Because life is a series of edits

Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

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.

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When Presbyterians Rock

In Church, Musicians, Places on March 23, 2012 at 1:36 pm

I always have a good time visiting different churches and meeting some really neat people as part of our Biblical Imagination conferences. This weekend, we're in Normal, IL, and I got a kick out of my fellow Presbyterians' attempt to rock.

When Presbyterians Rock

(For those not in on the joke, you usually don't put a digital piano up on an x-rack.)

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.

Always Pain Before a Child Is Born

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Primer on Conferencing

In Books, Calling, Church, Education, Places, Thought, Veritas on June 16, 2011 at 9:38 pm

  Repairing the Ruins

I'm here in Atlanta with 944 other folks for the 17th annual Association of Classical and Christian Schools conference. It's quite a gathering, with some neat folks from all over the country in attendance, and I'm grateful for the chance to join them.

The schedule is pretty straightforward: morning plenary, two morning workshops, afternoon plenary, two afternoon workshops. Evenings are free to process or collapse, depending on your temperament. The stage is sparse and the visuals non-existent (two critiques I have of a conference with a workshop titled "The Imperative of Beauty and the Aesthetic Call"), but the facility is terrific, the content is great, and there's always plenty of people to watch and wonder about (like the guy who is the spitting image of Richard Dreyfuss as a young Glenn Holland in the film, Mr. Holland's Opus – weird).

Because I used to periodically attend conferences when I was with The Navigators (not to mention design and run them at Glen Eyrie), I've developed my own set of conference-going habits for taking part in these kinds of gatherings. Granted, this event is more professional than personal, but some guidelines still apply. For instance:

  • With regard to speaker notes, I don't bother filling in blanks or capturing every point speakers make; instead, I listen for quotables that strike me and capture them on paper or online, as those are what I'm more apt to remember and want to revisit (to follow my quotable tweets from this conference, go to Veritas' Twitter page).
  • Because conference-attending is a huge commitment not only of money but of time, I give myself permission to work on other tasks while listening. This doesn't work for everybody, but I'm primarily an auditory learner, so the plenary pedagogy works well enough for me (plus, I get some things done, and there's a lot of those things to do now that I'm one week into the role).
  • I also give myself permission to skip sessions I'm not interested in, switch workshops from ones that aren't well-prepared to others that are, and take needed naps to stay fresh because, let's face it, most conferences are overprogrammed with little time built in to process and play around with ideas otherwise.
  • I always try to identify 3-4 people – presenters, fellow conferees, people who just look interesting, etc. – with whom I can schedule individual meals and breaks before, during, and after sessions. While there are a couple of moderated group lunch discussions I plan to attend with an eye to content, I don't find those nearly as engaging as sitting down with someone eyeball-to-eyeball to ask questions, to listen, and to try to learn something specific.
  • Rarely do I stop and visit the vendor booths unless 1) there's something very, very specific I'm interested in, and 2) the vendors aren't there (this is the best time to pick up free promotional material without having to endure the spiels). Yes, I know this seems both non-curious and cruel, but they're getting their material into my hands…I'm just controlling the delivery system a bit.
  • Finally, I pray for Megan and the girls and keep in touch so they know that just because I'm away doesn't mean they're forgotten. I know from experience how hard it can be on a spouse holding down the fort while the other is traveling, enjoying some schedule autonomy, and experiencing new intellectual stimulation. This is probably why Megan and I talked tonight about her attending the ACCS conference in Dallas with me next June.

I thought about listing the sessions and workshops I'm planning to attend, but it might be more interesting to give you an idea of how weird (but wonderful) a world this whole classical Christian education is by listing a few of the more intriguing workshop titles:

  • Terque Quarterque Beati: Unpacking Virgil's Tripartite Soul
  • Everybody's Reading Boni Libri
  • Bring It (Don't Dumb It) Down: How to Teach a 12-Year-Old a Classic
  • I See Dead Lines: Cultivating Students' Sixth Sense Through Poetry
  • Progymnasmata in the Classroom

To quote presenter Douglas Wilson: "Books are the original distance-learning packets, but the Bible assumes true education within a godly community of others."

It's good to be here talking about Christian ideas from the classic books, and doing so in the context of others. Perhaps the greatest benefit of a classical Christian education can be summed up in this realization: I have much to learn.

And I do.

On Death and Justice

In Church, Politics on May 2, 2011 at 9:23 am

Firemen

My friend and colleague, Rev. Luke Davis, sent this out to all our WCA staff this morning. It's very much along the lines of my own heart and worth a read for its clarity of thought.

Today, I am certain that many of our students (and we ourselves) will be reacting to the reported death of Osama Bin Laden. I am not one to make sweeping gestures and proclamations on geopolitical news (blame that on my Gospel-first, politically independent status), but I do feel compelled to make a pastoral request regarding this historic moment.

1. Justice has been done. True, it may not feel like complete justice (that’s in God’s hands), but there is no doubt there is a spirit that we’ve cut off a major head of the Hydra. A mastermind of Islamic terror has fallen. While it would have been nice to see OBL regenerated and washed by the blood of Christ, it is also a great reminder that there are consequences for evil actions. Justice wins.

2. Remind our students to continue praying for our military. This fight is not over. There is a good chance this could release cells of terror that have waited for a moment of more independent spirit. One of the hallmarks of a terror network is the potential to bring someone even worse and more evil to a position of leadership once one chief has been snuffed out (To wit, read George Jonas’ Vengeance, the book that inspired Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film, Munich).

3. We all need to be reminded that this is not a time for us as a community to engage in conspiracy theories, “Is-he-really-dead?” questions, or battle over giving the credit to President Bush who set the fight against terror in motion or President Obama who has overseen this mission to this point.

Numbers 4 and 5 are somewhat hard things to say, but I need to say them:

4. One side of me recognizes that Osama Bin Laden has done an incredible amount of evil, and we remember with sober recall the events of 9/11, the bombing of the USS Cole, etc. However, I am somewhat surprised by the venom directed at Bin Laden in comparison to individuals like Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, and the Communist regimes of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The consistent destruction and erosion of the hope, freedom, and dignity of humanity in general and Christians in particular (plus the Jewish targets of Hitler’s “Final Solution”) get MUCH MORE BIBLICAL PRESS than what Bin Laden has coordinated. I’m not saying we should ignore this moment. I’m saying I’d hope we keep some perspective on what Scripture truly prizes in an impreccatory fashion. I doubt many of our celebrations over the last twelve hours have kept this in mind.

5. Finally, if we are truly followers of Christ, we should be marked by grace first and foremost. I’m not talking about speaking graciously here (though that can be part of it). I mean this: If we honestly thought about our sin, maybe we’d be more gratefully sober. Perhaps we need to have the solemn recognition and humility that, if God truly held even a whisker of a fraction of our sins against us, we would justly deserve much worse than what OBL got.

The good news is that justice will win because justice is ultimately from Yahweh. And it is also good news that Yahweh does not visit his righteous wrath on his children clothed in the blood of his Son, who endured worse than any terrorist strike.

Shalom, Luke

What Does Love Win If There Is Nothing to Lose?

In Books, Church, Theologians on March 27, 2011 at 4:56 pm

I've had a couple friends email me for my thoughts on Rob Bell's controversial new book, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. While I haven't read it yet, enough people whom I respect have and the verdict seems mixed at best. Megan says I somehow owe the world a few thoughts since Bell and I have the same glasses, so with that flimsy justification in mind, let me respond to the only thing I really can at this point – the promotional video for the book:

It's important to understand from the beginning that Bell is more a compelling communicator than a precise theologian; he flies and dies by the rhetorical question, which makes him both interesting as a teacher and dangerous as one as well. Personally, I enjoy listening to him tell stories in his rambling stream-of-consciousness way, and his Nooma videos are much like this one in terms of good production values and style.

Bell's art show story in the beginning of the video is a good example of Bell's gift. After telling the story, he rightly chastises the sticky note incivility of one of the show's attenders and calls Christians to take a fresh look at how rude and ridiculous this kind of behavior is. This, I think, is when Bell is most helpful – he has a keen eye for recognizing legalism in the Church and smartly addresses the thinking behind the behavior rather than just the behavior itself.

Unfortunately, Bell's rhetorical nature takes him down the wrong road quickly. His response to the judgmental Christian's "reality check" is so exaggerated and over the top ("Will only a few select people make it to Heaven and will billions and billions burn forever in Hell?") that he sweeps away his audience in a tsunami of hyperbole, leaving little standing in its wake. He jumps immediately to what a Christian's opinion (whether conceit or horror) might be concerning Hell, seems to accept it (whatever it may be) as gospel, and continues to think out loud by raising (but not alluding to anything other than) his own questions on the topic.

True to form, Bell then overemphasizes personal responsibility ("How do you become one of the few? Is it what you believe, or what you say, or what you do, or what you know?") as a possible way of dealing with the idea of Hell (which, in the video, has been referenced – and apparently in the book, regarded – as little more than personal interpretation). The initial question of eschatology (the study of end times) becomes one of soteriology (the study of salvation) and then of divine ontology (the study of God's essence), but all dependent on (and seemingly subject to) the hermeneutic of experiential relativism:

"And then there is the question behind the questions. The real question is what is God like? Because millions and millions were taught that…God is going to send you to Hell unless you believe in Jesus. And so what gets subtly caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God. But what kind of God is that that we need to be rescued from this God?"

This is, as one of my seminary professors would say after considering an honest (but misguided) inquiry, "the wrong question" due to the unbiblical theological suppositions upon which it's built and the variety of problematic propositional fallacies it violates. While I would not disagree with Bell that eschatology is crucial to understanding God, his rhetorical questions are not helpful in substance ("millions and millions" were taught that God is going to send you to Hell?) nor phrasing (Jesus "rescuing us" from God?) and instead cast God as suspect in his role as Creator and Redeemer.

After a final set of rhetorical questions about who God is and what God is like, Bell ends the video with a statement so sweepingly broad and generally vague that it really means very little (comparitive superlatives are, after all, only meaningful when you qualify what the initial positive is). He claims:

"What you discover in the Bible is so surprising, unexpected, and beautiful that whatever we've been told or taught, the Good News is actually better than that – better than we could ever imagine. The Good News is that love wins."

This, I'm guessing (again, I haven't read the book), is what so much of the controversy is about: Bell's theology seems so indistinct and non-commital as to what he actually believes that it's difficult to figure out what love wins and why it matters. This has some raising the question of whether Bell is a univeralist. I don't know the answer to that, but I do know that Jesus didn't "rescue us" from God; he rescued us as God (this is what the biblical doctrine of Incarnation is all about). I also know that God does not send us to Hell; the wages of sin we ourselves have earned (Romans 6:23) condemn us more than enough for that.

Love wins. Okay, but wins what? And how? And for whom? And says Whom? These are the questions I hope Bell answers biblically and convincingly in his book. Unfortunately, from the little I've read, watched, and listened, I'm not optimistic that his answers are going to be all that definitive.

Below are a few links concerning the Love Wins debate. Feel free to add others that would be helpful.

More Than April Showers or May Flowers

In Calling, Church, Education, Family, Friends, Marriage, Places, Places & Spaces, Young Ones on March 8, 2011 at 7:49 pm

About a year-and-a-half ago, I had the idea that it might be a good idea to mark turning 40 (which happened last month) with a 40-day fast from food and media. My goal (as detailed here) was "to spend my extra time reading the Bible, praying, and writing about what God may have should he grant me another 40 years."

The media fast was easy: I didn't touch Facebook, Twitter, or the blog and I didn't miss it. The food fast was much harder, as I attempted a water-only fast (I did have a couple of cups of tea after Day 4 just to taste something other than my mouth). Things were going well enough until my doctor pulled the plug on the fast at the end of Day 10 because I had too many ketones in my blood and could have developed serious kidney problems. While disappointed, I was glad it was her decision to end the fast rather than mine (though she never wrote me that prescription for Five Guys Burger & Fries like I asked).

I lost twenty pounds in those ten days and learned how much food can be an idol for me. I also had a great time reading the Old Testament prophets, listening to God convey his love for his people even in the midst of their sin and rebellion and writing out prayers of confession for myself and supplication for others. Finally, I thanked God for the gift of life and asked him for his favor on another 40 years if he would be so gracious. I had no agenda for this time other than to seek God and to read, listen, and write. In the spirit of the prophets, I even grew a beard that didn't look half bad.

Bearded Craig

On day 39 of this 40-day period, I received an email out of the blue from Julie Serven, wife of Doug (of three-year Mizzou roommate/TwentySomeone co-author fame). After wishing me an early birthday, she wrote:

"I wanted to ask if you would have any interest in pursuing a new career direction? Our Head of School has recently taken a position with a school in Alabama. He has done a great job the last couple of years and has helped in taking the school to a more developed level.

We need someone who is both visionary but also very administratively gifted. Someone with teaching experience, preferably in high school, and experience with managing and working with people. Someone who appreciates the value of a home component in education and is willing to encourage and partner with parents interested in doing so. Someone who could help train the teachers, pastor the parents, and love the kids. Sound like anyone you know? It does to me."

Somewhat dumbfounded by Julie's email and the opportunity she was asking me to consider, I finished my 40 days asking God if this would be something he would have me pursue. While I have absolutely loved teaching these past five years (four at Westminster Christian Academy, one at Heritage Classical School), I had wondered more than once whether I was using my administrative and leadership gifts to the fullest extent that I could. This question was not one of ambition but of stewardship: Was there more God was calling me to do for the Kingdom in the realm of Christian education? Was this role with Veritas an opportunity I was to trust him for in doing so?

After talking with Megan and seeking counsel from several here and elsewhere who know and love us, we decided it was worth pursuing. I composed a letter and resume, notified references, and sent along my testimony and philosophy of education. A week later, the Veritas board flew Megan and me to Oklahoma City for an exhaustingly thorough weekend-long interview; ten days later (after doing due diligence of considering other applicants), they sent us a very gracious official offer; last weekend, I made one more trip to meet with the board to discern face-to-face if indeed this was God's will for all involved. By the end of the meeting, it seemed good to all of us; thus, I accepted the role.

Veritas_logo The school, Veritas Classical Academy, now has 260 students Pre-K through 11th (they are adding 12th grade next year) and currently meets at a church in south OKC. Because of interest in the Edmond/North OKC area, they will be starting a north grammar campus (Pre-K to 5th) with 50 students this coming fall. Plans are to open a south grammar campus in Norman the year after that (starting with 50 students), and then move to purchase land/building for a central upper school campus the year or two after that, the idea being that there would be several feeder grammar schools and one central upper school (6th to 12th, 7th to 12th, or 9th to 12th). They follow a blended (university) model (half in-class instruction and half home instruction), seek to be reasonably (as opposed to maniacally) classical, and are trans-denominational as a school (though the board seeks to be winsomely Reformed in setting and implementing policies).

My role as Head of School will focus primarily on areas of creating and modeling the school's climate and values, recruiting, hiring, and training faculty, leading and counseling staff and parents as they educate their students, resolving conflict and handling disciplinary matters, and working with the board on strategic planning. Secondarily, I will also be responsible (with the help of others) for the alignment and development of curriculum, public relations, fundraising, finance, and other matters of policy and administration pertaining to the school. Oh, and I'll still get to teach a class or two each semester. It's a big job, but one I believe my education and experience (not to mention the wealth of mentoring relationships and supportive friendships I've benefitted from over the years) have prepared me for.

Servens One other pleasant convergence: Doug and Julie have been asked to plant a new PCA church – City Presbyterian – in downtown OKC, starting with an initial gathering of core group members this summer. As if building and leading not just a school but an eventual school system weren't enough, helping to plant an urban church with dear friends we've known for 20 years (Doug and Julie were Megan's NavStaff at Oklahoma State after the three of us graduated from Mizzou together) just seems to be icing on the cake. Who knows? Doug and I might even get ThirtySomewhere finished now that we'll be in the same town.

Spring has brought more than April showers or May flowers for the Dunham family, and we're grateful to God for his leading. While we're looking down the barrel of what promises to be a very intense 3-4 months, we are trusting God to provide above and beyond what we need emotionally, physically, and spiritually as he continues to guide us in this new step of faith. Here's a look at what's ahead (thanks in advance for any prayers on our behalf):

MARCH

10-11: Westminster Christian Academy Parent/Teacher Conferences
11-12: Crossroads Presbyterian Fellowship Women's Retreat
19-24: Spring Break (house-hunting in Oklahoma City)
28: Opening Day (JV Baseball)

APRIL

8-9: Biblical Imagination Conference (Dallas)
15: Classical Conversations Banquet
22-24: Easter Break

MAY

7: Studio Forte Ballet Recital
12: Last Day (JV Baseball)
14: St. Louis Children's Choirs Spring Concert
23: WCA Graduation
27: WCA Last Day of School

JUNE

6: First Week at Veritas (Oklahoma City)
16-18: Association of Classical & Christian Schools Conference (Atlanta)
24-25: Biblical Imagination Conference (Apple Creek, OH)

For Megan's perspective on the move, click over to Half-Pint House.

Freedom

In Calling, Church, Musicians, Places on February 27, 2011 at 8:39 am

Calvin (cropped)
 
I just finished up the weekend at Bible Fellowship Church in Sebring, Florida, as part of the Biblical Imagination conference with Michael Card. We had 90 folks from all over the state join us for 24 hours of teaching, listening, and learning together from the book of Luke. I'm very tired, but, as my father would say, it's a good kind of tired.

In reflecting this morning at the hotel before we (the Biblical Imagination team of Ron, Holly, Susan, Mike, and me) drove to Tampa to catch flights back home, I wanted to share a little about a man named Calvin whom we met here in Sebring.

Calvin has the build of a small NFL wide-receiver: broad shoulders, wiry but strong (in fact, I grinned when he came to Mike's concert last night in a football jersey as it just seemed to fit). Though he looks young from a distance, when you get face to face, you realize he's older than he first seemed – probably in his fifties – as the lines in his face run deep and there's a depth to his eyes that makes you want to hear his story.

While I didn't get all the details, the gist is that Calvin (who has St. Louis roots) spent 22 years incarcerated before he came to Christ in the last six years of that time. He got out of prison and is now being helped through a ministry here in Sebring called Little Lambs led by John and Eileen Sala, who were also at the conference (John, a native of Brooklyn, had once been in prison as well).

All through the conference, Calvin sat with the Salas and soaked up everything Mike and I taught about Luke, biblical imagination, and responding to Jesus. Warm, kind, and with a great smile, he asked questions, interacted, and even contributed a few observations that blessed all in the room. In response to our last "assignment" at the end of the conference, he shared a parable of his life that brought tears to the eyes of many as he described growing up as a boy who never really knew love.

After almost every song that Mike played at the concert last night, Calvin had some kind of one-word verbal response – "Yes" or "Amen" or "Thank you" – that he felt free to share because of the acceptance of God and those in the room. Toward the end of the concert, as Mike was introducing "Freedom" (my favorite song from his new "A World Turned Upside Down" album), he commented that of all the people in the room, this one might mean the most to Calvin, who beamed. The lyrics are as follows:

I am lost and I am bound
and I am captive to the shame that keeps on holding me down
And all I need to be found is freedom

I am tired and I am dying
and I am trapped inside a cage I've made of hopelessly trying
But the door would open and I'd be flying if I could find freedom

Freedom, freedom
All the burdens we have borne, all the losses that we mourn
Cry out for freedom, freedom

Prison walls and bolted doors
Something keeps on telling me that I was made for more
That there is Someone Who can restore my freedom

A gentle voice I can't evade
speaks in the darkness of the heart and whispers "Do not be afraid"
You can be free, the price was paid for your freedom

Freedom, freedom
From the darkness of the night, from desolation to delight
Freedom, freedom
The chains are broken, the door is open – He is your freedom

It was a beautiful, beautiful picture of the gospel – certainly in Calvin's life because of his story of imprisonment, but also for the rest of us whom Christ has freed from our own "cages of hopelessly trying." I was too tired to cry, but I wanted to – thanking God for what he has done in Calvin's life, in the lives of those there, and in my own as well. The weekend let me speechless as – in the words of Luke – I am both "amazed and astonished" at God's love for me, a sinner.

Coming to St. Louis in 2011

In Calling, Church, Education, Internet, Musicians, Places, Places & Spaces, Theologians on November 13, 2010 at 8:10 am

Mike Teaching (with logo)

In case you missed it, the website I've been working on for musician/author Michael Card's Biblical Imagination Series just went live this weekend. I used Clover Sites to create it and am impressed (still) with how easy and well-thought-out their content management system is (I've worked with plenty of lousy ones in the past and this was a dream).

For those in St. Louis, we're bringing the conference to Chesterfield Presbyterian Church all day on Saturday, January 15th, with Mike doing a concert on Sunday the 16th. The cost is only $58 for the conference AND concert ($78 if you want Mike's new book and album coming out next year as well – see site for details), and I can personally vouch for the quality of the experience (though the emcee/education guy's a little suspect).

Whether you've read the Bible for years or are just starting out in the Scriptures, this one-day conference would be well worth your investment in cultivating greater biblical literacy and love for God and His Word. Hope to see you there (and please help spread the word about the new Biblical Imagination website and Facebook community – thanks).

We Interrupt Our Normally Non-Scheduled Weekend…

In Arts, Books, Calling, Church, Education, Family, Friends, Musicians, Nature, Places, Places & Spaces, Theologians, Thought, Travel, Young Ones on September 17, 2010 at 12:13 am

Here are some groovy events – several of which I'd love to see a familiar face at if you're in the area – that I'll be part of in the next six weeks. (If you or anyone you know has questions about the conferences, click the links or let me know and I'll fill in details.)

SEPTEMBER


Applefestival 17-18: Griggsville Apple Festival (Uptown Square, Griggsville, IL)
I've written about this cultural tour de force before, but words and pictures just cannot do justice to my hometown's annual fall celebration; you just have to be there. That said, I'm once again looking forward to more time on the farm (now in harvest mode) since our Labor Day visit two weekends ago, as well as to seeing some former high school classmates from back in the day (when you graduated in a class of 30, it doesn't take much to have a yearly class reunion each September).

Camping 24-26: Annual Fall Family Camping Trip (Babler State Park, Wildwood, MO)
We always schedule this trip the weekend following Parent/Teacher conferences (after talking with parents for six hours straight and the struggles many of them are having in connecting with their students, I'm usually newly motivated to spend time with my own kids). New activity this year: the family bike ride, as all six of us are bike-mobile (now we just have to figure out how to get all six bikes there).

OCTOBER

Tour2010logo 1-2: Tour de Cape (Downtown Pavilion, Cape Girardeau, MO)
Speaking of bikes, I've been pseudo-training (about 30 miles/week) to take my first "century ride" this weekend with a couple of co-workers (both of whom are much better bikers than I am). I've never before ridden 100 miles in a day, so we'll see how much Advil it takes to do it when it's all said and done.

Biblical Imagination 8-10: Biblical Imagination Conference with Michael Card (Fredericksburg, VA)
I wrote about this not too long ago, and it seems a little strange that we're less than a month out already. I'm pretty stoked to hang out on the east coast with Mike and company. This is the first conference of what I hope are many to come, so if you're too far from D.C. this time around, hang in there: odds are we'll be coming to you soon.

TwentySomeone 15-17: TwentySomeone/ThirtySomewhere Conference (Memphis, TN)
My good buddy, Mitchell Moore, is a pastor at Second Presbyterian in Memphis, and he's asked me to come down to speak at a retreat for peeps in their 20s and 30s. Revisiting the material (as well as working on some new for the next book) has been really fun, and I'm still "smokin' what I'm sellin'" (figuratively speaking, of course) in terms of making the most of these decades. Megan and the girls are coming with me, and we'll sight-see around Memphis on Saturday afternoon.

Relevant 22-24: Megan at The Relevant Conference (Harrisburg, PA)
The good news: I'll be home (and probably won't leave the house if I can help it); the other news: Megan won't be. As she did in Colorado in July, my wife will be taking in another blogging conference – this one of a more devotional than technical nature – in Pennsylvania. I'm interested to see what comes out of her time there, as well as to what degree the two conferences overlap and supplement each other.

That's all for now. We now return you to our normally non-scheduled weekend…

A Response to International Burn-a-Koran Day

In Calling, Church, Seminary on September 8, 2010 at 2:08 pm

There are plenty of things to be said about the ridiculous Burn-a-Koran Day planned for September 11th, but none of my words are as kind and respectful as these from Nelson Jennings, Covenant Seminary professor of World Mission. In an attempt to diffuse the situation, Dr. Jennings has initiated with those planning the event, following up with this letter in the past week. I commend it to you and encourage you to pray for the situation.

Dear Dr. Terry Jones and Members of the Dove World Outreach Center,

As I previously indicated to you both by email and over the phone, I recently became aware of your “International Burn a Koran day,” scheduled for September 11. You have publicly announced the event, and urged others to participate, through your church’s website and through a specially created Facebook page. As the Facebook page puts it, “On September 11th, 2010, from 6pm – 9pm, we will burn the Koran on the property of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL, in remembrance of the fallen victims of 9/11 and to stand against the evil of Islam. Islam is of the devil!” The scheduled event is receiving widespread attention, and various people are expressing their opinions and intended responses.

Relations today between people who are Muslims and people who are Christians are of extraordinary importance – including in an unprecedented way those of us in the United States of America. People’s beliefs about God and salvation are at stake, as are the well-being of local communities, societies, and international relations between countries. It is within this extraordinary situation that you, together as a Christian pastor and as an expressly Christian community, have taken the initiative to conduct, publicize, and invite participation in what can only be called – too mildly or too extremely, depending on one’s perspective – such a provocative event as this “International Burn a Koran day.”

In response to this event that has been scheduled by other Christians in the United States, that has been publicized within today’s extraordinary situation of Muslim-Christian relations, and to which I and others have been invited to participate, I believe that it is incumbent on me as one Christian leader serving a portion of the wider Christian community to issue a public response. (Please note, however, that this response is my own; I am not serving as a spokesperson for any church or organization.) My response consists of the following points:

  1. I agree with you that human beings’ salvation from sin and hell, as well as to eternal life with the living and triune God, is through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
  2. I commend you for your concern for and solidarity with fellow Christians worldwide.
  3. I respect the time-honored freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
  4. I encourage only peaceable responses toward you – i.e., against Dr. Terry Jones, members of the Dove World Outreach Center, or others who are in agreement with your religious beliefs about Islam – insofar as you do not cause immediate threat to others of bodily harm or damage to personal property.
  5. I realize that there are complexities beyond the scope of this short response in the enormous and worldwide matter of Muslim-Christian relations, particularly those associated with the interrelationship between religious and societal/governmental concerns.
  6. I realize as well that there are deep emotions – associated with both religious and social/national identity – over the events of September 11, 2001 in particular and Muslim- Christian relations in general.

At the same time, I espouse the following beliefs that contradict reasons for the scheduled Qur’an burning:

  1. Christians, whether individually or organized, should eschew violent
    and inflammatory actions taken as Christians against anyone –
    particularly violent and inflammatory actions taken in the name of, and
    with the alleged support of, expressly religious teachings.

    • Using proper force, including violent force, is a God-given
      prerogative of certain societal and governmental authorities (including
      Christians serving in those roles), not of Christians (or members of any
      other religious tradition) as individual or organized Christians (or as
      members of any other religious tradition).
    • Violent and
      inflammatory actions taken for expressly religious
      purposes usually (often unwittingly) support other, non-religious
      interests, for example political, ethnic, and economic interests.
  2. Christians, while devoted to the overall well-being of the local communities, countries, and world of which we are members, must be able to differentiate between (although not totally separate) our devotion to the wider, international Christian community and our devotion to our local communities, countries, and world. Similarly, Christians must be able to differentiate between (although not totally separate) the actual interests of the wider, international Christian community and those of our various local communities, our countries, and of the entire world. I believe that, in particular, you fail properly to differentiate between devotion to, as well as the actual interests of, the wider Christian community and the United States of America, for example in the statement on “The Church Must Take Action”.
  3. Christians must not simplistically categorize Islam, whether uniquely or together with other religious traditions, as “of the devil.” Instead, Christians should see non-biblical religious traditions as a combination of human aspiration for the Creator God, sinful rebellion against that same Creator God, and satanic deception. Not only is it therefore overly simplistic and reductionist to categorize Islam or any other religious tradition by reference to less than all three of these aspects, but doing so is also insulting, derogatory, and unnecessarily inflammatory toward fellow human beings, fellow bearers of God’s image, and fellow citizens of local communities, countries, and the world.

As I consider all of the statements above, I am firmly persuaded:

  1. To urge you to cancel, as well as apologize (with an explanation so that, as much as possible, you are not unfairly misunderstood) for the scheduling and publication of, the planned public Qur’an burning;
  2. Not to participate in the event (if it takes place), as well as to urge others not to participate in any such event.
  3. To encourage you and other Christians to seek constructive relations with people who are Muslims on individual, local community, national, and global levels. Such constructive relations, I believe, are evangelistic, peaceful, and cooperative.

Much has been written elsewhere concerning these various points, and there is much more to discuss. I welcome constructive interaction with you and others who are interested.

Respectfully,

J. Nelson Jennings
St. Louis, MO

Biblical Imagination: New Opp w/ Michael Card

In Books, Calling, Church, Education, Musicians, Theologians, Writers on August 6, 2010 at 12:14 pm

When I was 14, a friend of mine gave me my first Michael Card cassette, Scandalon. The year was 1985. Though quite different from the music my friends were listening to at the time, I was desperate for anything that spoke of my new friend, Jesus, who had just introduced Himself to me a few months earlier.

Thirty days later, I had worn out the tape.

While I enjoyed the richness of Michael’s distinct voice and memorable melodies, I was more intrigued by the words and phrases that made up his profound lyrics. Sadly, growing up in my small-town Methodist church, I had not heard much about (let alone begun to understand the meaning of) “the stone that makes men stumble and a rock that makes them fall” (Scandalon), or that “the Lamb is a Lion who’s roaring with rage” (The Lamb is a Lion), or that when we follow Christ, we are following “God’s own fool” (God’s Own Fool). I was fascinated.

Though little of the language made sense to me at the time, I kept listening (though I had to get another tape—where were CDs when I needed them?). I also began reading (barely) the Scriptures, which I didn’t understand much at first, either. But whether listening to Michael (and others), or “semi-reading” the Bible, the imagery of it all stuck with me, dancing in my high school-aged head at night, sparking a hunger and thirst within me not only for this imagery’s meaning, but for being able to respond to its meaning. That’s what the power of creativity can do…and that’s what it has done in my life.

In 2002, as the program director for The Navigators Glen Eyrie Group, I booked Mike for a series of conferences/concerts at the Glen and insisted he be part of planning them. This was surreal for me and new for Mike (he had never had the opportunity to actually speak into the planning of a retreat for which he had been booked), and together we created the Scribbling in the Sand Conference on Creativity.

Twenty-five years since that initial listen to Scandalon and five years since our last conference days, I'm flying to Nashville this weekend to hang with Mike, as he has asked me to join his team as a creative adviser/collaborator/teacher for the next stage of his ministry. Mike has just signed a four-book deal on the topic of biblical imagination with InterVarsity Press, has a new album coming out in February, and wants to converge all these together in a weekend retreat/conference experience beginning next year.

Because of our friendship and past ministry together, he's asked me to help, both as a facilitator and as a co-teacher like we used to do back in the day. I'm thrilled, especially since a majority of the teaching he's doing these days is in the summer, which works well with my own teaching schedule during the school year at Westminster Christian Academy.

As a friend of mine mentioned as we were having breakfast this morning, God does not waste a thing in our lives. Indeed, to trace the hand of God through all of this has been yet another significant lesson in the reality of God's sovereignty and the importance of our faithfulness in the littlest of things. I don't know all that lies ahead (whether with Mike or otherwise), but I do know that God does, and he has proven himself trustworthy far too many times throughout history (the world's and my own) to doubt him.

I'm sure I'll have more after the trip, but in the meantime, thanks for any prayers you may offer on my behalf. Pray I'll be faithful to what God (and Mike) may be asking me to do as part of this new opportunity, as well as to what I'm doing now here in St. Louis.

Five Years Later

In Calling, Church, Education, Family, Friends, Places & Spaces, Seminary, Theologians on May 22, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Here are a few shots from Covenant Seminary's 2010 graduation, in which I earned my second masters, this one in educational ministries. Here I'm receiving my diploma from seminary president Bryan Chapell while commencement speaker Alistair Begg looks on):

IMG_5286

With professor Jerram Barrs (I was Jerram's teaching assistant for a year-and-a-half and love him dearly):

IMG_5294

With Dr. Donald Guthrie, lead professor of Covenant's education program (I am the Padawan learner to his Jedi knight):

IMG_5292

With Dr. Bob Burns, professor of educational leadership and an elder at our church:

IMG_5291

With Tom Rubino, with whom I started summer Greek in 2005 and at last finished in 2010 (Tom earned his M.Div. and M.A.C. (counseling) degrees). It meant a lot to both of us to start and finish together.

IMG_5288

And of everyone at commencement, here are the five who matter most (thanks, ladies):

Family Graduation 2010

It is finished.

Journeying On

In Books, Calling, Church, Thought on May 2, 2010 at 8:33 am

Read this in The Valley of Vision this morning:

JOURNEYING ON

Lord of the cloud and fire,
I am a stranger, with a stranger's indifference;
My hands hold a pilgrim's staff,
My march is Zionward,
My Eyes are toward the coming of the Lord,
My heart is in thy hands without reserve.

Thou has created it,
redeemed it,
renewed it,
captured it,
conquered it.

Keep from it every opposing foe,
crush it in every rebel lust,
mortify every treacherous passion,
annihilate every earthborn desire.

All faculties of my being vibrate to thy touch;
I love thee with soul, mind, body, strength,
might, spirit, affection, will,
desire, intellect, understanding.

Thou art the very perfection of all perfections;
All intellect is derived from thee;
My scanty rivulets flow from they unfathomable
fountain.

Compared with thee the sun is darkness,
all beauty deformity,
all wisdom folly,
the best goodness faulty.

Thou art worthy of an adoration greater than
my dull heart can yield;
Invigorate my love that it may rise worthily
to thee,
tightly entwine itself round thee,
be allured by thee.
Then shall my walk be endless praise.

Wow and amen.

Happy Post-Easter Thought

In Books, Church, Holidays, Humanity, Theologians, Writers on April 5, 2010 at 10:25 am

From Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright:

"As the reformers insisted, bodily death itself is the destruction of the sinful person. Someone once accused me of suggesting that God was a magician if he could wonderfully make a still-sinful person into a no-longer-sinful person just like that. But that's not the point. Death itself gets rid of all that is still sinful; this isn't magic but good theology. There is nothing then left to purge. Some older teachers suggested that purgatory would still be necessary because one would still need to bear some punishment for one's sins, but any such suggestion is of course abhorrent to anyone with even a faint understanding of Paul, who teaches that 'there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.'" (p. 170)

And continuing on in Romans 8:10-11:

"But if Christ is in you, although the body is
dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him
who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ
Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through
his Spirit who dwells in you."

The point: death deals with sin and it is done; life comes by resurrection…and then after it, according to Wright, as resurrection is really "life after life after death." (p. 169)

Grateful to God for his mercy and grace to even be able to think, dwell, and hope on any of this today…

Why Johnny Can’t Write (Part 2)

In Church, Education, Humanity, Internet, Technology, Thought, Web/Tech, Westminster, Young Ones on March 14, 2010 at 8:29 am

(Continued from my previous post on the topic; sorry for the delay/random smatterings. Can't believe it's taken two weeks, but I'm guessing you found other things to read).

With regard to the problem of teaching and learning the Bible, David Nienhuis sums up the problem nicely: "Biblical literacy programs need to do more than produce informed quoters. They need to produce transformed readers."

Most Scripture memory programs focus on the imperative verses (what to do), almost completely ignoring the indicative verses (what is true). In other words, we in the church spend more time telling kids (and ourselves) what to do for God rather than what God has done for them (and us). In the evangelical church, we're all about the what and how, and hardly about the when, where, and why.

But let's not pretend that decontextualization is just a biblical literacy problem specifically; in today's postmodern world (or post-postmodern world some would say), it is a literacy problem in general. Here's where we come back to basic reading and writing
skills, and these skills' corruption by the very thing so many proclaim will help – technology.

There is, after all, a difference between learning something and learning how to search for something. Is one better than the other? That's a debated question: does a kid really need to learn when or where or why an historical event took place, or does he just need to learn how to search for it effectively with Google? How you answer this question has everything to do with your pedagogy, and while I don't think the two answers are mutually exclusive, I do think the former gets short shrift compared to the latter.

Think about this: nobody memorizes phone numbers anymore because we can just input them into our phone, press the name of the person we want to call, and dial the right number. This works great…as long as we have the phone. But what happens when we lose the phone or the phone stops working? How do we get a hold of the person we're trying to call? What do we really know? We know that we want our phone back and working again, and we realize how lost we feel without it. (Note: For the other two of you in the world who, like me, don't own a cell phone, apply the idea to losing your Web browser bookmarks…it can seem like the most helpless feeling in the world.)

The point is that we live such a wi-fi-enabled, out-sourced, off-site, backed-up life that we use our brains for little more than remembering where we store our passwords than what it is (stories, ideas, responses, reflections) they protect. Ours has evolved into such a non-oral tradition "tradition," that the thought of memorizing sonnets from a poem or narrative stories from the Bible for meaning and not information seems archaic and unnecessary. If we think we need it, we can find it; we don't need to learn it. And if we don't think we need to learn it, well, who cares?

The result of all this (or at least the result I see in the classroom) is a student who struggles to write or process ideas that take more than a paragraph to explain (see this Onion article for a humorous version of the problem) growing up in a culture that validates his multi-tasking dysfunction despite studies like this one and articles like this one that question it as a good means to deal with life. As an educator, I suppose I risk becoming suspect to students and parents (and perhaps colleagues and administrators) in calling for moderation and (at times) sobriety when it comes to drinking the technological Kool-Aid, but when I watch a program like Frontline's Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier, it confirms my concerns. Again, I'm not down on technology, but idolatry is a different matter.

Maybe it's because of the subjects I teach (New Testament and Ethics) or the experience (or lack thereof) I've had in the classroom, but depending on technology instead of using technology to teach seems ridiculous for many reasons, not the least of which is this: what if the power or the Internet goes out? If I can't teach apart from my laptop with its Keynote presentations and Web-access and wikis and online forums and Skype conversations and YouTube clips and ITunes access and podcasts and Scripture software – all of which I use in the classroom – then I'm not sure I'm really much of a teacher.

I need one more post to respond to some of your questions about how we try to apply any of this here at home with our own kids. I promise I won't take another two weeks to get to it, so hang in there. In the meantime, here's a link to the blog of one of my students who has the increasingly rare gift of being a sophomore in high school and able to utilize technology while still thinking and writing meaningfully. Enjoy.

Out of the Mouths of…Adolescents

In Church, Education, Pop Culture, Seminary, Theologians, Westminster, Young Ones on February 21, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Here are some choice selections from the papers my New Testament freshmen are getting back tomorrow. The assignment was for students to interview a member of their church's leadership and write a 2-3 page paper explaining their fellowship's/denomination's doctrinal beliefs about things like governance, worship style, sacraments, purposes, functions, etc. (I've thrown in some comments from me just for kicks.)

"The denominational ties of our church are a key belief of our denomination and have no higher archy." [That's good. I prefer the lower kind of archy myself…]

"We
participate in the Lord's Supper about every three months. We drink
grape juice and not wine, and once you have been saved, you are aloud
to participate in it." [So much for using the time for silent reflection…]

"Our church has a leadership structure like the federal government." [Oh, God help us…]

"Teaching, theology, evangelism, and outreach are defiantly important to the church." [Okay, okay, you made your point. Now back off, Barbie…]

"In our denomination, we believe in theology and use evangelism to share the gospel." [Oh, so that's how it works…]

"One of the things that sets apart my church from many other churches is we seek to be Christ-like." [Attention churches seeking to be otherwise, this might be part of your problem…]

"There is also a plurality of elders, which means the ruling elders and pastors each have one vote." [If they only have one vote, doesn't that mean there is a singularity of each elder?]

"My church's worship style is the substance of style." [So Word to your Father, yo…]

"Our pastor bases the sermon straight form the Bible itself and does not interpret the Bible in any way." [Which is another way of saying he reads it…]

"Our church has two types of worship: liturgical and a more open, less-structured style." [So are we to understand that the second group meets in a nest?]

"I
would say the weakest part of the church in my eyes is the youth group.
I have been to several different youth groups and ours is not as good
as others. The main reason for this is because there are more kids at
other youth groups." [Indeed, youth ministry is full of these chicken-or-egg dilemmas, which is why I'm not a youth pastor…]

"There are many reasons why my church is a PCA church; firstly, it resides in the Apostles' Creed, and secondly,
it states facts in the catechism." [Anybody driven by that neighborhood and heard the building reciting the Confession?]

"According to my pastor, we believe all orthodox beliefs…and some of our own as well." [This one's possibly my favorite, especially since I know the pastor…]

"If there is something in a service that I do not like, I can just go to another service that I do like." [Moral therapeutic deism, anyone?]

"The church
participates in many functions such as work programs, community
services, etc. My pastor also mentioned the many asylums that care for orphans
or widows." [Is "asylums" what we're calling deacons nowadays?]

"The senior pastor reports to the elders and the small pastors report to the senior pastor." [Note to graduating seminary students under 5'8": don't even mess interviewing with this one…]

"My
pastor thinks that church is very important for Christians…and when
asked if church was important for skeptics, he quickly agreed, saying,
'Skeptics are looking for the truth, making church a good place to find
it.' He wasn't sure if church was important to God." [I'm so relieved.]

"We differ in belief from many other churches similar to ours." [Or put another way, they think the same as many other churches different from them.]

"After visiting our church for the first time, we loved the way the pastor did his sermon.
He just really got the message across and did it in a way that makes
you feel almost involved." [Lord, have mercy if he had actually crossed that line…]

"Our church is very big on the authority and suffering of the Bible." [I'm guessing she meant "sufficiency," but why major on minors?]

"My mom and I were church shopping and accidentally found our church." [Must have been hiding in the "discount sales" bin…]

"I
appreciate how everything is kept modern. There is a live band playing
like a Christian rock concert. For me, it makes it easier to worship
because I can sing as loud as I want without anyone hearing me." [Because, of course, that is the point of worship…]

I've got a post brewing from both a theological and educational perspective on what I think is going on here, so stay tuned…

Adapting to Digital Discipleship?

In Calling, Church, Internet, Technology, Thought on January 10, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Most readers don't consider me a Luddite when it comes to technology, but some may be surprised that I tend to be a slow adapter/adopter when it comes to new stuff. Consider:

  • I recorded three of my own CDs before I actually owned a CD player.
  • My first cell phone was a late-90's Ericsson (I don't own or use one now by choice).
  • My first iBook was second generation.
  • My current MacBook is second generation.
  • Our iMac is second generation.
  • Our iPod Shuffle is second generation.
  • Our iPod Nano is second generation.
  • My iTouch is second generation.
  • Our current video player is a 12-year-old dying dual VHS/DVD player, but I don't even know what options are out there if/fwhen it goes.
  • It took me a year or so to come around to Twitter, but I'm liking it (enough) now.

Here's where I've been more on the technological front-end of things:

  • With the exception of a six-month sabbatical in 2005, I've kept one of several blogs since August of 2003 (TwentySomeone (2003-2005), Seminary Tychicus (2005-2007), and Second Drafts (2006-present).
  • I was on MySpace and Facebook pretty early (a fact my students still don't believe).
  • I got a Gmail account as soon as the service was available. I
    also got in early on GoogleWave as well, but the tide is out right now on that, at least for me.

I suppose the main observation I make is that, with the exception of Twitter, I tend to be on the cutting edge of technology when it's free; anything I have to pay for I tend to wait to see how it turns out (and it usually takes me a cycle to justify spending money, though if I had the money, I'd probably spring for Apple's rumored iTablet/iSlate the first time around).

What does any of this have to do with the price of eggs in China? I'm getting there.

This weekend, an acquaintance emailed about an opportunity to do some research that would eventually be part of Monvee, a website/database designed to be a systematic approach to (for lack of a better phrase) "digital discipleship". Pastor/author John Ortberg seems to be the main name attached to this initiative (though there are several other endorsers), and while I'm not that familiar with Ortberg's present ministry, I know he was involved with Willow Creek for ten years, particularly in the area of spiritual formation.

Spiritual formation, apparently, is what Monvee is all about; in fact, it claims it is "the future of spiritual formation" (no expectations there). If you watch the preview video, you can get an idea of what Monvee understands spiritual formation to be in terms of meaning and methodology. In the video, co-founder Eric Parks sums it up this way: "I like to think of the Monvee…as the eHarmony for my spiritual life, but instead of finding a mate, Monvee discovers how I'm wired and how I grow best." (Note to Parks: Comparing Monvee to eHarmony is not going to win me over to using your product. Bad analogy.)

After you complete Monvee's three-minute survey, Monvee apparently helps you discern what your spiritual needs are, how you best learn, and how you can grow and best connect with God. Monvee then customizes a plan – "a spiritual guidebook for life" – that covers four areas: time (practices); mind (books, videos); relationships (mentors, groups); and experiences (service). It then pulls and ships all the materials you need right to your door, prints email reminders for what you're supposed to do each day, and somehow tracks your spiritual progress in real-time.

But wait, there's more: If you're a church leader who uses Monvee with your entire congregation, Monvee can provide "a spiritual dashboard of insight into how your church is growing…on a live and on-going basis…with real data, in real-time, and about real growth."

Here's my question: Is my hesitancy to support this "digital discipleship" justified or is it just another example of my technological tendency to slow adaptation/adoption?

From my perspective, the pros are that the technology seems well done, and for someone with absolutely no help, I could maybe see how this could be useful initially in self-analysis and resource selection. But the cons run along the line of the rampant individualism this could promote, the dependence on database diagnostics rather than the Spirit of God for one's sanctification, and probably just how Parks ends his video with "Let Monvee help you find your way" (creepy).

What do you think? Would you buy in/encourage someone to buy in or not? Should I?