Because life is a series of edits

Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

All Dressed Up with Somewhere to Go

In Calling, Holidays, Humanity, Places on December 30, 2009 at 10:02 pm

IMG_3965

Believe it or not, this picture perfectly illustrates how I think about a new year: dress for the occasion, show up early and hope for the best, but sit in the back to take it all in and be near the exits just in case something goes horribly wrong.

What can I say? A few things come to mind: "Blessed are the paranoid, for they shall inherit the earth (or what's left of it)." Or how about: "Not only is the glass half-empty, it's also trying to kill me." Or my personal (and original) favorite: "Nothing can be simple."

Like it or not, folks, I'm a pessimistic-idealist trying to lose the hyphen so as to simply become a realist who lives by faith. But, by golly, it's hard, so if I've offended you, driven you off, or just driven you crazy with my rants, raves, and otherwise unmerciful mumblings, forgive me…and pray for my wife.

Thanks for sticking it out here at Second Drafts. Hang with me for another year and we'll see where 2010 goes; after all, we're here and I'm wearing a bow tie, so we might as well make the most of it (just don't ask me to dance).

Have a happy New Year.

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On the Desk

In Places on December 26, 2009 at 4:06 pm

I've really been out of sorts the past several days, but (believe it or not) it's not all been due to Christmas (see previous post for more on that).

Honestly, a lot of my frustration has been because I've metaphorically been a "man without a country," as my old, cheap, over-sized particle board desk of ten-plus years literally fell apart in my hands when I tried to move it six inches earlier in the week. The old thing (then with hutch) was a steal when I bought it ($100 from off some guy's driveway) and somehow made it through six major moves (not to mention a handful of the room-to-room variety in the midst of all those), but finally gave up the ghost just hours before we started our Christmas travels this year.

Needless to say, a happy camper I was not. It sounds stupid, I know, but I don't do well when I don't have a place to work. When my desk is a mess – or in this case, when I don't have a desk at alI – an overwhelming fear of never creating, accomplishing, or writing anything ever again washes over me and I spiral into a depression of Nietzschean futility that not even his superman could hope to overcome.

I confess I've always romanticized the idea of the desk. I still remember with great affection the first (and only) desk I had through my middle school and high school years – it had four full drawers below for clothes, a huge fold-down panel that served as the work area, and all kinds of slots and compartments inside the hutch. Another particle board jobbie, it finally broke down after seven years of hard use.

I can tell you about every desk at every place I've ever lived since. My desks at college were standard issue dorm desks, but they were solid and sufficed for what I needed at the time (the concept of desktop or laptop computers was non-existent then, so there was plenty of workspace). When I was on staff with The Navigators, I usually had a desk at the office, but I always had a desk at home as well.

At times my desks have had their own rooms; oftentimes, however, they haven't (as this one doesn't now). But having a room doesn't matter as much as having a desk – it is life and breath to me, and now that my new one is assembled and in place, it's hard to explain how good it feels to finally live and breathe again.

Thus, with no further adieu, let me introduce you to my new desk: the Studio RTA – Lake Point Computer Desk – super solid, classy looking, and a lot more efficient than my former (and bigger) desk. Thanks to Best Buy for having it on sale, to Mom and Dad for the Christmas money to buy it, to Megan for patiently enduring my whining until I got it, and to my nine-year-old for helping me put it together (she is amazingly persevering when it comes to home projects, working with me the full four hours it took to put together).

Desk

It's good to be home.

Christmas Getting in the Way of Christmas

In Holidays on December 23, 2009 at 9:59 am

December 11

I tend to get overly melancholic around Christmas-time (it doesn’t take much), but no more so than when I consider the tendency of the Church (and I’m including myself here) to do all we can to make sure Christmas gets in the way of Christmas. Allow me a few questions to those of us in the Body of Christ who should know better.

First off, have all the Christmas parties, White Elephant gift exchanges, brunches, lunches, dinners, desserts, children’s programs, cookie exchanges, decorating days, and trips to the mall provided the same degree of meaning proportional to the labor involved? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say “probably not,” but I’ll let you come up with your own set of rationalizations as to why it makes sense to do them year after year anyway.

Secondly, has the amount of time, money, and energy spent shopping for over-priced, poorly made, dumbly advertised, and rarely satisfying toys for kids and adults alike accurately communicated our intention to imitate God’s giving of his Son? Again, I’d be willing to venture that the desire to “find the perfect gift” was possibly more informed by an “I’ve got to get something for” obligation rather than “For God so loved the world,” but you’ll have to decide the extent to which that’s true.

In the meantime, consider this from the bi-weekly email I received today from Terry Mattingly at Scripps Howard News Service:

As the Christmas pageant dress rehearsal rolled to its bold finale, reporter Hank Stuever found his mind drifting away to an unlikely artistic destination — a masterpiece from the Cubist movement.

The cast of “It’s a Wonderful Life 2” reassembled on stage at Celebration Covenant Church, a suburban megachurch north of Dallas. There were characters from a Victorian tableau, along with Frosty the Snowman, young ballerinas and children dressed as penguins. Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus were there, too.

Then, entering from stage right, came “an adult Christ stripped down to his loincloth and smeared with Dracula blood, dragging a cross to center stage while being whipped by two centurion guards,” writes Stuever, in Tinsel, his open-a-vein study of Christmas in the American marketplace. “Here is where the Nativity, Dickens and Burl Ives collide head-on with Good Friday, as Jesus is crucified while everyone sings ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing,’ ending on a long, noisy note: ‘newborn kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing.’

“Then they freeze.

“Hold it for applause.”

The scene was achingly sincere and painfully bizarre, with holy images jammed into a pop framework next to crass materialism. For millions of Americans, this is the real Christmas.

“I wrote it in my notes, right there in that church,” said Stuever. “I wrote, ‘It’s Picasso…I just couldn’t believe it.”

The bottom line? Most Americans say they want Bethlehem and the North Pole, but the truth is that they invest more time, energy and money at the North Pole…Thus, Tinsel seeks the meaning of Christmas in the material world itself, in the blitz of shopping, in houses draped in high-voltage lights, in the complex joys and tensions of family life. Stuever argues that the binges of shopping and feasting are as ancient — and more significant today — than the rites of praying and believing.

For Stuever, Christmas is fake, but that’s fine because fake is all there is. He argues that millions of Americans struggle to find the “total moments” of nostalgia and joy that they seek at Christmas because they are not being honest about why they do what they do during the all-consuming dash to Dec. 25.

“It’s so easy to see all of the craziness on TV and say, ‘Oh, those poor, stupid people,’ ” he said. “But when you get down there in the middle of it with them and listen to what people are saying and try to feel what they are feeling, you realize that all of that wildness is not just about buying the new Wii at Best Buy. It’s a religious experience for them, even though it couldn’t be more secular. They’re out there searching for transcendence, trying to find what they think is the magic of Christmas.”

Hey, Church, have we found it yet? Has the warm and fuzzy glow of the tree lights – combined with our ever-expanding waistlines from the egg nog, Christmas cookies, and Chex Mix – finally brought us to such an enlightened experience of Jesus’ birth that we all pretend to long for every year? Have we got our holiday Picasso on? Is it the North Pole or Bethlehem for us? Oh, but why choose when we can have it all!?

Are we doing our best to make sure Christmas gets in the way of Christmas, or do we still have enough of a conscience left to at least pause before we slide down Santa’s slippery slope of crass commercialism? (Of course, if we were to resist just one year, it would completely crash our economy, which has become absolutely dependent on our holiday attempts at buying meaning, so never mind because, well, it’s the economy, stupid.)

Is it too late for us, Church? Can we really be counter-culturally different? Could we at least see our need to try, believing – yea, perhaps even living like – trying really matters? After all, the incarnation of word and flesh is the true miracle of Christmas…now imagine if it were actually true in us.

For what it’s worth (and as genuinely as I can muster saying it), Merry Christmas. Now let the Scrooge comments begin (Dickens is, after all, a favorite holiday tradition)…

Kids (and Parents) These Days

In Calling, Church, Family, Holidays, Humanity, Places & Spaces, Thought, Westminster, Young Ones on December 19, 2009 at 9:38 am

Megan and I had a memorable evening Friday night that got us talking about some things that, well, we're not sure we're excited to be talking about. Maybe we're showing our age or our upbringing, but last night was an introspective evening for us in a lot of ways.

The cause of this introspection was Westminster's Christmas Banquet – a formal, end-of-semester dinner for which we were asked last-minute to serve as chaperones. Being the cheapskates we are, we were happy to get gussied up for four hours with 500 of our closest high school-age friends – the food at the Airport Hilton was decent, the service was good, and it was a nice way to officially kick off Christmas Break (even though I've STILL got grading to do this weekend to meet the Monday morning deadline).

Our first moment of introspection came as we dropped our four girls off at our pastor's house for the evening. Our daughters and their daughters (four also) are all roughly the same ages and absolutely love each other, so that wasn't the issue; what was different was Andrew and Lisa also had a Christmas party Friday evening, so the eight little ladies were going to be on their own for the night. As their oldest is 12 and our oldest is ten days from being 11, we were okay with this, but it was a bit surreal leaving the girls without adult supervision for four hours. It seemed we'd crossed a threshold of sorts, so we talked about it for the 15-minute drive to the hotel and decided that, indeed, we had.

When we showed up (early) for the banquet, we found our seats (in back), so we sat and talked about what we might expect this evening. Megan doesn't know many of my students as their paths don't really cross, so the evening was going to be a parade of nameless high schoolers for her; I, on the other hand, knew probably half of the students by name from class or the hallways, and was excited to see them in a different light, one which might give a hint into who they are and are becoming outside of my classroom.

Unfortunately, what I got was an eyeful of how little parents seem to care about their kids (especially their daughters).

With guys in tuxedos and girls in dresses, we expected to see a fair amount of awkwardness as the students adjusted to their fancy duds; what we didn't expect was the ridiculous amounts of make-up, skin, and cleavage we were bombarded with, nor the (short) leather skirts and (tall) stiletto heels that came with them. I couldn't count the number of times I saw girls having to pull up the tight tops of their low strapless dresses in an honest effort to keep themselves from walking right out of them.

The guys were awkward in their own way (one freshman actually wore his cumberbund up around his ribs all night and looked like a mover in one of those support belts to aid his bad back), but you can't tell me they didn't enjoy just sitting back and taking in everything that was about to fall out right before their eyes. I've never seen these guys smile as much as they did last night.

At the risk of sounding like a puritanical prude, the question that kept coming to my mind was "Where are the parents?" Oh, I forgot: they were busy planning the "after-party," the non-WCA-sponsored dance at another hotel where, from reports I always get from the kids the week after such events, is where the real party happens.

Apparently, in addition to providing the DJ and dance floor, these parents "supervise" the opportunity for high school students to "grind" on one another to their hearts' (among other bodily organs') content. I can't count the number of students who've asked me over the past three years if grinding is wrong – they bring it up every time we study (get this) the seventh commandment prohibiting adultery. When I tell them that, yes, grinding is wrong because it's basically "sex with clothes on," you wouldn't believe the pushback I get. You'd think I had accused Bill Clinton of having sex with Monica Lewinsky or something.

This – all this – made up the discussion Megan and I had on the drive back to pick up the girls. If we enroll the girls at WCA (or any school), do they accept a boy's invitation to be his date at a banquet. If they want to, sure, so long as she's dressed appropriately (that is, wearing clothes) and simply going to enjoy the evening with a friend who happens to be male. Do we let them go to "after parties"? A trickier question, but one we will hopefully attempt to answer with them by talking about all the realities in play. Decisions like these come down to clued-in parent involvement – both now and (for us, at least, before) – and I'd sure like to see more of this informed kind at WCA.

Granted, not every WCA student nor every WCA parent is suspect in this, and I could name plenty of students who were appropriately dressed at the banquet who probably didn't attend the after-party due to parental intervention. But as a current high school teacher and future high school parent, let me encourage anyone with kids to re-consider the fact that no one's going to parent your kids for you; frankly, God didn't give us the option when he gave them to us. Hear the words of Deuteronomy 6:5-7:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You
shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them
when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you
lie down, and when you rise."

In other words, we are to parent according to our love for God and the words of his Scripture, and we are to parent as we (and they) go. There are no breaks; it's 24-7, baby, and we will be held accountable for every decision we make (or don't make) in training up our children in the way they should go. Might I humbly suggest that public cleavage and grinding have no place in this biblical equation? God help us all.

Worldview: A High Schooler’s Perspective

In Calling, Church, Education, Technology, Thought on December 16, 2009 at 9:30 am

Got this from a former Ethics student who is now a senior taking Worldviews here at WCA:

Lately when I've been on You Tube, I've seen some pretty stupid videos (like REALLY stupid videos) of ignorant people saying ignorant things and it makes me so mad!!! My heart hurts really bad and I feel horrible when people challenge or attack Christianity. This year, Worldviews has helped me SO MUCH in broadening my er…worldview (I love it but I can't test on it for crud).

Anyway, I was just wondering what my role is in this situation? I don't like standing back and watching people sling mud at my religion with really bad arguments…HORRIBLE arguments that I could easily counter, but it's not my job to convert them…is it? And is it my job to educate them? I feel like if I put a cork in their mouth nicely and logically they might not convince anyone else to convert to "atheism" or whatever.

Here's how I responded:

A few thoughts:

1. You probably need to consider the source before you get too angry. The greatest strength of the Internet (self-expression to the fullest) is also its greatest weakness (no checkpoints whatsoever); thus, anybody can say anything for any reason and, in the true spirit of pluralistic relativism, there exists this assumption that you have to take it all seriously and view it all as equal in terms of truth. The good news? You don’t have to do either.

2. While I appreciate your heart for the name of Christ, God does not need a defense lawyer; rest assured justice will be served in his time, and he is certainly big enough to take it. This is not anything new that Christianity has not already endured for hundreds and thousands of year, and Jesus warned us about this kind of stuff in the gospels. He’s not surprised (and we shouldn’t be either) that those who don’t know him would think of him as they do.

3. As for your role in any of this, the thing I would encourage you with is to rejoice that, by God’s grace, your conscience seems to be working, that you don’t desire to do the same thing, and that you have an opportunity to pray to resist judging those who seem to hate us (that “love your enemies” thing seems appropriate here). Use all this as a check on your own life, pray for those who persecute you, and give thought and prayer as to how to love them. Maybe this indeed leads to a response of some kind, or maybe not (I’ve found Internet discussions like this are usually pointless); regardless, look for the same kinds of discussions going on around you (in the student body or with friends) that you might be able to jump in, join, and engage.

I’m thrilled that you’re enjoying Worldviews (I thought you might). Don’t worry about the testing part; the important thing is to grasp what you’re learning and think about holding onto it both now and into the future.

I noticed on your Facebook page that you’ve been reading some good stuff and I wonder if I could make a book suggestion for over the Christmas break? The book I’m thinking of is The Reason for God by Tim Keller. It’s very well-written and deals with a lot of what you’re struggling with in terms of responding to the online stuff, and doing so in a tone that I think would really be helpful for you to hear. Would you consider picking up a copy and reading it over the break? I believe the library may have a copy (and I’ll be glad to go to bat for you for an over-Christmas-break check-out if that would serve).

I’m proud of you for caring about this. Stop in and let’s catch up sometime and maybe we can talk more about all this. Congratulations on being halfway through senior year. I’ll be cheering for you when you graduate.

Hope some of this helps,

Mr. D.

13 Years (and Counting)

In Marriage on December 14, 2009 at 4:54 am

08Dunham

Happy anniversary, Megan. I may be the head of our home, but you are its heart. I love you and am so grateful to God for who you are and all you do. You're the best of the best.

Booklist 2009

In Books on December 12, 2009 at 10:43 am

As we're beginning to see the annual "best books" list from various websites, magazines, and newspapers, it seems time to throw my two cents concerning all things literary. The main difference, of course, between the "pros" and me is I don't have publicists sending me free new books every week to review (nor do I get paid to read), so my list is hardly representative of the current year; still, I did read some "new" books this year.

Looking through the list I didn't read nearly enough "significant" fiction this year, nor was my non-fiction all that diversified. Obviously, this has to do with the fact that I'm still technically a "student" and much of my reading had to accommodate those requirements, but that's too much of an excuse for me to expect much sympathy. The fact is, I just didn't keep pace with previous years (2008, 2007, 2006, etc.) in terms of total books read, and my list's lack of variety reflects that.

The good news is there are probably at least 4-5 books I started at various points during the year that I'm still working through; thus, what I don't finish by the end of the year should get me off to a good start in January, which makes me happy. But enough already with vain qualifications and justifications. Here's my 2009 booklist, complete with notes and rankings (10 is highest). Let me know any recommendations you might offer for 2010.

January (3)

  • The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton – wonderfully clever detective story with plenty of twists; not sure I fully understood the allegory, but enjoyed it regardless. (8)
  • The Ethics of Smuggling by Brother Andrew – a bit simplistic in justifying disobedience of governments for the sake of the gospel, but maybe boldness requires such simplicity at times. (4)
  • Home by Marilynne Robinson – great writing, but the story of an estranged son coming home to mend ways with his father and sister was just too circular; Gilead was better. (7)

February (3)

  • The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman – Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy (Spyglass is the third book) is a great example of a plot desperately in need of redemption, not only for the benefit of the characters involved, but for the basic prerequisite of crafting an understandable story. What a mess. (3)
  • God Our Teacher by Robert W. Pazmino – posits the Trinitarian nature of God as the model for Christian teaching and learning; redundant at times, but some really good ideas. (8)
  • The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis – explanation of modernist thought taken to its logical (and scary) extreme; give it 40 pages before you give up (reading Tim Keller’s The Reason for God for a more popular version of Lewis’ thoughts will help, too). (8)

March (3)

  • Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne – not sure how many times I’ve read this underground adventure, but I am very sure of the fact that I like Jules Verne. (8)
  • What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain – a well-written blend of theory and practice, with plenty of encouragement and examples toward how to be a better teacher; even better the second time around. (9)
  • Loving Homosexuals as Jesus Would by Chad W. Thompson – a simple but helpful book that focuses less on statistics and more on stories to make the same points; good for homosexual and homophobe alike (as well as those of us who are neither). (7)

April (3)

  • On Teaching and Learning by Jane Vella – a treatise on dialogue education, Vella’s ideas are both sensible and strategic for teaching and learning that goes beyond the lecture format; lots of helpful planning examples. (8)
  • Safe at Home by Richard Doster – a first novel by an editorial acquaintance about baseball and race in the South in the fifties and sixties; enjoyed it well enough. (7)
  • Biblical Christian Ethics by David Jones – Dr. Jones’ life work in one volume; the man has forgotten more about ethics than most people (including myself) will ever know. (8)

May (2)

  • The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan – an engaging "tale of four meals" that made me think long and hard about what I eat, where it came from, and why it matters (or should). (9)
  • Glittering Images by Susan Howatch – one priest suffers the consequences of being consumed by revealing another priest’s sins; good characters, great dialogue. Whoa. (9)

June (0)

  • Okay, this is embarrassing. It wasn’t that I didn’t read anything; I actually started a bunch books but just didn’t finish anything. Nuts.

July (2)

  • Three Nights in August by Buzz Bizzinger – way overwritten by the same guy who wrote Friday Night Lights; still fun to listen to Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa think. (5)
  • Glamorous Powers by Susan Howatch – first half took forever to read, but the story of a Church of England priest leaving the priesthood gained momentum…eventually. (7)

August (1)

  • Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis – more fiction than science, this first book in Lewis’ series still provides some deep thoughts about the nature of God and the nature of man wrapped, all wrapped in a story. (7)

September (2)

  • Perelandra by C.S. Lewis – didn’t like this one as much as the first in terms of storyline (way too little dialogue), but more good thoughts to think; just a bit slow. (6)
  • Pop Goes Religion by Terry Mattingly – Mattingly, a religion columnist is such an objective thinker/writer on the interaction of belief and entertainment that you wish the guy would write his column daily instead of bi-monthly. (7)

October (3)

  • The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, Marty Linksy – really great book on leadership that nails what goes on politically in organizations/groups and explains how to address needs via systems theory. (9)
  • A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller – probably my new favorite Don Miller book, in particular because it's all about story (his, God’s, mine); good stuff. (8)
  • Changing Frontiers of Mission by Wilbert R. Shenk – helpful (but dry) reading on mission theology, history, and theory with a look at where Christianity is going (literally). (6)

November (4)

  • Planning Programs for Adult Learners by Rosemary S. Caffarella – not exactly a book you'd pick up to read for fun, but man, would this tome have been helpful back in my Glen Eyrie days in terms of program planning. For what it is, it's really good. (8)
  • Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller – timely and true, Keller’s book on our propensity to make gods/idols out of everything uses the recent economic meltdown as a prime case study. (9)
  • Celebrating the Law? by Hetty Lalleman – makes the case from a Reformed perspective for the ongoing importance of the Law in the Christian life, particularly in the area of ethics. (8)
  • The Leader’s Journey by Jim Herrington, Robert Creech, and Trisha Taylor – applies systems theory and thinking to Christian leadership and ministry; helpful. (7)

December (1)

  • That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis – tried reading this installment of Lewis' Space Triology about a dozen times and gave it 100 pages before setting it aside; if you can choose what you read, don't waste time on something you don't enjoy (and I didn't enjoy this one). (1)

‘Tis the Season…

In Books, Education, Family, Holidays, Movies, Places & Spaces, Pop Culture, Seminary, Thought, Travel, Vacation, Westminster on December 6, 2009 at 10:46 pm

IMG_3833

…when Megan bakes cookies and leaves them around for me to pretend to ignore. It's also when we put up a tree and clutter it (and the house) with all things Christmas holiday. Ah, the sights, sounds, smells, and stuff of the season.

But I digress. Lots going on this week. Here's a rundown:

  • The two-year hostage situation of St. Louis' main east/west artery has ended, as I-64/40 is open again. If all goes according to plan, I should be able to cut 10 minutes off my once-25-minute commute to/from school and seminary, which is exciting. All in all, the process wasn't that bad, but I wouldn't want to do it again anytime soon.
  • I'm finishing up the fourth and fifth commandments with my Ethics students, as well as the book of Matthew with my New Testament kids this week. Finals are next week, so I've got a few tests to write and more than a few papers and assignments to grade. Glad to be two weeks away from Christmas break.
  • This week is a big one in terms of finishing my seminary studies for the semester. I have an hour-long group project presentation on Monday, a paper due on Wednesday, and two finals to take by Sunday and then I'm down to my final semester at Covenant (and probably forever, unless some university wants to give me a full-ride to work on a Ph.D.). It will feel really good to finally be finished, both in a week and in five months.
  • Megan and I are turning in our collective resignation letter to Nick at the Covenant bookstore, with our last day being December 30th (Nick's actually known about it for months, so it's not that big a deal). It was a good year-and-a-half at my first real retail experience, but I've got to make room to coach JV baseball in the spring, so something had to go.
  • I'm planning to post my 2009 booklist in another week, so check back soon if you're still looking for readable gift ideas. I was initially disappointed in my list this year, but at second glance it's not that bad (though I definitely didn't read as much fiction as I have in the past). Look for it in another few days.
  • Speaking of books as gifts, TwentySomeone wraps as well at Christmas as at graduation time (just wanted to let you know in case you're still looking for a present for a hard-to-buy-for twentysomething in your life).
  • And speaking of Christmas, in addition to the obligatory family
    roadtrips/celebrations, we're planning to paint another room (dining)
    over the holidays and get some time hanging out here at home. We're also looking forward to seeing the movie Up in the Air with George Clooney, as parts were filmed in St. Louis (and some of those parts right here in our little Maplewood community).

Guess that's about it. If you're
in town or passing through over the holidays, come on by – being the introverts that we
are, we might not answer the door, but you'll enjoy the trip.

File Under “What Was I Thinking?”

In Musicians on December 3, 2009 at 10:48 am

Not sure I get the ending, but why have I not listened to Regina Spektor before now?