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Archive for the ‘Arts’ Category

On Noah: A Letter to Darren Aronofsky

In Arts, Humanity, Movies, Pop Culture, Thought on April 4, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Dear Mr. Aronofsky,

Noah director, Darren Aronofsky

Noah director, Darren Aronofsky

I’m sure you’re up to your eyeballs right now after the opening weekend of your movie, Noah, but I wanted to write anyway. I saw your film earlier this week and have enjoyed thinking through much of it since. I rarely go to the theater for new movies (let alone so close to opening weekend), but this one seemed to make sense both for the visual spectacle of the story as well as the inevitable conversations it would generate. While I have not seen any of your previous films, I’m glad to have seen Noah.

I’m glad to have seen Noah for several reasons, the first being because – like you – it’s one of my favorite stories. I loved how you set the entire film under “the Creator” and that, regardless of whether they were for or against Him, the characters within the film lived with what seemed a constant awareness of this reality, as those in the Ancient World were much more apt to acknowledge than in our modern day. In addition, I appreciated how you did not qualify the story of the flood as merely a legend to be believed or dismissed, but treated it as factual in its occurrence, much like the Bible and multiple ancient texts do.

I imagine you may have taken some flack for choosing this story to tell, but I’m glad you did. I appreciated how you directed Russell Crowe in his portrayal of Noah as a watchful father to his sons and a loving husband to his wife in the first part of the film. You (with Mr. Crowe’s capable help) really teased out a tenderness and affection in the title role, much like I imagined God must have developed in the real Noah of the Bible. I’ve always tried to imagine what Noah must have felt like leading his family to build the ark, answering his critics for his bizarre actions while knowing what was coming, and wrestling with the guilt of surviving something that no one else living at the time (save his family) did. I was touched by Mr. Crowe’s portrayal of the emotion of all this in the beginning and at the end of the film – especially with Noah’s renewal of the covenant – and appreciated your direction in it.

As you might imagine, I do have some questions. Since the narrative in the Bible is only about 2,400 words (and none of them are Noah speaking), I’m curious what inspiration you turned to in order to flesh out your two-hour-and-twenty-minute movie. From my perspective, while there were plenty of curiosities, I felt that you generally kept with the main biblical story up until the flood, but even after the flood (and despite taking a pretty big narrative off-ramp before getting back on the main road of the story), I recognized your attempt to present a Noah laboring under the stress of so many years pursuing what He understood (or thought he understood) about God’s will. In fact, the scene toward the end of the film in which Noah lies drunk in his nakedness made more sense of that particular passage than I had ever seen before on the heels of all he had just been through.

Was there another text or source that you were using? Did the emotion come out of your own past or experiences? Have you felt the kind of blinding psychopathic anger and confusion in your own spiritual journey that you depicted in the film’s abrupt departure from the biblical storyline? It was so different from the scriptural text that I couldn’t help but wonder what might be behind that particular diversion. Because of my own faith and familiarity with the story, I realize there are challenges in telling a story that the audience might already know (and I also realize it’s hard to dramatically top the flooding of the world), but it seemed to me you were going for something particularly deep and emotional in taking Noah’s character down such a cold and dark road of wrath before having him step back into the warmth and light of love. I would love to buy you a cup of coffee and hear more of your thought on that if and when you ever happen to be traveling through Oklahoma City.

As I don’t know you personally, I’m not sure how interested you are in some of the controversy your film has caused within the Christian community (not to mention the greater culture at large). While I’m sure the reviews and responses have helped the film’s bottom line, I have to believe that you are at least somewhat interested in what those of us who love the Bible think of your work. Has it been confusing for you when so many people who claim the same (or at least similar) beliefs have had such dissimilar responses to your film? I’m sorry for some of the hurtful things that have been said, as well as for any feelings of being misunderstood you may have as a result. People do strange things when they’re scared or threatened, and I don’t know why some of my fellow Christians have responded out of such blinding fear. (I often wish my fellow believers would get as riled up about some of the awful doctrine and artlessness we’ve put out in the name of “safe for the whole family,” but I digress.) Please forgive us.

I hope that through the preparation for and process of making the film you were able to grow in your understanding of the Creator God and His covenant commitment to mankind – a commitment that includes both a justice so passionate He was willing to destroy everything He had created in order to quell what we had done with it, yet a heart of so much love and mercy that He was not willing to give up on what He has always desired, namely that we would be His people and He would be our God. As mentioned earlier, I saw several glimpses of this recognition of that reality in your film, but I hope it was personal and not just cinematic for you in the midst of making it. Indeed, as scripture says,

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’

As I do for myself and others, I pray the truth of this passage will become more believable and beautiful in your life. The Creator God has given you much talent, Mr. Aronofsky, and I pray you do not let the world convince you that you are your gifts more than you are His child. The joy of the latter is what makes the endeavors of the former worth it. I hope you experience both in your life and art.

Blessings,

Craig

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The Classical Capstone

In Arts, Calling, Education, Oklahoma City, Thought, Writers, Young Ones on April 24, 2013 at 8:35 am
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“A well-spent day brings happy sleep.”
Leonardo da Vinci

“At this I awoke and looked, and my sleep was pleasant to me.”
Jeremiah 31:26

I slept well last night, not because I was tired (I was), nor because all’s right with the world (it isn’t). I slept well last night because I had just witnessed truth, goodness, and beauty at work, and it was comforting.

Last night, I (along with four other teachers – Abby Lorenc, Alex Kelley, Josh Spears, and Todd Wedel – and four sets of super-supportive senior parents) had the privilege of hearing from our four seniors – Sarah Baskerville, Ruth Serven, Mackenzie Valentin, and Austin Clark. Each presented what we’re calling our Classical Capstone – a 25-minute speech followed by a 10-minute question and answer period, during which the student fields questions from parents and faculty advisors concerning what he or she has just presented. In addition to the presentation, students have the opportunity to create something that goes along with the topic discussed.

As the Capstone is a year-long project, Academic Dean Todd Wedel put together a 35-page booklet detailing the initiative’s requirements. Here’s the overview paragraph:

The Classical Capstone is the culmination of the Classical and Christian education at Veritas. Through the process of developing their Classical Capstones, students will be required to determine a topic of interest to themselves, formulate a driving question or concern, conduct background research, take a position, motivate the position or concern to their audience, work through drafting the Classical Capstone, publicly present the Capstone Project and answer questions from the audience, defend their project during a formal examination, and reflect up on what they have learned about the learning process, themselves, and a Christian worldview
through the various stages of the Classical Capstone.

The project is designed to encompass the students’ classical Christian education:

The Classical Capstone will demand that students demonstrate all the elements of a truly classical education, familiarizing themselves with the grammar of their topic or subject, determining the connections between/among viewpoints/sources/positions/expressions, and expressing their viewpoint cogently, clearly, and winsomely. The Classical Capstone will demand, as well, that the entirety of the Project is imbued with a Christian worldview, from the way students select an appropriate topic, to the way they conduct research, to the type of argument or position they formulate, to the way they express their position, to the way they respond
to questions and challenges.

So that students avoid becoming overwhelmed or lost in the process, they are able to choose a faculty advisor to walk through the year with them:

Students will work with a Faculty Advisor during the course of their Project in conjunction with the Classical Capstone Director. The Faculty Advisor will help with the selection and narrowing of topic/focus, aid in direction of research, aid in the formulation of appropriate argument, and serve as one of the members of the examination panel.

Finally, when all’s said and done (as it was last night), there are “deliverables”:

Although the most common form of the Classical Capstone’s final deliverable will be a paper, students are not limited to this form. Other forms of rhetoric-level instruction are acceptable and encouraged if they comport with students’ natural gifts and abilities. The scope of the project will still involve background research and may require written work even if the final deliverable is not written (e.g. a student may need to write an analysis and defense of a painting or musical composition). Deliverables will be evaluated on their ability to demonstrate standards of biblical aesthetics including order, balance, harmony, unity-in-diversity, etc.

I’m not sure I can think of a better way to invest two hours. Our students presented very thoughtful and well-written papers on the topics of our human need for art, what good art is and should be, how our relationship to food has everything to do with our relationship to others, and (just for fun), an in-depth analysis of William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

As Mackenzie’s presentation involved a study of journal-making, she made two beautiful leather-bound journals – one with paper she bought, another with paper she made out of (I’m not kidding here) old jeans. Ruth, having talked about art more literarily, brought copies of an original short story heart-wrenching in its description of two boys caught between dysfunctional parents called “The Tree”.

Sarah, advocating for a cultural return to “cuisine” (and not just “cooking”), baked amazing homemade pumpkin muffins using her own recipe for everyone in attendance. And Austin had obviously invested his “project” time in a ton of extra reading and research, as evidenced by his phenomenal grasp of the complexities of the Normans and Saxons during his Q&A time.

With only a month of school left (and a thousand thoughts having to do with it running through my mind), it was nice to sit back and witness why it’s all worth it. Last night was a celebration of our seniors’ hard work and accomplished rhetorical gifts which served to reaffirm the trivium as a tried and true educational methodology. In addition, seeing their desires (and not just their words) shaped by education that is truly Christian was inspiring.

Make no mistake, their grasp – like mine – of the nuances of life is far from perfect and still developing (some of the parents’ careful but challenging questions spoke to this). But, it is being shaped and redeemed by the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Gospel, reminding me of Philippians 1:6, that He who began a good work in these students will bring it to completion at the day of Christ.

I’m not sure there’s a more comforting thought with which to hit the hay.

Leonard Bernstein’s Mass

In Arts, Musicians, Oklahoma City, Thought, Young Ones on April 1, 2013 at 10:11 am

Our two oldest have been rehearsing their hearts out for this performance in a couple of weeks. Proud of them for their efforts, glad for them for the opportunity. Tickets available.

Review: Les Miserables

In Arts, Holidays, Movies, Musicians, Thought on December 25, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Les-miserables-movie-image-hugh-jackman

Most people interested enough to read this review already know the musical storyline of Les Miserables (here's a quick refresher if you need one), and the movie (thankfully) is quite faithful to it. That said, I'll jump right into my observations and you can accept or reject whatever you like (feel free to leave comments below concerning either).

Hugh Jackman is always good, and while his acting is stellar as hero Jean Valjean, I was hoping for more vocally. Jackman is a huge talent and I'm not sure anyone else (in Hollywood, that is) could have pulled off half the performance he does, but his voice is not nearly as full as his Broadway or West End predecessors, particularly on the higher stuff ("Bring Him Home" seemed really pinched vocally). Still, he is very smooth to watch and completely believeable, both as convict and Christian, and while the only other Jackman song that somewhat disappoints vocally is "One Day More," it's probably more due to the choreography than anything (Jean Valjean seems slightly emasculated as he repeats the song's main line from the window of a moving horse-drawn carriage).

Russell Crowe is way out of his league as Javert, and there are some downright painful moments watching and listening to him play the self-righteous constable pursuing Valjean. My sense is Crowe got it in his mind that, because of Javert's strict adherence to the letter of the law, he was going to act and sing that way…and he does. Unfortunately, his face needs little help help playing dull, and his voice is just not interesting enough to be interesting (for those who know me, imagine if I were playing the role and you'd get about the same quality of performance).

Anne Hathaway's "I Dreamed a Dream" is indeed powerful and amazing to watch, but as much because of Tom Hooper's directing choices as her performance (though she is fantastic). As he did with Valjean's conversion scene at the beginning of the film, Hooper goes all Scorsese and films one long take with Hathaway's Fantine. What makes this effective in both scenes is that he has Jackman and Hathaway sing close up and right into the camera, which makes for a very intimate experience. Make no mistake, both Jackman and Hathaway make the most of these scenes (easily their best, and will surely earn them Oscar nominations), but they are most definitely elevated by Hooper's direction.

The other Hollywood-recognizable names in the show (Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, and Amanda Seyfried) all do well enough, and the kids who play Cosette and Gavroche are wonderful. But as is always true with live theater, the secondary and background actors in this movie are really the ones who steal the show, as they had to rely on talent (and not just name alone) to actually get (and keep) the job. Eddie Redmayne (Marius), Samantha Barks (Epinone), and Aaron Tveit (Enjolras) all turn in top performances, and it was a nice touch to have the original (and personal favorite) Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson, play the role of the Bishop who forgives Valjean.

Much has been made of how Hooper went about filming this musical, recording the vocals live on set and then replacing the piano that tracked the actors with a full orchestra later. While this approach certainly benefits Jackman's and Hathaway's aforementioned key scenes, it also causes a fair amount of what feels like phasing at times, particularly when Jackman starts too many songs with spoken (rather than sung) lyrics or when Crowe is simply trying to keep up. Here the music suffers, and even if the audience may not know the show's score at all, I imagine they may feel a bump or two.

We took all four of our girls (9, 10, 12, almost 14) as they are all big fans of the soundtrack, and I was probably more uncomfortable with the few sensual scenes than the greater number of violent ones. That said, none of the scenes (sensual or violent) are graphic or gratutitous, and all are contextualized to the story being told; redemption, after all, requires redeeming what is not supposed to be. We want our kids to see, feel, and talk with us about these hard things even when they're hard to watch, but some parents may not share our conviction on the matter. (Note: The film's rated PG-13 for those who care about such things.)

One of the good discussions we all had on the way home was the end of the film and its transition of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from a call to revolution to a call to Heaven. As Jean Valjean peacefully passes away (escorted by an angelic Fantine), he joins the ranks of those who fought and died on the side of the revolution in celebration of new freedom and spiritual existence. The scene is hardly ethereal or weird, but it is a big one and presumes a universalist take on salvation, namely that everyone who has died has (of course) gone to a better place. As our kids asked questions and pointed out the problems with this assumption, we had the opportunity to discuss how a sentimental universalist view of Heaven may make for a warm and fuzzy movie ending, but it does not line up with true and accurate biblical theology.

Is Les Miserables worth 157 minutes of your life? Yes. Is it perfect? No, but impefection never stopped Jean Valjean (and it shouldn't stop you from going to see and hear his story). Leave a comment and let me know what you think if/when you do.

And Now, Melancholy

In Arts, Family, Humanity, Marriage, Vacation, Young Ones on March 20, 2012 at 11:09 am

Melancholy

Every now and then, my melancholy gets the best of me and things go a little gray here on the blog. Maybe it's the rainy weather we're currently experiencing over all of Spring Break (or just the fact that I haven't really been able to take one), but I'm a little down.

No need to feel sorry for me, though (I'm quite capable of doing that on my own). Some things I've heard myself thinking of late (perhaps you can relate and at least know you're not alone):

  • I increasingly find myself chained to my laptop. While I love my Mac product(s), I don't like being inseparable from them. True, all it takes is shutting the lid, but so much of what I do requires time on it that it's beginning to lose its luster.
  • The amount of time spent thinking about life outside these United States continues to dwindle as I get older. Part of this is has to do with plenty of other thoughts occupying my head; part of it has to do with the fact that there is just no way to afford such travel anyway, so why bother? I want to care more about the world, but I don't.
  • Speaking of money, it's wearying watching people throw money at things that don't matter (and I'm not just talking about our federal and state governments), especially when I have so many better ideas of what they could do with it. My heart is living in Psalm 73 these days.
  • Our yard is little more than weeds right now, and after the rain of the past 24 hours, the weeds are all submerged in a big swamp. I want to care about property, but when things happen beyond my control, it becomes more of a challenge.
  • I'm thinking about lighting my desk on fire so as to gain a fresh start there (it's amazing to me how far I've fallen in this area of organization, particularly when I think of past posts like this one).
  • The idea of ever writing a book again is, at best, as or more fleeting as my cluttered attention span. (Sadly, the same could be said for ever reading one again as well.)
  • I continue to see my many failures as a husband and father and wonder how our family is really going to turn out when it's all said and done. Being married and parenting is hard and I wish I were better at both.

So there you have it – a collection of (mostly) first world problems that I'm even embarrassed sharing (yet another contributor to my funk of late). Of course, there are deeper issues beneath these scenarios, so pray I can recognize and offer them to God and regain some hope in my fallen perspective.

That is all.

(Melancholy (1891) painting by Edvard Munch)

Always Pain Before a Child Is Born

In Arts, Calling, Church, Education, Family, Oklahoma City, Places & Spaces, Thought, Vacation, Young Ones on July 12, 2011 at 10:48 pm

I've been listening to a fair amount of U2 the past couple days as part of my preparation (yes, preparation) for the upcoming concert at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. If you remember, we're planning to take the girls on Sunday, and I can't wait for their reactions to all that they will see, hear, and experience at their first-ever rock concert.

I've written before about the band and the fact that their music has served as a soundtrack for just about every major transition I've experienced. True to form, six months before we moved to Oklahoma, we bought tickets to the St. Louis show for July 17th and gave them to the girls for Christmas, not knowing until a few months later that we wouldn't be living there anymore come summer. When I took the new role, the only contingency was that we could take a week of vacation leading up to the concert. I won't say it would have been a deal-breaker…but it could have been.

As it turns out, "vacation" started Saturday, but it's not exactly the one we originally planned. Megan and the girls arrived in St. Louis as of Sunday night, but they've spent the past two days in the dentist and optometrist offices trying to get one last round of check-ups in before our insurance transfers in August.

I'm still in Oklahoma as I felt the need to be at several important meetings yesterday and today. I'll fly up early Wednesday morning to join the ladies for a couple days at the farm before spending Saturday and Sunday around a hotel pool gearing up for the show that night. We'll then drive back to OKC all day Monday (I'm looking forward to the drive, as it will be the first time we all will get to process the concert at length together).

Today, while making the drive up and down I-35, I listened to "Yahweh" from How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. Below is the acoustic version of the song (the album version includes the bridge and features a more rock arrangement) from the Chicago concert we were actually at in 2005 (don't make fun of Larry's one-finger string arrangement – he's a drummer, God love him):

The song is a prayer – a prayer I prayed with tears today as I wove in and out of traffic trying to get where I needed to go. It's how my prayers to God sound these days – prayers filled with painful self-awareness of my inadequacies as well as angry frustrations at my limitations. As in the chorus, the desperate cry of "Yahweh" was about all I could manage to get out while driving through Oklahoma City, and that was okay.

What's weird is it's been a great six weeks – six weeks that I would change very little about in terms of what we've done and accomplished. But six weeks does not a school build, nor a church plant. Every day has been hard, and from what I can tell, every day is going to be hard for a long time. I'm embarrassed by my impatience, but grateful for it too in that it reminds me I still expect God to do something here (and there is so very much that only He can do).

In looking through the playlists posted from the last few U2 concerts, I don't see "Yahweh" anywhere on them. Still, maybe the Lord will spark Bono to change things up and do it Sunday night, which if that happens, I will break down weeping at the gift it would be while my wife and daughters (once again) wonder what's wrong with Daddy.

And the answer is nothing…and everything – all of which God – Yahweh – cares for deeply.

 

Take these shoes – click clacking down some dead end street
Take these shoes and make them fit
Take this shirt – polyester white trash made in nowhere
Take this shirt and make it clean, clean
Take this soul – stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul and make it sing

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I'm waiting for the dawn

Take these hands – teach them what to carry
Take these hands – don't make a fist
Take this mouth – so quick to criticize
Take this mouth – give it a kiss

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahewh, Yahweh
Still I'm waiting for the dawn

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, tell me now
Why the dark before the dawn?

Take this city – a city should be shining on a hill
Take this city if it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart, take this heart
Take this heart and let it break

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.)

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.)

SEPTEMBER


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).

OCTOBER

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…

Happy Puke Day

In Arts, Holidays on February 14, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Cupid
Mr. Warren Smith, Westminster biology teacher/Cupid model/Valentine's Day lover.

Stairway of Dunham

In Arts, Family, Marriage, Places & Spaces, Young Ones on September 12, 2009 at 8:09 pm

We've got more pics to print and more old frames to repaint, but I like the results so far:

IMG_3099.JPG

IMG_3100.JPG

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We're big black and white fans around here (not a hint of color in our entire wedding album). It's going to be fun to add pictures to the Stairway of Dunham in years to come.

It’s Up

In Arts, Friends, Internet on October 2, 2008 at 7:28 am

I’m still figuring out the color changes in CSS (anybody know how to do this easily and without purchasing an upgrade for WordPress?), but kudos to Kent Needler for coming up with such a cool new header for Second Drafts.

How We Know What We Know

In Arts, Books, Humanity, Theologians on September 18, 2008 at 2:00 am

I've been reading some really good stuff of late on epistemology (that is, "how we know what we know"). With regard to truth, most people feel the pull of the Enlightenment's demand for proof, as well as postmodernism's questioning that truth can even exist. Many people (kids especially) feel caught in the middle between what they assume are their only too options – objectivity or subjectivity; that is, truth must either meet the requirements of science or it's time to check one's brain at the door in the name of faith.

What most folks fail to understand is that the supposed objective knowledge of science that they take for granted is really little different from the presumed subjective testimony of religion that they hold as suspect. Most helpful in thinking through this are some thoughts from the second chapter of A Biblical History of Israel by Iain Provan, V. Philips Long, and Tremper Longman, entitled "Knowing and Believing: Faith in the Past." They write:

"A general tendency in modern times…has been to downplay the importance of testimony about the past which has come down to us via a chain of human carriers of tradition, and in contrast, to emphasize the importance of empirical research in leading us into knowledge." (p. 36)

But:

"That the universe as a whole is rational and intelligible is a presupposition, not a scientific finding. Clearly, too, science of itself cannot properly tell us what to do with its findings. The ends to which science provides the means must be (and always are) chosen according to what is believed and valued by the people doing the choosing, which is a matter of religion, ethics, and politics, not a matter of science as such." (p. 39)

In other words, what we have received and pass on as science today is made up over time of just as much subjective interpretation as any religious oral tradition passed down. They continue, this time focusing more on historical studies:

"We are, in short, intellectually reliant upon what others tell us when it comes to what we call knowledge…As R.G. Collingwood once put it (albeit only to take issue with the statement), 'history is…the believing of someone else when he says that he remembers something. The believer is the historian; the person believed is called his authority." (p. 45-46)

Here's a good illustration of the idea involving the science (and art) of archaeology:

"Archaeological remains (when this phrase is taken to exclude written testimony from the past) are of themselves mute. They do not speak for themselves, they have no story to tell and no truth to communicate. It is archaeologists who speak about them, testifying to what they have found and placing the finds within an interpretive framework that bestows upon them meaning and significance." (p. 46)

"All knowledge of the past is in fact more accurately described as faith in the interpretion of the past offered by others, through which we make these interpretations (in part of as a whole) our own)…Modern historians, like their precursors, in fact depend on testimony, interpret the past, and possess just as much faith as their precursors, whether religious or not." (p. 49-50)

In sum, the idea that anything is "objective" – as if we could somehow sit in grandstands orbitting Earth and merely take notes – is a delusion. We cannot observe and pass on meaning (scientific, religious) without using subjective testimony to describe it. We are in the petri dish; we are not absent from it. The question then becomes, what testimony (again, scientific, religious – it doesn't matter) best explains reality, and what seems reasonable as truth?

“…to serve musicians, to serve artists, to renew the city…”

In Arts, Church, Places, Places & Spaces, Thought on August 22, 2008 at 9:24 pm

Our associate pastor, Greg Johnson, just forwarded a review of the art show going on at The Chapel, the “sanctuary for the arts” run by our church. We’re thrilled about the good press, especially coming from The Vital Voice. Here’s an excerpt:

“I must confess that when I got there my mood was as wrinkled as my slept-in shirt and scruffy as my unshaved, nubby face. I don’t know if it was the weather, the wine, or the wonderful art but everything weary, worn and cynical in my soul discernably dissolved and took a hike somewhere, maybe crossing Skinker into Forest Park to hit the links with the frou-frou.”

You can read the whole review here.

Man School

In Arts, Technology on August 8, 2008 at 7:42 am

We’ve had both an electrician and a carpenter working in our home this week; early next week comes the plumber. Both have been very professional; both have known exactly what they’re doing. All we’ve done is try to stay out of their way, which has been as much of a challenge as anything.

Let me make a confession: no intellectual, theological, or spiritual teacher even comes close to intimidating me as much as a man gifted in the mechanical, technical, and vocational arts does. I am not worthy. I am so not worthy.

Bob (and his son, Jason) spent a day-and-a-half addressing our electric needs – everything from rewiring old and exposed knob-and-tube wiring to putting in ventilation fans in the bathrooms to running power to places we needed it to replacing the out-of-date fusebox with an up-to-code circuit board. Maybe it’s the risk involved (i.e. taming electricity for a living) or the fact that all the parts are new and shiny, but I was impressed with their work, especially since it looks to come in under budget.

Dave is a general contractor with a great sense of humor who is building a huge wall of built-in bookshelves for us in the front room. Though he says the key to any good construction/repair job is having good tools, I reminded him someone has to have the knowledge to use them (at which my 7-year-old – who loves helping on projects of any kind – smiled and tried to hold back a laugh, as she knows Daddy has neither). Dave says he knows us “book guys” on sight, and reminded me that new bookshelves tend to attract more books. I told him that meant job security for him. He laughed.

Bob and Dave remind me of Tubal-Cain, who the Bible records in Genesis 4 as being “the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron” (and who must have been pretty handy with them as well). I make the joke that the only thing I can do with a tool is lose it; these guys have great tools, sure, but the way they handle them is an art, as is their creativity in making needed repairs to an 88-year-old house. It’s fascinating to watch (which we all did yesterday while Dave started installing bookshelves), not to mention inspiring as well.

In fact, after Bob installed the special outlet for our electric dryer, I was so inspired that I attempted to switch out the previous owners’ washer and dryer (which we had been using) with our more energy efficient pair. It took over an hour, flooded a third of the basement, and (as is always par for the course with me) required doing everything twice to get it right, but I did it. I even remembered to turn off the gas so the house wouldn’t explode. I’ve been doing laundry non-stop ever since, I’m so proud.

When we lived in Colorado, my friend Derek was just as gifted as any professional: he could fix anything (only he never charged us for it). When “we” were working on a project, about the only thing I was good for (other than providing a cold beverage and some classic rock) was cleaning up the mess, which I usually did real-time just to have something to do. Derek would always shake his head and tell me to wait until we were done, but it was what I could do, so I did it. Insecurity manifests itself in many ways.

Though it’s not meant as a slam on me or anyone else inept in most things mechanical, Derek has a dream to start what he calls “Man School” – a series of weekend classes to teach guys how to do “man stuff”: oil changes, basic plumbing, some carpentry, etc. I think it’s a great idea and would think about enrolling by extension, but I’m too afraid I’d flunk out. I told Derek I need the vocational version of Man School – the “shop class” of shop class, if you will – but I’m not sure what the syllabus would include for that. Finding (and remembering) where the water shut-off is? Navigating your way to/through Home Depot? The basics of changing a light bulb?

Maybe I’ll just teach the “clean up” course at the end.

New Look

In Arts, Internet on August 1, 2008 at 6:28 pm

No, you’re not on the wrong page (actually, you could be, but not if you’re looking for Second Drafts). I’ve wanted to change things on the blog for some time, so while listening to six systematic theology lectures today, I multi-tasked and came up with this.

The header is temporary (904×160 pixels if anyone wants to custom design something – it obviously needs the blog title in it) and I’ll probably play with a few more things, but I like the new look for now.

Your most recent comments are on the left and I’ve added links from my Delicious feed on the right, so if what’s here in the middle is not all that interesting, surely you can find something in one of those two locations that might be.

Feel free to share your opinions/suggestions (content as well as design), but keep in mind I only know enough about HTML (and anything else) to be dangerous.

Thanks for reading.

Taking a Break from Boxes Linkage

In Arts, Family, Movies, Musicians, Places, Places & Spaces, Pop Culture, Thought on July 11, 2008 at 10:59 am

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted some linkage, so in light of it being Friday, here you go:

We’re off to take a black lab named Bruce to his new home on the farm. Have a good weekend.

Moonlighting with God

In Arts, Family on February 21, 2008 at 2:00 am

30pm

Moonlighting

God, brilliant Lord,
yours is a household name.

Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you;
toddlers shout the songs
That drown out enemy talk,
and silence atheist babble.

I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,
your handmade sky-jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us?
Why take a second look our way?

Psalm 8:1-4 (The Message)
Watched the eclipse tonight with the Half Pints; it was cold, but we survived. Wish I had taped their prayers at bedtime – from their vantage point, God was the star of the show.

Michigan, Smichigan

In Arts, Musicians, Pop Culture, Technology, Thought on January 16, 2008 at 2:00 am

Yes, I know the Republicans just had their third winner in three primaries and I should probably have thoughts, but I'm a little politicked out. These links seem more interesting:

A Night with Chihuly

In Arts, Places & Spaces on December 15, 2006 at 11:25 pm

chihuly-chandelier.jpgSo last night I took Megan to the Missouri Botanical Gardens for the special Chihuly Nights Glass in the Garden exhibit.

If you’re not familiar with Dale Chihuly and his glass-blowing artistry, it’s pretty visually amazing, especially when well-lit and seen up-close (which some pieces were more so than others). The colors are amazing and the designs absolutely alive. Chihuly is quoted as saying that his goal is to create art that looks “as if it just happened,” and his work certainly evokes a “live” feeling to it.

The installation has been in St. Louis for several months now, but I’m glad we went last night – it was a beautiful, warm December evening (60 degrees!), and the glass metaphor was a particularly good one for the occasion. As beautiful as the art was, I couldn’t help walking in and among the pieces wondering just how he and his team transported and installed these things all over the world without shattering them to pieces? What happens if somebody breaks just a piece off? Is the work ruined? Salvagable, or just recycled for something else? I’m sure he’s got insurance, but I don’t even want to think about what his premiums are.

All this caused me to think about why we were there last night (to celebrate our tenth anniversary) and how much the glass metaphor seemed to make sense to me in describing marriage. Megan and I have truly had some absolutely beautiful moments together – vows honored, ideas shared, children born, hospitality created, grace given – but, in thinking more about them, the most beautiful moments seem to always have been the most fragile ones.

When I shared with Megan my thinking on this, she made the comment that she wasn’t sure she liked the idea of describing our marriage in such a way (i.e. as glass). I told her I didn’t necessarily like it either, but if marriage is anything, it is beautiful and it is fragile; in fact, it seems to me that at least part of its beauty is in its fragility, and sometimes – as with Chihuly’s glass creations – I wonder just how God has kept ours from shattering to pieces.

“There are three things that are too amazing for me,
four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a maiden.”

Proverbs 30:18-19