Because life is a series of edits

Archive for October, 2007|Monthly archive page

Happy Halloween

In Holidays on October 31, 2007 at 7:21 am

Tonight, I’m hanging out with Hermione Granger, a Cardinals cheerleader, an angel with wings, and Tigger. Talk about your unusual group of usual suspects…

Struggling whether to “do” Halloween? Do yourself a favor and read this article from Ransom Fellowship. What do you think?

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Links: Come and Get ‘Em

In Pop Culture on October 31, 2007 at 2:00 am

A couple of (mostly) current events links for you:

If I Were a Snowbird (yada yada yada)

In Places, Thought on October 28, 2007 at 3:46 pm

Waverunner

Yes, that’s me in the picture, taking on a wave. Megan and I are in southern Florida at a hotel in Deerfield Beach near Boca Raton for our How Kids Think research project. Apart from a couple of rainstorms at night, it’s been beautiful, with weather (and water) at 85-degrees – nice.

Though it would have been fun to have brought the little ladies, it’s been good to hang out, just the two of us. We’ve had some in-depth meetings with folks about God’s World News, eaten at some tasty places, played in the ocean (probably only an hour total – you can only get pummeled by so many waves before it gets redundant), and gotten a lot of work done in the hotel.

We also took an uninterrupted nap for two hours on Saturday, which hasn’t happened since the Clinton administration.

Southern Florida seems different from southern California; there is much more of a concentrated New York influence because of all the snowbirds. True to Seinfeldian stereotype, many snowbirds are of Jewish descent, which reminded me of when my friend, Lori (who is Jewish), once asked me if I knew what her favorite Jewish wine was? Shrugging my shoulders that I didn’t, she squinted her eyes and answered in a whiny voice: “I wanna go to Miami!”

I’ve not rubbed shoulders with as many cultural Jews as I have on this trip; theirs is a fascinating world to me because of all the teaching I do in Bible class that involves their lineage and people. I’ve talked with my Jewish friends and read enough Chaim Potok (whom I love) to understand what the issues are as to why cultural Jews believe as they do (or don’t); honestly, I’m envious of their cultural heritage (compared to my ingrafted Gentile “goy-ness”), and marvel that so many do not embrace the Savior sent by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

So, as we walked into yet another restaurant full of Jewish snowbirds last night, I prayed God would have mercy on his initially-chosen people, and that he would somehow open each of their eyes to Himself in the midst of all the glitz and glam of their southern Florida playground.

“I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means!”
– Romans 11:1a

Let it be so, God.

Number One Way to Freak Out Freshmen

In Internet, Westminster on October 25, 2007 at 3:20 pm

So today, as part of introducing an assignment to my New Testament classes in which they are to design and create a webpage, blog, Facebook, or MySpace site capturing one of the gospels other than the one we’re studying (Matthew), I happened to mention to my students I had Facebook myself (as well as two MySpaces, and a blog).

You would have thought I told them they had three minutes to memorize Revelation:

“YOU have Facebook?!”

“Why do YOU have Facebook?!”

“Aren’t you, like, thirty, and too OLD to have Facebook?!”

“Have you been to (gasp!) MY Facebook page?!”

I explained to the students that, indeed, I had Facebook (and have for over two years), but the reason I hadn’t invited any of them to be “friends” was because I didn’t want them to think Mr. Dunham, their New Testament teacher, was a cyber-stalker. They laughed, but then some of them said they were going to invite me to be friends on Facebook…after they checked to see if I actually had an account, that is.

One Big Game of Chess

In Calling, Family on October 22, 2007 at 3:20 pm

Carnival Chess

Fellow teacher (and chess coach) Thom Johnston took this picture of Megan and the girls at Westminster‘s annual Carnival this past weekend. Our two oldest had a good game and played for quite a while, while their little sisters pretended to understand all the moves.

The picture makes for a good metaphor of what the next seven days look like around here; we feel like we’re playing one big game of chess. In addition to the regular daytime routine, I’ve got first quarter grades due tomorrow, and Megan and I have How Kids Think dinners with administrators tonight and Wednesday evening. I have a project proposal for my class at Covenant due on Tuesday night, a faculty in-service on Friday, and then we’re off to Miami for a series of HKT meetings with a variety of folks (teachers, homeschoolers, etc.) in south Florida.

While I’m concerned for my Queen and our little pawns, the game ends when the enemy captures the King; thus, I’m asking God to protect me (and them) and help get us all through it. I’d say the process has had us in “check” a couple of times so far, but not yet “checkmate.”

Dorothy Sayers on War

In Books, Politics, Writers on October 21, 2007 at 3:57 am

Just finished a little 100-page book titled Creed or Chaos?, a collection of essays written by Dorothy Sayers at the height of World War II. Consider the timeliness of these quotes:

“The people who say that this is a war of economics or of power politics, are only dabbling about on the surface of things. Even those who say it is a war to preserve freedom and justice and faith have gone only halfway to the truth. The real questions is what economics and politics are to be used for; whether freedom and justice and faith have any right to be considered at all; at bottom it is a violent and irreconciable quarrel about the nature of God and the nature of man and the ultimate nature of the universe; it is a war of dogma.” (28)

“War is a judgment that overtakes societies when they have been living upon ideas that conflict too violently with the laws governing the universe. People who would not revise their ideas voluntarily find themselves compelled to do so by the sheer pressure of the events which these very ideas have served to bring about.” (64)

“Shall we be prepared to take the same attitude to the arts of peace as to the arts of war? I see no reason why we should not sacrifice our convenience and our individual standard of living just as readily for the building of great public works as for the building of ships and tanks – but when the stimulus of fear and anger is removed, shall we be prepared to do any such thing?” (68)

Would it be accurate to say that the majority of us have sacrificed little “convenience” or “individual standard of living” this time around? And how crazy does Sayers’ idea of doing so for something other than war seem? Talk about your whacked out biblical craziness…

Sakulu

In Family on October 17, 2007 at 3:39 pm

Craig & SakuluWe’re mourning today: Sakulu Damulira, the Ugandan boy we’ve sponsored through Compassion International for the past five years, has died. A big storm blew through Sakulu’s town of Masaka (two hours from the capital city of Kampala) and downed some power lines. Sakulu, 8, apparently stepped on a live wire and was killed instantly, a tragic end to a very difficult life.

I actually got to meet Sakulu in April of 2004 on my second trip to Uganda. I was in the country to speak at a Navigators collegiate conference at a camp on the banks of Lake Victoria. My father, Roger, went with me, and after the conference, we coordinated a day with Compassion to meet Sakulu.

Here’s part of an email I wrote Megan describing the experience:

Our trip to Masaka was long and tiring, but meaningful; I’m glad we went. We left at 8:30 a.m., but by the time we got gas and finalized paperwork, etc., it wasn’t until 9 a.m. before we actually made it out of the city. We got to Masaka about 11 a.m., when we met with members of the committee from the local church working with Compassion there (all Compassion works are usually overseen by a local church).

Because Sakulu’s project is a new one, we were the first sponsors/visitors they had ever had, so they were quite excited, so much so that it was at times difficult to understand all that was going on as they were talking over one another trying to explain what was going on there. While confusing, it was helpful, not to mention honoring as they bought Cokes for us and presented us with gifts as tokens of their appreciation of our coming.

During the time in the office, they filled in many details of Sakulu’s story. I’m not sure of the timeline, but basically Sakulu’s father left for a while, came back, and then left again, after which his mother left as well, leaving Sakulu with an older woman with several other grandchildren who basically has informally adopted him as one of her own grandchildren who lives with her (we met four of the total of seven; one of her daughters lives with her as well).

Anyway, I guess Compassion “recruited” Sakulu and enrolled him in their new program at Masaka, which now is up to 260 kids. All was going fine, but then just a week ago, the father showed up and took Sakulu back to Kampala for a week, during which time he barely ate. The people at Compassion met with him (either before they left or when he returned with Sakulu I missed that detail) and convinced him that Sakulu was doing well with them and with this woman, so he left him (again) with her. When they were telling me all this, I wasn’t sure I was actually going to get to meet Sakulu. It sounded like he wasn’t there as the father had just taken him and not brought him back.

Fortunately, that was not the case. We piled in the car and drove about ten minutes to the woman’s house, which was very small but obviously cared for. As we pulled up, everyone in the house was waiting for us, and as we got out of the car, and began to walk up the path to the house, the woman’s daughter brought Sakulu alone to meet us.

He is a small little boy, much smaller than the picture Compassion sent makes him seem to be (some of this may have been from the malnutrition from the week with his father). His eyes, however, are very big, very expressive, and as he came to me, he took my hand and stood next to me silently (he hasn’t learned English yet because of all the transition he’s been through, but our hosts assured me that he would catch up quickly).

We walked back and met the family in the house, where we were treated like royalty. We sat on the couches, while everyone else (including the woman probably in her 60’s) sat on mats on the bare concrete floor. In the front room about the size of one of the girl’s rooms, there were 15 people four from Compassion (they were all there because we were their first-ever visit), Herbert, Dad, me, Sakulu, the woman and four other grandchildren (all younger than Saklulu) and her daughter, and a couple of neighbor ladies who came to meet us.

With all the translating going on and the cramped nature of the meeting, the whole thing was completely awkward…and yet strangely okay. The children sat silently (I mean silently – none of them said a word) at our feet as I walked them through the pictures you put together, and then I pulled out all the gifts you had put together for Sakulu. It was amazing to me how 1) Sakulu quietly received each one, taking each one carefully, looking at it, and then placing it next to him; and 2) how all the other children were so happy for him to be receiving these gifts, as if they somehow completely understood all that he had been through, not only in his young life, but just in the past week.

Dad had brought packages of T-shirts, underwear, and socks, and a bag of about 12 bars of Irish Spring soap that I gave along with the towels you sent to the woman, who was so beside herself with joy that she just kept smiling while standing up and sitting down a couple of times over. The last thing I pulled out was the big bag of M&M’s, which miraculously had not melted, and gave them to Sakulu. I helped him open the bag, and he immediately and purposely took out the little bags and gave one each to the other children, who simply sat and waited for their turn to receive his gift. I helped them all open their little bags, and they sat and munched on M&M’s quietly before singing a rendition of “Jesus Loves Me” for us, then turning the words into “Jesus Loves You,” which was touching.

A few of the women brought out plates of fresh, short bananas (I can’t remember what they were called), as well as some watermelon and Cokes and bottled water, which served well as a treat. Dad then pulled out his pictures and passed them all around. Chris couldn’t believe how young Mom looked and also marveled at the fact that they’ve been married for 39 years. We all sat around for about 30-45 minutes, Sakulu sitting quietly on my lap, and then the woman’s daughter suggested he try on his new shirts, which were perfect and that evoked many “oohs” and “ahhs” from his family.

We went outside, where Dad took a couple of pictures of Sakulu and me, and then he joined the whole family and us in a picture. One of the other sponsors asked me if I would pray for the family and for Sakulu, who was still holding my hand as we walked together into some shade under a tree next to the house.

Of course I said I would, and I began to, but I wasn’t able to finish as the emotion of the whole thing just overwhelmed me and I began crying, thinking of Sakulu, this family, and all that they’ve been through in their lives, and especially in this past week. I managed to whisper (barely) “amen” and then – thankfully – two of the Compassion staff finished praying while I simply knelt down weeping now and held onto Sakulu, who seemed to somehow understand as he hugged me back, never saying a word, but seeming to hope with me that God would indeed take care of him, that we would see each other again maybe even with you, maybe even with the girls and that all of this – this moment, his life – would somehow make sense to him one day. Even now, as I am typing, I can barely see the screen I am crying so much, remembering this time together.

Somehow, I composed myself, stood up, and together we walked back to the car. After a round of hugs to his entire family, I pulled out the picture of our family and gave it to him (now that I think about it, you may have already sent this to him in your letter which was there, by the way, but that’s okay). I gave Sakulu a hug, walked around the car, and he followed me, wanting to go with us, not in a desperate way to leave, but more I think as a response to the love and kindness he had experienced as a result of our coming to see him. Gently, I walked him back around the car, but he followed me back around again, silently. Once more, we walked back to the side of the road and I put his hand in the woman’s and waved and he seemed to understand. He did not wave back, but he seemed okay with everything, which I did as well.

Maybe because we never had boys, I always thought of Sakulu as our son. Sakulu always talked of meeting his American “sisters,” but sadly, he (along with his dream) has died.

If you think of it, pray for those who loved and cared for him. And if you don’t already, please consider sponsoring a child with Compassion; it’s the best $30/month you’ll ever spend.

Overheard

In Pop Culture, Technology on October 16, 2007 at 4:21 pm

One student defending to another why she had “such a stupid song” on her music player:

“It’s an iPod,
not a wePod!”

Ah, the community of technology.

Not Like Fall at All

In Places & Spaces on October 15, 2007 at 9:11 am

Attack of the Killer Leaves

No, this isn’t our yard or leaves, but I wish it/they were. Megan took this shot of our oldest during their trip to visit my sister three hours north in Illinois.

Here in St. Louis, our trees have the majority of their leaves (still green), and our yard just keeps growing. We had 80-degree temps this past weekend and, with the exception of a couple cooler days here and there in the past six weeks, it has not felt like Fall at all.

For the record, this hardly justifies the Nobel Peace Prize for Al Gore, but I do miss the chill in the autumn air nonetheless.

At The Pageant Tonight

In Musicians, Places, Places & Spaces on October 12, 2007 at 6:17 am

Megan and the girls are heading out of town to visit my sister and her family in Tremont, IL, and I’ve got four free tickets to the The Pageant tonight for the Ticketmaster New Music Spotlight show with local/regional bands The Feed, Red Water Revival, John Henry & the Engine, and Caleb Travers & Big City Lights.

Doors open at 7 and the show starts at 8, but I probably won’t get there until at least 9 (if not later) as I’m taking a class this weekend at Covenant. As far as I know, my friend Caleb (who I’m really going to see) doesn’t go on until last anyway, so I’m hoping to show up just as he and his band take the stage.

Anybody want to go? You don’t have to wait to go late with me (if, that is, we can figure out how to arrange a ticket drop sometime today). First come, first served (and yes, if someone wants all three tickets, that’s fine – as long as you go). Leave a comment to get in line.

Just trying to share the love…

American Pantheon of Gods

In Pop Culture, Westminster on October 11, 2007 at 9:20 am

This week in Biblical Ethics, we’ve been studying the First Commandment – considering God’s Person and right in calling us to faithfulness as part of his covenant with us, as well as studying a few of the many gods (Asherah, Baal(s), Chemosh, Dagon, Marduk, Molech) that Old Testament cultures (including Israel) created instead.

After the Old Testament study, I then had my students get in groups and spend some time naming our gods today, coming up with a little history (as they understood it) of where the god came from, and listing a few requirements for each god’s followers. I asked them to have fun with it (which they did), but they also made some insightful observations in the process. Here are just a few of my favorites:

  • Mart-Wal: this god was the first toy ever made; childish and mature, it believes toys are supreme, and requires the sacrifice of old toys and the purchase of new toys (every Tuesday); the more new toys you have, the greater your prosperity in heaven
  • Aquina: this is the goddess of vacation, worshiped by college students on spring break; she demands that all responsibilities be forgotten and followers behave in immoral ways; often depicted in a pink polka-dot bikini being anointed with tanning oil
  • Athletis: this god originated when the Spartans had an idea to play Ping-Pong with their enemies’ eyes; essentially, everyone must play a sport or die, and that sport must have first priority over everything; motivating motto: “if you’re not ripped, you suck”
  • iGod: this god started as a sundial and has progressed to artificial intelligence; worship includes a minimum of four hours in front of a screen and earbuds in all day long; followers are not allowed to have personal relationships with other people
  • Egoiste: this goddess of selfishness and greed was created in the Garden; she calls believers to desire what belongs to others, strive to gain an increasing number of possessions, and keep those possessions separate from others
  • The Almighty A: created at Plato’s Academy in Greece, this god lives in the hallways of modern schools; minimum sacrifice to be offered is a 4.0 G.P.A., but complete atonement is not acknowledged until one makes a $150K salary and owns a Lexus
  • Timis Hasselus: this god of avoiding hassles has been around since the beginning of time; its laws require not getting too involved in anything and avoiding conflict at all costs; sacrament includes a repetitive checking of the watch
  • Gluttoness: this goddess thrives in the lives of depressed girls who eat when they’re feeling down; followers must visit the Temple of the Golden Arches daily to take part in the sacraments, all of which must be deep-fried and super-sized
  • Sulfate: this god of pollution originated during the Industrial Revolution; believers must drive S.U.V.s and burn Styrofoam in their front yard to atone for their sins of recycling and thinking they are responsible for stewarding the planet
  • Cappucina: this goddess calls all followers to her table to bow down before her sacred beans; worshipers must have at least eight cups of overpriced coffee per day; caffeine headaches are to be embraced as due penance for disobedience

As follow-up to the assignment, one of my students sent me this link to a news report out of Springfield, MO, about the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Sure, it’s all tongue-in-cheek satire, but why are some Christians “involved” as the church’s spokesman says they are? I don’t get it.

David Brooks: “The Odyssey Years”

In Thought, Writers on October 10, 2007 at 6:20 am

My favorite New York Times writer, David Brooks, had an interesting piece Tuesday on a new stage of life he’s calling “the odyssey years”. While I didn’t pay him anything to write it, his is a fantastic endorsement of a certain book I’d shamelessly recommend. But I digress. He writes:

“There used to be four common life phases: childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Now, there are at least six: childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement and old age. Of the new ones, the least understood is odyssey, the decade of wandering that frequently occurs between adolescence and adulthood.”

Actually, there used to be two: childhood and adulthood. Still, I do think his new categories (odyssey and active retirement) are accurate, and he’s spot on in his analysis of the particular contrast he describes young people experiencing during the first thirty years of their lives:

“You can see the spirit of fluidity that now characterizes this stage. Young people grow up in tightly structured childhoods…but then graduate into a world characterized by uncertainty, diversity, searching and tinkering. Old success recipes don’t apply, new norms have not been established and everything seems to give way to a less permanent version of itself.”

This “less permanent vision” is, of course, fed by postmodernism, which doesn’t really help in figuring life out, at least not by providing any kind of unifying, overarching narrative to fit into and make sense of things. The philosophical shift between modernism and postmodernism is real. Whereas the modern (a la Descartes) said, “I think; therefore, I am,” the postmodern says, “I doubt; therefore, I hope I am.” Try making concrete decisions about life from this particular vantage point – it’s difficult.

I appreciated Brooks’ perspective that people in their twenties are not slackers. My observations have been the same, and I marvel at times how hard-working young people going through this stage of life can be:

“The odyssey years are not about slacking off. There are intense competitive pressures as a result of the vast numbers of people chasing relatively few opportunities. Moreover, surveys show that people living through these years have highly traditional aspirations (they rate parenthood more highly than their own parents did) even as they lead improvising lives.

Brooks’ conclusion is that it’s time to recognize “the odyssey years” as a legitimate stage of life and to call it what it is – an odyssey:

“What we’re seeing is the creation of a new life phase, just as adolescence came into being a century ago. It’s a phase in which some social institutions flourish — knitting circles, Teach for America — while others — churches, political parties — have trouble establishing ties.”

I agree, both with the recognition of the stage, as well as with Brooks’ observation that the Church tends to have challenges in dealing with it. The key, however, is that we in the Church don’t ostracize and let alone twenty-somethings until they get life figured out. This was the mentality that fueled the whole separate youth group idea for adolescents back in the fifties and sixties, and I don’t think that’s worked too well, either.

On the contrary, we in the Church need to passionately pursue and include those in this stage of life as part of our congregations, our families, our personal relationships, living out the meta narrative of the Christian story, vividly contrasting its brilliance against the drab background of postmodernism, and making the “odyssey years” the most developmental years in a person’s life, which, I believe, they are.

But you can read the book (or at least the free sample chapter) for more about that…

Faith’s Only Worth Is in What (or Whom) It’s Placed

In Politics on October 8, 2007 at 2:00 am

John McCain's recent interview about religion, combined with Barack Obama's declaration about faith and how it plays "every role" in his life, reminded me how much politicians (and most Americans) talk about faith as if it's an actual deity itself.

McCain said last week in this Beliefnet interview:

"We have to rely on our faith sometimes to give us guidance, not to help us make a specific decision, but to help us maintain our moral and spiritual values that then allow us to make the right decision, even if sometimes it's politically expensive. My faith obviously informs my decisions. It informs my strengths as well as my weaknesses. And it makes me aware of how imperfect a person I am. And it is vital in helping me maintain the principles upon which I conduct my political life, as well as other parts of my life…"

The New York Times reports in this article Obama saying:

"It's what keeps me grounded. It's what keeps my eyes set on the greatest of heights. Faith is what propels me to do what I do, and when I am down it's what lifts me up…What role does faith play? It plays every role."

It could just be me playing semantics, but if I didn't know any better, I'd swear McCain's and Obama's god is named Faith. Maybe it's a generational thing (my parents' friends talk about having "a faith" almost like it's a membership to Sam's), or maybe it's just politico-speak to appeal to the religious voter (which is everyone, regardless of whether they acknowledge it or not) – I don't know.

What I do know is this generic faith thing bugs me. Faith's only worth is in what (or whom) it's placed, not just in having some.

The fact that I may have "a faith" that a chair will hold me has more to do with the integrity of the chair than the integrity of my faith; that is, I can believe all I want, but if the chair isn't worthy, my faith in it is worthless. Likewise, I can believe all I want that my faith can make a difference in the world, but it has little to do with my faith being mine and more to do with my faith being in God.

If politicians want to talk true religion instead of just playing the "spiritual" card on the campaign trail, they're going to have to stop making faith a generic buzzword and start specifically naming who and for what they're really trusting. Call me a cynic, but my guess is few of them honestly know.

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be Jon Stewart

In TV on October 6, 2007 at 8:32 am

Jon Stewart is brilliant. Watch this short interview with Chris Matthews about Matthews’ new book, Life’s a Campaign, and marvel at how quick (and right) Stewart is (hat tip: Jon Barlow).

Trust Me, They Don’t Have a Pill Big Enough for Ours

In Family, Pop Culture on October 5, 2007 at 6:50 am

IMG_3915.JPG

(Taken by Megan while driving through Louisiana, MO, after this year’s Apple Festival)

Question of the Day

In Westminster on October 4, 2007 at 9:13 am

One of my students came into my classroom to wait for school to start this morning. After pulling some books out of his bag and checking his calendar for the day, he said:

I can’t believe how much I have going on!

Mr. Dunham, do you have, like, a lot of stuff to do?

I love high schoolers.

Educator Interview

In Education on October 3, 2007 at 8:28 am

(For my Educational Foundations class at Covenant this semester, I was assigned to interview a teacher and write a paper connecting his or her perspectives to the various educational theories – and they are Legion – that we’ve been reading about for class. Ken teaches at a public school, is a member of our church, and as his comments were more interesting than the readings, I’ve pulled them for you below.)

My friend, Ken, has been in education for seventeen years, teaching grammar to middle schoolers at a public school here in St. Louis. Jovial, with a flash of crazy always in his piercing brown eyes, one wonders whether Ken’s quick wit and good humor qualify him for teaching middle schoolers, or if they’re armaments he’s developed over time to do so.

Ken’s biggest success in teaching has been finding his own style – developing his storytelling proclivities, speaking in analogies, and using narrative to connect with kids – whereas a more direct approach almost never worked. “Grammar itself is not really that intriguing unless you just love the language,” he said. “I’m glad to have developed my style and tack on things as I go, but it took a while and is never static.”

According to Ken, his biggest mistake is one he says he makes every year. “It’s my own fault because I’m a big softie at heart and loathe confrontation, but I’d rather deal with the silence of resentment from than the silence of meting out punishment. Sometimes I feel like I’m too easy-going and need to make sure my velvet fist is more fist than less velvet. It’s a fine line.”

Ken has been a Christian from his youth. He attended a Christian school in seventh grade, but didn’t care much for the setting, finishing his junior/senior high education in public school. Considering his background and his own experience of these two models of education, I asked him how he taught from a Christian worldview in the midst of a public school setting.

“You teach what you know and from who you are,” he said. “It’s like the Play-Doh Fun Factory – if you set it on the ‘star’ setting, you’re going to get a star when you push the Play-Doh through. Whether the students know it or not, I’m teaching universal literary topics like love and sacrifice that the gospel encompasses. Though I’m not allowed to expound, I have grounded credibility in presenting these virtues because of my identity as a believer who knows the love and sacrifice of Jesus on his behalf.”

I asked Ken how he thought about moral development in the public school classroom and in our era of postmodernity. He responded by stating that, at least in the classroom, even postmoderns agree there are some morals that are inviolable. “If you’re a kid, you can’t just walk into a room and shove another kid – you can’t do that. Abuse (verbal, physical, or emotional) is not tolerated in the classroom – everyone knows that.”

“As a Christian teacher,” he continued, “I believe the big stuff doesn’t change either, so you treat it as such, state it as such, and argue if they choose to argue. Then you get kids to think for themselves rather than along postmodern sound bites, which I think God really likes and prefers over someone just agreeing because 12 people told you to.”

Ken attended Baylor University’s school of education, which, he said, was helpful in terms of time management, educational philosophy, and basic knowledge. “But,” he added, “being a teacher is like being a mechanic – you can study cars and internal combustion, fuses, computers, etc., but you really only know when somebody drives in and puts it on the lift and it’s you and the car, and you have to figure it out in a way to fix it with your hands on it. In my happy privilege, I have 25 cars up on lifts at a time, and every one of them needs to be approached slightly different, as they’re all different models, some of which have been treated well, and some not so well by their owners.”

I asked Ken for his observations on student development today. He thought his students were developing similarly to how he did in seventh grade – getting a grasp on life, going from concrete to abstract, spreading out their world to determine relevance.” Broadening his evaluative scope into high school, Ken said high schoolers seem to have different goals than he did at that age, as they seem driven by standardization and much more of a scientific feel to education, almost bordering on the industrial. “Kids today are offered a better education,” he said, “but whether they’re equipped to take advantage of it and make it theirs depends on where they are in their adolescence.”

When I asked what he thought about the future of education, Ken lamented how the American consumer mentality makes kids “clientele” who get to “decide” if they’re going to be interested in the classroom, having assumed this right from parents who just drop their kids off “like a car at an auto shop,” with little sense of responsibility at home in support of their kids’ education. “Our schools aren’t failing our children, our parents are; but you can’t hold parents accountable with legislation like you can a school.”

As we finished the interview, I asked Ken for one question he’d like to ask and answer. He chose a good one: What responsibility does the Christian community have to public school education? His two answers: less vilification and prayer. “For Christian parents to fear non-Christian teachers is wrong. We’re not warring against people, but against the enemy holding some of these brilliant teachers in delusion. If you take the salt and light out, what ‘Jesus’ is left?”

Note to Self: Sophomores

In Education, Westminster on October 2, 2007 at 9:11 am

When introducing the Law and ethics of the Old Testament, understand that first-period sophomores will doubtfully be as excited as you about the relevance, beauty, and love expressed by God in giving them (at least not anytime before nine in the morning).

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow; so are 15- and 16-year olds.

Don’t take it personally.