Because life is a series of edits

Archive for September, 2007|Monthly archive page

Random Goodness

In Pop Culture on September 28, 2007 at 6:25 am

Some links for you on a Friday:

Have a good weekend, everybody.

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Music Project

In Musicians, Westminster on September 26, 2007 at 2:00 am

For the past week in my three Biblical Ethics sections, we've taken a short break from studying morality and the ancient philosophers of the world and consulted the more contemporary ones my students know – the songs and various musicians on their iPods.

The assignment was pretty simple: each student was to bring in a song, pass out copies of the lyrics, and the class would, listen, and evaluate the morality (or lack thereof) of the songs. Each student facilitated the discussion/debate of his or her song, and then presented his or her own perspective along with any research done on the artist.

The object of the lesson was to help students listen more critically to their music, analyze it in the context of community, and then figure what (if any) response each of them as individuals might need to consider as well as how and why to hold that particular conviction. Romans 14 was a key passage I walked through with them as we evaluated the experience together today.

In case anyone's interested, here's their songlist (not meant as any kind of endorsement):

  • "All the Small Things" – Blink 182
  • "All Falls Down" – Kanye West
  • "Amish Paradise" – Weird Al Yankovich
  • "Banana Phone" – Raffi
  • "Be My Escape" – Relient K
  • "Before He Cheats" – Carrie Underwood
  • "Better Than Drugs" – Skillet
  • "Bukowski" – Modest Mouse
  • "B.Y.O.B." – System of the Down
  • "Coffee Shop" – Yung Joc Feat and Gorilla Zoe
  • "College Kids" – Relient K
  • "Construct and Collapse" – Becoming the Archetype
  • "Crank That Batman" – P.O.B. (Pop It Off Boyz)
  • "Crazy 8s" – MAE
  • "Dance Inside" – The All-American Rejects
  • "Down on the Farm" – Tim McGraw
  • "Forever Young" – Rod Stewart
  • "Girl Next Door" – Saving Jane
  • "Give Me Novacaine" – Green Day
  • "Glamorous" – Fergie
  • "Gospel" – The National
  • "Grace Kelly" – Mika
  • "Hate Every Beautiful Day" – Sugarcult
  • "Heal Over" – K.T. Tunsell
  • "How Far We've Come" – Matchbox 20
  • "If Everyone Cared" – Nickelback
  • "I'll Be Missing You" – Puff Daddy/P. Diddy and Faith Evans
  • "Imma Shine" – Youngbloodz
  • "Industry" – Jon McLaughlin
  • "Iris" – The Goo Goo Dolls
  • "Jesus of Suburbia" – Green Day
  • "Jesus, Take the Wheel" – Carrie Underwood
  • "King Kong" – Jibbs (featuring Chamillionaire)
  • "Less Talk, More Rokk" – Freezepop
  • "Like a Boy" – Ciara
  • "Love Don't Love Me" – Eric Benet
  • "Midnight Bottle" – Colbie Caillat
  • "Mistakes" – Kutless
  • "New Slang" – The Shins
  • "On the Turning Away" – Pink Floyd
  • "Photograph" – Nickelback
  • "Potential Break Up Song" – Aly & AJ
  • "The Riddle" – Fire for Fighting
  • "The Setting Sun" – Switchfoot
  • "Smile" – Lily Allen
  • "Shut Up and Drive" – Rihanna
  • "Snow (Hey Oh)" – Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • "Sorry, Blame It on Me" – Akon
  • "S.O.S." – Rihanna
  • "Technologic" – Daft Punk
  • "Umbrella" – Rihanna (featuring Jay-Z)
  • "Untitled" – Nathan Talley
  • "Video Killed the Radio Star" – The Presidents of the United States of America (originally written and recorded by The Buggles)
  • "Videos" – Flame
  • "Vultures" – John Mayer
  • "Wake Up Call" – Maroon 5
  • "Wasted" – Carrie Underwood
  • "When I'm Sixty-Four" – The Beatles
  • "When It Rains" – Gretchen Wilson
  • "You Can't Always Get What You Want" – The Rolling Stones
  • "You're My Best Friend" – Queen
  • "You're Not Alone" – Saosin

Happy (Late) National Punctuation Day

In Pop Culture on September 25, 2007 at 9:00 am

For those who missed it (or need it), happy late National Punctuation Day yesterday.

Who Says There’s No Such Thing as Small Town Culture?

In Family on September 23, 2007 at 7:29 pm

My parents, Roger and Charlotte, were honored as “friends of the Apple Festival” this weekend in my hometown of Griggsville, IL (population 1,258). As it’s been our tradition these past couple of years since being back in the Midwest, we made the trip home and took part in all the festivities, winning second in the apple-themed float division and consuming large amounts of fried food in the name of dinner. I also got to drive a neighbor’s Camaro Z28 with Mom and Dad in the back, as they served as grand marshals for the Magnificent Mile Parade on Saturday.

Honored Citizens

My sisters, Jamie and Jill, do most of the work coming up with our Dunham family float ideas (here was last year’s, which won first prize); we just kind of show up and provide extra children. This year’s theme was “An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away,” with all the grandchildren dressed as apples in Grandpa’s pillbox. Unfortunately, we only came away with second prize after another grandchild float with the theme “Rotten to the Core, Cousins Galore.”

Prescription Drugs

Though I tried to talk Megan into riding with me, she wanted to walk with the girls and their cousins in the float behind us to make sure their candy-throwing benefitted the kids along the street and not just themselves. The ladies had a great time riding and throwing, and Megan waved like the former Miss Owasso High School she truly is. Here was her view of the parade:

Pillbox

Friday night was the queen contest (complete with awkward dance choreography that all contestants had to attempt), and then the annual lip sync competition (whose performers would have given Britney Spears a run for her money in execution). Saturday was the kiddie parade in the morning (which we skipped), and the afternoon was the big parade from the city park to the uptown square (all of twenty minutes going three miles an hour).

Apple Festival Sign

Saturday night featured the regional country and western band (yes, both kinds), Mason County Line (who were actually okay, despite their attempts at humor), and finished with a hypnotist act that didn’t really “take” with half the people he tried to hypnotize (we left after the band finished up as it got late and the girls were wiped from some inflatable exercise).

Inflatables

Sunday morning was a community-wide outdoor church service with representation from all five churches in town (nice), but there weren’t too many folks who made it out from the respective congregations (sad). By lunch, everyone had had enough festivities for another year, so we headed back to the farm, had lunch with the cousins, and hit the road back to St. Louis.

Cousin Hug

The Apple Festival is a bit of a strange little celebration. There are no apples – anywhere. Years ago, two orchards outside of town kind of got the thing started, but they are no more. When I asked one of the guys who helped plan the festival about this, he said the only reason it’s still called the Apple Festival is because of the green and red neon sign (see band pic above) originally made back in the 1940’s when the thing got started.

Megan thought the weekend should be called the Corndog Festival; I suggested the Deep Fried Festival. We both agree there are worse things to call a small town celebration: for instance, Mt. Sterling (a small town twenty miles away) has its annual Testicle Festival every Father’s Day weekend. True story.

All in all, it was a beautiful weekend for a celebration, and being able to honor Mom and Dad along with the rest of the community was a privilege (as well as an education) for all of us.

Royalty

Morally Dumbfounded

In Education, Humanity, Thought on September 19, 2007 at 5:18 am

The New York Times published a story yesterday that I happened to catch right off the digital press. Since it pertained to what we’ve been studying in Biblical Ethics this week (ethical systems and how they affect our understanding of morality), I scrapped the first half of what I had planned for the day, made copies, projected the article on screen, and taught right from it.

The article, “Is ‘Do Unto Others’ Written Into Our Genes” documents the research of Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist at the University of Virginia. Reporter Nicholas Wade writes:

“Many people will say it is morally acceptable to pull a switch that diverts a train, killing just one person instead of the five on the other track. But if asked to save the same five lives by throwing a person in the train’s path, people will say the action is wrong. This may be evidence for an ancient subconscious morality that deters causing direct physical harm to someone else. An equally strong moral sanction has not yet evolved for harming someone indirectly.”

Evolving morality? From what? From whom? This could only get better (that is, worse):

“Where do moral rules come from? From reason, some philosophers say. From God, say believers. Seldom considered is a source now being advocated by some biologists, that of evolution. At first glance, natural selection and the survival of the fittest may seem to reward only the most selfish values. But for animals that live in groups, selfishness must be strictly curbed or there will be no advantage to social living. Could the behaviors evolved by social animals to make societies work be the foundation from which human morality evolved?”

Basically, Dr. Haidt proposes that, just as we physically evolved from the so-called primordial soup billions of years ago, so our morality has somehow evolved from same said soup over time.

Illustratively speaking, then, a school of fish that somehow developed a higher sense of morality than another school of fish most likely passed on their more-developed moral genes to future generations in order to survive longer. Just as these fish eventually somehow developed legs and lungs to walk on land, they also somehow developed an initial sense of right and wrong, which got passed down (or up) to us today.

This, explains Dr. Haidt, is the only legitimate answer to what he calls “moral dumbfounding – when people feel strongly that something is wrong (or right) but cannot explain why…this occurs when moral judgment fails to come up with a convincing explanation for what moral intuition has decided.”

Or, one could step back from the precipice of scientific ridiculousness and call it what theologians have for centuries: God’s common grace. Puritan John Owen put it this way:

“How is it that men who still lie under the wrath and curse of God and are heirs of hell enjoy so many good gifts at the hand of God? How is it that men who are not savingly renewed by the Spirit of God nevertheless exhibit so many qualities, gifts, and accomplishments that promote the preservation, temporal happiness, cultural progress, social and economic improvement of themselves and of others?”

For instance, all people (regardless of their religious beliefs) who see a three-year-old playing in the middle of a busy road will make an attempt to save the child before the child is hit. Why? Is it only because they are trying to protect and prosper the species? No. It’s the image of God within them and the accompanying feelings of empathy, responsibility, and value for life – even in the face of possible danger to themselves, and even if they don’t acknowledge God’s image within them as the motivation for their actions.

The concept of moral evolution should be recognized as the classic humanist idea that it is. After all, if we can make nature the fall guy for both good and bad behavior, then we have every right from our place at the top of the evolutionary chain to engage or dismiss whichever “natural” behaviors we so desire (who’s going to argue – the primordial soup?). We can choose to do good when we want (and take credit for being so evolved in our morality), or we can do bad when we want (and blame our “natural” tendencies because, well, sorry, we’re still evolving).

Moral evolution would seem a win-win for humanists everywhere – we’re either conquerors over our genes (and deserving of praise), or we’re victims at their mercy (and should be pitied) – but either way, we’re not responsible. Unfortunately, the theory is just too silly to be taken seriously, especially when the biblical doctrine of common grace makes plenty of sense as to why people do good things they can’t explain, as well as how humanity is somehow even still around.

Lemonade Concessions: Baseball’s Underbelly

In Sports on September 17, 2007 at 10:33 pm

I took my five-year-old to the Cardinals game tonight. We had two free tickets (courtesy of the St. Louis public library system), right behind home plate in the upper deck – nice.

We took the train from Brentwood to downtown, found our way up to section 451, and decided to get a lemonade as our one treat of the evening. The girl working the stand was very nice and told me the prices (which were not very nice). Sensing my hesitation at plopping down $6.50 for a lukewarm lemonade (complete with souvenir cup), she said she’d “work something out” by giving us a refill if we wanted one “all because of the little lady” (i.e. my daughter, who played the part and smiled adorably).

While I usually consider myself pretty shrewd when it comes to reading people, I somehow missed it on this one. Taking her at her word, I gave her $6.50 for a lukewarm lemonade (complete with souvenir cup), told her I’d be back in a couple of innings, and we made our way to our seats.

Three innings later, I went back to the stand with cup in hand. Because I didn’t want to get the girl (she was probably all of 20) in any trouble in front of other customers, I made sure the stand was empty before I approached, put my souvenir cup on the counter, and asked her if I could have the promised refill. Sure, she said; no problem.

As she prepared the second lemonade, I made small talk, observing that it must be a lot nicer working games in the cooler temperatures of September than the beastly weather we had in August, to which she smiled and agreed. Then, as she put on the lid and gave the lemonade a shake before handing it to me, I mentioned how much I appreciated her “working something out” with the refill, wondering to myself if I should give her a tip or something because she was about to give me a two-for-one deal.

I didn’t have to wonder long; all of a sudden, the smile was no more and it was business as usual. The girl put the second lemonade on the counter, stuck out her hand, and said I owed her $3.25. I balked, realizing I’d just been had.

Pausing, then pulling out my wallet, I let my disappointment and disapproval come out a bit more than I would have liked: “It would have been nice to have known you were going to charge me on the front end.” Her silence confirmed her initial intention to “work something out”; namely, that I would come back and pay $3.25 for water, ice, and a lemon (minus a second souvenir cup). What a deal.

Realizing I was in the presence of Vegas-like genius, I paid her the money, grabbed my second lemonade, and staggered back to my seat, spending the next three innings dumbfounded at how I had just been had in a very legal way. My daughter enjoyed the second lemonade, which helped, but I was still reeling from somehow missing the free refill bait and switch.

To make matters worse, the Cardinals lost, 13-11. Worst of all: because it was a school night, we had to leave at the end of the fifth inning when the Redbirds were losing 7-0 (yes, for those keeping track, that’s 17 runs we didn’t get to see).

Thankfully, though, we did make it home with our $9.75 plastic souvenir cup.

Names That Are Verbs

In Pop Culture on September 14, 2007 at 5:17 am

Names that are verbs (in no particular order):

Sue, Max, Mark, Bill, Tripp, Doug, Jett, Pat, Jack, Peter, Bob, Neal, Flo, Wright, Skip, Josh, Hugh, Chance, Grace, Chuck, Page, Rob, Wolf, Rowan, Mike, Hope, Judge, Nick, Don, Drew, Dick, Cary, Duke, Pierce, Will, Flip, Skip, Tank, Chase, Peg, Wayne, Rip, Mary, Dustin, Jimmy, Sharon, Bea, Karen, Phil, Marshall, Trace, Rip, Picabo, Mary, Sally, Holden, Tucker, Piper, Biff, Chip, Buck, Leigh, Talley, Ty, Bette, Hyde, DJ, VJ

Any you would dispute/add?

Wondering Indeed

In Politics on September 12, 2007 at 2:00 am

Got a subscriber email from byFaith about its coming issue. Here's what the intro said:

"The next issue of byFaith will be delivered to homes and churches in two weeks. This magazine, as much as any we’ve published, will provoke thinking. It will show visitors a church that is engaged in the world, and present non-believers with an organization that thinks seriously about the city, the environment, politics, mercy, and the quality of our life in the world together."

Then, third story down:

"Political Views in the PCA – Writer Craig Dunham talked with twenty- and thirtysomethings about politics, the church, and the diversity of political views in PCA congregations. With the 2008 election a year away and the nation’s political debate intensifying, Dunham wonders: Can the PCA maintain peace despite increasingly different political views among her members?"

Wondering indeed, especially if I start getting mean emails from either end of the political spectrum because I'm not Republican or Democrat enough in somebody's eyes or theology.

All that to say, it looks like the crew at byFaith are going with the piece I wrote in July as is; apart from some basic edits, they've not changed my conclusions (nice of them).

Thanks again to those who contributed here, here, here, and here to flesh out the piece. I'll post a link to the article when it hits online.

Ir(aq)onic

In Politics on September 11, 2007 at 9:39 am

I’ve only caught bits and pieces of the hearings with General Petraeus and company concerning the war in Iraq; thus, I have nothing really to contribute to the discussion.

It does strike me as interesting, though, that there is so much questioning of the character and competency of members of the new Iraqi government by our American government’s own sterling and effective representatives.

How Kids Think

In Education, Internet on September 10, 2007 at 2:00 am

This is going to seem a lot more about us than it really is, but if you have kids, there's a new website Megan and I would like to ask you to visit periodically over the next two months.

It's called How Kids Think.

Through the strange but sovereign means of God and Internet networking, Nick Eicher, publisher of WORLD Magazine, discovered Megan's blog several months ago and began a series of email conversations with her about helping God's World Publications (the umbrella group over WORLD and God's World News) research how kids think and how GWP might do a better job publishing to them and to those who teach them.

Somehow (I won't go into detail as to her means, but suffice it to say they were convincing), Megan recruited me as a consultant for her consulting; next thing you know we're a team, which is as it should be, I guess, as we're a team on everything else. She's doing the majority of the legwork as lead researcher; I serve as security (big "S" for the upcoming events, little "s" for everything else).

Anyway, we could use your help in spreading the word about the new blog to as many parents and educators of elementary-aged school children as you know. And, if you would, we'd love your occasional input over the next two months as we figure out how to help and with what.

Thanks.

Saturday Smatterings

In Books, Pop Culture, Sports, Thought on September 8, 2007 at 8:26 am

Some links for an overcast, rainy Saturday:

Chess

In Westminster on September 7, 2007 at 4:47 pm

Chess

I competed in the annual after-school faculty/chess team match earlier this week, getting to play Rick, a great kid in my Biblical Ethics class, who is at about my same level of the game.

There were eight matches total between teachers and students, and the faculty lost 7-1. No, I wasn’t the one staff member who won, but I had fun anyway.

Who Are the Real Adolescents?

In Thought, Writers on September 6, 2007 at 4:35 am

Columnist Diana West has a new book out that I hope is even half as good as its quotes. The book is called The Death of the Grown-Up: How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization and, while the subtitle is perhaps overdramatic, her thesis is right on. If you read nothing else of this post, at least read this:

“Once, there was a world without teenagers. Literally, ‘teenager,’ the word itself, doesn’t pop into the lexicon much before 1941. That means that for all but this most recent period of history, there were children and adults. Children in their teen years aspired to adulthood; significantly, they didn’t aspire to adolescence. Certainly, men and women didn’t aspire to remain teenagers.

Today, turning thirteen, instead of bringing children closer to an adult world, launches them into a teen universe. And due to the fold our culture has placed on the maturation process, that’s where they’re likely to find the adults. Most of us have grown up – or, at least, grown – into this new kind of adulthood, this perpetual adolescence so much the norm that it’s difficult to recognize it as the profound civilizational shift that it is.”

Ever heard the phrase “thirty is the new twenty” with regard to young adults getting married, having kids, and figuring things out in life? Ever wonder why teenagers try to act like adults while adults often act like teenagers? According to an interview with West, here may be part of the answer:

“The extent to which social and cultural distinctions between children and adults–who dress the same, all say ‘cool,’ and even watch cartoons–had disappeared. I began to realize I was witnessing at a personal level the same displays of perpetual adolescence in reluctant adults around me (‘I’m too young to be called ‘mister”) that I was observing in society at large. This led me to make all sorts of connections between the emergence of youth culture in the 1950s, its tantrums in the 1960s, the so-called culture wars that followed, the establishment of multiculturalism, the ascendance of non-judgmentalism and more.”

More than anything, we in society (especially in the Church) need children to grow up into adults and then into real and true parents. This doesn’t only mean physically and literally, but also emotionally and spiritually. Indeed, we have many people in the Church who are adults, but how many act like older and wiser parents who expect and aspire to be (and be viewed as) older and wiser? Again, West is insightful:

“The unprecedented transfer of cultural authority from adults to adolescents over the past half century or so has dire implications for the survival of the Western world. In other words, what I call the death of the grown-up is not just about sophomorically bad music or babyishly dopey movies (although it’s about that as well). Having redirected our natural development away from adulthood and maturity in order to strike the pop-influenced pose of eternally cool youth – ever-open, non-judgmental, self-absorbed, searching for (or just plain lacking) identity – we have fostered a society marked by these same traits, which are usually associated with adolescence.”

I’m ordering the book now.

Test Day(s)

In Westminster on September 5, 2007 at 10:53 am

I’m giving my classes their first tests of the year today and tomorrow. The good news is this lessens the prep for the week (though I’m trying to get ahead for next week); the other news is there’s going to be a fair amount of work to do to get the tests graded by Friday (my goal).

But that’s why teachers get paid the big bucks.

That’s Not Natural

In Seminary on September 4, 2007 at 7:06 am

I started the first of my seminary reading this past weekend in preparation for my classes beginning this week. I’m taking two night classes that meet once a week and total five credit hours: Tuesday night’s class is Educational Foundations; Thursday night’s class is Ministry Leadership. Both look to be a fair amount of work on top of everything else, but at least it’s mostly reading and writing (as opposed to translating and exegeting).

In the Leadership Handbook of Management and Administration (one of the lamest-named book series on the planet edited by James D. Berkley), James Earl Massey penned some challenging words in chapter 3, titled “Our Responsibility to God”:

“Those concerned about godliness will naturally seek methods for creating and sustaining openness to God. They will give themselves to planned times of prayer, corporate worship, open dialogue with other believers, the devotional study of Scripture, and moments of meditation. These methods of openness are really creative responses to the initiative God has shown in sharing his gracious Presence with us. Each of these methods helps us to sense the Holy and stimulate us to receive the vitality that is available to us by the grace of God.”

Naturally? For whatever reason and as long as I can remember, everything listed above mostly happened (and still does) by way of a lot of work. I’m not sure what this means, other than I’ve probably spent way too much time trying to figure out what is or isn’t godliness, instead of “naturally” gravitating toward it in some form or fashion.

Of course, the problem with a paragraph like the one above is that it is presented as an idealistic summary statement rather than understood as a realistic progression toward a goal. Indeed, I’ve enjoyed seasons in which one or more of the aforementioned elements was in play, but all of them all of the time, not so much (and rarely “naturally”).

Massey goes on to say:

“The point is that we, with our specialized knowledge of God and leadership positions and spiritual skills, can fall victim to a false sense of security. We must remember that in teaching others about God, we must know God ourselves; that in calling others to faith, we must be believers, too; that in feeding others, we must eat of the food that will nourish our souls as well. Like everyone else, we too need help to grow spiritually.”

I resonate much more with this statement, probably because I feel the hypocrisy described within it on an everyday basis. There’s no worse feeling in the world than teaching what you are not necessarily experiencing at the moment; or asking of others what you yourself seem unwilling or unable to give at the time; or serving others when it is you yourself who want or need to be served.

I don’t want it to be this way, but sometimes it is. All I have is the hope that grace will somehow cover me (again) in the interim, and that what seems so unnatural in the past and present may somehow become less so in the future.

Hot Time in the Cool Town Last Night

In Sports on September 2, 2007 at 3:12 pm

It’s the first beautiful weather weekend in at least a month. Apparently, St. Louis had the third hottest August on record this summer, and we’ve been here for a majority of it. All this made made last night’s Cardinals game with my three youngest that much more enjoyablem, as it was an absolutely perfect evening complete with low temps and a cool breeze. We had a great time watching the Redbirds pull up to .500 ball, a place they’ve not been since April 15th.

Despite my lack of faith in July, manager Tony LaRussa, along with a couple key younger players in Ryan Ludwick, Brendan Ryan, and especially Rick Ankiel, have really surprised me. Now just a couple of games out of the National League Central, the Redbirds have the most momentum of any team at the start of this September. It would be fun to make the playoffs again.

In other sports news, this weekend Mizzou beat Illinois 40-34 in the Arch Rivalry game last night at the Edward Jones Dome. This may not seem that big a deal on the opening day of college football (especially compared to the Appalachian State upset of Michigan), but having spent two years in Marching Mizzou back in the early 90’s, trust me when I say it’s not everyday Mizzou alum get to take pride in their football team.

As the girls and I left Busch Stadium last night, downtown St. Louis was packed with folks wearing Mizzou black and Illinois orange, as well as all the fans wearing Cardinal red. It was fun to see the city so alive and to be with three lively and lovely ladies to enjoy it.