those specific generations affected (for example, my great-grandmother, Rachel Dunham, would boil chicken bones for soup until they just melted, and she would not throw anything away).

The Depression significantly shaped both sets of my grandparents’ perspectives as well; growing up as kids during this time, they never had much, but were grateful for the little they had. While certainly not to the same experiential degree, it’s obvious to me that my exposure to their outlook and (limited) conversations about these times shapes my own “make do” mentality.

As a whole (and Depression not withstanding), the majority of my family have historically worked for and successfully earned a middle-class living, contributed to and invested in the (mostly small and rural) communities in which they settled, and avoided run-ins with the law, scandals, and otherwise “bad” behavior.

Ours is a humble but proud family of landowners and homeowners, church members and board members, farmers (my father) and teachers (my mother). I am grateful for my heritage and, though it is hardly perfect, it is better than most (which is another lovable idiosyncrasy of my family – things could always be better, but rest assured they could also always be worse).

Marriage and Family Paper (part 2)

In Family, Marriage, Seminary on December 2, 2006 at 2:00 am

In beginning this undertaking, I start with me, as I am a physical amassing of many of the emotional, relational, and spiritual accumulations of my family. Who am I, and what questions do the answers raise as to how I have become (for lack of a better word) “me”?

In general, I am a strange combination of tensions that somehow coexist, but only with a fair degree of internal struggle. Often at the same time, I can consistently be both:

  • inspiringly idealistic and critically realistic (often pessimistic)
  • check-for-a pulse rational and out-of-control passionate
  • die-on-a-hill principled and sell-to-the-first-bidder pragmatic
  • high-mindedly moral and flesh-satisfyingly carnal
  • rudely independent and painfully lonely
  • joyfully certain and angrily doubtful
  • faithfully hardworking and selfishly lazy

In considering these traits, many questions come to mind:

  • Have others in my family experienced any of these in the same way that I do?
  • What events and experiences, hopes and disappointments in our shared past have shaped these characteristics?
  • When compared to former generations, is the sum total of any of these traits increasing or decreasing with me, and what role do I have in increasing or decreasing them in the lives of my own children, my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren (i.e. to the third and fourth generation)?
  • To what degree have we as a family dealt with or discussed any of this in the past, and to what extent do we need to, both in the present and in the future?
  • Finally, what has God been doing in our family over time, and how are we to respond now in a way that honors him and each other in the midst of it?


In Thought on December 1, 2006 at 5:51 pm

Good news: Learner has decided to continue with the M.Div., raising support for another six months (and no longer), and finding full-time employment come summer (and probably dropping to part-time student status). The reduced school hours will most likely mean having to move off-campus, but as the winter months are now here and the three-bedroom apartment feels ever smaller on a daily basis, that may not be all that bad a thing in the end. He just hates moving.

On a different note, Learner is fundraising not only for himself, but also for the seminary. A month ago he received this email:

As stewards of the gifts from those who give money to the seminary for student scholarships, we in the Financial Aid Office often hear your thanks and appreciation for the financial assistance you receive. While we delight to hear it, we would like those who donate the money to receive thanks as well. Therefore, we are asking that you write a thank you letter, telling something about yourself and your future plans, which will be given to one of the seminary’s donors.

And then, for added motivation:

You may have noticed that a “thank you hold” has been placed on your student account. When we receive your letter, the hold will be removed. Please turn it in to the Financial Aid Office to insure that you will be able to receive your scholarship for the January and Spring terms. Also, you will not be able to do online registration in January if the hold is still on your account.

So, a week late, here’s what Learner finally sat down and wrote:

Dear Friend of the Seminary,

On behalf of Mrs. Learner and our four children, I’d like to say thanks for your support of and contribution to the seminary.

As a family of six living here on campus, we have a few more costs than an average single or newly-married student. Here to pursue the Master of Divinity degree, we knew the financial aspect of seminary would be a difficult one, and the reality of our hunch was complicated by the fact that we had to sell our house for approximately $40,000 less than we had planned, which we had hoped to apply toward the cost of school.

While we’ve been able to raise support to cover our monthly living expenses, we would not be able to pay for school without a school loan (which we have taken out) and the 50% tuition scholarship made available by the seminary. Because of your support of the seminary, our loan amount will be considerably less than it might have been otherwise, which is a huge gift. True, we’re going to graduate with some debt, but it won’t be nearly as much as it would have been otherwise without your gift. Thank you.

We are here to “study to show ourselves approved” in hope of one day formally entering the pastorate or teaching in the high school or college classroom. We’ve been here a year-and-a-half and thoroughly enjoyed our time, as we are learning much about God, the Scriptures, the good world he created, and ourselves. It’s been all we hoped for and more.

So, thank you for your part in helping us as we pursue God’s call on our lives. We’re grateful for your contribution in the past, and trust God will enable and lead you to continue your support of the seminary in the future. Whether you feel it has or not, we know it’s made a big difference for our family.

Again, thank you.


Learner (for all)

A nice letter. Granted, the “It’s been all we hoped for and more” may be a little over-the-top, but Learner says donors love that stuff.

Marriage and Family Paper (part 1)

In Family, Marriage, Seminary on December 1, 2006 at 2:00 am

I just finished my family genogram (and a ten-page paper explaining it) for my Marriage and Family class. For this assignment, I was to analyze my family not simply in a recollection of historical facts, but by a thorough analysis of dynamics and functioning that have been influenced by history. This weekend, I thought I'd post some generic excerpts that might encourage you to think through your own family and how it has shaped you as well.

Can you hear me when I sing?
You're the reason I sing
You're the reason why the opera's in me
–“Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own,” U2

The rock star Bono singing about opera is comparable to my writing about family – the basic subject matter is familiar and I “get” it (after all, music is music and family is family), but the experience can still be a very foreign one.

Another similarity: just as there is a profound operatic streak running through Bono because of his father’s life and music, there is also an opera – full of interesting characters, relationships, memories, and meanings – playing in and through my own life because of my family. The metaphor is appropriate, as music and story have always been the most interesting of subjects to me.

In considering this opera, I’m fascinated anew by the fact that what separates me from previous generations is simply one day passing after another, over and over again, until days become months, months years, years decades, decades centuries, and so on. Time is both a massive and miniscule gap across to transcend, as it is nothing more (or is it nothing less?) than an enormous accumulation of the minutes of our very existence.

As time so accumulates, so, too, does my family – not just physically, but also emotionally, relationally, and spiritually – by the addition (and the multiplication) of each generation’s endowment to its lines. In our case, this has been (for the most part) for the good; at times for the not-so-good; and, perhaps most accurately, a little of both.