Because life is a series of edits

Archive for August, 2008|Monthly archive page

On Sarah Palin

In Politics on August 30, 2008 at 10:51 pm

Like most of the country, I’m still trying to figure out what I think about John McCain‘s pick of Alaska governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate. While it’s way too early to draw any real conclusions, here are a couple of thoughts on the matter:

Initially, I felt what Joseph Bottum at First Things called a “nervous joy” at the audacity of the Republicans deciding to forego playing it safe with Mitt Romney or some other stuffed shirt and choose a little-known (but likable and seemingly accomplished) woman in Palin. On the heels of the Democrats’ big shindig in Denver, I couldn’t believe the Republicans had a chance to keep the race even close (let alone interesting), nor did I think they would actually take it if they happened to think of one. But to come up with and take a chance implies risk, and as I processed the selection more, I confess some nervous doubts have surfaced.

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air has a good summary of rebuttals to many of the arguments the Left has already thrown at Palin, and I can go along with most of them easily enough. I do, however, find myself wondering with James Fallows on his Atlantic Monthly blog how long-term-looking McCain’s choice really was:

“The image to have in mind is not Dan Quayle: a person with quite a bit of grounding in national issues who was added to the ticket in an attempt to jazz it up. Always and only the comparison should be with Clarence Thomas — with this one interesting difference. Thomas was a shrewd choice not simply because his race made it more complicated for Democrats to oppose him but also because, once confirmed, all evidence suggested to conservatives that he’d be the kind of Justice they were looking for. In Palin’s case, this seems to be a choice that looks forward to Election Day, and not one day beyond that.”

Choosing Palin certainly makes McCain much more viable as a conservative candidate for the election, but it also highlights his age vulnerability as President. Maybe I’ve read one too many quotes about Palin being “one heartbeat away from the Presidency,” but let’s be honest: McCain at 72 in 2008 sure seems a lot more frail than McCain at 64 in 2000; if elected, I don’t think he’ll make it two terms, either due to a decision he makes or one his body makes for him. The result would be Palin becomes President, but it sure would be nice if she had at least a few years as Vice before that happens. This, in my mind, is the biggest risk of the gamble.

So far, at least, I like who Palin seems to be, as well as what she has seemed to get done in Alaska. It will be interesting to see what the media dig up on her (so far the worst seems to be the “TrooperGate” situation and a less-than-flattering basketball picture from the late-70s). I am interested as to if/how the whole “Sarah Palin is not the mother” rumor resolves, but since Palin seems as upright as she seems sharp, I find it hard to believe she would try to sneak that one by McCain and the national media.

Who will I vote for? My libertarian leanings (among other things) won’t allow me to jump on the Obama/Biden train – too much smoke and socialism there. Will I vote for the McCain/Palin ticket? Probably. Will I do so confidently? Confidently enough, I suppose, assuming nothing significant changes between now and November. Rest assured, regardless of who wins the election, God is not going to be surprised by the outcome, and that’s peace enough to avoid worrying about politics that will barely be a footnote in His story.

Thoughts?

Advertisements

Sobering Up

In Politics, Writers on August 29, 2008 at 5:56 am

Maybe I’m just suffering from a DNC hangover, but apparently I’m not the only one. You have to read David Brooks’ column in the New York Times today. It’s a little cynical for him, but see if you can spot some truth in and among the overstatement. Here’s his opening paragraph:

“My fellow Americans, it is an honor to address the Democratic National Convention at this defining moment in history. We stand at a crossroads at a pivot point, near a fork in the road on the edge of a precipice in the midst of the most consequential election since last year’s ‘American Idol.’”

Read the rest here.

The Reverse

In Books, Calling, Family, Seminary on August 28, 2008 at 2:00 am

As mortgage payments tend to be more than the rent kind, I started a second job this week working part-time in Covenant Seminary's bookstore. It's a good schedule for me that works with my teaching: Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays from 4-6 p.m., and about every other Saturday from 9:30-2:30. In addition, Megan will cover the Saturday shift occasionally, as well as do some work for the bookstore once its new website launches later next month.

Our new bosses are the bookstore's new owners, Nick and Suzanne Gleason, both of whom we've known for a few years and attend church with at Memorial. Nick worked in the bookstore for several years' worth of seminary days, and just last month bought the store from its previous owner. The Gleasons are now in the process of building upon the bookstore's "good books" reputation, as well as improving some systems and general use of space at the seminary that, well, need some improving.

This is the first time I've ever worked a job in retail, and I confess I've gone back and forth on whether I'm cut out for it. Whereas Megan's personality (ISTJ) and past experience (she worked at several home decorating/fabric stores in high school, as well as ran the bookstore at Eagle Lake for years) lend themselves well to a retail environment, yours truly felt like a fish out of water, gutted, and packed in a can on my first day. The cash register scared me; the credit card machine even more so. It's no fun learning a job while physically handling other people's money…in front of them.

Halfway through my second day, I was feeling better about the technical end of things, that is until a semi-huge wave of insecurity washed over me as I was adjusting books and restocking inventory. A professor at the seminary had walked in, seen me, and the conversation went something like this:

Him: "Hey! Good to see you. Are you helping out in the bookstore today?"

Me: "No. I'm a new employee."

Him: "So you're not teaching anymore?"

Me: "Oh, I'm still teaching."

Him: (puzzled look) "Oh."

Me: (sheepish look) "Yeah."
I'm not sure why I was slightly embarrassed; it certainly wasn't because of my part-time job (books? are you kidding?), nor does it have anything to do with my full-time job (teaching the Bible on a daily basis? what more could I want?). Maybe it's that I'm having to work two jobs to make ends meet, but even then I'm grateful God is providing for our family through both of them.

No, I think my insecurity stemmed from my realization that I seem to have an uncanny knack for doing just about everything in reverse order, which has to be some kind of corollary of George Castanza's "opposite" theory. Here are just three examples (there are more) of my "reverse" tendencies:

  • Go into ministry full-time for 12 years, then attend seminary
  • Get a job teaching full-time, then take education classes
  • Write a book, then work in a bookstore

What's next? Keep a blog, then become narcissistic?

The Facts of Truth

In Books, Education, Westminster on August 25, 2008 at 2:00 am

One of the first things I tell my New Testament students is that, while I can't prove God exists, I can prove the accuracy of the biblical record that claims he does. The kids are usually pretty interested by both statements, and we had some really good discussions last week on topics like general and specific revelation, inspiration and infallibility/inerrancy, and the character, motives, and lives of the eyewitness authors.

This week, I hope to talk with them about the document transmission/textual criticism of the Scriptures, and the corroborating evidence from non-biblical ancient writers and modern archaeology. It will be a lot to cover, but it's key to them understanding why I can ask them to have faith in their Bibles without checking their brains at the door.

At the end of last week, I asked the students to write out questions they had about the Scriptures, particularly with regard to its formation and background. Here, in no particular order (and some more informed than others), are just a third of the questions they turned in:

  • Why are there many translations of the Bible?
  • How did the Bible come to mass circulation and be so well known in the world?
  • Why is the Bible called the Bible and what does that mean?
  • How many people wrote the Bible?
  • How did the books get placed in order?
  • What was the original language the Bible was written in?
  • What are differences between the Bible and other holy books?
  • How did the authors of the books of the Bible know what to write in the Bible?
  • How did the authors transform the Bible from a scroll to what we have now?
  • Who started making different versions of the Bible?
  • What version do you think it was after it was written?
  • How did the people write the Bible? Did they think of it then write it or what?
  • Did the authors of the Bible know people in the future would be reading it?
  • Why did Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John write the exact same story four times instead of just joining them together?
  • Is the Bible true?
  • What was the first book of the Bible and when was it written?
  • Where were the Dead Sea Scrolls found?
  • When was the Bible first mass-produced?
  • Why was the Bible originally limited to one copy per church?
  • Was there a copy of the Bible in Bible times?
  • Which is more produced: the Bible or the Koran?
  • How did they get all of the books of the Bible together?
  • How did we get the Bible when it was written so long ago?
  • Why did they split up the Old and New Testament? Why not just make it one big testament?
  • Why did they not just call the chapters “one, two, three, four, etc.”?
  • What did the people write the Bible on?
  • How old are the oldest manuscripts that we have of the Bible?
  • How did the Apostles know that they were Apostles?
  • Is the Bible 100% true?
  • Where did the stories of the Bible take place?
  • Why doesn’t the Bible mention Jesus’ childhood?
  • Why aren’t there more books in the Old Testament if it was written 4,000 years ago?
  • What books didn’t make the Bible, and if there are other books, where are they?
  • What is the timeline of the people who wrote the Bible?
  • When was the Bible first translated into English?
  • Where do you see Bible history cross over with regular history?
  • How many Bibles have been sold?
  • Why was the Bible discontinued?
  • Where was the Bible discovered and who discovered it?
  • How and where is the proof that the Bible is accurate?
  • What do the epistles have to do with us?
  • Why aren’t the extra books added to the Bible talked about in class?
  • Why don’t some of the books relate to the other books?
  • Is it true that people used the Bible to make predictions?
  • Who decided what certain stories would be in the Bible?
  • How do we know that a group of people didn’t write the Bible a few hundred years ago and say it was older?
  • When was the first book of the Bible written? The last book?
  • Are the books of the Apocrypha true? How come Catholics have them in their Bibles?
  • What happened between the “silent years” between the Old and New Testaments?
  • Who wrote some of the books with unknown authors?
  • What is your favorite book of the Bible?
Any other ones you'd add?

Summarizing on a Saturday

In Education, Politics, Seminary, Sports, Westminster on August 23, 2008 at 11:31 am

I recognize the past week has been less than impressive in terms of original content. Here’s an attempt at righting that wrong:

1. As I see it, the selection of Joe Biden as Barack Obama‘s running mate makes a lot of sense…in the short term. Biden personifies age and diplomacy more than Obama does, and his infamous tongue will serve well in swatting away John McCain‘s attacks, thereby letting Obama do what he does best in focusing on the positive. Long term, though, the Democrats are going to be stuck after eight years, as no one’s going to elect Biden because of his age, and I don’t think even Hillary will be in the picture by then (though I still wouldn’t count her out in this race – stranger things have happened).

2. If McCain chooses Mitt Romney, I think he’s done. The two don’t even like each other, and both bolster the “rich, white guy” stereotype that unfortunately marks the Republican party. Maybe this is why Romney is actually a VP possiblity – it sends a message to the conservative base that McCain really is one of them – but that’s not going to be too motivating to moderates and undecideds weary of the stereotype. Picking Romney doesn’t seem very much of a maverick move for the Maverick, but I’m not sure who else in the Republican party would be. How about Ron Paul?

3. With the Olympics finishing up tomorrow, I have mixed feelings about these Games in China. My hope is that, through all the interaction with other countries and greater exposure to democracy, something would stir in China that, down the road, would bring real change to the lives of her citizens. My fear, however, is that any such seed will be rooted out, no thanks to the softened stance of mainstream American journalists (particularly NBC, who patronizingly broadcasted the Games) and the IOC‘s UN-like oversight of the whole spectacle in general. It will be interesting to see what comes of the investigation of China’s women’s little girls’ gymnastics team, and what the world’s response will be to the verdict (if indeed any is given).

4. I register for fall classes at Covenant this coming week, and then start the following Tuesday. I wish I had a little more of a breather between my summer course and the beginning of five new hours this semester, but I don’t get to vote. If all goes well, I should finish a master’s in theological studies in May of 2009 (that’s this coming spring!) and a master’s in educational ministries in May of 2010. Neither is that far away, but it still feels like miles to go before I sleep, as these folks must similarly feel.

5. Speaking of sleep, I have an uncanny ability to get some. I swear I was asleep twenty seconds after my head hit the pillow every night this week. My co-teacher, Larry Hughes, says I must have a clear conscience; I assure him it’s just that I’m tired.

6. I really like my classes at Westminster, and boy howdy, is it ever easier doing this the second time around. Whereas the first year seemed so much like walking in the dark and trying to teach something along the way, this year would seem to be the one in which I really figure out what exactly I’m teaching and the best way to teach it. I’ve got a great schedule, some cool kids (ones I’ve had and ones I haven’t), and I’m pretty pumped about taking bigger steps this year toward being a great teacher.

7. The new header above is not final. My friend, Kent, is playing with a couple design ideas after some feedback I gave him on the one above, so I should have the final one up soon. Hang with me.

I’ve got pictures and smoke detectors to hang, a few books to finish, and some email to catch up on this weekend, so I’ll wrap it up. If you’re still around, thanks for reading.

“…to serve musicians, to serve artists, to renew the city…”

In Arts, Church, Places, Places & Spaces, Thought on August 22, 2008 at 9:24 pm

Our associate pastor, Greg Johnson, just forwarded a review of the art show going on at The Chapel, the “sanctuary for the arts” run by our church. We’re thrilled about the good press, especially coming from The Vital Voice. Here’s an excerpt:

“I must confess that when I got there my mood was as wrinkled as my slept-in shirt and scruffy as my unshaved, nubby face. I don’t know if it was the weather, the wine, or the wonderful art but everything weary, worn and cynical in my soul discernably dissolved and took a hike somewhere, maybe crossing Skinker into Forest Park to hit the links with the frou-frou.”

You can read the whole review here.

2:23 a.m.

In Family, Young Ones on August 20, 2008 at 2:00 am

Megan: (sits up in bed, then mumbles as she falls back against the pillow)

Me: (groggily) What's wrong?

Megan: There's a child lying across the foot of the bed.

Me: Is it one of ours?

Summer 2008: Closed

In Family, Places & Spaces on August 17, 2008 at 3:50 pm

This weekend marked the official end of summer for us, and none too soon.

Thursday saw the start of school at Westminster, and that made for a couple of overwhelming (but still enjoyable) days. I have 106 students (mostly freshmen and sophomores) this year in three sections of Biblical Ethics and two section of New Testament, and while a lot of the freshmen I don’t know, a lot of sophomores I do. It was fun seeing the kids again, and even more fun to have sophomores I had last year show up and say hi this year as juniors.

On Friday we finished the electrical and plumbing repairs mandated by the city of Maplewood to maintain occupancy of the house. The majority of the repairs were hardly life-threatening, but the previous owners hadn’t addressed them as they should have (which the city of Maplewood took much pleasure in reminding us). Thankfully, after spending the last month living in and among boxes, electricians, and plumbers, it was a joy to have the house to ourselves for the first time in a long time.

Late Friday evening, after Megan had left for her retreat, I finished up the last paper and took the final online for my Spirit, Church, and Last Things class through Covenant. I can’t even begin to express how great it felt to get out from under those deadlines. Though the content was enjoyable enough, the reading and the lectures were a handful, especially when I didn’t touch any of it for half the summer. (Note to self: in the future, don’t take a summer-length class in half a summer.)

As the plumbing inspector had signed off on things Friday, on Saturday I helped watched Dave put the siding back on the torn-up section of the rear of our house. I also spent the morning in the basement sweeping and putting all the shelves and stuff back after we had to move them for the repairs. I then took the girls to the pool for one last time (with all the beautiful weather we’ve been having, the water was freezing), and then the ladies and I went to Grant’s Farm with our neighbor, Mrs. Gadell, and her granddaughter, Allison.

We got home three hours later (as did Megan) and, after a quick meal together, found ourselves sitting in back of the Gadells’ house toasting the end of the day, the class, the repairs, the tyranny of the city of Maplewood over our lives, and the summer of 2008. Laughs were shared, beverages consumed, and there was much rejoicing.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

The matters of this season are finished. Summer 2008: closed. Thank the Maker.

Thinking Teaching

In Education, Westminster on August 13, 2008 at 7:42 am

School officially starts tomorrow and I’ve got my back against the wall getting ready. Despite what today (and tonight) looks like, I’m excited to get back in the classroom.

My friend, Ken, is a teacher and, while his situation in the public school is a little different from mine in a Christian school, I couldn’t help but resonate with much of what he posted on his Facebook page about teaching. Like any good teacher desperate for time, I copy it word for word here (though I always attribute). Enjoy.

“Teaching is a great gig, and I can’t think of anything that has more lasting significance than what I do everyday, BUT there are some things that prospective teachers need to hear and understand:

1. If you slide into teaching, you’ll slide back out. Decide to teach, don’t do it for lack of anything else; it’s too frustrating otherwise and you won’t last.

2. If you plan on supporting a family with the salary you get, it will be a long time before you’re comfortable. You will be living within slender means, and likely lack any cutting-edge tech for a while. If yours is the only income, things will be quite tight for years.

3. You are held to a higher standard of behavior in your personal life than is any other profession of which I can think (aside from kiddie show host and clergy).

4. Right now, the pendulum is swinging toward the assessment/standards/govermental interference and it IS a pain in the keister. It’s the difference between true education and plain schooling. It will swing back eventually, but if you see teaching as more of an art than a science, EXPECT to be stymied a while until it does.

5. You don’t ACTUALLY get paid for summer break (or any vacations, for that matter); you are unemployed with a pending contract.

6. Though all other professions spring from it, you can expect disdain from the ‘those who can’t, teach’ thinkers. You will be expected to do more than that for which you are contracted or compensated.

7. Our culture of kid-centric (not just child-oriented) parenting has created situations in which the scholar (even red-handed) can do no wrong, the parents can advocate to the point of insult, the scholars who need to work the hardest and overcome the most are enabled to fail and train themselves to mediocrity by those closest to them, and excellence is too often measured by the distance from the lowest common denominator rather than a true paragon of thought and effort (and teachers are tempted towards run-on sentences). It may change and improve, it may not. To a degree you will need to rebel against this trend and stand up for what’s really right and not what’s accepted by convention. To another degree you will need to accept this situation and work within it. Doing so can be really exhausting to your emotions and your principles, but it’s the way it is.

8. People who aren’t in the classroom and don’t know jack will pontificate on your faults and failings and legislate ways to make your job more difficult.

9. You will be held accountable for the flawed behavior patterns, attitudes of entitlement and clogging apathy that some parents allow (even instill) in their kids, and you’ll swim upstream against a media culture that encourages the scholars to devalue anything that doesn’t entertain them.

10. A tax accountant’s busy season is from January to April 15th. A teacher’s is from August to June. You will live, eat and breathe the work in that time. You’ll dream it.

And yet on the other hand….

1. You’ll get to meet/know/mentor/enjoy REALLY cool people before they even know they’re cool.

2. You’ll become a minor (very minor) celebrity around the town in which you teach.

3. You have the chance to ensure that young people either have the same great experience you did, or avoid the hell you endured.

4. No day is EVER the same; there’s never a dull moment.

5. You gain a certain extent of immortality or infamy in the minds of your scholars and their children/grandchildren for which they will be grateful or glad to have survived.

6. Your profession is seasonal; it has a definite beginning and a definite end. It fosters self-reflection and optimism. You will be challenged to improve and hone your skills with brand new crowds of folks all the time. It’s a dynamic job.

7. Some days you’ll be so glad you chose it, you’ll want to stay in the building overnight, just so you don’t lose your groove.”

Eating (and Experiencing) God

In Church, Theologians on August 10, 2008 at 7:35 pm

“One’s position on the Supper is an accurate index of one’s understanding of the Christian faith as a whole.” The Lord’s Supper by Robert Letham (23)

Previous to embracing Reformed doctrine, I lived a majority of my Christian life with a Zwinglian understanding of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper; that is, communion is a memorial – a remembrance – of Christ’s death and resurrection, and little more.

In my small town Methodist church, our congregation’s practice of this same perspective manifested itself in communion once a month, open to everyone regardless of evaluation, and with no warning to anyone as to eating and drinking judgment on oneself. Children of all ages were as readily permitted as adults, and I – as a teenager just come to faith – was given the opportunity multiple times by my well-meaning pastor to not only serve the bread and the cup (in the form of wafers and juice) to the congregants, but also to share anecdotes (which I made up on the spot) of God’s grace and his forgiveness of sin.

Being on staff with a parachurch organization for twelve years did not elevate my (low) view of the sacrament of communion. While I did my best to attend church on Sunday mornings (mostly as part of non-denominational fellowships), there was little doubt my primary ministry was more as part of the organization than of the church; as a result of these blurred ecclesiological lines, I recall a few misuses of communion in the context of ministry – our summer camp staff orientation, or a closing Sunday morning of a conference – none of which I thought twice about, as I had studied and experienced so little of what I now understand to be a more orthodox view of the sacrament.

Deconstructing my past appreciation (or lack thereof) of this means of grace is helpful in recognizing my need now to build a more sound (and meaningful) theology of communion. In the past, I combined the memorial mentality of my youth with my leadership role’s need for team-building and camaraderie; now I recognize that true team-building and camaraderie come not from observing a memorial together, but rather by being united with and ministered to by Christ on his terms, not mine. As Letham writes:

“This (communion) is a sacrament of the church, the body of Christ. It is decisively not to be understood as an individual, private experience…It is corporate first, and individual only within that clearly understood and defined context” (Letham, 42).

But unity is not the only outcome I gain from the Eucharist; a more accurate perspective of God comes as well. As Letham points out:

“Since Christ has gone up to the right hand of God, he cannot, according to his humanity, be physically present here. As a consequence, in the Lord’s Supper, Christ is not brought down to us, but we are lifted up to him” (Letham, 35).

Partaking in communion – preferably on a weekly basis – is a good and constant reminder of the vast ontological difference between God and myself. It’s also a way of acknowledging the difference, both publicly and (hopefully) privately in worship.

Finally, in addition to unity and perspective, I gain greater appreciation for the requisite qualifications of those serving and partaking in communion. Again, Letham rightly stresses the importance that the Word accompanies the sacrament, and that it be through a “minister of the Word properly ordained” (Letham, 50). He also clarifies “definite qualifications for taking the Lord’s Supper” – faith, repentance, and self-examination – as illustrated historically in the forms of baptism, public profession of faith, and active (and orthodox) church membership (Letham, 56).

In sum (and returning to Letham’s opening quote), one’s position on the Supper is indeed an accurate index of one’s understanding of the Christian faith as a whole. I’ve learned much from my past, but have more still to learn about this means of grace from Christ.

How about you?

Man School

In Arts, Technology on August 8, 2008 at 7:42 am

We’ve had both an electrician and a carpenter working in our home this week; early next week comes the plumber. Both have been very professional; both have known exactly what they’re doing. All we’ve done is try to stay out of their way, which has been as much of a challenge as anything.

Let me make a confession: no intellectual, theological, or spiritual teacher even comes close to intimidating me as much as a man gifted in the mechanical, technical, and vocational arts does. I am not worthy. I am so not worthy.

Bob (and his son, Jason) spent a day-and-a-half addressing our electric needs – everything from rewiring old and exposed knob-and-tube wiring to putting in ventilation fans in the bathrooms to running power to places we needed it to replacing the out-of-date fusebox with an up-to-code circuit board. Maybe it’s the risk involved (i.e. taming electricity for a living) or the fact that all the parts are new and shiny, but I was impressed with their work, especially since it looks to come in under budget.

Dave is a general contractor with a great sense of humor who is building a huge wall of built-in bookshelves for us in the front room. Though he says the key to any good construction/repair job is having good tools, I reminded him someone has to have the knowledge to use them (at which my 7-year-old – who loves helping on projects of any kind – smiled and tried to hold back a laugh, as she knows Daddy has neither). Dave says he knows us “book guys” on sight, and reminded me that new bookshelves tend to attract more books. I told him that meant job security for him. He laughed.

Bob and Dave remind me of Tubal-Cain, who the Bible records in Genesis 4 as being “the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron” (and who must have been pretty handy with them as well). I make the joke that the only thing I can do with a tool is lose it; these guys have great tools, sure, but the way they handle them is an art, as is their creativity in making needed repairs to an 88-year-old house. It’s fascinating to watch (which we all did yesterday while Dave started installing bookshelves), not to mention inspiring as well.

In fact, after Bob installed the special outlet for our electric dryer, I was so inspired that I attempted to switch out the previous owners’ washer and dryer (which we had been using) with our more energy efficient pair. It took over an hour, flooded a third of the basement, and (as is always par for the course with me) required doing everything twice to get it right, but I did it. I even remembered to turn off the gas so the house wouldn’t explode. I’ve been doing laundry non-stop ever since, I’m so proud.

When we lived in Colorado, my friend Derek was just as gifted as any professional: he could fix anything (only he never charged us for it). When “we” were working on a project, about the only thing I was good for (other than providing a cold beverage and some classic rock) was cleaning up the mess, which I usually did real-time just to have something to do. Derek would always shake his head and tell me to wait until we were done, but it was what I could do, so I did it. Insecurity manifests itself in many ways.

Though it’s not meant as a slam on me or anyone else inept in most things mechanical, Derek has a dream to start what he calls “Man School” – a series of weekend classes to teach guys how to do “man stuff”: oil changes, basic plumbing, some carpentry, etc. I think it’s a great idea and would think about enrolling by extension, but I’m too afraid I’d flunk out. I told Derek I need the vocational version of Man School – the “shop class” of shop class, if you will – but I’m not sure what the syllabus would include for that. Finding (and remembering) where the water shut-off is? Navigating your way to/through Home Depot? The basics of changing a light bulb?

Maybe I’ll just teach the “clean up” course at the end.

Slow Motion

In Internet on August 6, 2008 at 8:44 am

For whatever reason (rainstorm from last night? Amtrak passengers speeding by trying to hack our signal? millions in China logging on for the first time?), our Internet connection is painfully slow today. As babies are born in the time it takes to load a page, I’ll post something later when we’re back up to speed.

Retail Therapy

In Holidays, Places & Spaces on August 3, 2008 at 2:00 am

In honor of Missouri's sales tax "holiday", I actually looked at – lo, even tried on – hangers full of "upscale resale clothing and accessories" this weekend at both locations of St. Louis' Scholar Shop (caution: clever homepage, though a bit naked).

After a family trip Friday night to the first store (in which Megan took full advantage of the 75% off sale), I made not one but two trips to the second store today, replenishing my wardrobe for the next decade for next to nothing.

Three trips in 24 hours, two of them on my own? Megan says I'm turning metrosexual.

Despite the great sales, my foray into shopping reassured me that I need not worry about becoming dependent on "retail therapy" to deal with life's problems. The reason is simple: the older I get, the less I like the way I look in clothes. Of course, the alternative is not really an option (I consider it a public service that I'm not a nudist), but it explains why I go shopping only once every ten years (that and I'm cheap).

I've lived most of my life not really caring what the mirror or anyone else thought of how I dressed or how I looked. And, while I wouldn't say any mid-life crisis is just around the corner (mine actually came early – at 30 – so it's nice to have it out of the way), I am more aware these days than I've ever been of what I do (and don't) look like in person, and I don't enjoy noticing myself noticing myself.

Maybe it's because I'm back in the world of high school – where it's almost a badge of honor to be preoccupied with one's appearance – that makes me think about this. Maybe being a teacher and around teenagers reminds me how much older than my students I really am. After all, at 37, I am approaching (if I haven't made it already) the "I could be their father" plateau, which is strange to me.

Maybe it's because I see and feel the effects of age on my body – the occasional soreness, the greater difficulty to maintain and drop weight – more than I did when I was younger. While I've never had great posture, my hunch seems more pronounced than I remember it being. I don't recall ever thinking of myself as a particularly "big" guy, but it seems I've become one (or at least one a whole lot bigger than the guy in my mind's eye when I visualize myself), and it bothers me.

All these thoughts were jumping around in my head today as I waited in line behind too many men and women in their late-40s and early-50s who've put themselves through more desperate measures than I'm willing to in order to fight off age – men trying too hard to look "cool" with their gold chains and spiked (and colored) hair; women with too much make-up and jewelry for a Saturday trying to find that one resale item that will make them look younger (or at least not older) than they really are.

But then, God used one woman to bring me back to a semblance of perspective. Probably in her mid-50s, this sweet lady had obviously suffered great disfigurement in a fire many years ago: her face, shoulders, and legs (she was wearing a tank top and shorts) were a patchwork of skin grafts from other parts of her body; she had no ears to speak of (just holes going into her head), and her eyes, nose, and mouth all appeared crooked due to the flames having horribly reshaped them.

Ironically, she was at the store both times I was (about four hours apart), probably because God wanted to ensure I didn't miss seeing her, just ahead of me in the line waiting for a dressing room, turn to a full-size mirror on the wall, hold up a pretty floral dress, and smile at what she saw. She didn't look around to see if anyone was watching; she didn't try to hide her face or her arms or her legs and somehow still get a peek at the dress; she didn't give off even a hint that she thought what she was doing was silly in light of her looks.

She just stood there and smiled back at herself – a beautiful, honest expression from a fellow human being so secure in something other than her appearance. And I – in all my aging, sore, Shamu-like, hunchbacked bigness – got to see it, and it was the best and truest "retail therapy" I could ever have hoped for, tax-free and all.

"And he (Jesus) said to his disciples, 'Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.'" Luke 12:22-23

New Look

In Arts, Internet on August 1, 2008 at 6:28 pm

No, you’re not on the wrong page (actually, you could be, but not if you’re looking for Second Drafts). I’ve wanted to change things on the blog for some time, so while listening to six systematic theology lectures today, I multi-tasked and came up with this.

The header is temporary (904×160 pixels if anyone wants to custom design something – it obviously needs the blog title in it) and I’ll probably play with a few more things, but I like the new look for now.

Your most recent comments are on the left and I’ve added links from my Delicious feed on the right, so if what’s here in the middle is not all that interesting, surely you can find something in one of those two locations that might be.

Feel free to share your opinions/suggestions (content as well as design), but keep in mind I only know enough about HTML (and anything else) to be dangerous.

Thanks for reading.

When Teachers Dream

In Education, Westminster on August 1, 2008 at 10:47 am

I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that it’s August already. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I (vaguely) remember it being June; July, however, is a 31-day block gone missing. Maybe I’ve repressed it, but the fact that I’m blogging about this is a prime sign I’m in denial of reality. I’ve rationalized this post as a public service to those of you who, like me, are scratching your head as you flip the calendar and see some red-leafed tree staring you in the face.

I’m supposed to start teaching again in 13 days; faculty orientation is in ten. Last night/early this morning I had a nightmare about my first day of class that had me cramming 20 students into a fellow teacher’s car and going for a drive, formally introducing myself to them as we went. As my goal was also to get to know the students, I asked them to introduce themselves (even those in the very back, though I couldn’t put names with faces as I couldn’t see all of them in the rearview mirror).

As I was executing an awkward six-point turn on a snowy(?!) country road to start heading back, I dented/scraped the side of a parked car. Not thinking I hit it hard enough to do any damage, we drove off, but then I remembered I taught Ethics and New Testament, so I decided to go back, leave a note for the owner, and set a good example for the students by doing the right thing. But instead of just leaving a note, I decided to actually find the driver, which ended up taking a good hour while making the kids even more uncomfortable in the back seats.

The dream went on, but it’s fuzzy from there. All I recall is that we eventually made it back to school, the students were wound up, and I had absolutely no control of the situation. Thankfully I woke up (probably with a violent jump like in the movies), but it took me at least half an hour to shake the feeling that it all really happened.

This morning – August 1st – has been a semi-painful come-to-Jesus realization that I’ve done squat over the summer to get ready for this fall, and I have less than two weeks to figure things out. Needless to say, a first-day roadtrip for twenty is out of the question.