Because life is a series of edits

Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

Live-Blogging POTUS State of the Union Address

In Politics on January 27, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Megan, the half-pints, and I are watching President Obama and thought we'd live-blog as he goes. We're independent political hacks at best, so take it all with a grain of salt.

8:05Seal-presidential-color
"Madame Speaker, the President of the United States of America."

8:13
First blame of former administration: "One year ago, I took office amid two wars, an economy rocked by severe
recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse, and a
government deeply in debt."

8:17
"In this new decade, it's time the American people get a
government that matches their decency." Haven't we (unfortunately) got
that already?

8:21
To Republicans: "I thought I'd get some applause on that one (tax cuts)." This statement seems out of place for a State of
the Union address. Is this just a show?

8:24
Jobs replaces health care as lead issue.

8:26
Three phone calls in the last five minutes. Are we the only ones watching the speech?

8:30
TV signal lost due to passing train here in the 'hood. Hang with us (now you know why we only watch 24 and Lost on DVD).

8:34
Innovation and energy now taking the stage. Everyone's for
"safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country," but nobody wants
them in their backyards.

8:36
Why does the multiple use of the word "comprehensive" scare me?

8:40
Government – Democrat or Republican – is so lost on the topic
of education. You can't build values into a society without teaching
virtues.

8:42
Our 11-year-old: "Is he saying you don't have to pay for college?" Hmmm.

8:43
Now to health insurance reform (not health care anymore). Why the stand-up routine?

8:47
The problem is not that the government is walking away from
the people on health care; it's that the people are walking away (or
wanting to) from the government on health care. Can't believe the
President is still pushing the exact same health care plan nobody wants.

8:50
Second blame of former administration before justifying own enormous increase of deficit.

8:51
Another train. Sigh.

8:56
"We have a deficit of trust of Washington…and we have to
address it on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue." True on both accounts.

9:00
Like the calling out of political partisanship.

9:03
Security is the topic; Janet Napolitano is the enforcer. Personally, I wouldn't mess with her.

9:06
Attention, terrorists: We're leaving Iraq in August. Why broadcast for all the world to hear?

9:08
Invoking Kennedy and Reagan on topic of nuclear weapons. Works for me.

9:10
Sounds like we're doing everything for everyone in the world. Noble, but realistic?

9:13
Total non-response from all military generals during applause of gays in the military.

9:15
Institutions of America include "our corporations, our media, and, yes, our government," but not the Church. No surprise.

9:20
"Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America." Always wonder what God thinks of that benediction, regardless of who gives it.

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How Hard Can It Be?

In Books, Calling, Education on January 27, 2010 at 8:41 am

Teacher-doris-day

I really like the beginning of this book review as it relates to the profession of education:

There’s no easier job in the world than being a bad teacher. It’s a
cinch, with short hours and plenty of long vacations. The pay’s not
always great, but as long as your standards are low, and all you’re
looking for is an easy job, I recommend being a really rotten teacher.
Be really awful. Cobble together some industry-standard lesson plans
and re-run them every year; grade superficially and with an emphasis on
numbers; kick back and watch the seasons change as the sea of young
faces before you renews itself year after year. (Don’t ask me how I
know so much about this)

But as soon as you decide to be a pretty good teacher, you’ve let
yourself in for a world of trouble. If that stack of papers needs
thoughtful grading and a quick turn-around, you’re in for long hours of
intense focus. If you have to re-think every sentence to make sure it
connects with this particular group of students, you’re in for a
high-energy workout.

And if you decide to try for excellence, to really make a difference
for your students, then you’ve moved to The Other Side of teaching, and
you find that there are few jobs harder than being a good teacher. It’s
not just that you’ll have to put in a lot of hours. It’s that you’ll
have to think. Think!

The really hard part about teaching is the thinking. Because if you
want to help people as an educator, you have to know what people are
for, why they exist, what it would mean for them to be fulfilled, and
what Good their existence is ordered toward. Suddenly, you are up to
your chin in the most important philosophical questions that can ever
be asked.

The full review is at The Scriptorium; the book is called Education for Human Flourishing by Paul Spears and Steven Loomis.

WWJD?

In Books, Calling, Internet, Marriage, Movies, Places, Technology on January 23, 2010 at 7:38 am

Arts-julie-and-julia-584

On Friday night, Megan and I had an impromptu date. It had been a while. As the girls were happily occupied at a friend's house up the street (thanks, Erin and company), we went out for Chinese, talked, and then came home to watch Julie & Julia before picking up the girls to play parents again.

If you haven't seen the movie, you might have heard how good it is. Megan especially liked it because it's about so many things she loves: marriage, blogging, cooking, books, and the challenge of juggling those things all at once. The conversations in the film were familiar ones to both of us, as we've struggled with many of the same things Julie and her husband did concerning her art: the absence of time, the constancy of insecurity, the selfishness of narcissism, the fear of rejection, and still the hope of creating something beautiful in the midst of everything else.

For me, the film's storybook ending (literally: Julie Powell's blog gets turned into a book which gets turned into a movie) was about revisiting the hope of being faithful with very little in order to be faithful with much. The perseverance required for Julie's experiment of cooking 524 recipes in 365 days (and then blogging about it for all to read) reminds me of "the good old days" of blogging, when the hope of something happening seemed more possible than it does now, as there seemed so fewer blogs then.

Apparently, though, it does still happen. Just yesterday, I read on Heather Armstrong's blog (I've been a reader for probably five years) about the exclusive development deal she and her husband, Jon, signed with HGTV. I know next to nothing about the network, but apparently lots of people do. While I'm happy for the Armstrongs, it feels like it's the beginning of the end of such transitions (if you'll remember, almost a year ago, I considered whether the potential of the personal blog might be coming to an end).

Sadly, my need for inspiration comes on the heels of yet another rejection of my own writing efforts, this time in the form of an email from an up-and-coming agent I approached a few weeks ago. He writes:

"Thanks for allowing me to review your proposal. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to pass. It’s not that I don’t think this is a good idea or good content. I think it’s fine on both those levels. But these days, with the poor publishing economy, I am having to limit my new clients to only those authors who have established a large national fan base. The larger publishers are insisting on such, since they don’t have the marketing budgets they once did. They want to know that they can sell an immediate 15K or so books to the author’s fan base without having to spend a single marketing dollar. It sucks. But that’s the way it is right now."

Thus, I'm giving thought to what this means (or should) for my publishing future. Do I keep up my occasional attempt to squeeze through a publishing door at least
enough to get someone's attention (even if it's only to look up and ask
me to leave)? Do I swallow my pride and go the self-publishing route, building a grassroots following, and then, if all goes well, take another run at the agents and publishing houses? Or, do I let go of the idea of traditional publishing machine all together and go completely digital, publishing content here (or elsewhere) without getting completely ripped off financially or otherwise?

These are some of the questions I've been asking myself of late, but as of last night's movie, I've added one more to my literary litany of lament:

What would Julia do?

Leading Off

In Places & Spaces, Sports, Westminster on January 17, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Bases
“Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” Frederick B. Wilcox

I’m about to enter new territory this spring. No, I’ve not been offered a new teaching position anywhere, nor have I yet to receive a multi-book publishing deal. No, I have not decided to try to finish our attic by myself (God have mercy), nor have I come to the attention of anyone for anything in particular of late.

My new territory? I’m the new junior varsity baseball coach at Westminster…in St. Louis…home of the Cardinals…and supposedly the most intelligent fans in baseball.

Gulp.

Baseball at the high school level in St. Louis is quite the deal, but not as I initially imagined. When I played high school ball back in the day (pitcher, infield) in rural Illinois, there was little overlap of the seasons and most of us played three of them (fall and spring baseball, basketball in the winter). These days in metropolitan St. Louis, kids play two sports in the same season (right now it’s basketball at school and baseball or soccer as part of a “select league” run by former pro/semi-pro/college athletes) and all summer long (again, in these “select leagues”).

While I’ve not had any first-hand experience with these “select teams” just yet (some examples: Gamers, Pirates), I’ve listened a bit and have been able to piece together a few things about them: they’re fairly competitive, incredibly time-intensive, way expensive ($2,500+ for over 100 hours of instruction), and supposedly the best shot a kid has to get recruited/drafted to play college or pro ball, as coaches and scouts tend to prefer this “one-stop-shopping” to watching prep games that might only feature one all-star.

Of course, hearing the boys talk about the possibilities is one thing; listening to parents dream about them is another – in many ways, the kids are more realistic than the adults in evaluating themselves and their chances to make it past high school ball. As I’ve yet to see many of them in action (we’ve had three days’ worth of optional “open gyms” for individual tee work and soft-toss, but the official start of the season isn’t until March 1st), it will be interesting to see who’s more accurate – the kids or the parents.

As Monday is MLK Day and schools are out, Westminster’s varsity baseball coach and I are attending the I-70 Clinic, an annual gathering of high school and college baseball coaches from around the Midwest held at Greenville College and hosted by their baseball team. I have no idea what to expect, but I’m looking forward to going and seeing what I can learn about coaching high schoolers in a game I’ve played and always loved. I’m also hoping to pick up some tips on coaching amateur baseball in a professional baseball town.

Play ball.

We Go Together

In Marriage, Movies on January 15, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Gal_grease-5 Cheeseball

Megan and I introduced the girls to Grease tonight. In addition to being able to recite every line of dialogue and flawlessly perform "The Hand Jive," Megan also knows each word, syllable, and sound in the finale "We Go Together." Here are the lyrics:

We go together like rama lama lama ke ding a de dinga a dong
Remembered forever like shoo bop shoo wadda wadda yipitty boom de boom
Chang chang chang-it-ty chang shoo-bop
That's the way it should be – wha oooh yeah!

We're one of a kind, like dip di-dip di-dip, doo-bop a doo-bee doo
Our names are signed, boog-e-dy boog-e-dy boog-e-dy boog-e-dy, shoo-by doo-wop she-bop
Chang chang chang-it-ty chang shoo-bop
We'll always be like one, wa-wa-wa-waaa!

When we go out at night and stars are shinin' bright
Up in the skies above or at the high school dance
Where you can find romance
Maybe it might be lo-oh oh oh-oh oh-ove

Ra-ma la-ma la-ma ka ding a da ding de dong
Shoo-bop sha wad-da wad-da yipp-it-y boom de boom
Chang chang chang-it-ty chang shoo-bop
Dip da-dip da-dip doo-wop da doo-bee doo
Boog-e-dy boog-e-dy boog-e-dy boog-ed-y
Shoo-by doo-wop she-bop
Sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na yip-pit-y boom de boom
Ra-ma la-ma la-ma ka ding-a de ding de dong
Shoo-bop sha wad-da wad-da yipp-it-y boom de boom
Chang chang chang-it-ty chang shoo-bop
Dip da-dip da-dip doo-wop da doo-bee doo
Boog-e-dy boog-e-dy boog-e-dy boog-e-dy
shoo-by doo-wop she-bop
Sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na yip-pit-ty boom de boom
A wop ba-ba lu-mop a wop bam boom

We're for each other like a wop ba-ba lu-mop and wop bam boom
Just like my brother is sha na na na na na yip-pit-y dip de boom
Chang chang chang-it-ty chang shoo-bop
We'll always be together – wha oooh yeah!

Folks, if that's not romantic, I don't know what is. Just another reason I'm confident in saying, "We'll always be together" (repeat ad nauseum).

My Counsel for Mark McGwire

In Places & Spaces, Sports on January 11, 2010 at 4:06 pm

I suppose you can call it "news" if you want, but is it really any surprise to hear from Mark McGwire himself that the former Cardinals first baseman/Major League Baseball single season home run king used steroids? Let's be honest: this doesn't exactly rank up there with "man bites dog."

Some of my students have asked, from an ethical perspective, what should happen to McGwire? Should he still be included on the home run list(s)? Should he still be considered for the Hall of Fame (he's been on the ballot for the past four years)? Should he still be the batting coach for the Cardinals this year?

Here's what I think: If McGwire really wants to do what is right and honorable, he will HIMSELF 1) request to be removed from the home run list(s); 2) request to be excluded permanently from Hall of Fame consideration; and 3) vow to do his very best to ensure that none of the Cardinals he coaches this year are juicing. Only then will he have any credibility in baseball, as well as any hope of leaving a legacy redeemed from his past.

Maybe – just maybe – others might follow McGwire's lead, with baseball being the better for it. I'm not naive and doubt many (if any) would, but I would sure think a whole lot more of McGwire as a person and, yes, even as a baseball player who played hard, made some mistakes, but had the character – finally – to deal with them honestly.

Adapting to Digital Discipleship?

In Calling, Church, Internet, Technology, Thought on January 10, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Most readers don't consider me a Luddite when it comes to technology, but some may be surprised that I tend to be a slow adapter/adopter when it comes to new stuff. Consider:

  • I recorded three of my own CDs before I actually owned a CD player.
  • My first cell phone was a late-90's Ericsson (I don't own or use one now by choice).
  • My first iBook was second generation.
  • My current MacBook is second generation.
  • Our iMac is second generation.
  • Our iPod Shuffle is second generation.
  • Our iPod Nano is second generation.
  • My iTouch is second generation.
  • Our current video player is a 12-year-old dying dual VHS/DVD player, but I don't even know what options are out there if/fwhen it goes.
  • It took me a year or so to come around to Twitter, but I'm liking it (enough) now.

Here's where I've been more on the technological front-end of things:

  • With the exception of a six-month sabbatical in 2005, I've kept one of several blogs since August of 2003 (TwentySomeone (2003-2005), Seminary Tychicus (2005-2007), and Second Drafts (2006-present).
  • I was on MySpace and Facebook pretty early (a fact my students still don't believe).
  • I got a Gmail account as soon as the service was available. I
    also got in early on GoogleWave as well, but the tide is out right now on that, at least for me.

I suppose the main observation I make is that, with the exception of Twitter, I tend to be on the cutting edge of technology when it's free; anything I have to pay for I tend to wait to see how it turns out (and it usually takes me a cycle to justify spending money, though if I had the money, I'd probably spring for Apple's rumored iTablet/iSlate the first time around).

What does any of this have to do with the price of eggs in China? I'm getting there.

This weekend, an acquaintance emailed about an opportunity to do some research that would eventually be part of Monvee, a website/database designed to be a systematic approach to (for lack of a better phrase) "digital discipleship". Pastor/author John Ortberg seems to be the main name attached to this initiative (though there are several other endorsers), and while I'm not that familiar with Ortberg's present ministry, I know he was involved with Willow Creek for ten years, particularly in the area of spiritual formation.

Spiritual formation, apparently, is what Monvee is all about; in fact, it claims it is "the future of spiritual formation" (no expectations there). If you watch the preview video, you can get an idea of what Monvee understands spiritual formation to be in terms of meaning and methodology. In the video, co-founder Eric Parks sums it up this way: "I like to think of the Monvee…as the eHarmony for my spiritual life, but instead of finding a mate, Monvee discovers how I'm wired and how I grow best." (Note to Parks: Comparing Monvee to eHarmony is not going to win me over to using your product. Bad analogy.)

After you complete Monvee's three-minute survey, Monvee apparently helps you discern what your spiritual needs are, how you best learn, and how you can grow and best connect with God. Monvee then customizes a plan – "a spiritual guidebook for life" – that covers four areas: time (practices); mind (books, videos); relationships (mentors, groups); and experiences (service). It then pulls and ships all the materials you need right to your door, prints email reminders for what you're supposed to do each day, and somehow tracks your spiritual progress in real-time.

But wait, there's more: If you're a church leader who uses Monvee with your entire congregation, Monvee can provide "a spiritual dashboard of insight into how your church is growing…on a live and on-going basis…with real data, in real-time, and about real growth."

Here's my question: Is my hesitancy to support this "digital discipleship" justified or is it just another example of my technological tendency to slow adaptation/adoption?

From my perspective, the pros are that the technology seems well done, and for someone with absolutely no help, I could maybe see how this could be useful initially in self-analysis and resource selection. But the cons run along the line of the rampant individualism this could promote, the dependence on database diagnostics rather than the Spirit of God for one's sanctification, and probably just how Parks ends his video with "Let Monvee help you find your way" (creepy).

What do you think? Would you buy in/encourage someone to buy in or not? Should I?

Dispatch from Wartburg

In Church, Education, Theologians, Writers on January 3, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Luther's Desk

As I lamented with a colleague my 2009 booklist, she made the observation that I had read little to no biographies in 2009 and ought to amend that for 2010. Taking her advice, I pulled off the shelf a 300-page biography on Martin Luther. Thus, in this first post of 2010, rather than critique something (as I am usually wont to do), I thought I'd
share a few thoughts and quotes from my Christmas break reading. I hope they're encouraging as you start the new year in earnest this week.

The good thing about James Kittelson's Luther the Reformer is that it is an enjoyable and theologically astute biography with a balanced approach to a man often caricatured as "unbalanced" (make no mistake, Luther was no saint, but he lived very consistently). Kittelson early and accurately identifies so much of what drove Luther to be the Reformer we know him to be, but he does so in a way that is as human as it is theological:

"Luther discovered that true religion was far more than just the proper inclination of the heart and earnest attempts to work out his salvation. But every time he tried to fan his own spark of goodness, he found that all he was doing was focusing his attention on himself. From his own teachers, he knew that to think of himself was to be in his most sinful state. How then could he 'do what was within him' without yielding to the basest of motives, the desire to save his own skin? How could he possibly confess every one of his sins when he knew that he did so only for the purpose of currying the favor of a righteous God who would surely condemn him for them? Every act of confession therefore became yet another sin. The sincerity of the confession and of the acts of penance that followed was always in question. And if he himself questions his motives, how could they not have been more than dubious in the mind of a God who knew all and was always right?" (80)

The book is filled with original quotes from Luther, many of the ones below I resonate with in a deep and desperate way. Here are three which particularly struck me:

"Learn Christ and him crucified; despairing of yourself, learn to pray to him, saying, 'You, Lord Jesus, are my righteousness, but I am your sin; you have taken on yourself what you were not and have given me what I was not.' Beware of aspiring to such purity that you no longer wish to appear to yourself, or to be, a sinner." (95)

"For it cannot be that a soul filled with its own righteousness can be replenished with the righteousness of God, who fills up only those who hunger and are thirsty. Therefore, whoever is full of his own truth and wisdom is not capable of the truth and wisdom of God, which cannot be received save by those who are empty and destitute." (99)

"The Christian life does not consist of being but of becoming, not of
victory but the fight, not of righteousness but of justification, not
of comprehending but of stretching forward, not of purity but of
purification
." (109)

In chronicling Luther's life, Kittelson is particularly insightful of both Luther's historical context of Roman Catholic corruption and God's use of him within it:

"Luther had developed a way of understanding the Christian life that utterly contradicted what he, and everyone else in his day, had been taught. He flatly denied that there was any possibility of becoming genuinely better in the presence of God. As time passed, Christians could hope only to become ever more radically dependent on the righteousness of God in Christ." (99)

In addition to the encouragement taken from the above passage, I took to heart the orator Mosellanus' description of Luther below:

"In his manner and bearing, he is very polite and friendly and has nothing of stoic severity or crabbiness about him; he comports himself well at all times. People chide him about only one failing, that in rebuttal he is somewhat more intense and biting than is appropriate for someone who wants to open new paths in theology and be regarded as taught by God." (145)

Ahem. Moving on, here's Luther on the concept of will:

"The human will is like a beast between [God and Satan]. If God sits on it, it wills and goes where God wills to go…If Satan sits on it, it will and goes where Satan wills. Nor does it have the power to choose which rider it will go to or seek, but the riders struggle over which of them will have it or rule it." (206)

On education (Luther, after all, was a professor as well as a theologian and pastor):

"If I could leave the office of preacher and my other duties, or were forced to do so, there is no other office I would rather have than that of schoolmaster or teacher of boys. For I know that next to the office of preaching, this is the best, the greatest, and the most useful there is. In fact, I am not absolutely certain which of the two is the better." (248-249)

And finally, with regard to depression and the importance of community (and despite my introverted preferences to the contrary, curse him):

"Satan delights in the solitude of Christians." (251)

While we in the Presbyterian branch of Protestantism often align ourselves more with Calvin than Luther in areas of systematic doctrine, church government, and the sacraments, if you haven't read any Luther lately, it might do your "frozen chosen" heart good to slip in a book or biography in 2010. It's done mine good in starting off the year.

I know I've got some Lutheran scholars lurking out there. What say you?

(About the title: In honor of Luther, I'm naming my home study space "Wartburg" (pronounced "Vartburg"), the castle to where Frederick of Saxony "kidnapped" Luther to save his life and from where Luther published a dozen books and translated the entire New Testament into German in a mere matter of months. Must have been the desk…)