Because life is a series of edits

Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

Half-Pint Conversations

In Pop Culture, Young Ones on September 28, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Here are a few recent conversations with my four daughters for your amusement:


11-year-old: Dad, have you seen my shoes?

Me: You lost your shoes again? I'm going to staple your shoes to your feet.

11-year-old: Cool!

Me: (sighs)


Me: Which episode of Alfred Hitchcock are we ready to watch?

10-year-old: We last watched "The Two Sisters."

6-year-old: No we didn't.

10-year-old: Yes we did. That was the one in which the woman killed her father with the ax, remember?

6-year-old: Oh yeah.

Me: (cringes)


Me: Girls, when you close the shower curtain, you have to make sure you pull it all the way to the wall like this. (demonstrates by pulling top curtain corner)

8-year-old: But, Dad, it's harder for us.

Me: Why's that?

8-year-old: We're little.

Me: Oh yeah.


6-year-old: Dad?

Me: Yes?

6-year-old: If the moon is full, can it overflow?

Me: (???)

Music Week 2010

In Education, Musicians, Westminster on September 24, 2010 at 9:12 am


Here are the songs from this year's Discerning Ear Project in Ethics class. The gist of the project is that the kids bring in music (MP3s with lyric sheets) and explain it as fitting in one of three moral categories (good, bad, or neutral); thus, we spend the week listening, discussing, and debating meaning and morality.

After they spend a week wrestling through the difficulties of trying to categorize their music (dualism example: If there's some good and some bad in the song, does that then make it neutral?), we then talk about a more Reformed way of approaching things, asking what we can affirm in each song, what we should challenge, and (and this is where it gets dicey), what our listening responses should be in light of passages like 1 Corinthians 10:31, 1 Thessalonians 5:22-23, and others.

There was plenty of new music this year that I wasn't familiar with, but I confess nothing really stuck out enough to make me want to instantly (or even eventually) download it. Take a look through the songs and bands and let me know what I ought to take a chance on the next time I have some iTunes money.

  • 100 Years by Five for Fighting
  • Accidents Can Happen by Sixx A.M.
  • American Honey by Lady Antebellum
  • Apologize by One Republic
  • Away from the Sun by 3 Doors Down
  • Beauty from Pain by Superchick
  • Bicycle Race by Queen
  • Billionaire by Travie McCoy (featuring Bruno Mars)
  • Black Rock by O.A.R.
  • Buddy by Musiq Soulchild
  • California Stars by Billy Bragg and Wilco
  • Cat’s in the Cradle by Harry Chapin
  • Chicken Fried by Zach Brown Band
  • Chop Suey by System of a Down
  • Cleaning this Gun by Rodney Atkins
  • Dance Anthem of the 80’s by Regina Spektor
  • Dead and Gone by T.I. (featuring Justin Timberlake)
  • Dear Life by Anthony Hamilton
  • Dynamite by Taio Cruz
  • Eclipse (All Yours) by Metric
  • Everything by Michael Buble
  • First Date by Blink 182
  • Ghetto Gospel by Tupac (featuring Elton John)
  • Grassman by Dodgy
  • Handlebars by The Flobots
  • I Am the Walrus by The Beatles
  • I Run to You by Lady Antebellum
  • I Was Made for Lovin’ You by KISS
  • If It’s Love by Train
  • If You’re Reading This by Tim McGraw
  • Imagine by John Lennon
  • Just the Way You Are by Bruno Mars
  • King of Anything by Sara Bareilles
  • Lasso by Phoenix
  • Laughing With by Regina Spektor
  • Live and Let Die by Guns ‘N Roses
  • Love the Way You Lie by Eminem (with Rihanna)
  • Maxwell’s Silver Hammer by The Beatles
  • Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson
  • Mr. Brightside by The Killers
  • My Generation by Nas and Damien Marley
  • My Heart by Paramore
  • Narwhals by Weebl’s Stuff
  • Needle and Haystack Life by Switchfoot
  • Not Afraid by Eminem
  • Play the Song by Joey & Rory
  • Pray for You by Jason and the Long Road to Love
  • Put Your Records by Corinne Bailey Rae
  • Roxanne by The Police
  • Scapegoat by Epik High
  • Second Chance by Shinedown
  • Show Me What I’m Looking For by Carolina Liar
  • Sing for the Moment by Eminem
  • Snuggle Song by Schnuffel Bunny
  • Sorrow by Flyleaf
  • That’s What Youth Is by No Brain
  • The Cave by Mumford and Sons
  • The Man Who Can’t Be Moved by The Script
  • The Show by Lenka
    Tricky by RUN D.M.C.
  • Queen Jane by Bob Dylan
  • Walk Like an Egyptian by The Bangles
  • What I’ve Done by Linkin Park
  • Where is the Love? by the Black-Eyed Peas
  • Unthinkable by Alicia Keys
  • Vengeance by Yngwie Malmsteen
  • Yellow Submarine by The Beatles

We Interrupt Our Normally Non-Scheduled Weekend…

In Arts, Books, Calling, Church, Education, Family, Friends, Musicians, Nature, Places, Places & Spaces, Theologians, Thought, Travel, Young Ones on September 17, 2010 at 12:13 am

Here are some groovy events – several of which I'd love to see a familiar face at if you're in the area – that I'll be part of in the next six weeks. (If you or anyone you know has questions about the conferences, click the links or let me know and I'll fill in details.)


Applefestival 17-18: Griggsville Apple Festival (Uptown Square, Griggsville, IL)
I've written about this cultural tour de force before, but words and pictures just cannot do justice to my hometown's annual fall celebration; you just have to be there. That said, I'm once again looking forward to more time on the farm (now in harvest mode) since our Labor Day visit two weekends ago, as well as to seeing some former high school classmates from back in the day (when you graduated in a class of 30, it doesn't take much to have a yearly class reunion each September).

Camping 24-26: Annual Fall Family Camping Trip (Babler State Park, Wildwood, MO)
We always schedule this trip the weekend following Parent/Teacher conferences (after talking with parents for six hours straight and the struggles many of them are having in connecting with their students, I'm usually newly motivated to spend time with my own kids). New activity this year: the family bike ride, as all six of us are bike-mobile (now we just have to figure out how to get all six bikes there).


Tour2010logo 1-2: Tour de Cape (Downtown Pavilion, Cape Girardeau, MO)
Speaking of bikes, I've been pseudo-training (about 30 miles/week) to take my first "century ride" this weekend with a couple of co-workers (both of whom are much better bikers than I am). I've never before ridden 100 miles in a day, so we'll see how much Advil it takes to do it when it's all said and done.

Biblical Imagination 8-10: Biblical Imagination Conference with Michael Card (Fredericksburg, VA)
I wrote about this not too long ago, and it seems a little strange that we're less than a month out already. I'm pretty stoked to hang out on the east coast with Mike and company. This is the first conference of what I hope are many to come, so if you're too far from D.C. this time around, hang in there: odds are we'll be coming to you soon.

TwentySomeone 15-17: TwentySomeone/ThirtySomewhere Conference (Memphis, TN)
My good buddy, Mitchell Moore, is a pastor at Second Presbyterian in Memphis, and he's asked me to come down to speak at a retreat for peeps in their 20s and 30s. Revisiting the material (as well as working on some new for the next book) has been really fun, and I'm still "smokin' what I'm sellin'" (figuratively speaking, of course) in terms of making the most of these decades. Megan and the girls are coming with me, and we'll sight-see around Memphis on Saturday afternoon.

Relevant 22-24: Megan at The Relevant Conference (Harrisburg, PA)
The good news: I'll be home (and probably won't leave the house if I can help it); the other news: Megan won't be. As she did in Colorado in July, my wife will be taking in another blogging conference – this one of a more devotional than technical nature – in Pennsylvania. I'm interested to see what comes out of her time there, as well as to what degree the two conferences overlap and supplement each other.

That's all for now. We now return you to our normally non-scheduled weekend…

The Write Stuff

In Writers on September 16, 2010 at 9:21 am


A funny thing happened on the way to choir drop-off Wednesday night:
due to a change in plans, I ended up without my MacBook.

This was significant because, since my two oldest daughters'
children's choir rehearsal is just far enough from home to weekly
justify spending two-and-a-half glorious hours in a very quiet part of a
county library to write, it doesn't take much convincing for me to
"take one for the team" and do the drop and pick-up. On Wednesday night,
I'm happy to serve.

Still, the problem: no computer. What was I thinking? Should I go
home, get it, and come back? Seemed silly, but this was my writing night
(it's not like I get to do this every evening).

Not wanting to waste the time driving, I pulled into the library
parking lot, grabbed some paper from the floor of the van (there was –
and always is – plenty), found a pen, and walked in the door strangely
giddy at the prospect that I was about to publicly go "old school" by
putting pen to paper to crank out some content. I anticipated the scrawl
sound of my Pilot
Precise V5 rolling ball
scratching across the paper. I recalled the
joy – yea, even the novelty – of not having to delete wrong words and
phrases before continuing, as I could just scribble them out and keep
moving forward.

I found a table. I sat down. I spread out the paper. I pulled out the
pen. I wrote.

Somewhere Wendell
smiled…and it was good.

"I don't do this enough," I thought, moving my right hand almost –
but not quite – silently over the flat surface of paper on table. I had
no desire to do anything else but to embrace my kinesthetic side and
write, letting my words come not just from my brain but through
my body as well.

This was not a foreign sensation to me. I was 15 years an avid
hand-journaler before I crossed over to the kinesthetic Dark Side of
blogging nearly ten years ago, but even my experience now seemed novel,
for I was writing on loose-leaf paper that was indeed as loose as leaf
gets, having been ripped out of the crumpled notebook in the van.

In my handwritten habit of the past, I usually wrote into bound
journals, but I was hesitant to write without some degree of
concern that what I wrote needed to look somewhat presentable
should I die and someone (God forbid) read my journals. I was a victim
of the literary version of thinking that if you're going to be in an
accident, at least have on clean underwear. Like a new pair of
tighty-whities, my journal writing was clean…but it was tight. But no

But then I stopped. My left brain caught up with my right brain long
enough to bring to mind articles – myriads of them, it seemed – with
titles meant to remind me of my position in this world of twenty-first
century and the land of all things digital. Having found their way to me
because I'm a teacher, the articles psychologically attacked my
handwriting bliss with their theses of why "Some Blogs I Like, and Why Teachers Should Be Using Them,"
and why handwritten expression should not even be considered as part of
"21st Century Excellence."

I recalled an article I read just a few weeks ago about wired
Chinese college students who could not remember how to write out their
language because they were so used to typing pre-formed characters that
their hands physically – kinesthetically – once learned to form, and
that's when I wondered: Was I the last person in the world – at that
moment – writing by hand? Was I the last hand standing?

I thought of my four daughters, all to whom Megan and I
have stressed the importance of good handwriting AND proper typing
skills (not to mention fundamental English grammar instead of text
graffiti). They're learning the aforementioned joy of free writing,
scribbling, and progress that handwriting provides as well as the
digital version of diction that the educational elites are hurriedly
hurtling us toward.

At least I thought they were learning. Weren't they

I hoped so, but then the thought crossed my mind: were they learning
from my enjoyment of writing – from my experience of the
convenience of the scribble; the brevity of the note; the flow of the
letter? Did they even know what Daddy's handwriting looked like? Could
they read not only the meaning of my handwritten words, but the subtext
beneath their father's flair? Could they do so in a personal letter from
me in the future? Would they even know what a letter – a personal,
intimate, handwritten letter that crinkled at one's touch and so often
smelled of its sender – was?

I wondered. And I wonder.

So many ideas; so many dilemmas. And all this because I forgot my
computer on the Wednesday night choir run. What post might I have come
up with otherwise if I'd been able to type? I have no idea, but here's
what this one looked like before my keyboard took all the fun out of it.


Children of the Corn (No, Not THOSE Kids)

In Family, Movies, Nature, Places, Young Ones on September 11, 2010 at 9:23 am


We were on the farm for Labor Day weekend and enjoyed some of the most perfect weather ever for camping out, playing baseball, fishing, swimming, roasting hot dogs, and star gazing from the back of a straw-filled wagon at night. We also had a great time with Mom and Dad hosting friends of theirs from Chicago (of course, Peaches was a huge hit).

As nature's beauty tends to inspire, our 11-year-old ended up writing the first draft of her descriptive paragraphs project about the weekend. Folks, we may have another writer on our hands (though out of curiosity, I went to I Write Like and plugged in the paragraphs below for fun; the analysis came back as "Stephen King," which was a little disturbing, I suppose, but nevertheless a nice title tie-in to the picture above). Enjoy.

"I felt the sharp rocks sting my bare feet as I walked across the gravel driveway that led to the door of my grandparents' house. The feel of the wind made me calm, as the glowing sun shone upon me. My lungs were filled with fresh country air. I could smell the pine trees. I admired the lovely patterns on each and every flower. The smooth blades of grass soothed my aching feet as I skipped across the homemade baseball field that my cousins and I loved.

I heard the birds singing their sweet songs, and the rustle of the breeze as it played between the tall stalks of corn. When I camped outside that night, the cicadas chirped, as the woodpeckers plowed into a tree. It was all a natural lullaby. My aunt and I took a stroll down to the pond where the trees were formed into the most perfect shade. We watched the pond as the ripples of water floated across the surface to the other side. I picked soybeans and snacked all the way home. As I jumped in my van, I stared out the window as the corn waved goodbye."

A Response to International Burn-a-Koran Day

In Calling, Church, Seminary on September 8, 2010 at 2:08 pm

There are plenty of things to be said about the ridiculous Burn-a-Koran Day planned for September 11th, but none of my words are as kind and respectful as these from Nelson Jennings, Covenant Seminary professor of World Mission. In an attempt to diffuse the situation, Dr. Jennings has initiated with those planning the event, following up with this letter in the past week. I commend it to you and encourage you to pray for the situation.

Dear Dr. Terry Jones and Members of the Dove World Outreach Center,

As I previously indicated to you both by email and over the phone, I recently became aware of your “International Burn a Koran day,” scheduled for September 11. You have publicly announced the event, and urged others to participate, through your church’s website and through a specially created Facebook page. As the Facebook page puts it, “On September 11th, 2010, from 6pm – 9pm, we will burn the Koran on the property of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL, in remembrance of the fallen victims of 9/11 and to stand against the evil of Islam. Islam is of the devil!” The scheduled event is receiving widespread attention, and various people are expressing their opinions and intended responses.

Relations today between people who are Muslims and people who are Christians are of extraordinary importance – including in an unprecedented way those of us in the United States of America. People’s beliefs about God and salvation are at stake, as are the well-being of local communities, societies, and international relations between countries. It is within this extraordinary situation that you, together as a Christian pastor and as an expressly Christian community, have taken the initiative to conduct, publicize, and invite participation in what can only be called – too mildly or too extremely, depending on one’s perspective – such a provocative event as this “International Burn a Koran day.”

In response to this event that has been scheduled by other Christians in the United States, that has been publicized within today’s extraordinary situation of Muslim-Christian relations, and to which I and others have been invited to participate, I believe that it is incumbent on me as one Christian leader serving a portion of the wider Christian community to issue a public response. (Please note, however, that this response is my own; I am not serving as a spokesperson for any church or organization.) My response consists of the following points:

  1. I agree with you that human beings’ salvation from sin and hell, as well as to eternal life with the living and triune God, is through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
  2. I commend you for your concern for and solidarity with fellow Christians worldwide.
  3. I respect the time-honored freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
  4. I encourage only peaceable responses toward you – i.e., against Dr. Terry Jones, members of the Dove World Outreach Center, or others who are in agreement with your religious beliefs about Islam – insofar as you do not cause immediate threat to others of bodily harm or damage to personal property.
  5. I realize that there are complexities beyond the scope of this short response in the enormous and worldwide matter of Muslim-Christian relations, particularly those associated with the interrelationship between religious and societal/governmental concerns.
  6. I realize as well that there are deep emotions – associated with both religious and social/national identity – over the events of September 11, 2001 in particular and Muslim- Christian relations in general.

At the same time, I espouse the following beliefs that contradict reasons for the scheduled Qur’an burning:

  1. Christians, whether individually or organized, should eschew violent
    and inflammatory actions taken as Christians against anyone –
    particularly violent and inflammatory actions taken in the name of, and
    with the alleged support of, expressly religious teachings.

    • Using proper force, including violent force, is a God-given
      prerogative of certain societal and governmental authorities (including
      Christians serving in those roles), not of Christians (or members of any
      other religious tradition) as individual or organized Christians (or as
      members of any other religious tradition).
    • Violent and
      inflammatory actions taken for expressly religious
      purposes usually (often unwittingly) support other, non-religious
      interests, for example political, ethnic, and economic interests.
  2. Christians, while devoted to the overall well-being of the local communities, countries, and world of which we are members, must be able to differentiate between (although not totally separate) our devotion to the wider, international Christian community and our devotion to our local communities, countries, and world. Similarly, Christians must be able to differentiate between (although not totally separate) the actual interests of the wider, international Christian community and those of our various local communities, our countries, and of the entire world. I believe that, in particular, you fail properly to differentiate between devotion to, as well as the actual interests of, the wider Christian community and the United States of America, for example in the statement on “The Church Must Take Action”.
  3. Christians must not simplistically categorize Islam, whether uniquely or together with other religious traditions, as “of the devil.” Instead, Christians should see non-biblical religious traditions as a combination of human aspiration for the Creator God, sinful rebellion against that same Creator God, and satanic deception. Not only is it therefore overly simplistic and reductionist to categorize Islam or any other religious tradition by reference to less than all three of these aspects, but doing so is also insulting, derogatory, and unnecessarily inflammatory toward fellow human beings, fellow bearers of God’s image, and fellow citizens of local communities, countries, and the world.

As I consider all of the statements above, I am firmly persuaded:

  1. To urge you to cancel, as well as apologize (with an explanation so that, as much as possible, you are not unfairly misunderstood) for the scheduling and publication of, the planned public Qur’an burning;
  2. Not to participate in the event (if it takes place), as well as to urge others not to participate in any such event.
  3. To encourage you and other Christians to seek constructive relations with people who are Muslims on individual, local community, national, and global levels. Such constructive relations, I believe, are evangelistic, peaceful, and cooperative.

Much has been written elsewhere concerning these various points, and there is much more to discuss. I welcome constructive interaction with you and others who are interested.


J. Nelson Jennings
St. Louis, MO

Dear Christian School Administrator,

In Books, Calling, Education on September 7, 2010 at 4:55 pm

When I was hired to teach at Westminster Christian Academy three years ago, my administration took a risk, as I had very little formal education experience and background. But, it was a calculated risk – one they thought might work because of WCA’s commitment to develop teachers before and in the midst of teaching students.

After a three-day orientation the first week of the summer in which I learned the basics about our school, vision, and curriculum, I was paired with two mentor teachers – one for each of the two subjects I was to teach – with whom I met over the next year. This was helpful not only for curricular reasons, but for being able to listen to teachers talk teaching.

In addition, Westminster sent me along with other new staff to the Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS) conference in Chicago a few weeks before school started in August. This was helpful not so much for learning strategy or technique (though that happened to a degree), but for again being around teachers – old and new – who were talking teaching.

LearningEducation I’m sure you have your own version of teacher orientation, training, and development, but I’m also guessing that you’re always looking to improve it. To that end, I’d like to make you aware of a tool I hope will provide another “teacher talking” resource: Learning Education: Essays and Ideas from My First Three Years of Teaching.

In the book, I recount my first three years teaching full-time at Westminster, processing them through the lenses of my coursework at Covenant Theological Seminary, from which I recently graduated with M.A. degrees in Theological Studies and Educational Ministries. The result is a good balance of theory and practice for the reader.

Would this be a helpful “teacher talking teaching” companion for your new teachers this fall? The books are $12.75 each, but I’m glad to take 10% off orders of 10 or more if that would be helpful (you can email me directly for bulk orders).

Thanks for your consideration, as well as for your commitment to Christian education. Enjoy the rest of your fall, and God bless you and your educational efforts this year.