Because life is a series of edits

Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

People Like Us (Review)

In Movies on June 29, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Rare is the film that ends exactly how you know it will end without insulting your intelligence in getting there. Happily, People LIke Us is one of those rare films.


The premise is pretty straightforward:

"On the day his latest deal collapses, fast-talking salesman Sam receives the news that his father has died. Sam reluctantly returns home to settle his father's estate. In the course of carrying out the man's last wishes, Sam discovers the existence of a 30-year-old sister named Frankie, whom he never knew about. As Sam and Frankie get to know each other, Sam must re-examine both his perceptions about his family and his own life choices."

That's it, that's all – film over. But this story is told with such beautiful depth and character development that you forget you know exactly how it's going to end…you're just glad and interested as to how it goes the way you knew it would.

The strained relationships in need of redemption are multiple – slick Sam (Chris Pine) and his half-sister, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks); single mother Frankie and her acting-out middle school son, Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario); rebellious Josh and his grandmother, Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer); lonely Lillian and her son, Sam; Sam and his heart-of-gold girlfriend, Hannah (Olivia Wilde) – with all of them being affected or having something to do with the dead patriarch of the family, Jerry (Dean Chekvala), a semi-famous (but past-his-prime) record producer who put his music before his morals in Los Angeles in the 1970s. Despite my skepticism going in, the redemption is genuine and complete (but far from cheap).

The roles are well-acted (Pine is strong as Sam, but Banks' performance as Frankie is particularly compelling), and the characters are well-developed through a script coming (perhaps surprisingly) from writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who worked with Pine on the Star Trek reboot from 2009, as well as writing other action films including Mission: Impossible III and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. While I've not seen any of the Transformers movies, I liked what they did in humanizing Star Trek and MI:III and hope they continue sowing their writing talents in other genres as well.

The film's language (as well as one very brief scene of sexuality) makes this one a true PG-13, but while there were perhaps a couple of times when the dialogue seemed more profanity-laced than needed, the majority made sense in the context of the brokenness of the story. One thing that was nice was how the brother/sister relationship (though known only by Sam through most of the film) kept the sexual tension toned down and him faithful to his girlfriend (at least as faithful as one can be without being married).

People Like Us is what movies like this should be. Yes, the story is predictable, but the fulfillment of watching it unfold is pleasantly surprising. Opens today. Four of five stars.

Come Hell or High Water

In Friends, Places on June 24, 2012 at 3:02 pm
Fire Near Eagle Lake

(photo by Andrew Brown)

We've been following from afar the wildfires near Colorado Springs. Not only did we once live there for 12 years, but the two properties we formerly helped run, Eagle Lake Camp and Glen Eyrie Conference Center, have been evacuated with our old west side neighborhood just down the street from the Garden of the Gods about to be so. (As you may have read in my previous post, we're due to be at both in a couple of weeks, and really hope to find all places still standing and intact, with our friends still involved with them in one piece.)

Staff LeadershipEL Staff 2000During our time in Colorado, we went through a fire scare once before: in 2002, a massive wildfire came within several miles of Eagle Lake and we were forced to evacuate camp down to Glen Eyrie. I coordinated things on the bottom end, handling communications with those coming down from camp and making sure we had what we needed to handle the extra influx of 250 campers and 100 staff in the midst of hundreds of guests already at the Glen. We had a good team (pic) working together on both ends of Queen's Canyon (the nine-mile-long canyon running between the two properties), and things went as well as we could have hoped, with camp back up and going a week later.

Five years previous in 1998, we dealt with another crisis – heavy rains and flash flooding with 250 campers and staff only halfway down Queen's Canyon. I was monitoring the hike from above on Rampart Range Road and was in radio communication with them and it sounded awful. Judging by what I heard in radio conversation and considering what the weather looked like it was going to do, I made the call to bring in Search and Rescue, but again, it was our team (pic) who did most of the searching and rescuing; even after S&R determined it was too dangerous to do anything with the last of our group still in the canyon, our guys were going back up and bringing folks back down. It was such a memorable experience that we printed T-shirts to hand out to campers and staff at the end of that week's camp.

Being so removed from this summer's action as I am now in Oklahoma reminds me of the summer of 1993 when I was at Eagle Lake (elevation 9,600 feet) while my family back in Illinois were doing everything they could to help sandbag and hold back the Mississippi River from flooding more land than it already had. The Flood of 1993 was surreal and hard to imagine sitting on top of a mountain in Colorado, but after 2002's fire, I don't have to imagine the the kind of fire and damage Colorado's experiencing (you could see and smell it). I am, however, struggling to imagine Eagle Lake and the Glen – places that have meant so much to hundreds of thousands of people over time and so much to me for the 12 years I was there – possibly being swallowed by a fiery blaze.

Earlier today, I sent an email to some of the guys I labored with during those developmental years. Knowing they were up to their eyeballs in details and decisions and not necessarily anticipating an answer, I typed: "Following from afar with all the fire stuff. Sorry to hear camp this week is canceled and both properties were evacuated. Hope they get it contained. Thinking of you."

An hour or so later, I got a response back from my friend and mentor, Jack McQueeney, executive director of Glen Eyrie and Eagle Lake. Ever the optimist, Jack sent back the most faith-filled of email messages: "We need a T-shirt!"

Lord, get them through this and I'll be happy to design one.

Encouragement by Association

In Educators, Veritas on June 22, 2012 at 10:35 pm

ACCS Crowd

I love association conferences. Back in the day, I cut my teeth on what were then the Christian Camping International (CCI) – now Christian Camp and Conference Association (3CA) – annual gatherings in cities like Seattle, Denver, St. Louis, San Diego. These past three days, I've been at the Association of Classical & Christian Schools conference in Dallas (I attended and wrote about last year's ACCS conference in Atlanta here), but this time I've brought 42 of our Veritas staff and parents to keep me company (34 of them are pictured below).


Annual association conferences are helpful for a variety of reasons, but here are some specific thoughts with regard to my role and context:

1) Coming on the heels of my first year at Veritas, the timing and location of this year's conference being in Dallas has been especially helpful. A year ago would have been too early, as I didn't know what I didn't know; next year would have been too late as I might have missed some urgency of key foundational aspects of my tenure as Head of School.

2) At every association conference – regardless of context – I'm always reminded of how much relational dysfunction can still exist within Christian organizations. Thankfully, in my years in Christian camping/conferencing and now in Christian schooling, I've been privileged to be at both a camp/conference center and school that, while not having yet arrived in terms of all the nuts and bolts of our work, were much further down the road in terms of interpersonal practice and relational maturity. This didn't/doesn't mean we didn't/don't have issues, but we did/do have processes to work through them.

3) Being an affirmation junkie, I'm always looking for encouragement that I/we just might be thinking about the right things and moving in the right directions, at least as far as more experienced and established leaders/schools are concerned. I haven't spent all my time comparing and constrasting every move we have or haven't made, but there have been occasions – many this week – when I've heard a story or point of fact and felt affirmed that we're really doing okay in more areas than I often let myself believe.

4) That said, I've experienced more than one paradigm nudge/shift as a result of being here. Douglas Wilson challenged me to avoid the extremes of both ends of the Founding Fathers' Christianity debate (complete and total Christians/complete and total Deists); Tom Garfield raised some flags on my idealism that we as a school can somehow make up for parents' lack of desire/diligence in carrying out their God-given responsibility to educate their kids; and our Veritas staff and parents inspired and convicted me that I want to work harder to become more of what they need as a clear-thinking, passionate-loving shepherd for them.

5) I'm also newly aware of just how far I have to go to be more classical and Christian in how I live and lead as a Head of School; neither comes naturally (the former due to a lack of experience; the latter due to a lack of sanctification), and it can be intimidating listening to Wilson and others, for whom both seem much more hand-in-glove. I'm humbled by the way God has gifted and blessed these men academically and theologically, and long to see Him do similarly in me.

It's been a good several days – made better (and only a little more complicated) by having Megan and the girls with me. Megan has attended and enjoyed the conference very much, while the girls have had the run of the InterContinental Hotel while we've been in meetings. We've had lunches together in our room and eaten out dinners before swimming in the hotel pool in the evenings. They've read some books, watched some cartoons, and seemed to have fun (most of the time) hanging out as sisters.

As Douglas Wilson reminded us, "The goal of a leader is to have thick skin and a tender heart, not tender skin and a thick heart." This year's conference has helped me with both, and I'm grateful to our Veritas community for their generosity in providing the funds for us to come, as well as to ACCS for providing something good to come to.

Summer 2012: A Preview

In Family, Holidays, Travel, Vacation on June 18, 2012 at 10:23 am

I'm a little behind with my annual "here's what we're planning for summer" post. Truth be told, I'm a little out of practice as well, as last summer's plan was pretty easy: move.


As the picture above documents, Megan and I already took a trip to New York state for a Biblical Imagination Conference (we also saw Niagara Falls). In addition, I led a day-and-a-half New Staff Induction and Megan coordinated our annual Resale for Veritas, and this past weekend I took part in our annual Veritas Board of Directors Retreat. Good times.

What does the rest of June and summer hold in terms of trips and events? Here you go:

20-23 Assoc. of Classical & Christian Schools' Repairing the Ruins Conference (Dallas)
We're taking 46 faculty, staff, and parents to Big D to learn more together about classical Christian education. Megan's attending the conference, and the girls will rule the hotel pool. We're also planning to take in a Rangers game on Saturday before heading home.

27-29 Family trip with the Servens (Ozark, MO)
Between the two families (four adults, eight active kids), it took us almost two months to figure out a three-day window of time that we could all make a getaway work. We're glad to have this one on the calendar.

6-21 Family vacation (Tulsa, St. Louis, New Salem, Colorado Springs)
This is the big trip of the summer – both sets of grandparents, friends in St. Louis and Colorado Springs, a Cardinals game, a Rockies game, a week of camp at Eagle Lake for the girls, and hopefully some down time for Megan and me at Glen Eyrie and around town. If history is any indication, there are sure to be some Griswoldian stories from this one, so check back in August.

Just about all of the following has to do with school starting, so I'll spare you the details (though I'm very excited about our new two-day parent orientations for both campuses).
2-3 New Staff Orientation/Latin Student Workshops
6-7 Staff Orientation
10-11 WISE Parent Orientation (North Campus)
13-14 Staff Orientation
17-18 WISE Parent Orientation (Central Campus)
22/23 First days of School (North/Central)

Honestly (at least from a scheduling perspective), the summer seems almost over before it's begun. Still, we'll make the most of it, supplementing the trips with plenty of book reading and book writing, backyard pool time, trips to the dollar theater, and some cook-outs with friends. There's also lots of work to be done with both Veritas and City Pres, so we'll hardly be bored.

Glad for the breaks, glad for the work from which I need to take them.

Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith (1.2)

In Thought on June 18, 2012 at 9:32 am

DTK cover

Still more from chapter 1 (I can't get enough):

"Our worldview is more a matter of the imagination than the intellect, and the imagination runs off the fuel of images that are channeled by the senses…An orientation toward a particular vision of the good life becoems embedded in our dispositions or 'adaptive unconscious' by being pictured in conrete, alluring ways that attract us at a noncognitive level." (pgs. 57-58)

"For the most part, we make our way in the world by means of under-the-radar intuition and attunement – that we live not so much by what we know but instead by know-how…Our love or desire – aimed at a vision of the good life that moves and motivates us – is operative, I suggest, on a largely nonconscious level…If Christian education is, in some significant sense, about the formation of a Christian worldview, then we need to consider how the unconscious is shaped and formed." (p. 60)

"Worldview-talk – particularly in its recently distorted form, but also perhaps even at its best moments – still retains a picture of the human person that situates the center of gravity of human identity in the cognitive regions of the mind rather than the affective regions of the gut/heart/body. While it rejects thinking-thing-ism, it is prone to fall prey to believing-thing-ism, where 'beliefs' are still treated as quasi-ideas, propositions that require assent. In short, it still retains an emphasis on the cognitive and often remains blind to the significance of the affective and bodily center of who we are. The result is a narrow, reductionistic understanding of the human person that fails to appreciate the primarily affective, noncognitive way that we negotiate being-in-the-world." (p. 63)

"There are two correlates to this cognitive emphasis: First, this focus on a Christian worldview as a system of beliefs and doctrines marginalizes or ignores the centrality of distinctly Christian practices that constitute worship…Second, this focus on beliefs is inattentive to the pedagogical significance of material practices." (p. 64)

"A social imaginary is not how we think about the world, but how we imagine the world before we ever think about it; hence the social imaginary is made up of the stuff that funds the imagination – stories, myths, pictures, narratives. Furthermore, such stories are always already communal and traditioned. There are no private stories: every narrative draws upon tellings that have been handed down (traditio)." (p. 66)

"Now what does this have to do with a Christian worldview? I suggest that instead of thinkinga bout worldview as a distinctly Christian 'knowledge,' we should talk about a Christian 'social imaginary' that constitutes a distinctly Christian understanding of the world that is implicit in the practices of Christian worship. Discipleship and formation are less about erecting an edifice of Christian knowledge than they are a matter of developing a Christian know-how that intuitively 'understands' the world in the light of the fullness of the gospel." (p. 68)

"We might also suggest that we love before we know…This conclusion echoes an ancient wisdom in the Christian tradition, which might be formulated as an axiom: 'desire forms knowledge.' What we do (practices) is intimately linked to what we desire (love), so what we do determines whether, how, and what we can know." (p. 70)

"Desire shapes how one sees and understands the world, and so the key question for the Christian in pursuit of knowledge is first to consider the shape and 'aim' of one's desire, and to specifically seek to increase one's desire for God." (p. 71)

"Thus our cultural criticism should not be asking what ideas or beliefs are being bandied about in 'culture'; rather, we should be discerning to what ends all sorts of cultural institutions are seeking to direct our love." (p. 73)

Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith (1.1)

In Books, Educators, Pedagogy on June 15, 2012 at 8:30 am

DTK cover

Quotes from the first half of chapter 1, "Homo Liturgicus" :

"Behind every pedagogy is a philosophical anthropology; that is, implicit in every constellation of educational practices there is a set of assumptions about the nature of human persons." (p. 37)

"A dominant model, as old as Plato but rebirthed by Descartes and cultivated throughout modernity, sees the human person as fundamentally a thinking thing." (p. 39)

"Protestant Christianity (whether liberal or conservative) tends to operate with an overly cognitivist picture of the human person and thus tends to foster an overly intellectualist account of what it means to be or become a Christian…We could describe this as 'bobble head' Christianity, so fixated on the cognitive that it assumes a picture of human beings that look like bobble heads: mammoth heads that dwarf an almost nonexistent body." (pgs. 41-42)

"What defines us is not what we think – not the set of ideas we assent to – but rather what we believe, the commitments and trusts that orient our being-in-the-world. This moves the essence of the human person from the more abstract, disembodied world of ideas to a prerational level of commitments that are more ingrained in the human person. Before we are thinkers, we are believers." (p. 42)

"While it contests a narrow, naive focus on ideas, this model of the human person seems just to move the clash of ideas down a level to a clash of beliefs…The person-as-believer model still tends to operate with a very disembodied, individualistic picture of the human person…The believer feels like a chastened rationalist: beliefs still seem to be the sorts of things that are more commensurate with thinking." (p. 44-45)

"While the Reformed tradition of worldview-thinking generates a radical critique of rationalism and its attendant claims to objectivity and secularity, the critique still feels reductionistic insofar as it fails to accord a central role to embodiment and practice. Because of this blind spot, it continues to yield a quasi-rationalist pedagogy." (p. 45)

"The point is that the emphasis on belief does not go far enough…In contrast to both the person-as-thinker and the person-as-believer models, I want to articulate a more robustly Augustinian anthropology that sees humans as more fundamentally oriented and identified by love. Only such a robust anthropology – which accords a more central, formative place to embodiment – can yield a truly alternative understanding of pedagogy." (p. 46)

"If humans are conceived almost as beings without bodies, then they also are portrayed as creatures without histories, without any sense of unfolding and development over time…In contrast, we need a nonreductionistic understanding of human persons as embodied agents of desire or love." (pgs. 46-47)

"The point is to emphasize that the way we inhabit the world is not primarily as thinkers, or even believers, but as more affective, embodied creatures who make our way in the world more by feeling our way around it…The human person is the sort of creature who can never be captured in a snapshot; we need video in order to do justice to this dynamism." (p. 47)

"Our model of the person as lover begins from an affirmation of our intentional nature; further, with Heidegger, we would affirm that our most fundamental way of intending the world is not cognitive but noncognitive…Augustine would argue that the most fundamental way that we intend the world is love." (p. 50)

"This love or desire is a structural feature of being human. It is not just a characteristic of passionate people or romantic people or even specifically religious people. To be human is to be just such a lover – a creature whose orientation and form of life is most primordially shaped by what one loves as a ultimate, which constitutes an affective, gut-like orientation to the world that is prior to reflection and even eludes conceptual articulation. To say that humans are, at root, lovers is to emphasize that we are the sorts of animals for whom things matter in ways that we often don't (and can't) articulate." (p. 51)

"What distinguishes us (as individuals, but also as 'peoples') is not whether we love, but what we love…Our love can be aimed at different ends or pointed in different directions, and these differences are what define us as individuals and as communities." (p. 52)

"Augustine would say that the effect of sin on our love is not that we stop loving but that our love becomes disordered. It gets aimed at the wrong ends and finds 'enjoyment' in what it chould merely be 'using.'" (p. 52)

"To say that we are dynamic, intentional creatues entails a second characteristic: we are telelogical creatures. We are the sorts of animals whose love is aimed at different ends or goals…In other words, what we love is a specific vision of the good life, an implicit picture of what we think human flourishing looks like." (p. 52)

"Our ultimate love is oriented by and to a picture of what we think it looks like for us to live well, and that picture then governs, shapes, and motivates our decisions and actions…A vision of the good life captures our hearts and imaginations not by providing a set of rules or ideas, but by painting a picture of what it looks like for us to flourish and live well. This is why such pictures are communicated most powerfully in stories, legends, myths, plays, novels, and films rather than dissertations, messages, and monographs." (p. 53)

"Our ultimate love moves and motivates us because we are lured by this picture of human flourishing. Rather than being pushed by beliefs, we are pulled by a telos that we desire…When our imagination is hooked, we're hooked (and sometimes our imaginations can be hooked by very different visions than what we're feeding into our minds)…To be human is to desire 'the kingdom,' some version of the kingdom, which is the aim of our quest." (p. 54)

"Our habits constitute the fulcrum of our desire: they are the hinge that 'turns' our heart, our love, such that it is predisposed to be aimed in certain directions…Because for the most part we are desiring, imaginative, noncognitive animals, our desire for the kingdom is inscribed in our dispostions and habits and functions quite apart from our conscious reflection." (p. 56)

Un-Manic Monday(s)?

In Books, Calling, Friends, Oklahoma City, Places, Writers on June 11, 2012 at 1:34 pm
Craig and Doug 2011

Craig & Doug, 2011.

So I'm sitting in an enormous but quiet room at an undisclosed location with Doug Serven, my former college roommate, co-author, and friend of 20 years sitting 50-feet away on the other side. Doug and I have committed to take Mondays this summer to work together – not necessarily on the same thing but in the same room – if for no other reason than just to be together doing it.

It's taken us a year of living in the same city to figure out our need for this – for our personal sanity, for our friendship, and perhaps for the sake of another book. We probably realized it was a good idea a while ago, but in the challenges of our first year in Oklahoma City (his as lead pastor planting City Presbyterian; mine as Head of School leading Veritas Classical Academy), this is the first day out of the past 365 that we've finally been able/chosen to schedule this length of regular time.

After a morning of working on different individual church/school responsibilities and then stepping out for a bite to eat at lunch, we came back to digitally dust off the pseudo-manuscript we had started almost four years ago for ThirtySomewhere. Five minutes in, Doug leaned forward, put his head on the table, and declared how overwhelming this all felt.

And it does – writing a book at 41 seems a whole lot different than writing a book at 31. It shouldn't in theory; after all, we have more life experiences from which to pull. The challenge is stepping out of life's experiences in order to pull from them.

Thus, the Mondays idea…or whatever part of Mondays we get in the midst of everything else. We've walked through our summer calendars and blocked out what we could, but with trips and everything else, we can only grab four Mondays across the whole summer. Still, we're starting with those and will see what happens.

(If you see ThirtySomewhere on a bookshelf somewhere in a year-and-a-half, it worked.)

Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith (Intro)

In Books on June 8, 2012 at 4:28 pm

DTK cover

Our Veritas staff summer reading is Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K.A. Smith, a wonderful look at what true Christian education should be. There are introductions to books, and then there are Introductions to books. As I process through this one chapter by chapter, I thought I'd pull some quotables:

"What is education for? And more specifically, what is at stake in a distinctly Christian education? What does the qualifier Christian mean when appended to education? It is usually understood that education is about ideas and information (though it is also too often routinely reduced to credentialing for a career and viewed as a ticket to a job)." (p. 17)

"What if education, including higher education, is not primarily about the absorption of ideas and information, but about the formation of hearts and desires?…What if education was primarily concerned with shaping our hopes and passions – our visions of 'the good life' – and not merely about the dissemination of data and information as inputs to our thinking? What if the primary work of education was the transforming of our imagination rather than the saturation of our intellect? And what if this had as much to do with our bodies as with our minds?" (p. 18)

"What if education wasn't first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?" (p. 18)

"If education is about formation, then we need to be attentive to all the formative work that is happening outside the university: in homes and at the mall; in football stadiums and at Fourth of July parades; in worship and at work." (p. 19)

"The core claim of this book is that liturgies – whether 'sacred' or 'secular' – shape and constitute our identities by forming our most fundamental desires and our most basic attunement to the world. In short, liturgies make us certain kinds of people, and what defines us is what we love." (P. 25)

"An education, then, is a contellation of practices, rituals, and routines that inculcates a particular vision of the good life by inscribing or infusing that vision into the heart (the gut) by means of material, embodied practices…There is no neutral, nonformative education; in short, there is no such thing as a 'secular' education." (p. 26)

"Could we offer a Christian education that is loaded with all sorts of Christian ideas and information – and yet be offering a formation that runs counter to that vision?" (p. 31)

"The end of Christian education has been seen to be the dissemination and communication of Christian ideas rather than the formation of a peculiar people." (p. 31)

"Being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your head in order to guarantee proper behavior; rather, it's a matter of being the kind of person who loves rightly – who loves God and neighbor and is oriented to the world by the primacy of that love." (p. 33)

"An important part of revisioning Christian education is to see it as a made of counter-formation." (p. 33)

"While Hollister and Starbucks have taken hold of our heart with tangible, material liturgies, Christian schools are 'fighting back' by giving young people Christian ideas…Christian education as formation needs to be a pedagogy of desire." (p. 33)

"The primary goal of Christian education is the formation of a peculiar people – a people who desire the kingdom of God and thus undertake their vocation as an expression of that desire." (p. 34)

My instincts as to what we are to be doing (and why) at Veritas find much affirmation in Smith's writing. Looking forward to chapter 2…