Because life is a series of edits

Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Boys (and Girls) of Summer

In Family, Places, Places & Spaces, Sports, Westminster, Young Ones on March 31, 2011 at 8:10 am

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It probably has something to do with living in St. Louis, but I always find myself writing a post on the occasion of Major League Baseball's opening day. As usual, humor me.

Whether or not she meant for the opportunity to coincide, Megan scheduled a tour (via Groupon) this past Sunday afternoon of Busch Stadium III. It had just snowed the day before and there were at least a dozen people on the field trying to dry things up; otherwise, we and the 20 other people on the tour pretty much had the place to ourselves.

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As you may know, St. Louis is a great baseball city with the second-most World Series championships to its credit (10; only the New York Yankees have more at 27). Somewhat unrelated (but interesting nevertheless), we've also had a fair number of official logos during this time (Slugger Bird – fourth from the left – was always a favorite of mine).

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The history is rich, and some of it is represented at different locations throughout the stadium: vintage uniforms encased with pennants and other timeless memorabilia; a tribute to former Cardinals radio announcer, Jack Buck; various World Series programs and trophies scattered here and there.

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The Redbirds aren't the only ones who open their season this week; Westminster's baseball season started for us as well. This is my second year coaching the junior varsity/freshmen at WCA and I have an unbelievably talented group of guys who really love the game. It's also a treat to be part of a coaching staff under head coach Rich Van Gilst (now in his 28th season) and with pitching coach Andy Benes, former Cardinals pitcher who spent 14 years in the big leagues.

Last week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ranked WCA's varsity team number one for small schools in St. Louis. My part in that (along with stellar assistant coaches Slade Johnson and Micah Gall, two guys in their twenties who were both solid players in high school and college) is to build guys into varsity-level players during their freshmen and sophomore years. While we're certainly not the only ones investing in their baseball skills (many of our guys play baseball year-round for other coaches), it's fun to see "our boys" do well when they get the chance to play up.

For instance, two days ago, Ben Lovell, my top pitcher from last year as a freshman, started his first varsity game as a sophomore, going six innings and getting the win against one of the big Parkway public schools (check out his post-game interview). Last night, due to some injuries with some of our seniors, Mark McFarland, another sophomore, got "called up" to do some varsity relief pitching and threw two innings and also got the win. Today, a third sophomore, Davis Vanderslice, is making his first varsity start, and I'm confident he'll do well, too.

Sure, I hate to lose the guys from the junior varsity team, but it's fun to both help prepare and celebrate with them before and after their "big break." It's also fun to "call up" a few freshmen to help out on the junior varsity level in replacement (having lost two of my sophomore starters, I'm starting two freshmen pitchers in games later this week). Finally, it's very enjoyable to win games with guys at the junior varsity level (we won our first game 7-0 by playing really good defensive against another of the big Parkway schools).

Tonight, after our JV and Freshman games were canceled due to rain (the joys of playing baseball in March in the Midwest), I came home and played catch with my two youngest, both of whom are learning to love baseball as much as their two older sisters. It's amazing how much they've improved in their catching and throwing since last year, all from simply growing one year older. We laughed, we talked, we threw, we caught. It was fun.

At whatever level – half-pint, freshman, junior varsity, varsity, the Majors – baseball is the same great game that gets the entire city of St. Louis excited when the boys (and girls) of summer show up and start playing in the spring. It's as perfect a game as there is, and I'm glad to relive my love for it as a former pitcher/player and now as a coach.

Play ball! And go Redbirds!

(For more baseball thoughts over the years, click here, here, here, here, and here.)

What Does Love Win If There Is Nothing to Lose?

In Books, Church, Theologians on March 27, 2011 at 4:56 pm

I've had a couple friends email me for my thoughts on Rob Bell's controversial new book, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. While I haven't read it yet, enough people whom I respect have and the verdict seems mixed at best. Megan says I somehow owe the world a few thoughts since Bell and I have the same glasses, so with that flimsy justification in mind, let me respond to the only thing I really can at this point – the promotional video for the book:

It's important to understand from the beginning that Bell is more a compelling communicator than a precise theologian; he flies and dies by the rhetorical question, which makes him both interesting as a teacher and dangerous as one as well. Personally, I enjoy listening to him tell stories in his rambling stream-of-consciousness way, and his Nooma videos are much like this one in terms of good production values and style.

Bell's art show story in the beginning of the video is a good example of Bell's gift. After telling the story, he rightly chastises the sticky note incivility of one of the show's attenders and calls Christians to take a fresh look at how rude and ridiculous this kind of behavior is. This, I think, is when Bell is most helpful – he has a keen eye for recognizing legalism in the Church and smartly addresses the thinking behind the behavior rather than just the behavior itself.

Unfortunately, Bell's rhetorical nature takes him down the wrong road quickly. His response to the judgmental Christian's "reality check" is so exaggerated and over the top ("Will only a few select people make it to Heaven and will billions and billions burn forever in Hell?") that he sweeps away his audience in a tsunami of hyperbole, leaving little standing in its wake. He jumps immediately to what a Christian's opinion (whether conceit or horror) might be concerning Hell, seems to accept it (whatever it may be) as gospel, and continues to think out loud by raising (but not alluding to anything other than) his own questions on the topic.

True to form, Bell then overemphasizes personal responsibility ("How do you become one of the few? Is it what you believe, or what you say, or what you do, or what you know?") as a possible way of dealing with the idea of Hell (which, in the video, has been referenced – and apparently in the book, regarded – as little more than personal interpretation). The initial question of eschatology (the study of end times) becomes one of soteriology (the study of salvation) and then of divine ontology (the study of God's essence), but all dependent on (and seemingly subject to) the hermeneutic of experiential relativism:

"And then there is the question behind the questions. The real question is what is God like? Because millions and millions were taught that…God is going to send you to Hell unless you believe in Jesus. And so what gets subtly caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God. But what kind of God is that that we need to be rescued from this God?"

This is, as one of my seminary professors would say after considering an honest (but misguided) inquiry, "the wrong question" due to the unbiblical theological suppositions upon which it's built and the variety of problematic propositional fallacies it violates. While I would not disagree with Bell that eschatology is crucial to understanding God, his rhetorical questions are not helpful in substance ("millions and millions" were taught that God is going to send you to Hell?) nor phrasing (Jesus "rescuing us" from God?) and instead cast God as suspect in his role as Creator and Redeemer.

After a final set of rhetorical questions about who God is and what God is like, Bell ends the video with a statement so sweepingly broad and generally vague that it really means very little (comparitive superlatives are, after all, only meaningful when you qualify what the initial positive is). He claims:

"What you discover in the Bible is so surprising, unexpected, and beautiful that whatever we've been told or taught, the Good News is actually better than that – better than we could ever imagine. The Good News is that love wins."

This, I'm guessing (again, I haven't read the book), is what so much of the controversy is about: Bell's theology seems so indistinct and non-commital as to what he actually believes that it's difficult to figure out what love wins and why it matters. This has some raising the question of whether Bell is a univeralist. I don't know the answer to that, but I do know that Jesus didn't "rescue us" from God; he rescued us as God (this is what the biblical doctrine of Incarnation is all about). I also know that God does not send us to Hell; the wages of sin we ourselves have earned (Romans 6:23) condemn us more than enough for that.

Love wins. Okay, but wins what? And how? And for whom? And says Whom? These are the questions I hope Bell answers biblically and convincingly in his book. Unfortunately, from the little I've read, watched, and listened, I'm not optimistic that his answers are going to be all that definitive.

Below are a few links concerning the Love Wins debate. Feel free to add others that would be helpful.

Why Books Are Still My Favorite “Gadget”

In Books, Technology on March 26, 2011 at 10:07 am

BASICS-popup Saw this article on digital spring cleaning in the NYT and thought it was helpful. My favorite quote:

"Yes, e-readers are amazing, and yes, they will probably become a more dominant reading platform over time, but consider this about a book: It has a terrific, high-resolution display. It is pretty durable; you could get it a little wet and all would not be lost. It has tremendous battery life. It is often inexpensive enough that, if you misplaced it, you would not be too upset. You can even borrow them free at sites called libraries."

I would add that books are a lot more fun experientially to buy in person and you never have to worry about formats or platforms when sharing. Other advantages come to mind?

Five Houses

In Calling, Family, Places on March 25, 2011 at 7:47 am

We've just returned from our house-hunting trip to Oklahoma City. All in all, it was a good adventure, though not without some bumps in the road (scheduled realtor bailing on us the night before because we weren't prepared to make an offer; van brakes and rotors needing replaced the day we were planning to hunt, thus requiring a rental car for the day, etc.). Still, for those who are interested, here's what we found:

THE VICTORIAN

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Aesthetically speaking, this was easily our favorite – we're Victorian kinds of people and suckers for a wrap-around porch. In addition, the white structure in back would make a perfect guest suite/study/studio. Unfortunately, all this would take a lot of work and money as several rooms need renovating just to move in and the guest suite/study/studio is nothing more than a couple of rooms with an uneven floor and rotting walls (there were also rumors of some foundation issues on the main house, which is never a good thing). Nice enough neighborhood, but potentially problematic. Cheap (for all the wrong reasons).

THE BRICK

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Geographically speaking, this one was the hands-down winner – two minutes from downtown across I-235, which is the main thoroughfare I'm going to be traveling for Veritas. The only problem is that the street looks like a meth lab waiting to happen as it's also three minutes from the state capitol, which is not one of the nicer areas in OKC. Still, the house has 5 beds, 3 baths, approximately 2,980 square feet, and also has a possible detached study/studio as part of the garage (though part of the brick wall has collapsed and the room is a landfill). Cheapest (presumably because of the neighborhood).

THE YELLOW

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Maybe it's the yellow paint, but this one just really seemed blah to me – nice enough, I suppose, and the street was okay (though it turns onto a pretty busy route), but this one looked better in pictures than in person. As with the other ones, we didn't get a chance to walk through it, but neither one of us really wanted to, which is never a good sign when you're thinking about living somewhere. Seemed overpriced.

THE BUNGALOW

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We came across this one while trying to find another one and, while it looked serene enough, it actually sits on a very busy avenue. It looks smaller here than it actually is, as this was another house with what looked like a studio apartment of some type above the separate garage in back. The flyer seemed to indicate that the house "needed some work" and could potentially be nice, but what we saw of the miniscule backyard and some cracks in the foundation of the front porch were not quite as encouraging. Still, reasonably priced.

THE BRADY BUNCH

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The only house we actually got to walk through, this one redeemed the whole house-hunting effort for us. Five bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, and more closet space than we've ever seen (apparently the initial owners were survivalists who hoarded food in preparation for the end of the world – seriously), this house fulfills just about every ideal we had written down except for the more suburban location (for more on that tension, read Megan's post). The owners (a neat Christian couple who actually owned and had read my book!) were listing the house for the exact price to the dollar that we're hoping to sell ours for in St. Louis. Most expensive, but seemingly the best value all around.

So, there you have it. Cast your vote for where the Dunhams might live in Oklahoma City. Voting ends when we make someone an offer they can't refuse…and they accept.

Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’

In Calling, Family, Places, Travel, Young Ones on March 19, 2011 at 10:02 am

Oklahoma We couldn't find any cowboy hats, and our surrey with the fringe on top is actually a Pontiac Montana mini-van, but we're heading down to that ultimate of popular Spring Break destinations: warm and sunny Oklahoma City.

All kidding aside, we're looking forward to the time and the chance to spend a few days in our soon-to-be new hometown. The trip will be equal parts business and pleasure as we'll be house-hunting and I'll also be spending a day at Veritas to meet with the staff.

It will be good to be together; the girls are excited about spending some time with Megan's parents and even Peaches is making the trip to meet her Golden Retriever canine aunt, Ladybelle.

Here's to a safe trip, a good time, and a clearer picture of the next stage of life where the wind comes sweepin' down the plains.

More Than April Showers or May Flowers

In Calling, Church, Education, Family, Friends, Marriage, Places, Places & Spaces, Young Ones on March 8, 2011 at 7:49 pm

About a year-and-a-half ago, I had the idea that it might be a good idea to mark turning 40 (which happened last month) with a 40-day fast from food and media. My goal (as detailed here) was "to spend my extra time reading the Bible, praying, and writing about what God may have should he grant me another 40 years."

The media fast was easy: I didn't touch Facebook, Twitter, or the blog and I didn't miss it. The food fast was much harder, as I attempted a water-only fast (I did have a couple of cups of tea after Day 4 just to taste something other than my mouth). Things were going well enough until my doctor pulled the plug on the fast at the end of Day 10 because I had too many ketones in my blood and could have developed serious kidney problems. While disappointed, I was glad it was her decision to end the fast rather than mine (though she never wrote me that prescription for Five Guys Burger & Fries like I asked).

I lost twenty pounds in those ten days and learned how much food can be an idol for me. I also had a great time reading the Old Testament prophets, listening to God convey his love for his people even in the midst of their sin and rebellion and writing out prayers of confession for myself and supplication for others. Finally, I thanked God for the gift of life and asked him for his favor on another 40 years if he would be so gracious. I had no agenda for this time other than to seek God and to read, listen, and write. In the spirit of the prophets, I even grew a beard that didn't look half bad.

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On day 39 of this 40-day period, I received an email out of the blue from Julie Serven, wife of Doug (of three-year Mizzou roommate/TwentySomeone co-author fame). After wishing me an early birthday, she wrote:

"I wanted to ask if you would have any interest in pursuing a new career direction? Our Head of School has recently taken a position with a school in Alabama. He has done a great job the last couple of years and has helped in taking the school to a more developed level.

We need someone who is both visionary but also very administratively gifted. Someone with teaching experience, preferably in high school, and experience with managing and working with people. Someone who appreciates the value of a home component in education and is willing to encourage and partner with parents interested in doing so. Someone who could help train the teachers, pastor the parents, and love the kids. Sound like anyone you know? It does to me."

Somewhat dumbfounded by Julie's email and the opportunity she was asking me to consider, I finished my 40 days asking God if this would be something he would have me pursue. While I have absolutely loved teaching these past five years (four at Westminster Christian Academy, one at Heritage Classical School), I had wondered more than once whether I was using my administrative and leadership gifts to the fullest extent that I could. This question was not one of ambition but of stewardship: Was there more God was calling me to do for the Kingdom in the realm of Christian education? Was this role with Veritas an opportunity I was to trust him for in doing so?

After talking with Megan and seeking counsel from several here and elsewhere who know and love us, we decided it was worth pursuing. I composed a letter and resume, notified references, and sent along my testimony and philosophy of education. A week later, the Veritas board flew Megan and me to Oklahoma City for an exhaustingly thorough weekend-long interview; ten days later (after doing due diligence of considering other applicants), they sent us a very gracious official offer; last weekend, I made one more trip to meet with the board to discern face-to-face if indeed this was God's will for all involved. By the end of the meeting, it seemed good to all of us; thus, I accepted the role.

Veritas_logo The school, Veritas Classical Academy, now has 260 students Pre-K through 11th (they are adding 12th grade next year) and currently meets at a church in south OKC. Because of interest in the Edmond/North OKC area, they will be starting a north grammar campus (Pre-K to 5th) with 50 students this coming fall. Plans are to open a south grammar campus in Norman the year after that (starting with 50 students), and then move to purchase land/building for a central upper school campus the year or two after that, the idea being that there would be several feeder grammar schools and one central upper school (6th to 12th, 7th to 12th, or 9th to 12th). They follow a blended (university) model (half in-class instruction and half home instruction), seek to be reasonably (as opposed to maniacally) classical, and are trans-denominational as a school (though the board seeks to be winsomely Reformed in setting and implementing policies).

My role as Head of School will focus primarily on areas of creating and modeling the school's climate and values, recruiting, hiring, and training faculty, leading and counseling staff and parents as they educate their students, resolving conflict and handling disciplinary matters, and working with the board on strategic planning. Secondarily, I will also be responsible (with the help of others) for the alignment and development of curriculum, public relations, fundraising, finance, and other matters of policy and administration pertaining to the school. Oh, and I'll still get to teach a class or two each semester. It's a big job, but one I believe my education and experience (not to mention the wealth of mentoring relationships and supportive friendships I've benefitted from over the years) have prepared me for.

Servens One other pleasant convergence: Doug and Julie have been asked to plant a new PCA church – City Presbyterian – in downtown OKC, starting with an initial gathering of core group members this summer. As if building and leading not just a school but an eventual school system weren't enough, helping to plant an urban church with dear friends we've known for 20 years (Doug and Julie were Megan's NavStaff at Oklahoma State after the three of us graduated from Mizzou together) just seems to be icing on the cake. Who knows? Doug and I might even get ThirtySomewhere finished now that we'll be in the same town.

Spring has brought more than April showers or May flowers for the Dunham family, and we're grateful to God for his leading. While we're looking down the barrel of what promises to be a very intense 3-4 months, we are trusting God to provide above and beyond what we need emotionally, physically, and spiritually as he continues to guide us in this new step of faith. Here's a look at what's ahead (thanks in advance for any prayers on our behalf):

MARCH

10-11: Westminster Christian Academy Parent/Teacher Conferences
11-12: Crossroads Presbyterian Fellowship Women's Retreat
19-24: Spring Break (house-hunting in Oklahoma City)
28: Opening Day (JV Baseball)

APRIL

8-9: Biblical Imagination Conference (Dallas)
15: Classical Conversations Banquet
22-24: Easter Break

MAY

7: Studio Forte Ballet Recital
12: Last Day (JV Baseball)
14: St. Louis Children's Choirs Spring Concert
23: WCA Graduation
27: WCA Last Day of School

JUNE

6: First Week at Veritas (Oklahoma City)
16-18: Association of Classical & Christian Schools Conference (Atlanta)
24-25: Biblical Imagination Conference (Apple Creek, OH)

For Megan's perspective on the move, click over to Half-Pint House.