Because life is a series of edits

Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

Second Drafts, Redux

In Calling, Internet, Technology, Writers on May 31, 2011 at 7:34 am

Five years ago (give or take three weeks), I created and launched Second Drafts. Here was part of the birth announcement (you can read the original post here):

My friend and co-author, Doug Serven, is right when he says the idea of writing a book is a lot more appealing than actually doing it. In fact, a lot of bookwriting (at least in our experience) amounts to "vomiting on the page" and then rearranging what sticks. Doug is fond of the vomiting part; I tend to tolerate the rearranging (though we each did a fair amount of both).

Likewise, life is much like bookwriting, as so much of living is really editing what we and others "throw up" (again, continuing the vomit metaphor). Anyone can come up with a first draft of something; writing the second draft, however – revising thoughts, letting go of bad choices, and improving the overall whole of the manuscript – is the more difficult part of the process…and the most rewarding.

So, with that in mind (and just to be sure I run the metaphor fully into the ground), my goal is always to think about life "editorially" – listening for Voice, considering word choice, getting rid of fluff. You're invited to bring your red pen along (or your purple one if red is too threatening) and mark things up with me, or just wait around for the finished project.

A word of warning, though: if you wait, you'll probably wait a long time. Writing and life are both too confusing without community. You're welcome (and wanted) as part of mine.

Leave it to me to equate writing and vomiting (actually, readers have probably drawn the conclusion before, but were too kind to leave their observation in the comments).

I haven't spent as much consistent time on the blog in recent years due to the advent of micro-blogging (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), but I still enjoy keeping one for reasons of posterity and/or narcissism. Two-and-a-half years ago, I wondered aloud if blogging was dead, but looking back on my own experience, I would say the medium was not so much on its deathbed as my literary creativity seemed to be.

Five years later, I choose to relaunch here at Second Drafts with a new header and color scheme, a slightly different design, and a new hope of some reinvigorated reasons to write. I shouldn't lack for material – new state, new place, new people, new job – but I suppose dealing with aspects of the novelty is what keeps me from writing about it.

So, welcome (or welcome back). Do me a favor and spread the word that everything old is new again here at the blog. And drop in every now and then and leave a fresh comment or add to an interaction – those mean more than you ever might think.

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A Beautiful Season

In Arts, Places & Spaces, Sports, Westminster on May 19, 2011 at 9:27 pm

"I love baseball.
You know it doesn't have to mean anything,
it's just beautiful to watch."
Woody Allen in Zelig

I hung up my baseball uniform today. Granted, I hung several of them up (uniform collection is one of the least glamorous parts of high school coaching), but I paused an extra moment when I came to number 20. Though I had picked it last year simply because it was the biggest jersey available (ahem), wearing it this year ironically corresponded with our JV team's final number of wins this season – the most victories for a JV baseball team in Westminster's 28-year history.

Huddle with Tickets

I mentioned the irony of my number to the guys in my pre-game talk last Thursday – the last game of the season and the one we needed to win to reach 20. As there are no playoffs or post-season games at the junior varsity level, total number of victories would seem all a JV team can shoot for to register its existence. But in baseball (as in most sports), record (we were 20-2 on the year) rarely captures what a season means to a coach and his players; relationship does that.

While we had our share of ups and downs, we loved one another even (and especially) when we didn't always like each other. Sure, there was plenty of competition for positions and no one wants to ride pine when his team is on the field, but the guys worked through a lot of that early in the season (sometimes with a little help from their coaches) and came to be each other's biggest fans.

Out of 22 games, no lineup was the same (Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is not the only one who can manage by "platoon"). At the JV level, our goal is to play as competitively as we can while playing as many as we can – winning games and preparing guys to be able to one day contribute at the Varsity level. In addition, JV provides the opportunity to call up some guys from our Freshman team (in only our second year, they went a very respectable 9-4 this spring) to see what various winning permutations the future might hold.

For some this season, action on the JV (or Freshman) team may have been all they saw, but they played a lot, learned a lot, and won a lot. For others, contributing at the Varsity level came sooner than later, as we played our last four games without three of our sophomores who got "called up" and are still playing as our Varsity just won districts on Wednesday for the sixth straight year.

District Champions

One of our JV player's dads sent me a gracious email summing up our season this way:

"Our family appreciates the time you gave to coaching the boys the past two years. You somehow managed to get playing time for everyone, which doesn't happen much in high school baseball, and you did it without weakening the team's performance in any way.  That's an impressive accomplishment for any coach."

I received several notes like this from parents, and being the affirmation junkie that I am, appreciated every one of them. Still, the one thing that meant the most to me this season happened after our 19th win. We were playing a 4A school (Westminster is 2A in size) and the opposing team's coach had told his team that we were not any good; he did not even have enough respect for us or our program to throw an actual pitcher against us, but simply plucked an infielder and had him awkwardly pitch.

We ended up winning, 18-3. After the game and our normal post-game meeting in the outfield, the guys made a few mini-speeches and handed my assistant coach, Slade Johnson, and me a manilla envelope with 15 tickets to a Cardinals game. Their parents had chipped in on so that we could all go to a game together (which we did Wednesday night after having the guys over for grilled hot dogs and wiffle ball – see below).

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After handing over the tickets (and with even bigger "ah, shucks" smiles than before), the guys made a few more mini-speeches about my leaving for Oklahoma and presented me with an authentic Rawlings bat with my name engraved in the barrel and their signatures scrawled on the bat head. Marveling at both the beauty and the meaning of the piece of wood I held in my hands, I nearly cried at the classy thoughtfulness of it.

Baseball Bat

The next day, we won our twentieth and final game. As I was walking off the field after shaking hands with the other team, the Lord gave me an idea for our post-game meeting. Since I had received a bat from the guys the day before, I thought it might be a good idea to rightly set up my successor. Grabbing my coach's fungo bat, I made my own mini-speech and presented it to Slade, who will be overseeing and coaching the JV and Freshman teams next year. He was thrilled (notice Lil' Blue in his hand below).

Passing the Bat

After the meeting, as Slade and I were walking back to the dugout, the guys presented their final gift to me: my very first water cooler shower. Strangely (and after the initial cold shock), I was honored by this just as much as I was by the bat the day before. Why? Because my players felt comfortable and secure enough in their relationship with their coach to have some fun with me. The day before they had honored me with their respect; now they honored me with their trust. I don't know if they caught it or not, but it was a beautiful illustration of how we are to walk with and enjoy our relationship with God.

Splash 3 Splash 4 Splash 5 Splash 6

It was a special season – one that I will take with me to Oklahoma and hold onto for years to come. I told the guys that, if they work hard and commit themselves to each other in doing so, I believe they have a great chance of one day winning a state championship. I also told them that, if and when they make it that far, I will be catching a plane back to St. Louis to be there. I think they believe they can do it. I think they believe I will, too.

So, for all you baseball fans out there, there's your post-season wrap-up. Thanks to my players, their parents, my fellow coaches, and the Lord God who gave us baseball. The only season that can top this one is still to come…and will play on through eternity. Look for me: I'll be the one in the coach's box down the third base line…

(Thanks to Dale Froeschner and Megan for the photos. For Megan's thoughts, click here.)

Seinfeld on Cell Phones

In Pop Culture, Technology, Thought on May 15, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Portable-cell-phone-boothI've been out of the cell phone world (or rather, cell phones have been out of mine) for six years and here are some reasons why.

For better or worse, however, I'm back in the market because of my new role starting in June, so if anyone has any helpful recommendations, comparison links, or best deal sites for me, send them my way.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy my last three weeks of non-cellular existence while constructing a portable phone booth similar to the one pictured here.

Worldviews Summarized

In Education, Westminster on May 9, 2011 at 9:20 pm

One of my fellow Worldviews teachers (whose room I use for my own section of seniors) summarized the flow of the Westminster Christian Academy Bible curriculum with the first two points below.

One of my other colleagues (whose sense of humor is bigger than his professionalism) added a third point for the benefit of my seniors during sixth hour.

Dunham Worldview Pic

Warren Smith, to be mocked by you is indeed to be loved by you. Thanks.

Our R.O.U.S. (Rodent of Unusual Size)

In Family on May 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm

I took Peaches to PetSmart today to get her nails ground down and came home inspired to save $20 and give her a haircut myself. Unfortunately, I'm probably going to have to spend the money anyway to finish her face and ears as I was too afraid of going all Van Gogh on her. Here she is in all of her half-shaved rodent glory:

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On The Finland Phenomenon

In Education on May 6, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Today is a teacher in-service day, so I thought I'd spend a few minutes here processing a documentary on education that our staff just watched. The film is called The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World's Most Surprising School System and is produced by the same man who did Two Million Minutes: The 21st-Century Solution (we watched that one at a spring in-service two years ago – my notes are here). The write-up:

The Finland Phenomenon is a documentary that features Dr. Tony Wagner, a researcher at Harvard University and author of The Global Achievement Gap. Wagner narrates and also appears in the film interviewing Finnish students of Education. The documentary's take on Finnish education is that "less is more," citing Finland's view of homework, for example. The active role of a student is also recognized as vital to Finland's success.

Teachers are highly esteemed in Finland, and only the best and brightest are encouraged to pursue and are accepted into the teaching profession. The film greatly credits teacher preparedness, ongoing on-site professional development, and teacher-to-teacher observations. "The norm," as one Finnish educator points out, "is we're going to watch each other teach all the time." Finnish teachers work together in PLCs (professional learning communities) to help students learn and achieve at high levels.

The film is only an hour long and some of my colleagues expressed a wariness of its gushing review of Finland, both as a nation and educational leader (from 2000-2009, Finland was ranked #1 in education). Part of this concern had much to do with the fact that the film presents little critique of Finland either culturally or pedagogically, nor does it seem to recognize the fact that Finland is much more homogenous than the United States and therefore much less complicated culturally, politically, and philosophically on the topic of educating kids (the film does try to compare populations to that of the U.S. state of Minnesota, but the comparison is brief and inconclusive at best). For the most part, I agreed with my colleagues' critiques, though they did not take away my appreciation for what Finland has been able to accomplish.

The fact is that Finland, particularly in the past 25 years, has really figured some things out on the educational front. And, while few of their discoveries seem little more than common sense, their commitment to functioning within and by what they've discovered (or re-discovered) is to be admired. It may seem naive, but Finland seems to be proving that education is not rocket science when an entire culture adopts a "less is more" mentality concerning it; if anything, "less is more" seems to work. Some notes:

  • Parents in Finland value education much more than their foreign counterparts and the state views its students as its top natural resource.
  • Teachers are taught and trained with a mentality more focused on job performance than job security. As part of this effort, newer teachers develop lesson plans in conjunction with more experienced "master" teachers, evaluating and revising, teaching (with the master teacher observing the lesson), and then briefly meeting together once more for feedback and adjustment. This happens often and with a goal of simplicity rather than complexity.
  • The goal of teachers' lessons is to teach students how to think and to give them opportunity to engage with the material. The hope is that the teacher would only speak around 40% of the time and student questions, analysis, and discussion would make up the other 60% of the time.
  • Finland's curricula provides tracks for academic and vocational education, and there is no perceived attitude or stigma for either but nobility for both. There is also flexibility in students being able to go back and forth throughout their schooling years as the student's interests and abilities change and grow. (For more on the America's need for more vocational training, read this Washington Post article, just published today.)
  • Finland's educational system emphasizes helping all students embrace, develop, and pursue understanding through their own learning style, not sacrificing a student's love for learning on the altar of educational uniformity. There seems less of a concern for general rules and dress codes and instead a focusing of efforts and energies on the responsibilities of citizenship (interestingly, in addition to Finland's number one ranking in education, it is also considered the least corrupt nation in the world; the U.S. is something like 23rd).
  • While the state sets a national core curriculum, trust and responsibility are given to local municipalities and schools to customize and shape the curriculum as each sees fit. Equality and equity in every student's educational opportunity is in the forefront of the administrations' minds; as a result, schools and classes are much smaller in Finland, with 20 often being the most in a classroom.
  • Trust (rather than compliance) is the key motivator and glue that holds together the Finnish educational system. There is a much greater sense of governmental alignment and unity from the top down, teachers seems more open to evaluation and criqitue by peers, and students address teachers by their first names as a way of breaking down barriers rather than building them up.
  • In a nutshell (and as summarzied in the film), the "business" of school in Finland is learning; sports or other extra-curriculars may be part of that process, but they do not supercede the academic/vocational aspects.

Personally, this film was much more inspiring to me as an educator than 2 Million Minutes as it resonated a bit more with my Midwest sensibilities. I suppose preparing students for the global marketplace is important to a degree, but sheer competition can't be the only driving force behind why and how we educate our kids, especially from a Christian perspective. Our kids are people, not products.

No, the need we face in education calls for a virtues-centered, character-shaping, culture-contributing system in which students learn a wide variety of facts, practice sorting and synthesizing those facts with truth, and are encouraged and equipped to express said synthesized factual truth in wise and winsome ways that benefit the world (and not just their personal careers).

To do anything less is to fail another generation of kids. And ask yourself this question, America: how many failed generations can we really afford?

(For another simple but good perspective on a high school education, see Seth Godin's post today entitled "What's High School For?" Again, I love the simplicity here.)

Yeah, I Said It: Thank a Teacher

In Education on May 3, 2011 at 10:16 am

Teacher Appreciation

As today is officially Teacher Appreciation Day, I thought I'd honor some of my own teachers who taught me quite a bit while I was in their charge. I'm grateful for their contribution to shaping my life in so many different ways and am reminded afresh how even the smallest things can make a big difference.

I appreciate:

My mom, Charlotte, for teaching me from the beginning at home (and in class in 8th grade) that proper English grammar always matters.

Kathy Hurd, for being the first teacher (3rd grade) I really cared about impressing because she expected things specifically from me.

Jay Hollingsworth, for being the first male teacher I had (5th grade) and planting the seed that education is an okay field for men.

Sue Glecker, for teaching me lots of helpful grammar rules in sixth grade that I still remember.

Ken Stauffer, for teaching baseball and basketball fundamentals in junior high and emphasizing the importance of team.

Lois Cloyd, for helping me learn to appreciate the trombone in high school, getting me in free to dozens of Mizzou sporting events later in college.

Judy Steers, for teaching me music theory for the majority of my elementary, junior high, and high school years.

Chuck McCormick, for being a lot more interesting personally than physics and chemistry ever were.

Peg Ratliff, for being my best friend in high school (even though I never had her for class).

Jan Dawson, for always encouraging my art attempts by telling me to cut off my ear and send it to her.

Betsy Pulliam, for being more passionate about math than I ever imagined a person could be.

Nanette Bess, for never complaining about having the world's smallest classroom (literally a closet).

Tom Leahy, for being an effective administrator with a heart.

Ken Bradbury and Chuck West, who even though they taught at a different school, were great examples of how Christian faith could inform and impact their occupation.

Dr. Walt Schroeder, for being the only college professor I remember who was still interested in me and my future even though my plans had nothing to do with his discipline (geography).

Dr. Jerram Barrs, for teaching me about the doctrine of common grace and helping me grasp the concept of covenant children.

Dr. Phil Douglass, for telling me six years ago that he thought I'd end up being a Head of School one day and that he believed it would be a good thing.

Dr. Jack Collins, for the phrase "Don't hear what I'm not saying" and for getting worked up in class about all the right things.

Dr. MIchael Williams, for helping me learn that when we arrive at the wrong answer it's often because we're not asking the right question.

Dr. Dan Doriani, for his friendship, counsel, and daughter advice before, during, and after my seminary experience.

Dr. Donald Guthrie, for his encouragement within my education studies as we processed my early teaching experiences.

Care to share your thanks for a teacher or two? Feel free to add them in the comments.

On Death and Justice

In Church, Politics on May 2, 2011 at 9:23 am

Firemen

My friend and colleague, Rev. Luke Davis, sent this out to all our WCA staff this morning. It's very much along the lines of my own heart and worth a read for its clarity of thought.

Today, I am certain that many of our students (and we ourselves) will be reacting to the reported death of Osama Bin Laden. I am not one to make sweeping gestures and proclamations on geopolitical news (blame that on my Gospel-first, politically independent status), but I do feel compelled to make a pastoral request regarding this historic moment.

1. Justice has been done. True, it may not feel like complete justice (that’s in God’s hands), but there is no doubt there is a spirit that we’ve cut off a major head of the Hydra. A mastermind of Islamic terror has fallen. While it would have been nice to see OBL regenerated and washed by the blood of Christ, it is also a great reminder that there are consequences for evil actions. Justice wins.

2. Remind our students to continue praying for our military. This fight is not over. There is a good chance this could release cells of terror that have waited for a moment of more independent spirit. One of the hallmarks of a terror network is the potential to bring someone even worse and more evil to a position of leadership once one chief has been snuffed out (To wit, read George Jonas’ Vengeance, the book that inspired Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film, Munich).

3. We all need to be reminded that this is not a time for us as a community to engage in conspiracy theories, “Is-he-really-dead?” questions, or battle over giving the credit to President Bush who set the fight against terror in motion or President Obama who has overseen this mission to this point.

Numbers 4 and 5 are somewhat hard things to say, but I need to say them:

4. One side of me recognizes that Osama Bin Laden has done an incredible amount of evil, and we remember with sober recall the events of 9/11, the bombing of the USS Cole, etc. However, I am somewhat surprised by the venom directed at Bin Laden in comparison to individuals like Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, and the Communist regimes of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The consistent destruction and erosion of the hope, freedom, and dignity of humanity in general and Christians in particular (plus the Jewish targets of Hitler’s “Final Solution”) get MUCH MORE BIBLICAL PRESS than what Bin Laden has coordinated. I’m not saying we should ignore this moment. I’m saying I’d hope we keep some perspective on what Scripture truly prizes in an impreccatory fashion. I doubt many of our celebrations over the last twelve hours have kept this in mind.

5. Finally, if we are truly followers of Christ, we should be marked by grace first and foremost. I’m not talking about speaking graciously here (though that can be part of it). I mean this: If we honestly thought about our sin, maybe we’d be more gratefully sober. Perhaps we need to have the solemn recognition and humility that, if God truly held even a whisker of a fraction of our sins against us, we would justly deserve much worse than what OBL got.

The good news is that justice will win because justice is ultimately from Yahweh. And it is also good news that Yahweh does not visit his righteous wrath on his children clothed in the blood of his Son, who endured worse than any terrorist strike.

Shalom, Luke