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Booklist 2013

In Books on December 26, 2013 at 7:33 am


A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked what I had been reading lately. Without trying to be funny, I blurted out an honest answer: “Email.”

I almost didn’t post a booklist this year as I was too embarrassed by how little reading it seemed to represent. But, the fact is, I did read some during this craziest of years (school merger, foster care, etc.), so rather than break titles down across months, I’ll just list them all here together along with my enjoyment rating for each out of 10.

I always appreciate recommendations and suggestions (leave in the comments, please), as I have a gift card to Barnes & Noble burning a hole in my pocket. Happy reading.

  • Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek – appreciated Sinek’s (at times overbearing) “Why?” approach, but the writing was repetitive and read like a business book (which it is). (6)
  • Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement by Will Mancini – didn’t really finish this one; church consulting books aren’t my gig. (4)
  • When Athens Met Jerusalem: An Introduction to Classical and Christian Thought by John Mark Reynolds – the staff summer read for our teachers, this was a good philosophy primer (particularly on the pre-Socratics) with a helpful thesis claiming that the classical and Christian worlds can not only be friends but also need and benefit from one another. (8)
  • The Prince & the Pauper by Mark Twain – found this and a handful of other Twain titles in a used bookstore on our way home from Hannibal over the summer; love Twain, and the story was okay, but this was not one of my favorites. (5)
  • Matthew: The Gospel of Identity by Michael Card – the third of what will be a total of four commentaries on each of the Gospels, Mike again does a good job bringing the great theme of Matthew (identity) down to the bottom shelf for the rest of us. (7)
  • The Aeneid by Virgil – listened to this via Audible along with a Great Books course for background and help, but still didn’t really make heads or tails of it; still, love Virgil’s poetry (even translated into English) and in awe of this work. (8)
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – re-read this over a weekend in preparation for our upcoming Gatbsy Gala in February; still period-defining in so many ways, but the writing wasn’t quite as good as I remembered it being. (7)
  • The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis – almost put it down after the first 20 pages (the cosmic bus ride was a little much to take), but glad I didn’t; the chapter in which Lewis channels George Macdonald was completely worth it. (8)
  • Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas – biography choices (George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Chuck Colson) were well and good, but reads like a junior high textbook; biography for Twitter culture. (5)
  • The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday by Simon Nissenbaum – a Pulitzer-prize finalist, this is a well-documented and readable treatise on the American Christmas; surprisingly (or not), we’ve celebrated much the same for the past 200 years. (9)
  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck – implications of the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset are huge for education…and just about every other area of life; a simple idea that doesn’t feel trendy – just right (7)
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – listened to this one while traveling with the family over Christmas; super slow start, but strong characters and an interesting storyline made for some good enjoyment for all. (7)
  • Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell – Gladwell’s thesis that successful people are not always geniuses as much as products of particular cultures and communities is powerful; great storytelling and insightful analysis. (8)
  • The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays by Wendell Berry – love this compendium of farm-focused essays; I’ve read half of them before, but Wendell’s vision of the simple (but not simplistic) life never gets old. (9)

Ten Years of “Being Social” Online

In Books, Internet, Technology, Thought, Web/Tech, Writing on December 14, 2013 at 7:55 am

Craig with Books

I started blogging ten years ago when my book, TwentySomeone, came out (note the computer screen in the pic). Working on the website for the book, I wanted a way to post interesting links and speaking engagement details on the front page. My friend Will Leingang suggested adding a blog (which at the time I didn’t know was slang for “weblog”) but, because I trust Will in all things technology, I said sure.

This was one of the rare times in my technological life when I’ve been an early adopter. Back in the day, blogs were THE social media; we used them for posts, but also for those communiques that Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ (and about a dozen others) are now used – short sentence updates, interesting articles or links, and the ubiquitous personal opinion.

I miss those days, not because everything was in one place (though that was nice), but because there was usually actual interaction; it was enjoyable to read a comment thread that had some actual comments and didn’t just let one get away with the generic “Like” or “Favorite”.

The phenomenon of “liking” or “favoriting” something without explanation is interesting to me. I watch my online “friends” and “followers” drop “likes” and mark “favorites” on a variety of statements, declarations, questions, links, videos, song lyrics, poems, memes, and quotes and I sometimes wonder if they’re doing that out of actual reason or merely relationship.

The most interesting phenomenon (at least on Facebook) is what seems the obligatory “like” of the new profile picture. I’m struck by how – regardless of actual beauty – people are so quick to approve and at times (let’s be honest) lie out of some assumed responsibility that if they don’t, the person who just uploaded the profile picture will suffer some great self-esteem loss and throw themselves off a bridge.

“What a beautiful picture!”
“You’re so hot!”
“What a gorgeous family!”

I suppose there are plenty of people who want, need, and look for comments like these to justify their existence, but there are also those of us who think of the profile picture as simply an identifier and nothing more. Forgive us for not swooning over your latest profile update – it’s not personal, even though you might take it to be so.

Another thing I’ve found interesting over the past ten years of blogging and “being social” online is how much time it takes to really do well. The media are different, but they all require intentionality to do them right. Twitter’s 140 characters force one to be uber-succinct, whereas a blog (at least that folks read) demands interesting writing since something else is always one quick click away. Facebook posts tend to benefit from some kind of photo or artwork to break up the design monotony, but I still haven’t figured out to what Google+ best lends itself as I really don’t use it all that much even though I feel semi-guilty that I should as it seems strangely superior as this “social evolution” art implies:


All of this – uber-succinctness, writing worth reading, finding and uploading pics and art – requires dedicated time, a commodity most of us find only in small amounts. It may just be my particular stage in life, but where I once used to think that the key to writing productivity lay in using and mastering 15-minute bites, I now am down to trying to make the most of 5-minute ones. This works well enough for tweets and updates, but not so much for blog posts and books.

While I’ve taken a few hiatuses from social media (the longest being an intentional six-month respite from blogging), I’ve never thought seriously about quitting (though like an alcoholic or chain smoker, I promise I can quit anytime). I’ve read and even written about the dangers of social media (click here to read multiple years’ worth of my posts on this topic and technology), but I still find it engaging and stimulating – not as a replacement for books, but neither as a complete waste of time either.

So I’ll continue blogging, tweeting, and posting, and thank you in advance for reading, retweeting, and sharing. I’m not sure why you do, but I confess I’m glad for it, much like I imagine the person posting a new profile picture probably appreciates the comments.

Just don’t lie to me and call me “hot”.

The Unexamined Summer?

In Books, Parents, Students, Veritas on May 17, 2013 at 7:37 pm

I’ve been reading an excellent book entitled, When Athens Met Jerusalem: An Introduction to Classical and Christian Thought, by John Mark Reynolds, Provost at Houston Baptist University. Reynolds’ thesis is that reason and faith need to remain good neighbors within the City/Kingdom of God, for this pairing of the two is what true classical Christian education is.

But (and here’s the rub), it’s difficult and takes work. He writes:

“Thinking may be hard at first, but it is addictive with practice. People created in God’s image will ask questions, and questions demand answers. Answers seem to be what questions are for, but the Greeks soon realized that the first answers are not the end of the process. Good answers lead to better questions, and these questions keep the process of learning alive. It is possible to find a single truth, but one truth has a tendency to lead to the search for another, just as eating one honest-to-goodness potato chip generally demands a second. People began to question the old answers, sometimes finding them satisfying, sometimes not.”

As we’re one week away from school ending and summer beginning, it might be a good idea – both for us and for our students – to think about how we might continue the question-asking and answer-seeking to keep the process of learning alive.

While we all are ready for a respite, classical Christian education calls us to make sure it’s only that – a respite. There are too many questions ask, too many answers to seek!

What book(s) are we thinking of reading this summer? What documentaries are we thinking of watching? What journaling are we thinking of doing? What field trips are we planning? What museums are we visiting? What parts of nature are we exploring? What conversations are we hoping to have? What subjects are we wanting to study? And who might be able and willing to help us with any of this?

I realize that next week is probably not the week to get all this down on paper…but the week after might be! And I’m not advocating a schedule that resembles the school year, but I’m not advocating a vacation to Slug Island either. Many of us have as much to do across summer as the rest of the year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t fight for some time to ask ourselves what answers we’re finding satisfying, and what answers we aren’t.

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Let’s make sure this can’t be said about our upcoming summer, either for our student(s) or for ourselves.

Booklist 2012

In Books, Writers on December 31, 2012 at 12:26 pm

As we close 2012, I give you the 21 books I read this year (along with my rating of each out of ten). Here's to 2013 being a year of reading and big ideas for all. Happy New Year!


  • The Third Conversion: A Novelette by R. Scott Rodin –
    A small book on relational fundraising as told through a set of
    conversations between development officers. Meh. (4)
  • The Price of Everything: A
    Parable of Possibility and Prosperity
    by Russell D.
    Roberts –
    Really liked this book and its narrative approach to understanding
    economics. (8)


  • Samson and the Pirate Monks by Nate Larkin – I’ve
    read several of these “men and porn” books and this is the best of the
    lot. (7)
  • Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren Winner –
    A quiet book that brought me up to speed on some sadness of my friend’s
    last few years. Lauren always writes well; I just didn’t know what to do,
    say, or how to help after reading it. (6)

March (1)

  • Mark:
    The Beginning of the Gospel
    by Michael Card – The second of a four-book
    layman’s commentary on the Gospels. No one makes Jesus and the disciples
    come alive for me like Mike does. (7)

April (1)

  • The
    Enemy Within: Straight Talk About the Power and Defeat of Sin
    by Kris Lundgaard –
    Liked this book’s distillation of John Owens’ books, Indwelling Sin and The
    Mortification of Sin
    . Helpful. (8)

May (3)

  • American
    Government: Brief Edition
    by James Q. Wilson – A succinct and helpful summary
    of all aspects of our American form of government. Now if it would just
    work… (7)
  • A Patriot's History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen – Enjoyable history
    text that leans way right at times. (7)
  • A
    People’s History of the United States
    by Howard Zinn– Enjoyable history text that
    leans way left at times. (7)

June (1)

  • I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe – Loved Wolfe’s writing and story of a small town
    girl who goes to a big-time college and learns some hard (and sad)
    lessons. I want my girls to read this before they leave home…and I
    don’t. (9)


  • Desiring
    the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation
    by James K.A.
    Smith – Best book I read all year. Smith is a very good scholarly writer
    with even better ideas about education. Thesis: “What if education wasn't
    first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?” Yes. (10)
  • Treasure

    by Robert Louis Stevenson – Listened to this with Megan and the girls in
    the van on vacation this summer. A classic. (9)

August (0)

September (1)

  • Bad
    Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics
    by Ross Douthat –
    my other favorite read of the year, Douthat’s book about the state of
    American Christianity (and how and why it is what it is) blew me away in
    its historical, cultural, and theological analysis. Wow. (10)

October (2)

  • Making
    It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life
    by David Allen  – Listened to this on a road trip and
    was glad to do so – best stuff I know of for getting better at getting
    things done. (8)
  • New
    Sales. Simplified.: The Essential
    Handbook for Prospecting and New Business Development
    by Mike Weinberg  – Dynamic debut from my friend on the
    meat and potatoes of making the sale. Applied much to my marketing and fundraising
    plans for Veritas. (8)

November (2)

  • The
    Baylor Project: Taking Christian
    Higher Education to the Next Level
    by Barry G. Hankins and Donald D. Schmeltekopf – Can a Protestant
    university be a first-class research institution and preserve its soul? Engaging
    collection of essays on how Baylor is attempting to do just that. (7)
  • Community:
    Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support
    by Brad House – Seemed almost too
    co-dependent and used way too much Christian-ese to make the argument for why
    and how life should be lived in small groups. (5)

December (4)

  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens  – Wanted to
    like this one more than I did. Let’s just say it all makes sense when you
    realize Dickens got paid by the word. (6)
  • The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined by Salman Khan – Great analysis of the limitations of traditional
    public education; good ideas about teaching true mastery; bad ideas about
    what a complete education can and should be. (5)
  • Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We
    Worship and the Wounds We Carry
    by Mike Wilkerson – Liked this one a
    lot as a primer on how sin works and how the Gospel calls us to respond.
    Best part: Exodus is the key text considered. (8)
  • King Alfred’s English: A History of the
    Language We Speak and Why We Should Be Glad We Do
    by Laurie J. White and Marika Mullen – Really liked this book and its engaging
    convergence of literary, historical, and philological studies of English.

(Peruse booklists from previous years here: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006.)

Providence Hall’s Dickens Symposium

In Books, Education, Family, Oklahoma City, Thought, Young Ones on October 29, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Our friends at Providence Hall Classical Christian School have put together an exciting celebration of author Charles Dickens and "his inimitable legacy." Mark your calendars!

Dickens Poster Small

Desiring the Kingdom (First Quarter Review)

In Books, Educators, Teachers, Veritas on October 10, 2012 at 9:19 am

A former teaching colleague (and current friend) of mine is using Desiring the Kingdom as a key text for his Christian educational ministries degree. He asked if he could send me a few questions detailing my experience with James K.A. Smith's book and its impact on our first quarter of school (to revisit my favorite quotations from each chapter of Desiring the Kingdom, visit one of these summer posts: Intro, 1.1, 1.2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.). Here's what I wrote back:

you briefly explain the format that you went about discussing Desiring the
Kingdom together?

We used Desiring the Kingdom as a framework to
work through discussions on classical education in theory and practice, as well
as across schools (i.e. Grammar and Upper). Through this lens, we processed
together thoughts and perspectives from the ACCS conference in Dallas, updated and
continued work on our Curriculum Mapping initiative, interacted over and
continued working out our trans-denominational perspective, reviewed and
renewed our commitment to each other through the relational covenant,
implemented new and creative ways to blend our classical Christian model of
education, engaged in planning first day habits and liturgies, learned about
and practiced teaching to different learning styles, discussed important
educational mechanics like workload evaluation, grading standards, lesson
planning, and school systems, and helped prepare staff for their part of our
WISE (Walking in Step Educationally) Parent Training Conferences in August.

discussing DTK, what did you sense was the overall response of the faculty to
what James K. A. Smith is proposing? What
aspects of Smith’s argument were most popular with the faculty? What
were the critiques and did you have any significant pushback?

Smith’s perspective on ritual and liturgy
were huge for our staff, particularly for those who had not considered either
as being more everyday than every week (i.e. Sunday at church). This emphasis
and language was important for our school as it gave the teachers both
rationale and words for why we try to do what we do, whether it be Grammar
school students walking in lines or Upper school students sitting meditatively
in RISE (our morning assembly).

The most
significant pushback had more to do with staff (particularly in the Grammar
school) feeling it was a tough read. Some of these same staff felt Smith
negatively overreacted to the ideas of capitalism, patriotism, and our nation’s Christian

writing is pretty philosophical, heady. How did you go about putting hands and
feet on his proposals?

One key to this was
the assembly of a study guide by our theology/philosophy teacher. Another was allotting
plenty of time during orientation (and in more informal conversations) during
which the book and its contents were the main topic of discussion. We spent a
good amount of time in the book’s introduction (which is really sufficient in
many ways as a summary of the book).

parts of the book did you think spoke directly to the VCA community?

Again, the ritual
and liturgy emphasis was important, as was the Smith’s succinct statement that
true Christian education should be about shaping what students love more than
what they know. Historically, this has been the desire of the board for the
school, but I wouldn’t say the language for this was as clear in the minds and
hearts of the staff as Smith’s brief statement; however, once unleashed, there
seemed to be quite an “a-ha” moment across all grades as to what we were after
(and what we weren’t).

parts were particularly meaningful or important for you as the Head of School?

For me, Smith’s book was a powerful validation of much of
what I have always believed about Christian education (classical or otherwise),
summarized with great depth. The fact that our theology/philosophy teacher
recommended the book to me with the words, “I think you’ll like this because
it’s what I hear you saying” meant a lot and unintentionally loaned me some
borrowed credibility in the eyes of the staff. As a second-year Head of School,
this has been immeasurably helpful in at least giving me confidence that, while
I’m continuing to solidify my educational philosophies and perspective, I’m
perhaps not just making this stuff up out of thin air.

this first quarter of the school year, where have you seen evidence of your
discussion bearing fruit in the lives/work of your faculty, parents, and

As we have a good amount of new staff (some brand new to
teaching), I feel our time in Desiring
the Kingdom
has been particularly helpful in getting them off on the right
foot. While the majority of our teachers (new or veteran) wrestle on a weekly
basis with what classical Christian education looks like in their classes, I
think we’re newly aware of what it doesn’t look like as a result of our reading
the book.

This brings clarity to our efforts and bolsters confidence in our
attempts to train parents and students in a more character-focused,
virtues-driven education as opposed to one more competency-focused and
values-driven. Reading the book through the summer, training through its
presuppositions during staff orientation, and then implementing and applying
these ideas face-to-face by utilizing our teachers as the main presenters at
our two-day parent orientations got all of us off to as good a start as I would
have hoped. Still, there’s plenty of opportunity to revisit and review Desiring the Kingdom, as old educational
habits for all involved tend to die hard.

Classical Education in a Democracy

In Books on September 19, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Great quote shared by friend and Head of School compatriot, Nathan Carr, of Providence Hall Classical Christian School here in OKC:

“Democratic youth must be tempered: snatched from the fire of democracy and plunged into the water of classical education. Only this fire-and-water dialectic will prevent the true advantages of democracy from becoming liabilities. For whereas democracy releases the energy enabling man to gain the whole world, he avails himself of this superabundant force, like Faust, at the risk of losing his own soul. It is the prime objective of classical education in a democracy, therefore, to turn man’s attention away from worldly gain and only the soul’s salvation.”

From Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education by David Hicks

If the American Dream (Republican or Democrat version) is in there, I'm not finding it.

Review: Bad Religion by Ross Douthat

In Books, Calling, Church, Thought, Writers on September 3, 2012 at 3:45 pm

One of the benefits of getting older is reading books that bring context and perspective to one's experience of recent history. I remember initially thinking about this during my first year at the University of Missouri as I listened to my American history professor lecture on the Vietnam War. In his early 50s at the time (1989), my prof's passion for both the era and the book he had assigned to us (The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien) could not be denied.

Until that point, whether in high school or college, I had never taken a
history class that had brought me to the present year; like most my
age, Vietnam was about as far as we got, despite all that happened in
the 1970s and 1980s. Attending class and doing the reading for this first college history course, I wondered what it felt like to read and study a book about a period of history one had actually lived through only twenty years previous.

BadreligionThis is probably why I enjoyed New York Times columnist Ross Douthat's Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics as much as I did. Not only have I lived through two-thirds of the past 60 years that Douthat primarily focuses on, but his analysis and contextualization of this period of time within the larger breadth of history (American and otherwise) is quite revealing of how we have arrived where we are religiously, politically, economically, and socially.

In his breakneck-paced prologue, Douthat summarizes his take and cuts to the chase as to where American Christianity is in 2012. Taking a page from The Reason for God by PCA pastor/author Timothy Keller (who wrote a glowing endorsement for the book), Douthat writes:

"America's problem isn't too much religion, or too little of it. It's bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in its place…The United States remains a deeply religious country, and most Americans are still drawing some water from the Christian well. But a growing number are inventing their own versions of what Christianity means, abandoning the nuances of traditional theology in favor of relgions that stroke their egos and indulge or even celebrate their worse impulses. These faiths speak from many pulpits – conservative and liberal, political and pop-cultural, traditionally relgions and fashionably 'spiritual' – and many of their preachers call themselves Christian or claim a Christain warrant. But they are increasingly offering distortions of tradtional Christianity, not the real thing." (p. 4)

From here, Douthat launches out on a 125-page reconnaissance, skimming the fields of the early twentieth century before landing the plane post-WWII during the Eisenhower years. Holding forth four personalities – neo-orthodox intellectual Reinhold Niebuhr, evangelical evangelist Billy Graham, Roman Catholic bishop and broadcaster Fulton Sheen, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King – as responsible representatives of the (mostly positive) convergence of formerly-divided houses of mid-century Christendom, Douthat sets the stage for the locust years to come.

The aforementioned convergence began to slow and segregate during the turbulent 1960s, with trouble coming at the hands of both the accomodationists within the more mainline churches and the resisters within the more fundamentalist churches. Over the next 50 years, records Douthat, the pressures of questionable technological ethics, overt political partisanship, temptation from economic affluence, and a "waning of Christian orthodoxy had led to the spread of Christian heresy rather than to the disappearance of religion altogether." (p. 145)

To quote G.K. Chesterton: "When people turn from God, they don't believe in nothing – they believe in anything." These "anything" beliefs are what Douthat uses the second half of his book to investigate and address. And, while he is extremely fair, he pulls no punches taking to task the Christian heresies propagated by liberal scholars (i.e. Bart Ehrman), prosperity gospel preachers (Joel Osteen, et. al.), "God Within" mystics (Deepak Chopra, Oprah), and American nationalists (Glenn Beck, David Barton). The pace of the book slows a bit here, but only because Douthat is thorough in his approach.

Finally, Douthat ends his book with a chapter of conclusion entitled "The Recovery of Christianity," offering "four potential touchstones for a recovery of Christianity." While he rightly handles what he calls "postmodern opportunity: the possibility that the very trends that have seemingly undone insitutional Christianity could ultimately renew it," he stumbles a bit in making a distinction between the "emerging" and "emergent" church (they are different) as part of that possible solution, but his other three options are interesting to consider and he presents them with a heartfelt hope for change.

My only other critique of the book has to do with Douthat not always drawing as much separation between Christianity and Mormonism as I would like to see. While he seems to understand that the latter is not just a "funky" subset of the former, I was surprised by occasional "doctrinal issues aside" language used that seemed to minimize any differences between the two, thereby occasionally giving Mormonism more theological credibility than orthodoxy allows.

That said, Douthat's scholarship is well-researched, yet his writing is still very accessible to a popular audience, efficient in thought and prose and briskly readable. And, while his historical interpretation is impeccable, he is certainly no slouch in walking through the nuances of doctrinal debates either, whether they be of the Protestant or Catholic variety (Douthat himself is a practicing Catholic, but he cuts the Vatican no slack, nor does he outright diminish contributions of the Reformers).

Highly recommended.

The WISE Parent Training Conferences

In Books, Educators, Parents, Pedagogy, Veritas on August 15, 2012 at 12:10 pm

VCA WISE Logo (Low Res)As a former conference director, I know firsthand the value of taking a day or two (or longer) to focus with likeminded others and attempt to learn, think, talk, feel, and do differently and (hopefully) better. The time can be challenging, but is almost always encouraging as well.

This past summer, through the generous contribution of our school community, 42 of our Veritas staff and parents experienced this challenge and camaraderie at the Association of Classical & Christian Schools conference in Dallas. Coming home, we all wanted our Veritas community to have the opportunity to participate in what we had experienced. Through a lot of hard work by so many, now they can.

I'm thrilled to have parents join us for our first ever WISE (Walking in Step Educationally) Parent Training Conference – a gathering we hope will become an annual event to help our families and our school continue to improve our unique blended model of classical Christian education. It’s important for us to be together for two reasons:

  1. We all need renewed clarity (and help) regarding our roles in this partnership. As a school, we are “in loco parentis” – in the place of parents, but not in place of parents. We would be wrong to assume more responsibility than appropriate in teaching these kids, but this has implications for parents in our blended model that they not abdicate their responsibility either. We all have much to continue to learn about the big picture and details of a blended model of classical Christian education.
  2. We all need the opportunity to renew our covenant with each other in our relationship. This is why we’ve asked our staff to join our parents in this time together to re-affirm (or affirm for the first time for all our new families and staff) our relational covenant with each other. To learn, think, talk, feel, or do any of this well, we need to be present together to do it – not just in the same location or in the same building, but in our hearts as well.

The WISE Conferences are our best shot at meeting both of these goals before school starts later this month. We hosted the first one at our North Campus last weekend, and this coming weekend is all about our Central Campus. My hope is that our steps both weekends will be only the first of many as we seek God along our classical Christian education journey.

Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith (6)

In Books, Educators, Pedagogy on August 3, 2012 at 10:16 pm

DTK cover

Quotes from chapter six, "A Christian University Is for Lovers":

"What is education for? And more specifically, what is a distinctly Christian education for? But since we first asked the question, I hope we've come to appreciate three things: First, we humans are liturgical animals, whose fundamental orientation to the world is governed not primarily by what we think but by what we love, what we desire…Second, some practices are 'thicker' than others – rituals of ultimate concern that are bent on shaping our most fundamental wants and desires, trying to make us the kind of people who desire a vision of the kingdom that is antithetical to the kingdom of God…Third, Christianity is not only (or even primarily) a set of cognitive, heady beliefs; Christianity not fundamentally a worldview; rather, Christian practices, and particularly the practices of Christian worship, are the matrix for what can be articulated as a 'Christian world.'" (p. 215-216)

"But what if that's not enough? Or worse, what if a Christian perspective turns out to be a way of domesticating the radicality of the gospel? What if the rather abstract formulas of a Christian worldview turn out to be a way to tame and blunt the radical call to be a disciple of the coming kingdom? Could it be the case that learning a Christian perspective doesn't actually touch my desire, and that while I might be able to think about the world from a Christian perspective, at the end of the day I love not the kingdom of God but rather the kingdom of the market?" (p. 218)

"In too many cases, a Christian perspective doesn't seem to challenge the very configuration of these careers and vocations. To be blunt, our Christian colleges and universities generate an army of alumni who look pretty much like all the rest of their suburban neighbors, except that our graduates drive SUVs, inhabit their executive homes, and pursue the frenetic life of the middle class and the corporate ladder 'from a Christian perspective'…Such an approach reduces Christianity to a denuded intellectual framework that has diminished bite because such an intellectualized rendition of the faith doesn't touch our core passions." (p. 219)

"The domestication of Christianity as a perspective does little to disturb or reorient our practices; rather, it too often becomes a way of affirming the configurations of culture that we find around us – we just do what everyone else does 'plus Jesus'…What's the alternative? If Christian education is not merely about acquiring a Christian perspective or a Christian worldview, what is its goal? Its goal, I'm suggesting, is the same as the goal of Christian worship: to form radical disciples of Jesus and citizens of the baptismal city who, communally, take up the creational task of being God's image bearers, unfolding the cultural possibilities latent in creation – but doing so as empowered by the Spirit, following the example of Jesus's cruciform cultural labor." (p. 220)

"If the Christian university's motto is, 'I believe in order to understand,' the ecclesial university's motto is, 'I worship in order to understand.'" (p. 223)

"One of the most crucial things to appreciate about Christian formation is that it happens over time…Christian education 'takes practice.'" (p. 226, 230)

Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith (5)

In Books, Pedagogy on July 24, 2012 at 12:54 pm

DTK cover

Quotes from chapter five, "Practicing (for) the Kingdom":

"If we read the practices of Christian worship, we would conclude that Christians are a people whose year doesn't simply map onto the calendar of the dominant culture…The church is not a people gathered by abstract ideas or teachings or ideasl; it is a people gathered to the historical person Jesus Christ." (p. 156-157)

"As a messianic people, the church is a people who inhabit the present with a ceretain lightness of being…Resisting a presentism that can only imagine 'living for the moment,' the church is a people with a deeply ingrained orientation to the future, a habit we learn from Israel…We go through the ritual of desiring the kingdom – a kind of holy impatience – by reenacting Israel's longing for the coming of the King…We are a futural people who will not seek to escape the present, but will always sit somewhat uneasy in the present, haunted by the brokenness of the 'now.'" (p. 156-158)

"At the same time, the rhytms of Christian worship and the liturgical year stretch us backward. They are practices of remembering – another habit we learn from Israel…We are constituted as a people who live between times, remembering and hoping at the same time. Each week this between-ness is performed in the Eucharist, which both invites us to 'Do this in rememberance of me' and by doing so to 'proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.'" (p. 158)

"The thrilling drug of novelty is drunk deeply by such presentism; but it is a narcotic with diminishing returns. At stake here is a forgetting of 'higher times' and the stretching of liturgical time…Strangely, it fails to be expectant about the future. It is an orientation to what's coming that lacks hope; instead, it simply records the onslaught of events." (p. 159)

"To be human is to be called. But called to what? Gathered for what? The congregation gathers in response to a call to worship, which is the fundamental vocation of being human…The very reason that we are gathered for worship under the cross is because of humanity's fundamental failure to carry out the task and mission of being the image of God. The imago Dei is not a thing or property that was lost (or retained); it was a calling and a vocation that Adam and Eve failed to carry out…Jesus takes up and completes the vocation of Israel, whose vocation was a recommissioning for the creational task of being God's image bearers. Thus Jesus is our exemplar of what it looks like to fulfill the cultural mandate." (p. 162)

"We fulfill the mission of being God's image bearers by undertaking the work of culture making." (p. 165)

"Worship is best understood on the order of action, not reflection; worship is something that we do…The practices of Christian worship do this work nonetheless because of the kind of creature we are…In the action of gathering, there is a visceral training of our imagination that shapes how we subsequently think about our identity and our calling as human, in relation to God and in relation to others." (p.166)

"Because we are so fundamentally creatures, being aimed at the Creator, so to speak, is a necessary condition for being fully or properly human." (p. 169)

"Authentic worship, like toddler talk, expresses who we are and forms what we are becoming." (p. 172)

"Implicit in Christian worship is a vision not just for spiritual flourishing but also for human flourishing; this is not just practice for eternal bliss; it is training or temporal, embodied human community." (p. 174)

"God's law is not a stern restriction of our will but an invitation to find peace and rest in what Augustine would call the 'right order' of our will. In this respect, the giving of commandments is an expression of love; the commandments are given as guardrails that encourage us to act in ways that are consistent with the 'grain of the universe,' so to speak." (p. 174-175)

"The conception of autonomous freedom as freedom of choice – freedom to construct our own ends and to invent our own visions of the good life – chafes against the very notion of a law outside of ourselves…Human and all of creation flourish when they are rightly ordered to a telos that is not of their own choosing but rather is stipulated by God…It is an invitation to find the good life by welcoming the boundaries of law that guide us into the grooves that constitute the grain of the universe and are conducive to flourishing." (p. 175-176)

"Just as the Fall means not that we stop desiring but rather that our desire becomes disordered, so too sin does not mean that we stop being culture makers; rather, it means that we do this poorly, sinfully, unjustly." (p. 178)

"Image-bearing is a social reality: we are not deputized as little isolated images; rather, we bear the image in our collaborative cultural labors." (p. 184)

"Unfortunately, in the Reformed tradition, because we are rightly concerned not to accede to the modern gnosticism that would denigrate the goodness of creation, we can also be prone to blur Scripture's marked distintion between the world and the new creation (of which the church is a part). We even get a little embarrassed about the New Testament's stark claims about the people of God. In short, in the name of defending the goodness of creation, we paper over the distinction between structure and direction; thus our affirmation of creation slides into an affirmation of the world, which then slides toward an affirmation of 'the world' even in its distorted, misdirected configurations. In the name of the goodness of creation, we bend over backward to affirm common grace and are embarrassed by the language of antithesis, which feels dualistic and otherworldly. In short, we forget the reunciations that attend our baptism." (p. 190)

"In contrast to secular liturgies that are fixated on the novel and the new (including the liturgies of the university), which are trying their best to get us to forget what happened five minutes ago, Christian worship constitutes us as a people of memory." (p. 191)

"The good news announced in the Great Commission is that God has made it possible for us to actually participate in the cultural mandate. We are sent into the world to make disciples, which means we're being sent into the world to invite them to find their identity and vocation in Christ, the second Adam, the model of the new human." (p. 206)

"When Christians engage in the practices of hospitality and Sabbath keeping singing and forgiveness, simplicity and fasting, they are engaging in a way of life that is formative and constitutive of Christian discipleship." (p. 212)

Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith (4)

In Books, Educators, Pedagogy on July 20, 2012 at 11:58 am

DTK cover

Quotes from chapter four, "From Worship to Worldview":

"It might be more helpful to talk about a Christian social imaginary than to focus on a Christian worldview, given that the latter seems tinged with a lingering cognitivism. By focusing on social imaginaries, the radar of cultural critique is calibrated to focus on exegeting practices, not just waiting for the blips of ideas to show up on the screen." (p. 133)

"What if we sought to discern not the essence of Christianity as a system of beliefs (or summarized in a worldview) but instead sought to discern the shape of Christian faith as a form of life?…This will require undoing some habits we've acquired in theology and philosoophy, as well as in discussions of Christian education and the formation of Christian worldview. In particular, it requires that we reconsider the relationship between practice and belief." (p. 134)

"Emphasizing the primary of worship practices to worldview formation both honors the fact that all humans are desiring animals while at the same time making sense of how Christian worship is developmentally significant for those who can participate in rituals but are unable to participate in theoretical reflection." (p. 138)

"Before Christians had systematic theologies and worldviews, they were singing hymns and psalms, saying prayers, celebrating the Eucharist, sharing their property, and becoming a people marked by a desire for God's coming kingdom – a desire that constituted them as a peculiar people in the present." (p. 139)

"If one temptation is to level the sacraments in the name of the sacramentality of the world, a second is the temptation to naturalize the liturgy as just an embodied practice like any other (another kind of leveling)…While worship is entirely embodied, it is not only material; and though worship is wholly natural, it is never only natural." (p. 149)

"Worship is not for me – it's not primarily meant to be an experience that 'meets my felt needs,' nor should we merely reduce it to a pedagogy of desire (which would be just a more sophisitcated pro me construal of worship); rather, worship is about and for God…We may have construed worship as a primarily didactic, cognitive affair and thus organized it around a message that fails to reach our embodied hearts, and thus fails to touch our desire." (p. 150)

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…

On Accreditation and Statism in Education

In Books on January 21, 2012 at 1:53 pm

I (Craig) have been revisiting a few previously-read books on classical Christian education to apply their counsel to current situations. The process has been helpful for the sake of thinking through some of these aforementioned "opportunities".

For instance, I recently received the following email from one of our Veritas parents:

"My daughter has just finished another semester at Veritas. We know she is getting a very good education, and we are pleased with her performance. She is learning how to study and prepare, to be a success when she attends college. It is never too early to create good study skills and habits.

However, I am curious about the state accreditation status of Veritas Classical. I am sure the process is a long, drawn-out procedure, but to be honest, I am a little nervous. Am I correct in saying, if a student does not attend a state accredited high school, the only way for them to be accepted to a state college or university, is based solely on their ACT scores?

I am also interested in the accreditation status because there is a grant program available for schools. Perhaps you have heard of the Box Tops program. This program has probably existed for 20 years. Many of the foods we use come with Box Tops, and once collected, the boxtops are sent in, and the school receives money. I would be happy to assist with this program, but the school MUST be state accredited to receive the funds. I have saved these coupons for three years and hopefully, one day Veritas, will be able to benefit from them.

I have not heard of any specific details indicating that VCA is indeed making a consorted effort to continue their pursuit of accreditation. Would you please be specific and give me some concrete details about this matter?"

Rather than email back, I thought a conversation might be more helpful, so I picked up the phone and called. We had a pleasant discussion about her concerns and our philosophy concerning accreditation. Indeed, I said, there are no specific details because there are no specific plans to pursue state authorization or endorsement. Curricularly speaking, we actually exceed the state's academic requirements; financially speaking, we don't want money with strings attached.

Simply put, with regard to accreditation, we don't need or want it.

Douglas Wilson, in his books, Repairing the Ruins and The Case for Classical Christian Education, elaborates on what I mean:

"We have been told, both directly and subliminally, that state accreditation is to education what the FDA stamp of approval is to food quality, i.e. the guarantee of rigorous scrutiny by knowledgeable experts. But the reason we are having all this debate over education in the first place is that the whole country pretty much agrees that our state-certified and accredited schools are usually pretty poor.

Nevertheless, parents still have a deep faith that accreditation means something because it ought to mean something. And so they come to inquire about possible enrollment at a private school, and one of their first questions concerns whether or not the school is accredited – even though the reason they have come to apply is that they are thoroughly unhappy with the school they are leaving, which has been accredited for a hundred years."

In revisiting some of Wilson's thoughts, I noticed another of his answers that fleshed out more of my perspective on the question of school choice – a hot topic here in Oklahoma, and the subject of the "Restoring American Exceptionalism" (terrible title) Town Hall I'm attending on Tuesday. After tweeting yesterday that "Restoring American Exceptionalism is not my goal, but I'm for school choice and will be attending Tuesday,' I realized I should probably have clarified what I meant when I used the phrase "school choice".

For me, "school choice" has little to do with charter schools and vouchers, but simply local (read: parental) control and no government (city, state, or federal) involved. Again, Wilson writes in The Case for Classical Christian Education:

"At the root, the problem with charter schools and vouchers is not difficult to understand. I've written elsewhere that the theological case against such programs should actually be grounded in the prohibition against stealing. When the government taxes us in order to perform the duties assigned to the civil government by God, Christians clearly can have no consistent ethical objection (Romans 13:1-7). But if the government adopts responsibilities that God never assigned and begins massive redistribution of wealth accordingly, this creates an ethical problem…

…Parents who want charter schools and vouchers are asking, in effect, for others to pay higher taxes to fund their children's education – and the whole thing becomes simply 'food stamps for the brain.' A citizenry may be taxed in order to fund those activities that God requires of the civil magistrate, but secularist education is not one of these activities…If conservative Christian parents join this parade by seeking a piece of the action, we are demonstrating that we do not understand how our nation has drifted into its current idolatrous statism. As I put it elsewhere, 'until we learn to fight statism by refusing to accept benefits, our hypocrisy will be evident.'"

While I don't agree with everything Wilson says or writes, it's been helpful revisiting his (and others') books that address these ideas in a way that goes beyond (for now) my instincts and common sense. Much to ponder and process as we continue to shape the future of education.

A Dispatch from January

In Books, Calling, Church, Education, Family, Movies, Oklahoma City, Places, Pop Culture, Sports, Television, TV, Veritas, Young Ones on January 21, 2012 at 8:03 am

I have over 150 "have-to-answer" emails in my inbox, so it would seem a good time to work on the blog. (I'll just think of this as a warm-up rather than a put-off. Note: If you're waiting on an email from me, it will come today). Some items of late to mark the days:

I just finished two books, both with a financial theme: The Price of Everything, a parable of economic emergent order, by Russell Roberts, and The Third Conversion, a "novelette" by R. Scott Rodin about fundraising as ministry and not just money. The first book is a very readable text that our seniors are reading in Economics; the second is a more semi-hokey series of conversations between a seasoned fundraiser and his up-and-coming protege.

While recovering from my first kidney stone surgery, I found myself with some time to actually watch a few things on Netflix via the iPad. I'd heard of Joss Whedon's Firefly series (only one season of 15 episodes, capped off for resolution by the movie, Serenity) and enjoyed this "space western" well enough. I also had time for a few Shakespeare films (Kenneth Branaugh's Henry V and Patrick Stewart in Macbeth were excellent), which were fun and novel to watch.

There's been a lot of "launching" going on this January. A week ago, City Pres got off the ground with our first official worship service (I helped serve the Lord's Supper) and our Tuesday night CityGroup started back up; this past week, we kicked off our Veritas capital campaign and website, which we hope will come to first fruition in early March; and I've  enjoyed getting back in the classroom twice a week teaching the second semester of our senior American History course (two very different but engaging texts: A Patriot's History of the United States by Larry Schwiekart and Michaell Allen and A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn).

Other highlights so far this month: 70-degree weather, my four capitalist daughters selling three (and counting) enormous boxes worth of chocolate for their homeschool band program, Megan clearing off and cleaning my desk (she loves me), NFL football playoffs (which is really the only time I'm interested enough to watch), the daily newspaper in my driveway, cold milk on hand, and people who call me "friend".

Okay. Guess it's time to deal with email, to which I say (in my best British accent): "Do your worst!" Thanks for reading.

Naming Our Idols (Reading)

In Books on December 29, 2011 at 11:04 am

As has been my (Craig's) tradition for the past five or so years, I recently posted my year-end booklist at Second Drafts. I'll save you the rehash here, but suffice it to say, it was not a good year. A couple things came to mind after the fact that I thought might play well here at Docendo Discimus, so here we go.

First, I need to remember Solomon's words: "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). This year was not a particularly good season for reading for a lot of legitimate reasons, but rather than feeling sorry for myself and nursing my wounded pride (more on that in a minute), I need to let it go. Spending the first half of February interviewing for a new role that, between March and June, would then require our family to pack, move, unpack, and begin to figure out our new lives in Oklahoma took a toll (especially on top of teaching and coaching along the way). It wasn't sin; it was just a season that I didn't read a lot of books.

But let's talk about sin. Reading can be an idol for me. Walk into my study and you'll see my trophy cases; check out any end table in our house and you'll see my Asherah poles of books to read. Sure, I post my annual reading list to help others who might be looking for a book, but as I've never had a pure motive in my life, I confess I want people to see not only what I read, but also that I read. I'm not saying I'm proud of that; I'm just saying my motives are mixed (as they are with just about everything I think, say, or do – welcome to my humanity).

Emotionally speaking, and as much as it has therapeutic properties, reading can be a drug – one sold over the counter (or the Internet) and peddled by a variety of dealers (family, friends, teachers, librarians, etc.). Sometimes I need a little literary hit and can get worked up and seriously grumpy if I don't get it. These reading "shakes" may seem as foreign to a non-reader as craving alcohol is to a non-alcoholic, but I swear it's real (my wife and daughters do, too). My name is Craig, and I have a reading problem.

What else complicates all this? Since I seem to have less and less time for picking up a good book, picking up a good book becomes all the more important. The problem? Reading can be like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get. Another reality is that, in the name of reading ever-broadly, my wants can overwhelm my needs. Do I want to read the popular biography of a modern visionary whose time partially overlapped my own (Steve Jobs) or a 2000+ year-old set of histories of foreign lands and peoples of which I've rarely heard (Herodotus' Histories)? I can choose the candy as quickly as anyone…and this year it seems I did.

A friend of mine once told me in a discussion on reading that, physically speaking, one can live a long time on junk food, but eventually the body needs a change of diet to a more balanced meal to run optimally. The same is true literarily, and why I feel the way I do about the lack of meat, potatoes, and veggies in my reading diet this past year.

Why lament any of this? Because by offering to God what I feel to be a failure in need of redemption, there's a lesson for others, I think. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with one of our Veritas dads. As often happens in these parental conversations about education, I picked up on his insecurity in talking with me by way of questions and comments like, "I haven't read/studied like you" and "I'm no scholar like you," etc.

These words, of course, played to my pride, but letting them do so only evoked a hollow feeling of fraud in my heart. Yes, I've read, but there's so much to read that I haven't. Yes, I've studied, but what of my studies have I already forgotten? Yes, I want to be a scholar (and want to be thought of as a scholar), but I'm not. I'm a guy in a role with a title that can lead parents, teachers, and students to think (or hope) I am or might be.

All these mental gymnastics were going on in my head during our conversation and I immediately tried to explain some of it to my friend. I'm not sure he fully understood or believed me, but the important thing was my attempt to disbelieve what I knew to be a lie. I wish I could convince all our parents, staff, and students of how much I still have to read, study, and learn as their classical Christian Head of School. Too many of them may think too highly of me in this area, so perhaps this year's posted reading list will pull back the curtain and reveal more of who's really trying to run Oz.

In the meantime, there are good books to be read with more redeemed motives. Maybe I won't post a booklist next year; maybe I won't even keep track of what I read at all. As silly as I feel for making an idol out of something so seemingly benign as reading, taking what God created as good and using it otherwise has always been my problem.

For the record, I read that in the best Book…or rather, it read that in the worst of me.

Booklist 2011

In Books, Writers on December 28, 2011 at 12:07 am

It was a pretty personally disappointing year of reading, both in terms of quantity (didn’t even average two/month) and quality (the least amount of theology and classics reading I've done in the past five years). In conducting the autopsy here, I realize that I simply tried to read too many books at once; as a result, I lost interest in several and found it hard to pick back up when and where I left off with a few.

New year, new rule: no more than three books (preferably of different genres) at a time.

Those qualifiers out of the way, it’s with great shame that I post my annual booklist, complete with notes and rankings (10 is highest) for each. In light of the thin offerings, perhaps a look through my previous years' lists (2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006) will aid in your search for a good book. Hope to do better in 2012 (please add your recs below).

January – June (0)

  • Started Atlas Shrugged and about a dozen other books during this six-month period, but we moved/started a new life in Oklahoma, which is my only semi-legitimate excuse.

July (3)

  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand – Absolutely dumbfounded by the fiscal prophecy of the first third of the book; the 1,000 pages dragged in the middle but still good. (7)
  • The Case for Classical Christian Education by Douglas Wilson – A primer for anyone involved in classical Christian education; could do without some of the attitude, but okay. (7)
  • The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo – Interesting read about Jobs and his role as innovator (not inventor) at Apple; some helpful strategy observations. (6)

August (4)

  • Repairing the Ruins edited by Douglas Wilson – Another of Wilson’s contributions, this one reads a little more moderately in terms of tone; good content. (8)
  • Histories (volumes 1 & 2) by Herodotus – First two books I read on the iPad. Skimmed much of it, but parts made it a fascinating look into the ancient world. (6)
  • Teacher by Mark Edmundson – Took 50 pages to get into memoir of Edmundson’s favorite teacher, but worth sticking it out; never get enough of these. (6)

September (2)

  • The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer – Skimmed through this once before, but had to read about/revisit more carefully the education I never received. (8)
  • The Great Expectations School by Dan Brown – File under “Everything you’ve heard about urban public schools is true.” Sad take from a first-year teacher. (8)

October (3)

  • The Secret of Terror Castle (The Three Investigators #1) by Robert Arthur – Revisited (with my second daughter) my youth w/ Alfred Hitchcock-involved series; Investigators better than the Hardys. (7)
  • Cardboard Gods by Josh Wilker – Nostalgic walk through 1970’s baseball cards with plenty of narcissism along the way; good idea, but could have been more. (4)
  • Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki – Simple (but not simplistic) book that gets so much right about how people are motivated and enchanted; highlight of the fall. (9)

November (2)

  • Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson – One of the saddest books I’ve read in terms of leadership and legacy. Jobs was a hero, but not for nearly as much as I thought. (8)
  • Wisdom and Eloquence by Robert Littlejohn and Charles T. Evans – Lucid expression of classical Christian education from two long-time practitioners; well-written pedagogical gold. (9) 

December (2)

  • Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson – Read it too disjointedly, but this “conversation in spiritual theology” also seemed to wander a fair amount; still, some insights/moments. (7)
  • Pastor by Eugene Peterson – Listened to this one and loved it. Peterson is both accurate and articulate in his description of his craft; best of the year for me. (10)

Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

In Books, Technology on November 20, 2011 at 12:32 pm

"He was an enlightened being who was cruel.
That's a strange combination."
Chrisann Brennan (Steve Jobs's first girlfriend
and mother of his first child, Lisa)

D8dec_steve_jobs_bio_2At last count, the Dunham family has accumulated 10 Apple products: 1 iMac desktop, 2 laptops (Pro and PowerBook G4), 1 iPad, 2 iPhones, 1 iTouch, and 3 iPods (2 Nanos and 1 Shuffle). One could say we've drunk the Apple Kool-Aid to the dregs: we love the products, have little to no trouble with them (other than sharing), and are big Apple advocates/evangelists (as of this Thanksgiving, we'll have convinced and equipped both sets of grandparents to go Mac).

Indeed, we meet the criteria for membership in the so-called Apple Cult, but this didn't make reading Walter Isaacson's painfully honest 600-page biography of Apple's founder, Steve Jobs, any easier. Even as I write this (on my MacBook Pro), I wonder to what degree my own desire for digital enlightement supported the cruelty that produced it.

Though the first 50 pages of Isaacson's book seem clunky (especially when compared with his other biographical works like Benjamin Franklin and Einstein), part of this had to do with the fact that I was reading a completed biography of a man who had just died two months previous (Jobs had asked Isaacson several years earlier to start work on his biography when he was diganosed with pancreatic cancer). For this reason – combined with the fact that forty years of my life had overlapped with much of Jobs's work during his 56 years – it was a different experience than reading about more historical personalities who lived and died 200, 100, or even 50 years previous.

But examples of Jobs's harsh leadership style didn't help, either:

"(Jobs) was flying high, but this did not serve to make him more mellow. Indeed there was a memorable dispaly of his brutal honesty when he stood in front of the combined Lisa and Macintosh teams to describe how they would be merged. His Macitosh group leaders would get all of the top positions, he said, and a quarter of the Lisa staff would be laid off. 'You guys failed,' he said, looking directly at those who had worked on the Lisa. 'You're a B team. B players. Too many people here are B or C players, so today we are releasing some of you to have the opportunity to work at our sister companies here in the valley.'

Bill Atkinson, who had worked on both teams, thought it was not only callous, but unfair. 'These people had worked really hard and were brilliant engineers,' he said. But Jobs had latched onto what he believed was a key management lesson from his Macintosh experience. You have to be ruthless if you want to build a team of A players. 'It's too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and they then attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players,' he recalled. 'The Macintosh experience taught me that A players like to work only with other A players, which means you can't indulge B players.'" (p. 181)

Here's another recollection – same song, different verse:

"Right after he came back from his operation, he didn't do the humilation bit as much,' (chief software engineer Avadis 'Avie') Tevanian recalled. 'If he was displeased, he might scream and get hopping mad and use expletives, but he wouldn't do it in a way that would totally destory the person he was talking to. It was just his way to get the person to do a better job.' Tevananian reflected for a moment as he said this, then added a caveat: 'Unless he thought someone was really bad and had to go, which happened every once in a while.' Eventually, however, the rough edges returned." (p. 461)

It was interesting how Jobs's Zen Buddhist beliefs informed (or didn't) his life. Isaacson records Jobs' estranged daughter, Lisa (for whom his first computer was named), asking Jobs why he was so preoccupied with creating great material products when Buddhism does not recognize material things as being real or mattering? Jobs was quiet and never answered the question, but one could tell the inconsistency bothered him.

Though Jobs did not necessarily create anything completely "new" in the digital world (author Malcolm Gladwell asserts as much in the New Yorker a few weeks ago in his article, "The Tweaker: The Real Genius of Steve Jobs"), Jobs did redesign average products and redesign entire industries with his drive. In the last chapter of the book, Isaacson lists Jobs's contribution over three decades (some of his descriptions below could be given somewhat to hyperbole):

  • The Apple II, which took (Steve) Wozniak's circuit board and turned it into the first personal computer that was not just for hobbyists.
  • The Macintosh, which begat the home computer revolution and popularized graphical user interfaces.
  • Toy Story and other Pixar blockbusters which opened up the miracles of digital animation.
  • Apple stores, which reinvented the role of a store in defining a brand.
  • The iPod, which changed the way we consume music.
  • The iTunes Store, which saved the music industry.
  • The iPhone, which turned mobile phones into music, photography, video, email, and web devices.
  • The App Store, which spanwed a new content-creation industry.
  • The iPad, which launched tablet computing and offered a platform for digital newspapers, magazines, books, and videos.
  • iCloud, which demoted the computer from its central role in managing our content and let all of our devices sync seamlessly.
  • And Apple itself, which Jobs considered his greatest creation, a place where imagination was nurtured, applied, and executed in ways so creative that it became the most valuable company on earth.

To Isaacson's (and Jobs's) credit, the book is as honest as one might hope for in a biography. Isaacson does a good job drawing out the themes that play through Jobs's life: his life-long insecurity at having been given up for adoption as a newborn; his passion for minimalist, beautiful design; his philosophy that closed platforms make for ultimately better user experiences than open ones (Microsoft); and his belief that people don't know what they want until they see it (or in Jobs's mind, until he shows it to them).

While I've always thought of Jobs as the last of a dying breed of innovative entrepreneuers (as so wonderfully – if a bit expletively – captured in this brilliant news clip in The Onion), I see with new eyes what the price of progress actually was at Apple. Was it worth it? Many of those interviewed seemed to believe so, but more than a few of these same people also seemed relieved that Steve Jobs was gone.