Because life is a series of edits

Archive for February, 2008|Monthly archive page

Caption Contest

In Pop Culture, Westminster on February 28, 2008 at 5:59 am

The picture below was recently published in Westminster‘s 2008-2009 course selection handbook for parents and students. As a result, I’ve been getting grief (“You look like you’re doing a magic trick,” “Vanna White has competition,” etc.) ever since, mostly from colleagues, family, and others who claim they care for and love me.

Because I’d hate for them to have all the fun, here’s my gift of cheap entertainment to you: a caption contest. The rules:

  1. Enter your best caption (you may enter as many times as you like).
  2. Be nice (or at least not crude).
  3. Contest ends Friday (or until my feelings get hurt).
  4. Winning entry will be determined by my wife (which disqualifies her caption of choice: “Do the Hustle”).
  5. No prizes will be awarded (other than that of your own fun at my expense).

Last qualification: If this post seems overly self-serving or narcissistic, please accept my apologies. However, rather than go away mad, why not take your anger out by leaving a scathing (yet creative) caption? Just think of it as cheap therapy.

But enough about me; what do you think about me? Here’s the pic – happy captioning:

Craig Teaching

Playing Caffeine Cop

In Pop Culture on February 27, 2008 at 7:04 am

Hey all you Starbucks addicts fans out there, did it work? Comment and file your report.

Coming to St. Louis

In Church, Places & Spaces, Technology on February 25, 2008 at 10:32 am

Here are two interesting events coming to town this week and in March:

A Conversation on Denominational Renewal
Tuesday-Thursday, February 26-28, 2008
Memorial Presbyterian Church

“What are our hopes for the church? In one sense, this is a deeply intimate question because it evokes the possibility of both disappointment and delight. And in another sense it is a necessary question, for the way in which it is answered will shape our life and labors in the world. In the past several years, many of us in the PCA – and many of you – have begun to ask this question with renewed, if cautious, energy. We think this question is best asked – and best answered – in community.”

Accordance Bible Software Seminar
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Covenant Theological Seminary

“This all-day seminar will consist of two sessions with a break for lunch. The first session will introduce Accordance, the underlying concepts, the interface, and the range of available materials, and is suitable for non-users and new users. The second session will demonstrate the Atlas and other graphic tools, user tools and notes, and the advanced search and analysis capabilities of the Greek and Hebrew tagged texts and accompanying tools.”

I’m hoping to make the Tuesday evening session of the conference this week (can’t do more with school) and all of the seminar in March (end of Spring Break works well). Spread the word.

Overheard

In Family on February 23, 2008 at 11:49 am

…during a blitzkrieg cleaning this Saturday morning:

Maddie (age 9): “Daddy, if you lived at Hogwarts, you’d have to do your own laundry.”

Me: “That’s also known as college.”

The Ideology of Rationality

In Books, Education, Humanity, Thought on February 22, 2008 at 9:12 am

Susan Jacoby‘s name has been floating around several sites I frequent and enjoy, so I thought I’d read up a little on why. Jacoby is a former education reporter for The Washington Post, now an author whose new book, The Age of American Unreason, comes out in a couple of weeks (she wrote Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism in 2004).

Earlier this week, Jacoby wrote an op-ed piece in The Post titled, “The Dumbing of America: Call Me a Snob, But Really We’re a Nation of Dunces. Her thesis is fairly straightforward:

“Americans are in serious intellectual trouble — in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations.”

In familiar fashion, Jacoby first blames our educational failures on the usual suspects of the shrinking attention span (TV, video games, Internet, et. al.), as well as “the erosion of general knowledge” by calling up the ever-present specter of American centrism. Her arguments are all fine and good (if not a bit rehashed), but she then names the third enemy in the war against (her own) terror: anti-rationalism. She writes:

“There is no quick cure for this epidemic of arrogant anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism; rote efforts to raise standardized test scores by stuffing students with specific answers to specific questions on specific tests will not do the job. Moreover, the people who exemplify the problem are usually oblivious to it…It is past time for a serious national discussion about whether, as a nation, we truly value intellect and rationality. If this indeed turns out to be a ‘change election,’ the low level of discourse in a country with a mind taught to aim at low objects ought to be the first item on the change agenda.”

Laura Miller, in a much too-long review of Jacoby’s book for Salon, sees (eventually) Jacoby’s attempt for what it is:

“Rationality has its own ideology, and one of its tenets is the conviction that, if given a fair chance, reason must always carry the day. If you believe that, then you can only arrive at one conclusion, Jacoby’s: It’s not that Americans won’t be rational, but that we can’t. There’s enough evidence of our poor schooling, susceptibility to pseudoscientific hucksterism and general cluelessness to justify that opinion, to be sure. But if that’s really the case, then it really is down to a few brave souls, committing to a doomed battle to preserve that ‘saving remnant’ and fighting the dying of the light.”

Gene Veith, provost and professor of Patrick Henry College (and amazing brain on issues of culture), is less politically-correct in his succinct post on Jacoby’s article:

“It is precisely our intellectual elites–university professors, cutting-edge artists, culturally-in-tune authors–who are denying the efficacy of reason, insisting that truth is relative, and holding onto exploded ideas (such as Marxism and neo-Marxism) against all evidence. Who is training the teachers and writing the curriculum that have gutted our young peoples’ education and deprived us of our knowledge base? Who is denying that there is such thing as truth or goodness? Who is denying the existence of beauty and purposefully making art that defies the canons of classical aesthetics? Most common ‘folks’ (Jacoby’s label for non-‘elites’) have better sense. So I agree with the author in lamenting the dumbing down of our culture. But it’s not just the ‘common people’ but the intellectual elites who need to change their thinking.”

Though obviously writing well before Jacoby’s article was published, Tim Keller, in his new book, The Reason for God, accurately describes the big picture of what’s going on in Jacoby’s (and others’) laments of such so-called “anti-intellectualism” and “anti-rationalism”:

“Broadly understood, faith in some view of the world and human nature informs everyone’s life. Everyone lives and operates out of some narrative identity, whether it is thought out and reflected upon or not. Pragmatists say that we should leave our deeper worldviews behind and find consensus about ‘what works’ – but our view of what works is determined by (to use a Wendell Berry title) what we think people are for. Any picture of happy human life that ‘works’ is necessarily informed by deep-seated beliefs about the purpose of human life. Even the most secular pragmatists come to the table with deep commitments and narrative accounts of what it means to be human.”

It’s obvious Jacoby’s narrative account of what it means to be human has everything to do with how well we are educated by her brand of education – rational and (by implication) religion-less. And yet, this kind of Enlightenment thinking misses the forest for the trees in always demanding that reasonable must be rationale, which if you’ve lived any kind of real life, you know the former is not always the latter – sacrificial love comes to mind, for instance.

(Note: For a much more helpful article in dealing with some of the practical realities of American public education, read David Brooks’ op-ed piece from Tuesday’s New York Times.)

Moonlighting with God

In Arts, Family on February 21, 2008 at 2:00 am

30pm

Moonlighting

God, brilliant Lord,
yours is a household name.

Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you;
toddlers shout the songs
That drown out enemy talk,
and silence atheist babble.

I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,
your handmade sky-jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us?
Why take a second look our way?

Psalm 8:1-4 (The Message)
Watched the eclipse tonight with the Half Pints; it was cold, but we survived. Wish I had taped their prayers at bedtime – from their vantage point, God was the star of the show.

Things That Made Me Smile Today

In Books, Family, Friends, Places, Pop Culture on February 20, 2008 at 2:00 am

Rumor has it that I'm hard to please, but it really doesn't take all that much to make me smile. To prove my point, here's what did it today (and I'm not making these up):

New Office Digs

  • My new office in the Pit of Despair (our unfinished basement) after a weekend of swapping workspaces with Megan's crafts
  • Homemade whole wheat (read: colon blow) cinnamon rolls for breakfast (with pigs in blankets for lunch)
  • The song "One Dozen Monkeys" on the new kids album (recommended) from the ever-quirky 80's band They Might Be Giants
  • Chaz and Danny (a.k.a. Frick and Frack) calling me Mr. Starship Unicorn all 7th period (don't ask me why – I don't think they even know)
  • The introductory quote in Tim Keller's new book, The Reason for God: "I find your lack of faith – disturbing. (Darth Vader)"
  • My two older daughters writing letters in cursive
  • My two younger daughters acting out the "Maw-wiage" scene in The Princess Bride (they also do a pretty good "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya…")

When you don't get out much, it's the little things that go a long way.

Some Presidential Self-Help

In Holidays on February 18, 2008 at 8:01 am

Our first President, George Washington, copied the following list as a teenager (probably as a homework assignment) from a pamphlet called “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” The list contained 110 such rules, was composed by French Jesuits in 1595, and was later rendered into English.

According to historian Richard Brookhiser, who published an annotated edition of “Rules of Civility,” it’s unclear how the publication reached America, but its effect on Washington’s character and behavior were profound. Thus, in honor of President’s Day, here are fifteen from the list, as chosen by David Holzel contributing at Mental Floss:

  1. Every action in company ought to be done with some sign of respect to those that are present.
  2. Sleep not when others speak, sit not when others stand, speak not when you should hold your peace, walk not on when others stop.
  3. Spit not into the fire, nor stoop low before it, neither put your hands into the flames to warm them, nor set your feet upon the fire, especially if there be meat before it.
  4. Kill no vermin, as fleas, lice, ticks etc., in the sight of others. If you see any filth or thick spittle put your foot dexterously upon it, if it be upon the clothes of your companions put it off privately, and if it be upon your own clothes return thanks to him who puts it off.
  5. Read no letters, books, or papers in company, but when there is a necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave. Come not near the books or writings of another so as to read them unless desired, or give your opinion of them unasked. Also look not nigh when another is writing a letter.
  6. Let your countenance be pleasant but in serious matters somewhat grave.
  7. Shew not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.
  8. To one that is your equal, or not much inferior, you are to give the chief place in your lodging, and he who ‘tis offered ought at the first to refuse it, but at the second to accept though not without acknowledging his own unworthiness.
  9. Mock not nor jest at anything of importance, break no jests that are sharp, biting, and if you deliver any thing witty and pleasant, abstain from laughing thereat yourself.
  10. Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for ‘tis a sign of tractable and commendable nature, and in all causes of passion permit reason to govern.
  11. Speak not of doleful things in a time of mirth or at the table; speak not of melancholy things as death and wounds, and if others mention them, change if you can the discourse. Tell not your dreams, but to your intimate friend.
  12. Be apt not to relate news if you know not the truth thereof. In discoursing of things you have heard name not your author. Always a secret discover not.
  13. In company of those of higher quality than you, speak not till you are ask’d a question, then stand upright, put off your hat, and answer in few words.
  14. Speak not evil of the absent for it is unjust.
  15. Make no show of taking great delight in your victuals. Feed not with greediness. Eat your bread with a knife (i.e. cut it into small pieces), lean not on the table, neither find fault with what you eat.

Happy President’s Day.

Revelation on a Saturday

In Pop Culture on February 16, 2008 at 3:05 pm

I finally trimmed my fingernails today.

I hate having long fingernails.

I could never be a woman.

A Thought on Puke Day

In Holidays on February 14, 2008 at 4:36 am

In honor of today being Puke Day (an old college moniker that has always seemed appropriate; for a more inspiring history, click here), I thought I’d share a little meditative exercise to bring some perspective to our modern-day understanding of love.

If you’ve ever been to a wedding, you’ve heard 1 Corinthians 13 read ad nauseum. While a most beautiful and beloved passage in the Bible, our familiarity with it unfortunately often robs its depth of meaning and blinds us to just how difficult love (at least biblically defined) can be.

With this in mind, try reading the passage below, inserting your name in the place of “love” (I’ve added blanks to make it easy) and see how far you get:

4 _______ is patient and kind; _______ does not envy or boast; _______ is not arrogant 5 or rude. _______ does not insist on _______ ‘s own way; _______ is not irritable or resentful; 6 _______ does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 _______ bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 _______ never ends.

Sadly, I don’t make it past the first line. Indeed, love is a many splendored thing, but I wouldn’t know the first thing about it apart from the person of Christ.

Happy Puke Day.

(Note: Lest anyone be overly concerned for the feminine majority in our house and their enjoyment of all things Valentine’s, here‘s how we usually celebrate the day.)

We Aren’t the World

In Musicians on February 10, 2008 at 5:38 pm

In case you were wondering, the 50th annual Grammy Awards are tonight on CBS. I’m not planning to watch, so let me know what you think if you do. Maybe I’m just getting old, but the idea of watching four hours of a drawn-out awards show for music that does nothing for me seems somewhat masochistic. Besides, I’ve got papers to grade.

I don’t really enjoy music these days. Let me qualify: I don’t really enjoy new music these days. I’ve felt this way for a while now (that is, at least 8-10 years), and the stagnation of our music library here at home is a product of my perspective. Practically, we have no budget allocated for new music, but even if we did, I wouldn’t know what to spend it on – there’s just so little new out there that really appeals to me anymore.

With all this in mind, I was intrigued by Nick Marino’s lead article in the just-out March issue of Paste magazine. Titled “What I Miss About Michael Jackson” and reflecting on the 25th anniversary of Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller (a strange content choice for Paste‘s focus on “organic and eclectic music“), Marino’s article reads:

“[Jackson] was a pop star of almost unparalleled popularity. After Elvis and The Beatles, he was it – the biggest. I miss the shared cultural experience that only a star of this magnitude could create. I miss the way MTV used to hype Michael Jackson videos, and the way everyone used to crowd around the TV to watch them. The short film Michael released in conjunction with “Thriller” is certainly the most influential music video of all time, the one that thrust videos into the realm of art, the catalyst that completed the transition of music from an audio medium to an audio-visual medium.”

“Michael also changed the notion of superstardom. He blew it up bigger than anyone in his generation, and bigger than anyone after…stardom of that magnitude isn’t necessarily healthy for an artist. For fans, though, it creates a sense of awe – or, I should say, it created a sense of awe. Celebrities don’t really make us awestruck anymore. They annoy us with this ubiquity, like mosquitoes. In a weird way, they’re not famous enough. We now have more stars than ever before, but fewer megastars…there’s something awesome about the whole world singing the same song or watching the same video, worshipping at the same altar.”

Paste editor Josh Jackson, perhaps bracing for the inevitable barrage of mail that’s coming in light of his editorial decision to lead with Marino’s pop piece, qualifies the March issue:

“My tendency is to fight bleary-eyed nostalgia in all things music-related. I get tired of aging boomers proclaiming that all music was great in the ’60s or the ’80s and everything sucks now, when we live in a uniquely exhilarating time for music and enjoy a growing number of ways to discover it.”

Jackson (Josh, not Michael) then hits the nail on the head of what I’ve been feeling:

“Despite the self-satisfaction that comes with the idea that mainstream culture is too dim for the music we love, the mass communal aspect that came with those great bands of the ’60s – the experience of discovering The Beatles, the Stones or Dylan along with the rest of the country – is dead…

Now our attention is split a thousand ways. Music no longer has primacy in our culture, and celebrity doesn’t bother with actual music anymore; it feeds itself. There are still plenty of celebrities who sing, but most of them are more famous for being famous than for their songs. We don’t know their music. We only know who they’re dating and what they wore to the Grammys. And audiences remain splintered, not just among genres but among the thousands of indie bands posting to MySpace and YouTube.”

I have to agree with protest rocker Neil Young, who late last week said, “I know that the time when music could change the world is past. I really doubt that a single song can make a difference. It is a reality.” Sad, isn’t it? I think so. It’s that potential – that one song could really change the world – that I find myself missing and lamenting in today’s “I write for me and me alone” brand of music. This is why I buy so little of it anymore…and why I listen to even less.

It’s for the Kids

In Church, Education, Seminary on February 9, 2008 at 4:44 am

In a class on the topic of children’s ministry this weekend at Covenant. Regardless of how what I learn gets used in the church, having four kids in the age range, I’m interested (I figure it’s time to go back and learn what I thought I already knew about children and any ministry to them – like many, I did all my best parenting before I had kids).

Personally, the musty church basement of the Griggsville United Methodist Church was a warm place for me when I was a child in Sunday School. I remember being fascinated by the stories and characters of the Bible, singing songs, and knowing my teacher would be there every Sunday. In retrospect, this was the beginning of God drawing me to Himself.

By my standards today, I would not consider any aspect of my Sunday School experience particularly biblical or well done – the moralistic curricula played into my perfectionist tendencies; the songs were cheeseball and the piano was always slightly out of tune; and I always sensed that there was unspoken tension among the teachers as to who got which room (they were all different sizes), who was the better teacher (we kids had favorites), and whether each of them truly believed what they taught (sadly, children’s ministry was and still is the victim of the wretched “warm body” recruit).

Yet I include my experiences as ones God used to reach me. Unlike Richard Dawkins’ argument in The God Delusion that “natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents and tribal elders tell them” (p. 205), I believe that, despite imperfect curricula, less-than-ideal space, and adults who had barely more knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures than I did at the time, God designed me – as he has all of the elect – to respond to Him, even (and often) at a young age.

God laid enough of a foundation of faith during my childhood to hold the weight of my first real spiritual steps to become a Christian at age 14. If He could do this despite the inadequacies of my church’s children’s ministry, I wonder what He would do through redeeming curricula, good space, and teachers called and trained to minister to children.

Indeed, I wonder.

Shooting Sadness

In Humanity, Places & Spaces on February 8, 2008 at 11:06 am

Well, St. Louis (namely Kirkwood) made the national news again for all the wrong reasons.

Sigh.

Oh, the Inanimacy

In Pop Culture on February 5, 2008 at 10:25 pm

Human Christmas Tree

I spent my birthday teaching as a Christmas tree per Westminster‘s Spirit Week festivities going on all this week (today was “inanimate object” day).

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Ron Paul for President

In Politics on February 3, 2008 at 10:47 am

In light of Super Tuesday this week (on my 37th birthday, no less), I feel compelled to own whatever influence I may have in the blogosphere and endorse the candidate I believe would be the best choice for America. After months of discussion and thought, the candidate I will be voting for (both this Tuesday and in November) will be Ron Paul.

In my analysis, Ron Paul best lines up with my understanding of what a democratic society organized under limited government for the defense of its citizens should be. I appreciate his commitment to the sanctity of life, affirm his support for greater parental rights in education (whether private, public, or homeschool), and say “yea and amen” to his principled Constitutional approach to lead by virtues instead of values.

If there’s an issue on which I see things differently from Ron Paul, it is immigration, not because I am opposed to secure borders or visa enforcement, but because I do not see how, realistically and practically speaking, some degree of amnesty for those already in the country will not need to be part of a true solution.

That said (and despite my doubts he can actually win in the media-driven, money-grabbing extravaganza known as our democratic process), my hope in going out on a limb here is to simply share my perspective, encourage you to engage in your own process, and, if you’re looking to align yourself with someone who’s voting for Ron Paul, to be one to give you permission to do so.

Ron Paul for President in 2008.

Free Punxsutawney Phil

In Holidays on February 2, 2008 at 9:46 am

From The Folklore of American Holidays:

“Groundhog Day or Groundhog’s Day is a holiday celebrated in Pennsylvania, New York, Canada, and other locations on February 2. In weather lore, if a groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, marmot or ground squirrel, emerges from its burrow on this day and fails to see its shadow because the weather is cloudy, winter will soon end. If the groundhog sees its shadow, it will return into its burrow, and the winter will continue for 6 more weeks.”

Apparently, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning and said winter’s not over. He also said, “You people are idiots if you think a varmint can forecast the weather,” but was then muzzled, tranquilized, and whisked away by his handlers to an undisclosed location.

You read it here first.