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Archive for the ‘Calling’ Category

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.

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Losing the Fight Over Love

In Calling, Church, Health, Humanity, Marriage, Politics, Science, Theologians, Thought on March 27, 2013 at 8:00 am

My heart is heavy with all that is taking place right now concerning the debate over gay marriage. Apart from the issue itself, I lament the hostile rhetoric of it all and the way sides are being taken with so little nuance (see Facebook's pink equal signs and their "Christian" cross variations), not so much for a position but against someone else taking the opposite one.

With this in mind, I appreciate N.T. Wright's perspective on framing the discussion and would encourage you to give thought to it in terms of how Christians should engage:

As to the issue itself, I wrote about it here on the blog five years ago and you're welcome to agree or disagree. For a more recent treatise that I think worthy of your time, Voddie Baucham's article, "Gay Is Not the New Black," is an important piece that does a good job addressing the issues at hand in the context of the current rhetoric.

All that said, pray for our country, that regardless of whatever differences people have, we can show love to one another in our discussions of them.

On Teaching Atrocities (My Advice to a New History Teacher)

In Calling, Education, Humanity, Pedagogy, Poetry, Politics, The Academy, Young Ones on March 25, 2013 at 1:35 pm

“In both 7th grade and 12th grade, we are about to talk about World War II. With that, comes discussing atrocities such as the Holocaust and the Rape of Nanking. However, I am unsure how to appropriately teach the specifics. They were very important events that need to be understood, but I also know I need to be aware of the level of the students that I teach. As much more experienced teachers than I, I was hoping that you could give me advice on how to talk about these subjects with the students.”

The biggest thing to think through is your own personal preparation; that is, understand that the kids will take their cue from how you present and process with them, so if they see you being ONLY objective, then anything truly awful will seem shocking because we as humans shouldn’t be unemotional when it comes to these things. In other words, students need to see you deal emotionally with the grief and not just the facts of these atrocities.

That said, you have to really check your own heart in presenting some of this. It’s easy to throw something gratuitous out there either via image or story in order to get a reaction and reassure yourself that the students are listening, but we as teachers have to resist that temptation. The kids need to know what happened, and they also need to know how we feel about what happened. Definitely hold off on an overuse of graphic images at the 7th grade level, as well as be careful even at 12th grade – it’s just too easy to go for the easy gut reaction and miss the nuance and respect that these events require.

For 7th grade, students read “The Hiding Place,” so they get a pretty good feel for at least one expression of the Holocaust. In general, for that grade, keep it fairly objective and general. While they need to know these things have happened, the number of dead, the sort of categories of offenses (using Jews for scientific experiments, etc.) are more appropriate, probably, than the specific instances, descriptions, etc. It is a good opportunity to talk about human depravity and the nature of evil AND that the greater majority of Germans (for example) didn’t actually participate, but nor did they act against. It’s useful to discuss, in general, that the feeling of “I would never. . .” is exactly what often allows evil to take place.

For 12th grade, there is more of an opportunity to talk more directly about the experiences and the factual accounts. Here’s where images would perhaps be more appropriate. There are also lots of good connections with our Comparative Religions class, and again with the nature of evil and the fallen nature of humanity. Since it’s American History, focus on American perceptions (or misperceptions) and the same sort of willful ignorance as other nations. Perhaps connections with how Americans view events today and how we expect our country/government to act, intervene, etc. Or, in other words, what makes the Holocaust so special given the number of atrocities and scale in the 20th century?

Finally, be very careful what the kids see/hear you laugh about; humor is a natural protection mechanism we use when dealing with atrocities like these, but it can come off very crass. There needs to be a sacred approach, not just a funny self-protective one, to dealing with these matters of life and (unfortunately) death.

Father the Fathers

In Calling, Family, Poetry, Young Ones on February 28, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Rembrandt

(Every now and then, I fancy myself a poet and see what I come up with. Here's one I'd been working on that I suppose I'll call finished (or at least posted). Read at your own risk.)

I am a father to several, but often a father to none.
I am responsible, but not always responsive.
Do I think of You in this way? Perhaps.
You have a Book to explain Yourself; I have only a tongue.

Do I seem distant to them as You seem distant above?
Would that they saw You as a Father
when I mostly just see you as God.
Respect is a poor replacement for love.

Speak to me, Your son, that I may speak to them with Your care.
Comfort me as Your child, that I may comfort them as mine.
Hold my hand in Yours, that it may become mine to them.
God, father the fathers who long to be more than just there.

(The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, 1667)

OKC: A City on the Rise

In Calling, Family, Oklahoma City, Places, Thought on January 25, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Idyllic overkill, but there are worse places to live. Glad to be part of the renaissance.

Things I Got to Do in January

In Calling, Church, Education, Family, Friends, Oklahoma City, Places, Television, Thought, TV, Young Ones on January 18, 2013 at 9:09 pm

I know the month is hardly over, but I'm not sure I'll have time to post again until February. In the meantime, here's a visual record of some things I got to do in January:

Sell an old car (our 1998 Delta 88 threw a rod and died a peaceful death in our driveway)

Olds

Buy a "new" car (meet "Victor the Volvo," a 23-year-old car whose official color is "wine")

Victor

Chronicle blatant church hypocrisy (best picture ever)

Hypocrisy

Take part in City Pres' first-ever leader retreat (I'm the one about to throw up on the right)

City Pres Leadership Training

Eat (and live to tell about it) at a place featured on Man vs. Food

Catfish Barn

Care for our first foster child (this 3-year-old was cute as a button)

Fostering

Study with daughters at Starbucks (also known as caffeinated homeschooling)

Starbucks Studying

Launch a new school (The Academy) with friend and fellow Head of School, Nathan Carr

Craig Launching Academy

Nathan Launching Academy

All in a month's work…

 

Redeeming Baseball

In Calling, Places & Spaces, Sports on October 6, 2012 at 4:08 am

Regarding the ridiculously ruled infield fly in the eighth inning of last night's MLB Wildcard game between the Braves and the Cardinals, here's what I wish would have happened:

As Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is (rightly) arguing the call with the umpires and Braves fans are (wrongly) revving up to throw whatever they can get their hands on out on the field in protest, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny calmly walks out on the field to join the discussion with the men in black.

Listening for a moment to the "discussion" (if that's what you want to call the heated dialogue that goes on between managers and umpires over a blown call), Matheny puts his hands up to quiet both sides, suggests that the call was way out of line and should be reversed, and actually argues for loading the bases for the Braves and charging an error to Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma (for that's what it so painfully was) before walking calmly back to the dugout to finish managing the game.

Atlanta fans are dumbfounded as they drop the bottles and trash from their hands and have a seat. Cardinal fans are proud, for any one of "the smartest fans in baseball" can recognize how horribly wrong the call is. In addition to growing his reputation for having a fine mind for baseball, Matheny demonstrates his heart for justice as well. Best of all, the game goes on without some silly twenty minute delay (and a slew of protest for days to come), and regardless of who wins, baseball comes out the winner.

Wouldn't that have been classy and inspiring? Beautiful, even?

Atlanta's retiring living legend, Chipper Jones, whose fourth-inning error on what should have been a standard 5-4-1 double-play that was really the beginning of the end for the Braves, gave his typical try at class in his post-game interview:

"Ultimately, I think that when we look back on this loss, we need to
look at ourselves in the mirror. We put ourselves in that predicament. … [So]
I'm not willing to say that that particular call cost us the ballgame.
Ultimately, three errors cost us the ballgame, mine probably being the
biggest."

Jones admirably took responsibility, but for redemption to happen, it has to cost somebody something, and the Cardinals were the only ones in the position to pay up.

I don't blame Matheny for not doing so (no other manager in baseball would have); I just wish he did. That's how baseball could have been redeemed last night.

That's what I wish would have happened.

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.

Why “Priorities” Are Not Always Helpful

In Calling, Family, Health, Thought on July 30, 2012 at 7:28 am
Prosser Clock
Earlier last week, Megan and I were sitting at the dinner table talking about our family's fall schedule. One of the things we try to do before each school year is formulate what we call our "default schedule" – that elusive weekly calendar which, if not otherwise interrupted by life, represents our ideal "normal" state of existence. Perhaps you do a similar thing…or perhaps not.

All of us are called to be good stewards of the time God has given us, but when we get down to it, our struggle tends to be not as much a matter of time management as it is of priority management. This sounds simple enough, but our culture does us a disservice by pluralizing the word “priority,” confusing us as to what our “priorities” are. When we talk about our “priorities,” we’re talking about something that doesn’t make sense—the nature of priority is singular. We are only able to have one priority.

Is it really true what the commercials say, that we can have it all? Unfortunately, no, we can't; we have to choose. Theologian J. Oswald Sanders wrote, “We are as close to God as we choose to be, not as we want to be." How to choose wisely? The first step may be as simple as taking the time to ask the question (I'm currently considering this in a 2-part series, "Beating Busyness," at Docendo Discimus if you'd like to read more).

Megan and I end up having the time/priority management discussion multiple times a year…a quarter…a month…a week. Probably like you, we've wrestled with what we do (or should do) for 15 years now, but we've hardly perfected the process – life is just so complicated and messy. Still, we know it's an important discussion to have, so we try to give each other grace (again) in the midst of it; thankfully, God does as well.

As you think about the coming fall and your family's schedule, let me encourage you to consider your family's priority (singular) and how that influences your weekly calendar. Cull through your agendas, your expectations, and your guilt-trips and figure out what's really driving what you and your family do. You might be surprised by who's in charge…or Who isn't.

(Clock photo courtesy of Matthew Prosser; used by permission.)

A Matter of Desire

In Calling, Friends, Humanity, Places on July 16, 2012 at 11:49 am

"Are you on staff here?" asked the man, sticking his head in the door of the Coachmen's Lounge in the Carriage House.

"No," I said. (Not "No, but I used to be," or "No, but I sometimes wish I were." Just "No.") "I'm sorry I can't help you."

"That's okay," he said nonchalantly. "You just can't answer my question. Thanks." He smiled and left in search of someone who could.

This interaction sums up the gist of what hurts the most about returning to places in my past that I love: I can't help and I can't answer. To a wannabe maven like myself, this is the death knell of the soul (or less melodramatically, part of the heartache I've felt on this trip).

I didn't realize it until we were on the road, but on this family vacation (the longest – two weeks – we've ever attempted and I've felt the guiltiest about), Megan and I are essentially re-tracing our geographic, emotional, and spiritual history together.

Starting in Oklahoma City (where we now live and move and have our being), we spent two days in St. Louis (Covenant Seminary, teaching at Westminster) before spending four days in Illinois (where I grew up and we lived for six weeks before transitioning to the Lou).

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Seven years later after starting seminary in the summer of 2005.
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The new entry way to Westminster Christian Academy.
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Cousins Ryan and Tucker filling water balloons with Maddie and Chloe.

Following our time on the farm, we headed out Colorado way, getting into Colorado Springs yesterday afternoon (where we met, started our family, and worked with The Navigators for 12 years at Glen Eyrie and Eagle Lake, the two Nav properties threatened and very nearly consumed by the Waldo Canyon Fire a few weeks back). We've already seen a bear up close and personal, and the girls are attending Day Camp through the week before we begin the trip back to OKC Friday evening.

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A black bear taking a stroll in front of the Pink House.
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Eagle Lake Day Camp at Glen Eyrie.

As much as these places in my past have stayed the same, they have all changed as well. When we stopped off at Westminster in St. Louis to see where I would have taught had we stayed, it was very different ($70 million dollars buys quite a campus and facility).

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The Grand Hall at Westminster.

When we arrived at the farm, we barely made it in before the oil and chip crew finished my parents' driveway (something my dad repeatedly said he'd waited 39 years to do).

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Maddie, Millie, Tucker, and Chloe getting wet (notice the new driveway).

Here at the Glen, we had the place to ourselves on a Sunday evening, but it's a very different (and much improved) place from when I was here in the first half of the 2000's.

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Walking with Katie and Chloe through the Glen Eyrie grounds.

Being a recovering narcissist, I keep wondering how much of any of the change would or would not have happened had I stayed where I was? How would any of these or a thousand other decisions been made differently had I been around to be more involved in the discussions? And what does it mean for my ego that the decisions that did get made without me seem to have been, by and large, good and right ones?

It's a timely reminder, I suppose, that none of us are irreplaceable and that we should not think of ourselves as such. This does not mean that we are unimportant and unable to serve in God's grander narrative, but it's humbling to relearn again and again this lesson: though I want to matter, mattering is not what matters most (or even at all) in the economy of God. He is the only real Matterer.

I know and believe this, but my heart struggles with the feeling and truth of it. Forgive me, Lord, for allowing my desire to matter to be such a matter of my desire.

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.)

Have Biblical Imagination, Will Travel

In Calling, Church, Friends, Musicians, Places, Theologians, Travel on May 18, 2012 at 6:28 am

Off again this weekend, this time to Willowick, OH. Here's a new video with Mike filmed at March's Biblical Imagination conference in Normal, IL, for a peek at what this is all about.

Living and Loving Accordingly

In Calling on April 7, 2012 at 10:41 am

A passage and meditation for you/me on Holy Saturday:

"One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:36-50 (ESV)

When I was younger (though, sadly, not that much so), I remember once reading this passage and thinking to myself, "Great story, but what do those of us without dramatic conversion stories do? How do those of us whose sins are not that many love much when we've not been forgiven that much?" I even thought about writing a book about this "conundrum," for surely, I thought, there are plenty of "good" Christians out there who felt as I did.

Indeed, there were…and are. And that's the problem…with them and with me.

Even as a kid – even before I would say I came to faith – I remember giving serious and significant thought to the idea that, if one were to really put his mind to it, it couldn't be that hard to live perfectly. Of course, much of my consideration at the time had everything to do with mastering outward behavior – a discipline I've been trying to unlearn ever since – but even from a young age, the thought that I might do the impossible – somehow nobly and with pure motives – has always been the sin behind my sin.

Much to my chagrin (not really, but I should probably say that), I've never had a pure motive in my life. Mostly pure behavior, sure (at least as far as you know), but doing the right thing in the right way for the right reason, well, it's never happened, and unlike in baseball, "two-" or even "one-out-of-three-ain't-bad" thinking doesn't cut it with holiness.

As a (barely) recovering legalist, I want Good Friday and Easter to mean something. And they do, mostly by helping me recognize my wanting to reduce them to things that don't because I'm still wrestling to wrap my head (forget about my heart – I don't want to go there) around the data that says I need them to. The schizophrenia of it all feels a lot like what Paul must have felt writing Romans 7:13-20 (ESV):

Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

Truth be told, the older I get, the more I don't want to acknowledge that I needed Jesus to die for my sin. In my pride, I'd rather take a raincheck on being reminded of my need for mercy and grace because, at least from my perspective, my sin is not nearly what it could be, nor hardly what others' might be.

Actually, according to 1 John 1:5-9 (ESV), it's worse – for when I deny my sin, I accuse God of being a liar (among other things):

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My heart doesn't want to spend time here; my reputation certainly doesn't. But for the sake of both, this is exactly why I need to declare to myself and anyone else who knows me that, to the degree I understand it, I'm grateful for the truth of the Gospel that says I was loved before I was lovable and fully forgiven before I fully understood my need to be so.

God, forgive me for the (many) times I make you a liar and your word is not in me. You have forgiven me much, Jesus. Like the sinful woman, let me live and love accordingly.

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.

Some Blessings…No Turning Back

In Calling, Church, Education, Family, Friends, Marriage, Places, Veritas, Young Ones on September 20, 2011 at 9:46 pm

A couple weeks ago, I lamented that I had Some Regrets…No Doubts about our move to Oklahoma. As promised at the end of that entry, it's time to write the follow-up post.

Today marks 100 days on the job as Head of School of Veritas Classical Academy. In making it this far, I've been so grateful for the kindness, care, and friendship shown to my family, and the many prayers and expressions of support for my leadership at Veritas. During the past 100 days, I’ve listened – to parents and students, to faculty and staff, to our Board of Directors and the Lord – to learn what of the past seven years has made the school who we are now, all while planning and positioning us for the next seven (and beyond). It's been incredibly challenging, but as personally fulfilling as anything I've done.

I love getting to see my kids during their school days, but strangely, this has been more awkward for me than for them. During the first week, I felt really embarrassed for them when they saw me and ran up and hugged me during the day. I wonder how long their enthusiasm for Dad will last, but since they don't seem to mind or feel pressure to behave differently, I'm happy to let it continue as long as it will (I just need to get used to it).

DSC_0117

In addition to my own kids, I'm enjoying the other 243 students enrolled at our two campuses. While I'm still learning names and trying desperately to keep up with everything required to run a school, the kids have been kind and open with me, as have many of their parents. One particularly enjoyable bunch of students is my Headmaster's Conclave, a lunch group of juniors and seniors. We meet every other week to talk about their studies, their lives, and their perspectives on how we can improve Veritas. It's been enlightening to hear from them (and they've been more than willing to provide "the new guy" with their honest thoughts).

Craig with VCA Students (72 dpi)

I could go on – about our teaching staff (all of whom I love); about our administrative team (all of whom are so committed to the school); about our board of directors (all of whom I feel safe with); and about classical Christian education (all of which I am learning so much, but still have so much to learn). It's been great – really exhausting, but great.

On the non-school front, I'm encouraged with the relationships we're beginning to cultivate in our neighborhood, which has thankfully turned out to be much more socially and ethnically diverse than I imagined. Over Labor Day weekend, we organized a cul-de-sac party and over 30 people turned out, many of whom had lived here for years and were re-introducing themselves to each other as they had just not kept up over time. The girls have made friends in the neighborhood and the weather has finally cooled off to make being outside an option (though actually being home remains my biggest challenge).

Cul-de-sac

As you may know, one of the other reasons we moved to OKC was to help my college roommate/co-author, Doug Serven, plant City Presbyterian, the first PCA church in the Oklahoma City limits. Here's a picture from one of our first leadership meetings in June:

Church Plant Couples

And here's a picture from our first "preview" worship service this past Sunday evening:

As you can see, our chairs runneth over. Granted, not all of these people are going to stick around as part of City Pres (several were simply well-wishers from other churches while others were there to see one of the nine baptisms that took place), but it was fun to pull everything together and provide an opportunity for folks to hear the Scriptures proclaimed, to partake in the sacraments of communion and baptism, and to visualize the future of Oklahoma City with a Reformed church in its downtown.

As we don't anticipate formally launching a weekly service until perhaps the spring, we'll be meeting in City Groups (ours meets on Tuesday evenings) and in Sunday night vision rallies until then. However, it was especially fun for me to see Megan enjoy offering of her behind-the-scenes gifts of service and hospitality (not to mention picture-taking), as well as see our girls jump in and help set up, pull off, and pick up after the service. Having been dragged along to so many of the leadership meetings over the summer, they felt real ownership for the service and the church, which was hugely exciting.

In thinking through all of this – school, neighborhood, church, family – I keep coming back to Psalm 16, which has, for the past six years or so, become one of my fortunate favorites:

    Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
    I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
        I have no good apart from you.”
    As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
        in whom is all my delight.
    The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
        their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
        or take their names on my lips.
    The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
        you hold my lot.
    The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
        indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
    I bless the LORD who gives me counsel;
        in the night also my heart instructs me.
    I have set the LORD always before me;
        because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
    Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
        my flesh also dwells secure.
    For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
        or let your holy one see corruption.
    You make known to me the path of life;
        in your presence there is fullness of joy;
        at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
(Psalm 16 ESV)

Some blessings…no turning back. Grateful to God for who he is and all he is doing.

Some Regrets…No Doubts

In Calling, Family, Friends, Marriage, Oklahoma City, Places, Places & Spaces, Young Ones on August 28, 2011 at 6:22 pm

On Friday, the girls and I got home from school around 2 p.m., as Veritas is only in session on Fridays until 12:30. My normal "Daddy's home" routine is to greet Megan (usually with a hug), greet the dogs (also usually with a hug), and then head upstairs, change clothes, and collapse on the bed for a period of time in direct proportion to what kind of day/week it's been.

As we just finished our first week – a very good but exhausting one – my time on the bed went a little longer than normal. After 45 minutes of repeatedly falling asleep but then being awakened by one of four daughters, I gave up the idea of a nap and came downstairs. The girls wanted to watch something, but I was not in the mood for Phineas & Ferb; thus, we pulled up Chariots of Fire on Netflix and enjoyed.

There's a scene toward the end of the film in which Erid Liddell can only watch the finals of the race he was favored to win (the 100-yard dash) because his Sabbath conviction stood in the way of participating in the qualifying heats the previous Sunday. As Liddell is sitting in the stands waiting for the race to begin, a friend leans over to him and asks if he has any regrets. Liddell's response: "Some regrets…no doubts."

I resonated with Liddell's sentiment. Moving to Oklahoma has hardly been an awful thing and I have no doubts we are supposed to be here. But I'd be lying if I said there weren't some regrets that I've been processing and feeling this summer.

I suppose the first source of grief is just the loss of time and money that goes with any major transition. In thinking back through all the hours invested praying and wrestling with the pros and cons, asking questions and communicating decisions, selling a house and buying a house, packing, loading, moving, unloading, and unpacking, and paying for it all, I regret the toll our move required and the burden it placed on our family. A look at my minimal reading list or our bank account confirms that it's been a tough seven months.

Second, I regret distancing the relationships we had in St. Louis (as well as the ones previously distanced in Colorado Springs before we moved from there). We've always been fortunate to have surrounded ourselves with good people, but that fact is not always comforting when you have to leave them behind. I miss those I used to work with, went to church with, laughed with, argued with, and just loved being with. These are wounds that I don't anticipate healing completely.

Third, I miss the simplicity of "just being a teacher" and being able to focus exclusively on the science and art of teaching. I first felt this reality in May, when I finished teaching and started my new role as Head of School ten days later (moving in between), but being around kids this past week really made me miss the classroom and the discussions I got to have with students all day long.

Fourth, I miss the Midwest and the common sense spirit of keeping your head down and your nose to the grindstone because, well, that's what people do in the Midwest. Granted, the Southwest is perhaps not that different, but while I never thought I'd miss the weather in St. Louis, after living through the hottest summer on record in Oklahoma, I confess I miss that as well.

Finally, I regret the potential risks I've exposed my family (and others) to in leaving a well-established, well-respected, and well-funded school in an amazing brand new building run by seasoned leaders who know what they're doing in order to be a first-time Head of School in a fledgling education movement that rents limited space every week in two churches just to have a place to meet three days a week. I won't say the pressure's overwhelming yet, but there is pressure, and I feel it on a variety of levels.

Some regrets, yes. Plenty of them. But no doubts. None at all. I'll write about why in my next post.

Because We Apparently Need More to Do

In Calling, Education, Family, Internet, Technology, Veritas, Young Ones on August 23, 2011 at 7:12 pm

You may or may not have heard, but Megan and I have started writing a new blog together about our journey (past and present) through the world of classical education. The blog's called Docendo Discimus. Here's our angle on the name and idea:

Seneca "The philosopher Seneca (c. 4 BC-65 AD) offers us his counsel: 'Docendo discimus.' Translation: 'By teaching, we learn.' As we seek to provide our children with a classical Christian education, we hope to gain that which we did not experience in our own. Granted, it is probably more difficult now at our current stages of life due to slipping memories, full-time jobs, and possible mid-life plateaus, but it is not impossible, nor do we have to do it alone; hence this blog."

For more on our rationale, you can click here to get an idea of where we're going with it (and why). We're planning to write every Tuesday and Friday and, while what's up there now (a short series on what makes education Christian) is mine, Megan's planning to launch her first series from the homefront next week, so you won't want to miss that.

In addition to the new blog, we've also created a Twitter account to go with it. You'll find us tweeting about most things classical education at @PagingSeneca, so retweet us every now and then if what we write resonates with you.

Rest assured, we'll still continue writing individually at Second Drafts and Half-Pint House, but we're excited to be able to contribute to this new one together. So, check out the site and/or follow us on Twitter. Hope they help.

On Team

In Calling, Education, Oklahoma City, Theologians, Veritas on July 26, 2011 at 4:22 am

(insert cheesy picture of "get a hand in" motivational poster here)

I recently received an email from one of our staff that made me smile. Fresh out of a curriculum meeting with a couple other teachers, he wrote: "Our meeting today was phenomenal. I want to go teach the snot out of my students now!"

Team. You've heard the cliches (not to mention that there's no "I" in it), but have you experienced what it feels like to be part of one? If you have, you know why team matters; if you haven't, here are a couple things to think about:

Team matters because none of us are omni-competent…or omniscient…or omni-present…or omni-anything else. Team matters because God – in the form of the Trinity – is a team made up of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Oh, and team matters because it's fun. Even for the introverts among us, we need to feel the joy of something bigger – of a team, of a community – as the Body of Christ.

Last week, 30 or so staff and family members gathered at our house here in north OKC to meet each other, enjoy some eats, ask a few questions, and dream a little bit about the future of Veritas Classical Academy. I was reminded of Psalm 133:1, where David writes, "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" The ESV gets it right by including "behold" – unity is indeed something that should draw our eye and captivate our thoughts, if for its rarity alone.

I recently came across this quote from C.S. Lewis: "It is not your business to succeed, but to do right; when you have done so, the rest lies with God." Unity and functioning as a team are "right" in God's eyes (think Trinity, think Psalm 133:1), and I can't help but be excited by what God might do in and through us as we go/grow together into the coming school year.

The next day, I wrote our staff about all this, encouraging them – even as we head into this last week of July – to meet with, work with, pray with, or just be with one other person as they thought about and prepared for this fall. If the examples and promises from the Scriptures aren't enough motivation, I said, maybe a little positive peer pressure will work: everybody's doing it (or will be) at Veritas!

(Note: Some books I might recommend on functioning as a team and in community: Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer; TrueFaced by Bill Thrall, John Lynch, and Bruce McNichol; and Connecting by Paul Stanley and Bobby Clinton.)

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

Listening for God’s “Rock” Voice

In Calling, Education, Family, Veritas, Young Ones on July 1, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Just sent this out to our Veritas families and staff and wondered if anyone here might like/want/need to read it as well:

This morning I was reading the prophet Zephaniah's book when I came across 3:17, which says,

"The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing."

Israel (now split into northern and southern kingdoms) continues to avoid returning to God and His covenant because of their sin, but God, through Zephaniah, clarifies their reality: they are in trouble, but He is in their midst and is able and willing to save them from themselves.

Does this reality describe your house as much as it does ours? As Megan and I parent, it seems we're often having to point out to our four girls when they are in trouble and remind them that we're here to help before they make things worse for themselves. (Truth be told, Megan and I sometimes have a similar version of this conversation with each other, but that's for another email…).

So we get discouraged. And we wonder if we know what we're doing. And we begin to convince each other that we don't. But since they're ours, well, we've got to figure it out. So what does figuring it out look like?

Figuring it out looks a lot like God's promised response to a repentant Israel: a rejoicing one; a loving and quieting one; an exultant one, complete with loud singing over them (this is not a lullaby; this is God's "rock" voice).

Megan and I are good at recognizing trouble, offering help, and warning our kids about their own sinful natures. But we have miles to go in celebrating their repentance, even more so in truly "rocking out" at their return to what's right.

Summers are a great time to re-evaluate a lot of things; parenting should be on that list. Let me encourage you to give thought to how you correct and train your kids…AND how you love and rejoice over them when they respond, too.