Because life is a series of edits

Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

Some Thoughts from Baseball Heaven

In Places & Spaces, Sports on August 29, 2009 at 9:00 am


As the St. Louis Cardinals are twenty games over .500 with a magic number of 26 to clinch the division (and a real chance at the World Series), I thought I'd let everyone in on the secret to our success.

Some might think it's starting pitching, and that's part of it; Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Joel Piniero are statistically as good as any threesome in baseball. Some might think it's the end of July trades for Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa, and Julio Lugo, and that's part of it; the team has been on something like a 23-9 tear since acquiring these guys. Some might even think it's the recent acquisition of John Smoltz, and that's part of it; after setting a club record for consecutive strikeouts in his first game in San Diego and his second quality start last night, indeed the Cardinals may have a true fifth starter.

But the key to everything is Albert. Pujols. El Hombre. The Mang.


The beauty of Cardinal baseball – certainly this year as well as historically – is that the Redbirds and their fans usually don't have to put up with the egos and shenanigans of players whose personal lives and contracts ridiculously distract from their contributions. From old-time Cardinal greats like Stan Musial to future Hall of Famers like Pujols, by and large, the Cardinals as an organization have usually attracted and employed baseball players rather than baseball celebrities.

There's a big difference between the two. Can anyone imagine Alex Rodriquez in a Cardinals uniform? Manny Ramirez? Milton Bradley (whose name I still giggle at when I think of the board games of my youth)? No way.

But here's the thing: even if the Cardinals organization temporarily lost their minds, came up with the money, and went after one or more of these guys (or guys like them), Albert is the great perspective bringer. Statistically as well as personally, Albert is the best player in the game – he is the ceiling, the bar, the standard – both, on and off the field. And yet, because of his spirit and humility (which are so much a result of his Christianity), he is a leader – the leader – for the ball club, and the one from whom his teammates naturally take their cues (and remember their places). As a result, the Cardinals are a team, not a show.


Growing up 100 miles north of St. Louis, I was a Cardinals fan from the beginning. Now, living in this city and attending more than one game a summer, I'm daily amazed at how much St. Louisians love their baseball…and how much of what they love has everything to do with who Albert is. There is no one – no one! – in this city who does not speak well of Albert on or off the field, and it feels like a very "once in a lifetime" chance to get to see him do his thing day in, day out.

Die-hard St. Louis fans don't need or want east coast glitz; we won't tolerate west coast attitudes. St. Louis is and has always been about baseball – the game – and Cardinal players like Musial and Pujols who have and continue to represent all that is right and good about it. This is not idol worship – neither Musial or Pujols have ever demanded that; rather, it is about enjoying the goodness of God to others, and rejoicing in the fact that we, by God's grace as well, happen to be here to experience it firsthand.

"The one constant through
all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of
steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased
again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a
part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what
could be again." – James Earl Jones in
Field of Dreams

A Few Things on Friday

In Education, Health, Pop Culture, Seminary on August 28, 2009 at 11:49 am

I haven't done a random Friday post for a good while, so I thought I'd throw out a couple things here:

  • I am way behind on email and it's driving me nuts – I'm usually a "zero inbox" kind of guy. The worst part is it's not even "good" email – somebody either wants me to know something or wants something from me. Remember the early days when we actually used email to write personal letters? Sigh.
  • We're officially two weeks into school already and it feels good. I'm really enjoying the kids in each of my classes, and I think the feeling seems mutual. Still, here's the semi-depressing thought of the week (as overheard in the teacher's lounge on Monday): "We'll have three weeks of school under our belts by Labor Day weekend." Just doesn't seem right.
  • Speaking of school, my final year of seminary officially begins on Monday. After earning an MA in Theology last May, I'm trying to finish up my MA in Educational Ministries in 2010. Classes this semester: Educational Leadership (Mondays) and God's World Mission (online). Next semester is the Capstone class, which serves to summarize and systematize everything we've learned on the education track.
  • I'm going to be one of two "co-coaches" for Westminster's JV baseball team next spring. Pretty stoked about that. Pitchers and catchers (and everyone else) report March 1.
  • Haven't had too many offers (or really much sympathy in general) in
    response to my previous post on the book status, so I'll suck it up and
    stop talking about it here (for those trying to make a point, I got it).
  • I've lost ten pounds in the past two weeks, due largely to a change in diet and a slight increase in activity. Been eating a lot of cottage cheese and nuts while avoiding bread and carbs like the plague. Also laying off anything that would cause my body to produce sugar (read about the South Beach Diet for more).
  • Glad for the weekend and the beautiful weather coming our way. This has definitely been the mildest summer in the MIdwest that I can remember, though I'm guessing we'll get a hot day or two in September just to keep us honest.

Hope everyone has a nice, productive yet restful weekend.

Rejections & Feedback & Pub Boards (oh, my!)

In Books, Calling on August 23, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Open Book

I should have shared this a few weeks ago, but with school officially starting, I didn’t make the time. For those following along on the book publishing front, here’s the bad news: all three publishers I spoke with in May have officially passed on ThirtySomewhere. Obviously, this was not exactly where I was hoping to be by the end of summer, but alas, it’s where we are now.

The feedback was interesting to consider. One publisher’s “pub board” (a group comprised of editors and sales and marketing people) said that, “ThirtySomewhere‘s audience likely would consider the topic in a
magazine but not necessarily a complete book.”

Obviously I don’t agree…unless one thinks the experience of a decade of life can really be reduced to 1000 words. Sure, a well-written magazine article can be helpful, but it’s certainly limited in its depth and effect. Is their issue that the content wouldn’t fill a book, or that the audience wouldn’t read one? As sales and marketing folks were involved in the decision, I’m guessing the latter drove the decision.

I understand the tension, especially considering the economy and the up-in-the-air status of the print industry; however, the reality is that books are not getting published today for the worth of their content but for the fame of their authors and the potential of their sales. My co-author, Doug Serven, responded to the news this way: “Disappointing. Maybe we should be Tim Keller and then they’d want to do it.”

Maybe. Or maybe we keep writing something that, if and when someone ever takes another chance on us, is worth reading and not just selling.

Here’s another pub board’s feedback:

“While there have been some positive responses to the content and to your style of writing, the conclusion many came to was that this is going to be a hard sell. While TwentySomeone was timely when it came out (and did fairly well), the sentiment here is that a generational book is not so timely now. I realize that your intent is to look more at life stages and life experiences as the shaping influences, but even with that, from a sales perspective it’s hard to see the consumer interest in the topic now. We may be wrong, sometimes are, but we have to go on what we know and sense from the very difficult retail world right now.”

Interesting, especially since the publisher knew (and even acknowledged in his email) that we don’t think of our book as a generational book; it is a stage of life book. I would agree that generational books are not as en vogue as they were perhaps 15-20 years ago (Generation X, anyone?), but did the world suddenly misplace millions of literate thirty-year-olds, or are there just no thirty-year-olds left who care enough about this stage of their lives to read about it? I know what I know, but I guess the pub board knows (or thinks they know) something different.

So, we’re at a bit of a fork in the road. And yet, since we still believe this book is worth both writing and reading, we’re pursuing other avenues. If you or anyone you know works in publishing and might be interested in a proposal on helping thirty-somethings find their place in a decade of possibilities, let me know, as we’re trying to find our place in the world of publishing in order to reach them.

The Apples Don’t Fall Too Far from the Tree

In Family, Technology, Young Ones on August 22, 2009 at 9:56 pm



In Family, Marriage, Young Ones on August 15, 2009 at 10:30 pm

This picture is going to make me cry in twenty years:


Now interviewing for arranged marriages (include references and FBI background check).

15-Year Old Hopes, Needs & Expectations

In Calling, Education, Westminster on August 13, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Few things are more exciting to me than fresh starts, and today's first day of school was no exception. I have 109 students this year – three sections of sophomores in Biblical Ethics and two sections of freshmen in New Testament. I've taught 25% of these kids in previous years, but the rest are newbies for me, so I've got a lot of new names and faces to learn (I give myself no longer than two weeks to get them down, as that's important).

What a great day: late start (for the kids, that is) at 9:30; shortened 40-minute class periods; lots of familiar faces (and even a few hugs) from former students. Now in my third year teaching the same classes, I actually feel as if I finally know what I'm doing, and having done some initial prep work the previous two years, I could concentrate more on the students without being so distracted by the details. It was fun.

After the initial awkward welcomes and greetings, I live-narrated a 3-minute digital scrapbook of pictures I threw together in iPhoto as a way to introduce myself. Set to Randy Newman's song, "You've Got a Friend in Me," the slideshow moved quickly, and at the end, I invited the students to ask any question they might want to ask as follow-up to what they saw.

A lot of questions were predictable (What's your middle name? Do you have any pets? What were you thinking having four girls so close together?). Here was the funniest question of the day (with exact phrasing): "Mr. Dunham, I'm trying to figure it out, but how would you describe your style of dress?" I confessed I wasn't sure I had one, so this girl came up with one for me: "I'm going to call it 'comfy-casual.'" "Works for me," I said. She smiled, and just like that, we bonded.

Next, I handed out an over-sized notecard to each of the students and, over the course of the 15 minutes or so, asked them to write out and complete the following sentences, which we would share and talk about as a group:

  • "I hope Ethics/New Testament class…"
  • "I need Ethics/New Testament class…"
  • "I expect Ethics/New Testament class…"

The answers were what you might expect – "fun, interesting," etc. – but some went into more detail on their actual cards, which I collected (along with two prayer requests) at the end of class. Some of the kids really got that my classes are meant to be more than requisites for graduation (which they are, requisites, that is); their hopes, needs, and expectations were heartfelt in their desire to learn and walk with God, and I was glad to read them along with the things for which they asked prayer.

Those requests were interesting as well. I was a bit surprised how honest some of them were, even on the first day. There are always the medical requests for sick grandparents or pets (not necessarily in that order), but one theme I picked up on more than usual was a specific stated tension between kids and their fathers (very rarely their mothers). With a slight lump in my throat, I thought a lot about this as I put my girls to bed tonight, saying a prayer for my own kids as well as those I have at school. Stuff like this must break God's heart; I know it does mine.

Tomorrow, we'll deal with more of the nuts and bolts stuff (syllabus, readings, assignments, etc.) before I turn them lose for the weekend with no homework (I don't give any over weekends anyway) and we get into things in earnest next week. But I don't want to lose sight of the realities with which these students began trusting me even the first day out of the blocks. Their busy and dramatic worlds are as jumbled and confusing as anybody's, and I hope/need/expect Ethics/New Testament class to be some part of God's work in their lives this coming year. Let it be so, Lord, in too many ways to count.

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

In Family on August 12, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Just had to share that I've finally hit the big time over at Awkward Family Photos.

Life on Other Planets: Some Thoughts

In Church, Humanity, Movies, Nature, Places, Science, Theologians, Travel on August 7, 2009 at 8:43 am

A friend of mine and I sat through the movie Knowing the other night. While one of the worst movies I've watched in a while (incoherent plot, numerology silliness, Nicolas Cage once again playing Nicolas Cage), the film did serve one purpose: it got us talking about the idea of life on other planets.

Despite my X-Files affections, I tend to doubt that we have neighbors in the universe: other populated worlds aren't mentioned in the Bible, and most scientists say the odds against are just too huge otherwise. Maybe I'm your typical egocentric human, but when astronomer Carl Sagan said that if life didn't exist elsewhere in the universe it would be "an awful waste of space," I guess I feel kind of special.

At the same time, I recognize that just because the Bible doesn't record the existence of life on other planets doesn't mean there isn't. Remember: the Bible is a historical-redemptive narrative, not an all-encompassing science book. And speaking of science, there are plenty of scientists who do not share my doubts, running huge scientific initiatives and spending a boatload of money in hopes of making some kind of contact with other beings.

Despite my doubts, and certainly different from the typical evangelical Christian line, the argument for other life in the universe does seem plausible, if for no other reason than the very nature of God as Creator. But here's the question I think it all comes down to: The Scriptures attest to our fallen nature as created beings, but is that to mean all that is on the Earth or all that is in the entire universe?

The question is important because, while we have the account of God redeeming Earth through Christ, if there are indeed other beings in the universe and the universe is indeed fallen, then was there a plan of salvation for other planets as well? C.S. Lewis believed so, namely that when the Bible talks of "creation," it is in reference to the Earth and not necessarily the universe. From this perspective, the idea of other created beings without need of redemption is possible; we just don't have a record of it.

Thinking about all this is particularly interesting in light of mankind's desire to explore space. Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking says that the only way humanity can survive is to figure out how to leave the planet; hence, the importance of the U.S. space program. This, of course, begs the question: If the Earth is the only fallen part of God's creation, what does our going out into a non-fallen universe mean? Does it matter? And what would it be like to meet other creation who are intact in their creation perfection?

This is what I understand Lewis' Space Trilogy
to be about: man
leaves Earth
(called the Silent Planet, as it was cut off from the rest of the
universe because of its evil), to colonize elsewhere in the universe
(Perelandra) among beings not in need of redemption. These innocents, though not fallen
themselves, are nevertheless affected by humans and Earth's evil
before it is all finally resolved in the Siege of Deep Heaven against
the Bent One of Earth. In other words, sinful Earthlings contaminated another part of space which, until their arrival, had not been so. Thankfully, however, good overcame evil.

I've always thought of and understood the Fall applying to all of God's universal creation; thus, I differ with Lewis' premise that creation perfection is alive and well outside the surly bonds of Earth. Having said that, however, if God so chose to redeem other inhabitants of his universal creation, I'm assuming he has both prerogative and means to accomplish his will. In my finite, self-centered self, it's just easier to think about me and Earth, especially since God gave us a record of all he has done for redemption here (not to mention that I have no plans or desire for leaving).

Still thinking on this, but I'll stop for now. Anyone have a more formed/informed thought?

Rock the River (and Why I Didn’t)

In Church, Places & Spaces, Thought on August 3, 2009 at 12:11 am

I hesitate writing this kind of post this soon back on the blog, but after reading the Facebook statuses ("stati"?) of many of my students – several of whom went to the Rock the River music tour here in St. Louis on Sunday – I feel compelled to do so. (Note: For any die-hard evangelicals out there, you might want to stop reading – this is gonna hurt.)

Full disclosure: I used to live in Colorado Springs, the evangelical Mecca of the United States (and possibly the world). I spent twelve years in the Springs – a city of 350,000 home to ministry headquarters for multiple, mostly parachurch groups like Focus on the Family, Compassion International, Young Life, at least a dozen Christian book publishers, half a dozen radio stations/networks, and one of the first organizations to take up residency in the Springs, The Navigators, with whom I was on staff.

So you know, I consider myself an evangelical, though I identify much more with the Reformed version of evangelicalism (click here for a brief explanation of what I mean).

If you know anything about The Navigators, you know that the organizaton has always had a strong connection with Billy Graham and his evangelistic crusades; Billy and Navs founder, Dawson Trotman, were the best of friends, and the Navs did most of the follow-up training after Billy would come through a town. Together Billy and Daws created created an evangelistic opportunity and then met needs for evangelistic and discipleship tools, many of which have helped thousands – yea, millions – of people in their understanding of aspects of the Gospel. Indeed, illustrations like The Bridge and The Wheel were once helpful to me twenty years ago.

But here's the rub: Graham's Crusades and The Navigators' tools (not to mention those of countless other organizations and evangelical churches) too easily reduce the Gospel to an incomplete presentation (at best), and little more than a self-help proposition (at worst). For an example of what I'm talking about, watch this presentation of The Bridge; it's called "Steps to Peace with God" and runs about three minutes, which is approximately how long we were told we had to share it with someone before they lost interest. (Note: If this isn't "hip" enough for you, try this one, entitled "Graffiti Video.")

The problem with either? Gone is any connection to actual history (i.e. the story of creation, Israel as God's Old Testament chosen people, or the Church as God's New Testament chosen people); missing is mention of the coming consummation (i.e. the ultimate redemption of all God has made). Instead, what presentations like these leave people with – indeed, what I had left people with – is simply the opportunity to "make a decision" and "invite Christ into their lives," though they have no real idea who Christ is, what was behind why he did what he did (hint: the answer goes beyond just John 3:16), or how any of it connects to the history or future of the world and those who have and will inhabit it as members of God's Church. (Click here for Franklin Graham's Gospel presentation Sunday afternoon for another example of what I mean.)

It's not that these Gospel reductions are necessarily wrong; it's just that they're painfully incomplete. True, they may have been semi-effective 50 or 60 years ago, or even helpful to a degree in the past 20 as part of an explanation of God's mission, but they are woefully limited and lacking in explaining God's redemptive-historical meta-narrative (overarching story) that our increasingly biblically illiterate population needs to even begin to process (let alone understand) what we're saying.

Which brings me back to my students: Rock the River is (and is being billed as) an event – a happening that kids can attend with their friends. And that's great: there's music from "some of the hottest Christian bands," a "relevant message," and, best of all it's free (an evangelical church's youth pastor's dream). What's interesting to me, though, is that a lot of kids I know who aren't Christians and don't make any attempt to live Christianly are still excited about going to this event. They know what it is and what it is about, but they don't seem at all put off by the possibility that what they might hear will speak against what they believe or how they live.

Why is this? Could it be that a propositional presentation of the Gospel is not connecting? Could these kids have already chosen to "make a decision" by simply saying no to the Gospel in its propositional form; thus, they can enjoy the rest of the evening (and their lives) without a second thought about God? They've answered the question they were asked to answer, so what's left to talk about? Let's rock!

I'm not trying to be critical, but I am reminded anew of the responsibility we as Christians have to expand our presentation of the Gospel to capture the beautiful story it is rather than reduce it to an equation that boils down to almost nothing. Jesus is not waiting for us to "invite him in" through propositional acceptance; rather, he chooses to say, "Come, follow me," which is his invitation to respond to the person of God and his story. And what a story it is – eternity past, present, and future…

Granted, there are those believing students who don't require huge events to grow their faith, but my experience is that even they are susceptible to confusion about them, especially when their youth pastors and youth groups seem to endorse/encourage/push them. Parents can also be enablers here, as the more "active" they see their kids being involved in "Christian events," the more convinced they are that their kids must be Christians, which is not always the case (and sometimes the furthest thing from it).

For other kids – those who, in their New Testament papers in my class, equate "sharing Christ" with "bringing friends to youth group" – an event like this is right up their alley – all they have to do is show up, have a good time, and let God (or at least the band member speaking on God's behalf, which can sometimes get interesting) do the rest. What could be easier to fulfill their end of the post-salvation proposition, often called "discipleship"?

Reformed evangelical scholar Mark Noll wrote, "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." In a brash case of plagiarism and to finish my thought here, I might revise his quotation to say, "The scandal of the evangelical Gospel is that there is not much of an evangelical Gospel." Indeed, we get bits and pieces in here an
d there through our illustrations, equations, and propositions, but most of us (myself included) would benefit from a review of what the Gospel is in its fullness as God's redemptive-historical story – with promises, names, dates, places, and responses of those in the Scriptures (as well as our own) to God's grace.

Jim Rayburn, founder of Young Life, used to say, "It's a sin to bore a kid." There's a reason kids today are bored with the Gospel: we've somehow convinced them it fits on a napkin.

It’s August (and the Show Must Go On)

In Family, Friends, Places, Places & Spaces, Pop Culture, Young Ones on August 1, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Halfpint House Theatre

Here's a shot of our newly-formed Half Pint House Theatre and their production of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. As a way of tapping into the girls' dramatic tendencies (no shortage there), I had the idea to throw together this little stage at one end of our attic (which also gave me a good reason to clean it out). In addition to Goldilocks, the ladies have performed a smashing interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood, and are currently working on a script of their own (the show, after all, must always go on).

Indeed, it must in real life as well. And, as it is now August, I feel compelled to "go on with the show" here after my blogging sabbatical, writing more frequently and giving whatever friends I have left in the blogosphere something other than a monthly update of inconsequential nonsense (my goal is more consequential nonsense).

That said, here are some reports/reflections to grease the skids and get the ball rolling:

Family. In case you didn't hear, we survived our Florida trip; in fact, rumor has it that we've broken our vacation curse (until we take another one, that is). In addition to engaging with the power and beauty of the ocean at Ormond Beach, seeing all those with whom we stayed along the way was definitely a highlight of the trip (at least for us). Somehow, the 36 hours in the van were even tolerable, as the girls read, sang, fought, made up, laughed, and saw more of the southeast than they probably thought even existed (we don't allow videos or computers in the van, so they had no choice). Good times, good times.

Writing. Little has happened on the publisher front for ThirtySomewhere, but we are scheduled to hear back from WaterBrook in the next week with an official "yea" or "nay" as to whether they want to publish our second book. Unfortunately, any progress on the manuscript has run in tandem with the publishers' interest (or lack thereof – one said his editorial board felt the thirties could be summed up in a magazine article, not a book!?), so not much to report here but disappointment.

Bookstore. On average, I spent a day or two a week working in Covenant Seminary's bookstore, where I've worked part-time for the past year. It's fun to think back to when I first started a year ago and laugh – I was so clueless on the retail end of things. Though I wouldn't say I love selling stuff any more than I do now, I definitely feel more comfortable dealing with it. I'll be working roughly the same shift this fall – three afternoons a week from 4-6, with the occasional Saturday thrown in – and am glad for the work.

Seminary. After completing my MA in Theology this past May at Covenant, I only have two more education classes to take to earn my MA in Educational Ministries in May 2010. Megan is also finishing up her graduate certificate this year by taking the last four of her 30 hours), so we're hoping to walk across the stage together at graduation next year (we have 9 months to figure out childcare).

Church. We're formally being interviewed this Sunday for membership at Crossroads Prebysterian Church here in Maplewood. We've been attending Crossroads since January. One of our goals as members of Christ's Body is to be as local as possible in our involvement, and Crossroads fits the bill – it takes about 10 minutes to walk around the corner and up the street (now if we can only leave early enough on Sunday mornings so we don't have to drive because we'll be late otherwise).

Neighborhood. Speaking of Maplewood, we're still really enjoying what I call "blue-collar bohemia," and look forward to a formally planned night out with many of our neighbors this month. It's also fun living so close to "Baseball Heaven" (i.e. Busch Stadium), especially with the Cardinals newly rejuvenated and ready to make a post-season run. Go Redbirds!

Westminster. Today begins in earnest my hands-on work for the curriculum planning I did earlier in July. I have much thinking to do, many notes to condense, and plenty of multi-media to find/create. I'm teaching the same classes (New Testament Survey with freshmen, Biblical Ethics with sophomores) as the past two years, but I have very few returning students I know and a schedule I'm not all that excited about (out of seven periods, my prep periods are 2 and 3!?). Still, I'm looking forward to school.

That's about it for now. Personally, I have several things I've been thinking about this summer that I'll save for another post or two. Until then, let this serve as notice that I'm back on the blogging horse. Yee-haw.

Oh, and with regard to it being this time of year, I'll leave you with some perspective from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, as quoted in Newsweek:

"I'm not afraid of August. It's a month."

Indeed it is, Nancy. Indeed it is.

Curtain Call