Because life is a series of edits

Archive for September, 2013|Monthly archive page

Understanding That Energizes

In Education, Oklahoma City, Students, Teachers, The Academy, Young Ones on September 13, 2013 at 6:48 pm

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I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
3 John 1:4

Earlier this morning, I flew out of Oklahoma City for Merrimack, New Hampshire, where I’ll take part in a weekend conference called the Biblical Imagination Series with author and musician Michael Card. Mike and I have been friends for more than a decade, and we occasionally partner together to help believers engage with the Bible at the level of an informed imagination.

I mention this because I have the same goal when I teach the New Testament to Dialectic students. However, I have a huge advantage teaching our eighth graders over the majority of adult audiences we teach through Biblical Imagination, as our eighth graders – especially those who have been with our school multiple years – know their world history.

Just yesterday, we were learning about the intertestamental period – the roughly 400 years between Old and New Testaments and an important period to at least be familiar to better understand the historical and cultural context surrounding Jesus’ incarnation as recorded in the gospels. (It also makes for a fantastic mini-lesson on God’s prospering of his people Israel throughout history, but I digress.)

Drawing a timeline to chart some dates, places, and people groups, I was pleased at what my students already knew – not just the basic grammar of when, where, and who, but also the how and why of the order and power transitions from the Persians to the Greeks to the Romans (and before those, from the Assyrians to the Babylonians to the Persians). It was not just one particularly bright student helping me fill out the timeline; it was the entire class seemingly not even thinking twice about doing so.

As we continued, I mentioned to the students how they knew more about the history of the world at 14 than I did at 34 when I began seminary. I shared that, to my regret, it wasn’t until then that I really studied these cultures and civilizations in any systematic manner that stuck, and I was glad to learn more with them as we asked questions and discussed these periods and people of these times.

Later that afternoon, when I mentioned the joy of my experience to one of my teaching colleagues, she smiled knowingly. “They don’t even know how smart they are,” she replied. “It’s amazing.” Indeed, there was a matter-of-factness to their answers, all without a hint of arrogance (at least that I could pick up externally).

I’ve taught the Bible to plenty of 14-year-olds in my day; the difference at The Academy is that so many others have also taught them – when they were 12…8…6. It’s a privilege to teach New Testament to students who have taken two years of Old Testament with our own Josh Spears. It’s a gift to ask students to reference certain biblical stories and turn to particular books, the content and order of both their grammar school teachers have ensured they have learned. It’s humbling to talk with students about the Jesus of the Bible, knowing that these conversations have and will continue with parents around the dinner table at home (I know this because I’ve already had parents email to tell me about them).

As one teacher emailed me this week (and multiple teachers in both models and at all three trivium levels have echoed in conversation), “I have never been more energized by my students.” This sentiment, of course, doesn’t guarantee that every day will be this way or that our kids are perfect (newsflash: they aren’t), but it does speak of what our kids are capable – learning that goes beyond just knowledge for their own sakes to understanding that energizes and inspires those around them.

If there’s a better gift to offer our students and our inspiration-hungry world, I don’t know what it is. I’m grateful for our kids.

The Condition of My Sole/Soul

In Calling, Church, Family, Friends, Health, Humanity, Oklahoma City, Places, The Academy on September 8, 2013 at 8:37 pm

DSC_0002 As I’ve done before, I took a picture of my shoes tonight. My daughters wondered if I was going to try to sell them online. I’m actually thinking of making a display box for them to remind myself that shoes are no more good without an intact sole than I am without mine (intact soul, that is).

I noticed these shoes breaking down at the beginning of summer (the heel on the the right shoe had already begun to decompose), but I hit August and never seemed to have or take the time to buy a new pair once the hole developed.

To compensate, I spent more mental energy than I had making sure I didn’t cross my legs with my foot up in the air, advertising the color of my socks that day. I was careful on rainy days (and we had several of them this summer) as to where I stepped, as I was vulnerable not just to the biggest of puddles, but to the dewiest of grass as well.

Having made the aforementioned adjustments, I thought I could just keep going, which I did…until the remains of the inner liner gave way and all that was left between my foot and the pavement was my sock, which didn’t last more than a day during car line of the opening week of school. Concrete and cotton are not friends, and my foot paid the price for their dysfunctional relationship.

Two weeks ago, I finally went to the shoe store. I proudly announced to the staff there that I thought it was time I bought a new pair of dress shoes. I showed them the bottoms of my old shoes. They were amazed. They took pictures. They said they had never seen a pair of dress shoes that beat up. I beamed with pride even as my feet hurt. My sole-abuse was (or seemed) justified.

Just like my sole, my soul – the essence of who I am – has worn through some as a result of the past two-and-a-half years in Oklahoma. Sure, the shoe still fits and functions, but that doesn’t mean I should keep wearing it as it is.

I took time this weekend to sort some of this out. I spent a lot of time thinking, writing, editing, praying, and resting. I consolidated a majority of my digital life and re-read and re-evaluated what – good and not so much – had brought me to this time and space. While my work and call are far from fulfilled (God asks for and is doing so much!), for the first time in a very long time, I caught a glimpse of a few adjustments I need to make so as to avoid burnout in fulfilling them. They won’t be immediate and will be more of a months-long process than a weekend project, but I liked being able to identify the need and the difference. It felt good.

To be clear, I’m not even close to fizzling or frying; hardly. I still love God, my wife, my kids (biological and foster), what we’re doing at The Academy of Classical Christian Studies and City Presbyterian, and with whom and why we’re doing it. I’m also looking forward to heading to Merrimack, NH, this weekend as we start up the third leg of the Biblical Imagination conferences, which are always personally edifying.

The fact is that I’m encouraged most days, Oklahoma continues to grow on me, and we’re paying our bills and eating. God has just shown me a few important things in the midst of all the good things, and I felt led to share them with you, ask you to pray, and encourage you to glean from my experiences what God might show you concerning yours.

No need to worry; no need to call.

It’s just time to get some new shoes.

The Search for Church

In Calling, Church, Family, Oklahoma City on September 6, 2013 at 10:32 am

First ChurchThe problem that most people have finding a church isn’t that they haven’t found one; it’s that they have found more than one. What’s so difficult about finding a church?

For starters, the typical vernacular used in describing the process is not helpful. “Finding” a church makes the activity seem so much more elusive and mysterious than it needs to be, and this plays to the “grass will perpetually be greener” mentality with which we pragmatic humans (particularly Americans) already struggle. Perhaps a better way of speaking is of “identifying” a church, as this takes away some of the pressure of visiting so many in hopes of not missing the absolute right one (which does not exist anyway).

Another complicating factor is the fact that churches are more different from one another than they are alike these days. This was not as much the case 100 years ago, when the amount of variation was minimal in terms of church building design, worship service direction, denominational distinctives, and pastoral personality in the pulpit. Today, however, it seems every aspect of church is little more than an element for variation and branding (which personally drives me crazy), but that’s a result of the past 50 years of uber-individualized evangelicalism.

Children (young or older) always muck things up a bit, not because they aren’t a necessary consideration, but because different parents evaluate their church experience differently. From one parent’s perspective, that no child gets misplaced for an hour-and-a-half may be the extent of expectations met; for another, there are higher expectations – namely that a child is not only not lost, but provided a stimulating craft, an engaging time of interaction, healthy snacks, timely diaper changes, a sense of being loved and looked out for on an individual basis, and absolutely NO cartoon animation featuring certain vegetables who sing and dance. (Note: For older kids, expectations can range from no one getting pregnant to no one ever being bored, the latter of which is often viewed by parents as the bigger sin.)

There are plenty of other variables that people tend to use in church selection: facility (or lack thereof); friendliness (actual or perceived); location and drive distance (how far is too far?); bulletin usage (or lack thereof); dress code (spoken and unspoken); congregational demographics (does everyone look like/different from me?); pastor training and education (pick your denominational/non-denominational bias); Scripture translation (and whether it’s actually used); music instrumentation (enough said); website design (20th or 21st century?); frequency of sacraments (weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually); outreach and evangelism vs. discipleship and congregational care (always a fun tension)…just to name a few.

The process and degree of evaluating all this each and every Sunday gets redundant. It can feel like the search for church might never end (especially in a city the size of Oklahoma City where someone could realistically attend a different church each and every day of the week for years).

But this is not the goal, and this should not be the plan. In my next post, I’ll write more about what could and (dare I say it) should be our perspective in engaging in a search for church.