Because life is a series of edits

Archive for the ‘Thought’ Category

Signing Off

In Calling, Family, Friends, Holidays, Humanity, Internet, Places & Spaces, Pop Culture, Thought on January 1, 2015 at 12:10 pm

That's All Folks

In news that you’ll only read here, Second Drafts – my blog home for the past ten years – is closing its doors, with no plans to be reopened or replaced. I’ll save you the self-serving explanations and simply say that, for a variety of reasons, it’s time to move on.

That said, let me leave you with a final “best of” collection from the past ten years. After writing nearly 1,000 posts, I’m including 30 of my more popular and personal favorite ones – a wide variety I’d love you to read just one more time. (To be sure, there are easily another 30 I would include if I gave myself permission, but enough about me, what do you think about me?)

One of the reasons I include these and perhaps not others has as much to do with the interaction (back when people actually responded to blog posts and not just the social media announcing them), so be sure to read the comments. (Of course, you’re always welcome to troll the archives for more as you like, but I imagine you have a life.)

While I will no longer be blogging here anymore, I’ll continue to contribute a periodic post to The Scholars Blog and City Presbyterian blog every six weeks or so. For better or for worse, I still feel I have thoughts and words to share, but it’s time to develop those in a different way and for a different audience. At least personally, my blogging days are done. It’s been a good run.

Whether you’ve been a long-time or recent reader, thanks for the gift of your interest and attention. I’ve never taken it for granted. Enjoy reading/re-reading the posts, and if you’d be so kind, leave me a comment below to say you did. Thank you.

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They Made It Work

In Thought on December 28, 2014 at 11:23 am

Rog and Char in 2015It was a proposal that could only have worked given its partners: my father, the most principled of pragmatists (which is the profile of a small farmer still farming), and my mother, the most eternal of optimists (which can only explain her 30 years of teaching English to rural high schoolers). As I understand it, there was no down-on-one-knee, hand-over-heart scene; no particularly inventive presentation of a ring (though I’m assured there was one). Forget the drama of the old question and answer; this wasn’t so much a proposal as a proposition – long-considered and risk-evaluated – to be taken (or left) as quietly as it was made.

“I think we can make this work.”

Rog and Char in 65It was so unromantic as to be nothing BUT romantic – this idea that my father, Roger, offered and my mother, Charlotte, embraced while college students in the early-60s at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. And 50 years later (just a few days early from the actual anniversary of January 2nd to kindly accommodate us out-of-towners), here we are in west central Illinois (Pike County, to be exact) celebrating its continuation. Principally and pragmatically, my two younger sisters and I (along with each of our spouses and combined eight children) would attest to their success; by most measures, it seems Rog and Char made it work.

As a kid growing up in the pregnant bulge of Lincoln Land, I attended more 50th wedding anniversary receptions than I care to remember. The weekly county papers always had at least one announcement of a couple’s fiftieth big day coming up, and growing up outside a town of 1,200 people, we almost always knew them. Still, there were worse things to do on a Sunday afternoon (and there was cake, and the punch was usually good).

Anymore, however – whether in Pike County or elsewhere – the 50th wedding reception has gone the way of the dodo. In these days of no-fault divorce, the marriage vows ending with “’til death do us part” tend to mean “or until something better comes along.” Never mind the 50th anniversary milestone; as a culture, we’re seeing fewer 40ths…30ths…20ths…even 10ths (not to mention plenty of folks who aren’t even taking vows in the first place, or are sadly confused as to with whom they’re taking them).

There are plenty of examples of marriages that have fallen apart and failed for all kinds of reasons, but I’ve always been equal parts grateful and inspired that my parents’ is one that hasn’t. From the beginning, they set out with little more than an idea and a hope of getting, being, and staying married. It wasn’t complicated (except when it was), and 50 years after having said they would, by God’s grace, they did. They made it work.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.

An Invitation to an Honest End of the Year

In Family, Friends, Holidays, Humanity, Marriage, Thought on December 23, 2014 at 12:02 am

The website McSweeney’s Internet Tendency had a pretty funny post yesterday entitled “Snopes Investigates the Anderson Family’s Holiday Letter,” in which the fact-checking website analyzed an imaginary family’s uber-happy annual end-of-year Christmas correspondence. The result was a brilliant paragraph-by-paragraph “true” or “false” or “mostly true” or “unconfirmed” study, substantiated or unsubstantiated by evidence the investigator(s) at Snopes had snooped out.

I find myself taking this same tact now that the Christmas cards and letters are showing up at our house. Actually, we don’t get many letters anymore as no one takes the time to write them; instead, we’re getting what seem semi-expensive, do-it-yourself, four-color published cards with a happy picture and some sentiment of the season printed across the top or bottom. There’s usually a signature, but not every time.

But there are always smiles. Always.

We’ve been off and on in recent years when it comes to the year-end Christmas letter. This year, we didn’t send anything, partially because we didn’t get a family picture taken (or, I should say, we didn’t get a family picture that we wanted to spend money to reproduce and mail), but mostly because it just wasn’t a holiday hoop we were able and willing to jump through. Still, not wanting to throw in the towel completely, my wife posted the picture on Facebook and included the following update:

Christmas Pic 2014

This, friends, is the best I could do this year. It’s the only family photo we have of all six of us together from this WHOLE YEAR. And I’m pretty much out of steam, so I’m not sending these in the mail (and why would we, anyway, because…well, look at us).

2014: Good, Bad, and Ugly. It had plenty of each. I’m honestly thankful it is finally panting toward the finish line of New Year’s Eve. I’ve never really thought January 1 held some magical restart, but there is something to be said about a clean slate and hope.

And it’s hope that I’m clinging to for 2015. I lost it in 2014. And during this time of the year when the line to the mall parking lot blocks traffic on the main road and everyone wants a piece of the calendar, I sit here with soft music on and sleeping boys who are now home from seeing their parents for the day, still dazed and a little confused by all the caregivers in their lives and the constant transition. I hear my girls laughing with each other over a shared card game, and sometimes bickering because of a small offense, and I grasp to try to remember why we come to a halt this time of the year.

It’s a baby, y’all. A baby who came to redeem the world in all of its brokenness and disaster and make it whole again.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

Joy to the world. Joy to you…to me.

Merry Christmas

I tried to convince Megan to add “damn it” after Merry Christmas, but she resisted, despite the fact that 2014 was a brutal year of loss for the Dunhams – foster kids, Megan’s mom, connection with the past, health, sometimes confidence, oftentimes hope. If you know us at all, you’re probably familiar with some of this already, so if suddenly we sent out a “happy, happy, joy, joy” Christmas letter in December, it might seem a little disingenuous, which should bother you.

I would sure love to read more honest letters at the end of a calendar year. I roll my eyes when I see pictures of people smiling on ski slopes or beaches, and I’m bored with the braggadocious behavior that links the fact that God is good with the good time somebody had this year (for the record, God is good, regardless of your good time). Instead, I’d love to see a family picture in which all are somehow owning their dysfunctions. Or even better, how about some tears to go along with what everybody already knows is going on? Sure, talk some hope, but what good is hope if we refuse to acknowledge the life situation(s) crying out for it?

Maybe you don’t want to come off as down or discouraged to family or friends (after all, that’s what Vaguebook is for, right?). Well, even if Megan and I happen to be family or friends (or both or neither), please know you can send us an honest letter and we’ll be glad – actually excited! – to read it. We might even pray for you as a family, which would be pretty cool because we suck at that, so think of this as your invitation to help our family’s life of prayer rather than as your family’s Christmas confessional.

You can email us your letter (cmdunham [at] gmail.com), or request our mailing address if you want to send us an actual piece of mail. Please include a picture (preferably not the Glamour Shots version) that’s at least as desperate as ours so we can make the refrigerator photo gallery a little more interesting.

With all that said, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

(I was again going to suggest “damn it” at the end, but Megan again wouldn’t let me, so just know that we mean it. We really, really mean it.)

The Most Schizophrenic 48 Hours of the American Existence

In Thought on November 27, 2014 at 8:23 am

Black FridayIn case you were unaware, today – Thanksgiving – is the first of two days (the second being Black Friday) that make up the most schizophrenic 48 hours of the American existence. As the meme reminds, only in America do people trample others for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have.

If only we cared.

Last night, to celebrate her birthday, I took Megan out for dinner, and then we went to Best Buy to replace a phone charger for our van (I’m the king of disguising errand purchases as birthday presents; for example, earlier in the day, I bought Megan two gallons of birthday milk). As we walked in, we noticed three camping tents set up to the left of the doors – people camping out in order to be first in line when the big box store’s doors open early on Friday.

Some stores are not even waiting until Friday morning to open; 6 p.m. tonight (or 5 p.m. if you go to Dick’s Sporting Goods) is when the doors will open at some stores. For many, this may seem simply convenient (or even aerobic – “Let’s load up the car and go walk the turkey calories off, kids! Oh, and by the way, we might get some deals!”), but the fact is we’re about to lose Thanksgiving as our last non-commercial holiday, and that alone is worthy of one more blog post lamenting this reality.

John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham), former associate dean of the School of Theology at Seton Hall, makes the point in his own post this morning at Crisis Magazine:

“America, as any community, requires traditions and celebration to bind it together. Our social glue is becoming increasingly thin. Most of our federal holidays have been increasingly hollowed out of cultural activity and replaced by commercial activity. Presidents Day and Columbus Day are primarily known for sales. Memorial Day launches the summer—and summer sales—while Labor Day closes it, just in time for Back-to-School Sales. Martin Luther King’s Birthday still has to catch on as a broadly celebrated holiday. Christmas and, to a lesser extent, New Year’s, continue to be observed, the former often in pseudonymous fashion as ‘Winter Holiday,’ the latter still not fully displaced by those who would criticize January 1 as representing but one culture’s start of the year. The only two national holidays that continue to be observed in a primarily historical/cultural fashion—as opposed to being the next sales opportunity—are the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. These two quintessentially American holidays have largely managed to stay aloof from bald commercialization on the day itself, remaining family days. They are under assault.”

The cultural aspect of all this is one thing, and as patriotic as some folks may consider themselves, few have given much thought (or care) to what Grondelski describes; it is, so the slogan goes, a free country, and if people want to spend their way through whatever holiday they happen to be celebrating, well, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

Sadly, the American Christian perspective involves little variance, though it tends to take on different justifications: “We’re thrifty and we save a lot of money shopping on Black Friday.” “It’s just what we’ve always done every year.” “It gets everybody out of the house and off each others’ nerves.”

Cheap pragmatism, thoughtless habit, relational convenience. Sounds an awful lot like the American Church.

Black Friday shopping is not the problem, of course, but the symptom. At the end of the day, when the news outlets run their annual piece on how important Black Friday is to the American economy (interspersed by B-roll of whatever cash register smackdown took place in the big box stores), I would for once just love to hear a reporter name our affliction for what it is: greed. After all, if we’re going to be so noble as to do our part to support American capitalism, let’s at least be honest enough to acknowledge what American capitalism is built upon.

What’s an antidote to this symptom of sickness? If only we feared greed like we do Ebola, a quarantine/boycott wouldn’t even be a question. But again, that just deals with the outer infection; how do we deal with the epidemic at its source?

“Gratitude,” said Cicero, ” is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” Centuries later, G.K. Chesteron wrote, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

In a culture that preaches and preys on entitlement fantasies (increasingly during its holidays, but always throughout the year), there is no more important virtue than gratitude to pray for in our children and in ourselves. Forget the cliche “attitude of gratitude” triteness; think more desperately and for the sake of humanity, for if Cicero is right (and Chesterton seems to think he is), without gratitude, there can be nothing else – no faith, no hope, no love.

No matter how long you camp out at Best Buy, virtues never go on sale.

If we’re not careful, they might just go away.

Fracture

In Humanity, Thought on October 23, 2014 at 11:56 pm

Stress FractureI’m going to see my doctor today. I’m pretty sure I have a stress fracture in the first metatarsal of my right foot.

How did this happen? I was being a cool Head of School, playing a pick-up basketball game in full tie and dress shoes in a student’s driveway. I came down with a rebound (like a boss!) and my right foot landed on a small pebble, the exact position and pressure of which caused what I now presume to be an increasingly painful stress fracture.

But here’s the funny part (and where my wife gets angry with me): I’ve had this stress fracture for three years now. I never told her (or anyone) about it until last month. Even after I mentioned it to Megan, it’s taken another full month before the pain became too much (aggravated by a very full day last weekend of being on my feet) and she took matters into her own hands on my behalf, looked at my calendar, and made an appointment with my doctor.

Welcome to being – or being married to – a Dunham. Be glad you’re neither.

My wife and my mother shake their heads at such Dunham displays of stubbornness. This particularly male Dunham trait is a favorite mockery at family holiday gatherings, usually beginning with the latest example (in this case, my silently living with a stress fracture for three years), before retelling the various “best of” tales of my father Roger, my grandfather Dean before him, and always culminating with the story of my great-grandfather Kyle and his death at 50 from testicular cancer, having been kicked in the testicles by a horse. In recounting this story, the Dunham women emphasize how Kyle refused to see a doctor until after the swelling became visible through his clothes and nothing could be done, reminding the Dunham men of what can (and perhaps should) happen to the stubborn lot of us if we take the same approach.

Concerning my foot, it’s honestly not stubbornness that’s at play; it’s really pride. I’d rather not re-tell the story of how a pebble in a driveway sidelined my NBA career (I feel you, KD, I feel you). I’d also rather not deal with the hassle of doctors and X-rays because I don’t like people making that much of a fuss over me (especially when I’m pretty sure I know what the problem is). And, I’d rather not spend weeks with my foot in a cast (which I know is the only way my foot might heal) because 43-year-old guys on crutches are not pretty recipients of pity.

All of which (among other things) is my attempt at explaining why I’ve walked with a fractured foot for the better part of three years. As I’ve tried to demonstrate, it’s not my fault; I’m a product of a line of men – of Dunham men – who would just rather keep to themselves than bother anyone with what’s bothering them. We don’t ask anyone to label us as heroes, nor as martyrs; we just dutifully do what needs to be done – even when it hurts – because that’s what Dunham men do. It’s what my father Roger does; it’s what my grandfather Dean did; it’s what my great-grandfather Kyle’s legacy became.

After he died prematurely, that is.

Addressing the Habitual

In Thought on September 5, 2014 at 9:17 pm
“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” Samuel Johnson
 
Often when we speak of teaching our children good habits, we do so with physical actions in mind. We hear ourselves give tangible directives – “Pick up your toys when you’re finished playing with them,” “Clean your room so you can find your clothes,” “Don’t leave the keys in the car overnight so it will be there in the morning” – with the hope that these prescribed habits will soon become their own.
 
This is right, for considering external behaviors can be good measures of what our students internally understand. But if we only address actions without attitudes, we train children in one of two ways: 1) obey without learning to love to obey (which can lead to people-pleasing and/or legalism); or 2) only do what is comfortable or self-serving (which can lead to fearful and/or selfish living).
 
It’s not a question of whether our kids will form habits or not; the question is what will those habits – of action and attitude – be? Just as we do not want poor outward behavior to become ingrained in our kids, neither should we want poor patterns of thinking or feeling to take root. For just as God disciplines His children concerning means and motive, so are we called to care not just about what our children do, but also about how it gets done.
 
Do all things without grumbling or disputing…” (Philippians 2:14). May this good habit (among many, many others) come to be evermore true of our students…and also of us as their primary teachers.

Insecurities and the Seven Sons of Sceva

In Calling, Church, Family, Friends, Humanity, Musicians, Places & Spaces, Theologians, Thought, Travel, Vacation, Young Ones on June 27, 2014 at 12:43 am

“But the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?'” Acts 19:15

This verse (along with the passage from which it comes) has run through my head about a hundred times in the past week. Believe it or not, we’ve been on vacation, but my insecurities are no respecter of calendar dates, locations, or accommodations. I’m never surprised (though never ready) when feelings of unworthiness and personal contempt raise their ugly heads and say hello.

Without boring you with too many details (ask my wife: vacationing with me is about as exciting as watching paint dry), I started off our trip alone, flying to North Carolina to cover for Michael Card, who was teaching an intensive Bible seminar at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville. It’s unfortunate that many folks my age (43) and younger don’t have a knowledge of or appreciation for Mike’s music, writing, and teaching, but the older (50 and above) folks know a good thing when they find it; many of them follow Mike across the country for his concerts or Biblical Imagination conferences or even around the world (he had just gotten back from a tour in Ireland in May and takes a group to Israel every year in January).

Mike’s “fans” tend to have more gray hair, available time, and discretionary funds than most, all of which equate to big expectations when they’re shelling out $429 a pop at one of the premier conference centers in the country to hear arguably one of the best Bible teachers in the world. The topic for last week was the Gospel of John, for which Mike has just finished a new book and album (pre-order yours here). The good news was he was able to teach Monday-Thursday; the other news was, due to a mistaken double-booking, he was going to have to leave late Thursday night and needed a pinch-hitter to wrap up the week.

Overlooking the Smoky Mountains at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, NC.

As Mike and I have done conferences together off-and-on for 12 years now, he asked me if I would fill in for him. Without really considering the dynamics, I said I would. I flew out Wednesday night, sat in on three sessions on Thursday, and then Mike and I executed a brief baton pass toward the end of the Thursday evening meeting. It went well, but I still had two sessions by myself on Friday morning and 120 folks who, without intending to be evil, had to be asking the demon’s question with a twist:

“Jesus I know, and Michael Card I recognize, but who are you?”

Fast-forward to Sunday morning. After leaving The Cove Friday afternoon and flying to Denver that evening, I met up with Megan and our two youngest daughters and drove to the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park to pick up our two oldest daughters who had just finished RYM Camp with our City Presbyterian Pyretics group (major props to youth director Jarod Mason and intern Laura Parsons for coordinating and chaperoning). From there, we drove to Colorado Springs and up to Eagle Lake Camps, where Megan and I met and invested ten years (1992-2001) of our lives, and where I was to speak at staff chapel on Sunday morning. (As their two older sisters had three years previously, our two younger daughters were also set to attend camp this week.)

With Maddie, Millie, Katie, and Chloe on the deck of Lilly cabin at Eagle Lake northwest of Colorado Springs, CO.

As you might imagine, the crowd was much younger than at The Cove; instead of 120 senior citizens, I was looking down the barrel of 120 wild-eyed high school- and college-aged students who will spend the rest of the summer caring for over 2,700 kids from all over the country. The energy was overwhelming, as was my self-doubt. I had worked weeks in advance on my message, but now that I was onsite, I wondered if it would actually connect; most of these kids would have been in diapers (if they were even born) when I was at Eagle Lake in my twenties, and it’s never pretty when an older speaker attempts to play hipster (which I didn’t) to reach a younger audience.

While many of the staff had apparently heard of me (it’s not hard to be a camp celebrity just by virtue of having lasted ten years at one), I couldn’t help but imagine them saying to themselves:

“Jesus I know, and some counselor I heard a story or two about from twenty years ago I recognize, but who are you?”

Who are you? Luke records that the evil spirit asked the question not of Christian believers but of “itinerant Jewish exorcists” who “undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits” (Acts 19:13). In other words, these “seven sons of Sceva” (great ska band name!) were trying to coast on the coattails of Jesus and Paul, but the evil spirit would not be fooled. The result wasn’t pretty: “The man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded” (Acts 19:16).

The story is a reminder as well as a warning. Whether speaking to a weekend conference or camp audience or to our family and friends on a daily basis, are we doing so as followers of Christ or as Christian posers? Are we ministering out of the overflow of our relationship with Jesus, or are we name-dropping the Savior and his apologists in hopes that – somehow – His power will transfer anyway? As the passage records, there are few more dangerous sins than the sin of presumption.

The question of “Who are you?” is as pointed an accusation Satan and his agents of evil can throw at us, as there is no more powerful attack than one that attacks our person. But this is when we remind Satan (and ourselves) of who the Lord says we are. Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:9-10 are helpful:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

In case you were wondering, the two sessions at The Cove went better than I hoped (there’s no more honest compliment than conferees confessing afterward that, yes, they had been disappointed you weren’t the original speaker, but they saw God’s hand in it and were glad and grateful after all). The talk at Eagle Lake seemed to hit home (there’s no more humbling thanks than when semi-awkward 19-year-olds try almost too hard to convince you that your message was exactly what they needed that morning). Whew.

The good news of the Gospel is that, while feelings of insecurities may be frequent and no fun, they can keep our poser potential in check if we confess them to Jesus so He can remind us who – and Whose! – we are. To do otherwise – to “fake it ’til we make it” despite our insecurities – will leave us naked, wounded, and in a vulnerable state that we will only want to hide from others and from God.

Doing Good

In Calling, Humanity, Places & Spaces, Thought on April 23, 2014 at 8:18 am

keep sowing

By temperament and by training, I tend to have a critical eye when it comes to customer service. So, in a world in which the fine art of serving others has gone by the wayside, whenever I have a good experience, I always want to trumpet it. Today, I had two such good experiences, both within ten minutes of each other.

The first one was courtesy of Swedish Motors in Edmond. You may remember that we bought a 1990 Volvo from Swedish back in January of 2013. Well, a few weeks ago, the power windows and air conditioning suddenly went out. I guessed it was something as simple as a fuse, but the supposed simplicity of fixing the problem didn’t make it any easier to bring it in, as it required a special trip and (I assumed) a couple of hours for it to get looked at and fixed.

Well, surprise, surprise. Wrangling out a few hours in my schedule to take it in, I met Jim at the front desk who asked me for the reason I came in today. I told him the symptoms and my diagnosis of what I thought might be the problem. He immediately said, “Let’s take a look,” and I followed him out into the parking lot. Sure enough, it was the fuse, so he walked back in, grabbed three new fuses of a higher capacity (I didn’t have any extras), installed it, started the car, and it was done – air conditioning and power windows in full working order. I asked Jim what I owed him and he said nothing. He then said that if I ever have any trouble, bring it in and they’ll take care of it.

Yes.

I got in my car and drove east a few blocks on 15th street to the Starbucks I was planning to walk to and work at while I was waiting on the car. Normally observant and self-aware, while I was waiting to place my order, I took a step back and somehow managed to knock a porcelain travel mug off the top shelf of a display, smashing it to bits. Immediately, two employees came to clean it up, reassuring me that it wasn’t a big deal, that they had extras in inventory, and that they planned for breakage. Joking that I didn’t want Starbucks to go under because of my clumsiness, I stepped up to place my order, offering to pay for the mug. Instead, the gal working the register told me that that wasn’t necessary and that my drink was free because she wanted to make sure I had a good day.

I was blown away.

Good service is a powerful thing, and I wish more companies and businesses recognized it as such – not just as a way to make and keep customers, but especially as a way to influence people and change the world. Galatians 6:9-10 comes to mind:

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

So kudos to Swedish and Starbucks. You made my day and inspired me to try to make someone else’s. Thanks for doing good today.

On Noah: A Letter to Darren Aronofsky

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

Dear Mr. Aronofsky,

Noah director, Darren Aronofsky

Noah director, Darren Aronofsky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

Craig

On Death and Dying in a Digital Age

In Church, Family, Friends, Health, Humanity, Internet, Places & Spaces, Technology, Thought on March 1, 2014 at 9:32 am

Moleta

“While the dead don’t care, the dead matter.
The dead matter to the living.”

Thomas Lynch

My mother-in-law, Moleta King of Owasso, OK, passed away earlier this week after battling ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) for the past two years. Hers was the first passing I’d ever been completely present for, from roughly 15 hours before the time of death early Tuesday morning through her burial Friday afternoon. For reasons good and otherwise, it’s been the longest week I can remember – good, in that this kind of loss forces us to slow down and mourn by way of our memorial traditions; otherwise, in that we (or some of us) push back against grief’s delays in ways our modern world has trained us – by way of technology.

Don’t get me wrong: there is comfort in hearing from hundreds of friends who, for various reasons, cannot be present with the living as they mourn their dead. A product of our overly-mobile culture, this distance disconnect can be overcome instantly via phone, email, and text messaging (along with our more traditional – but time-requiring – means of letter writing, card sending, and flower delivering). But what left me wanting this past week was the public display of affection made possible by social media. At the risk of offending those who employed it (all with the best of intentions, I’m sure), let me explain.

I became tired of people proclaiming they were praying for me/us on Facebook, mostly because I doubted they really were. It felt like there was a “crisis reminder” right next to the “birthday reminder” on the screen, so of course folks needed to click it and leave a trite message. “Praying for you!” “You’re in our thoughts and prayers!” And my personal favorite: “Prayers coming your way!” (Let’s be honest: if prayers are coming my way, we’re screwed; we pray to God, not to each other.) Of course, I know some – perhaps many – people did pray when they said they would (I’m not completely jaded), but I confess Facebook often felt too quick and too convenient to take the message to heart.

The other thing that bothered me (and I write this with no condemnation of my family, but as a completely hypocritical member of it) was how we gravitated to our own digital worlds in the midst of our grief. Both my family (wife and four girls, ages 10-15) and Megan’s sister’s family (husband and wife with five kids, ages 9-22) are fairly “wired,” and I counted at least eight smart phones, six laptops, and a desktop among us that received more than their fair share of attention this past week. Granted, some use was to make plans or to communicate them, but I would venture that just as much or more was in pursuit of comfort and general distraction. I kept wondering (again, without judgment of a crime – if it was one – to which I was certainly an accomplice), how much did we miss from each other because of the separation of our screens?

Years ago, I read a fascinating book titled Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality by Thomas Lynch. A writer, poet, and undertaker, Lynch writes from a unique first-person perspective of the generalities and nuances of life, death, and the often-uneasy tension that exists in their co-existence in our world. He has published several books along the theme of death and dying, including The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, and more recently, The Good Funeral: The Good Funeral: Death, Grief, and the Community of Care. (PBS’ Frontline actually turned The Undertaking into this documentary by the same name, which I watched with my four daughters a few hours before leaving for the visitation on Thursday as a way of explaining what all had happened since their grandmother’s death.) He writes:

“Grief is the tax we pay on our attachments…the price we pay for being close to one another. If we want to avoid our grief, we simply avoid each other.”

Was our family’s tendency toward technology in some way self-protective against the idea of losing each other as we had already lost Moleta? I’m not sure any of us would have verbalized it as such (nor probably would any of us still), but I do wonder. Was our handling of death and dying in our digital age normal? Was it healthy? Could it have been better without the phones and laptops? Would it have been? I don’t know.

A couple other observations from a tough week:

  • Everyone suddenly becomes a theologian at visitations, memorial services, and funerals. I heard plenty of bad theology from people – some who didn’t know any better, plenty of others who should – that it took all I could muster to keep from putting on sackcloth and ashes and weeping and gnashing my teeth. “Heaven got a new angel today!” “She finally got her wings!” And my personal favorite, spoken without a trace of irony: “I’m sure she’s having a great time, but Heaven sounds boring to me.” And then there came the platitudes: “Nothing can hurt her now.” “We’ll get to see her again one day.” “She’s in a better place.” While this last set may be true, I hate them, and I judgmentally hold in contempt those who use them. I’m not saying I’m right in doing this; I’m just saying I do this.
  • I can’t remember the last time I cried and don’t really care that I rarely do – it fits well with the Spock stereotype people often enjoy at my expense. (Interestingly, when I was not trying to get some work done across the week, I watched the first five Star Trek movies on Netflix just to touch base with my Vulcan counterpart. The more I learn about Spock’s back story, the more I happily embrace the aforementioned comparison. It’s not that Spock didn’t have emotions; on the contrary, as a Vulcan he was fiercely emotional, but was trained and learned to master his feelings to the point where he was confused for and known as being emotion-less.) All that said, I finally cried (“leaked” is probably a better word) at the end of the memorial service, so I really am human in case anyone was wondering.

As always with me, there are plenty more observations, but most are either too personal or too meaningless (or both) to write here. I’ve said before that death is life’s great perspective-bringer, but after experiencing death’s bringing of perspective this week, I’ve had enough, at least for now.

Which brings me back to Lynch and the comfort with which he writes and thinks about death. His is a wonderful analysis neither morbid in tone nor myopic in perspective; rather, he writes in a way that is warm, helpful, and full of insight into the meaning of life as viewed through death’s reality, which is not something to be feared, but to be embraced as another part of the whole of life:

“It was there, in the parlors of the funeral home – my daily stations with the local lately dead – that the darkness would often give way to light. A fellow citizen outstretched in his casket, surrounded by floral tributes, waiting for the homages and obsequies, would speak to me in the silent code of the dead: ‘So, you think you’re having a bad day?’ The gloom would lift inexplicably. Here was one to whom the worst had happened, often in a variety of ways, and yet no word of complaint was heard from out the corpse. Nor did the world end, nor the sky fall, nor his or her people become blighted entirely. Life, it turns out, goes on with or without us. There is at least as much to be thankful for as wary of.”

Indeed, but only because Jesus says so (and not because someone tells me on Facebook).

Honoring MLK Is Really Honoring the Gospel

In Church, Holidays, Politics, Thought on January 20, 2014 at 7:00 am

MLK

A few weeks ago, a dad asked me if there were plans to celebrate Black History Month in February at The Academy. This African American father shared with me his heart for his heritage and was curious where our curriculum might focus on his people’s culture and contributions, as well as the racial tensions and civil rights struggles that (unfortunately) still exist today.

I was glad for the question. I love when parents (especially dads) engage in matters as this father did – with full disclosure of motive in asking and with genuine interest in honest dialogue. Our discussion blessed and reminded me of the importance and need for diverse unity in our school and within the Body of Christ.

In answer to his question, I told him our curriculum is not aligned by particular demographics (Black History in February, Women’s History in March, Hispanic Heritage in September, American Indian History in November, etc.), as breaking up our study in this way can work against our emphasis on overall narrative so crucial to students learning about our past. This is as much a pedagogical decision as anything; students learn the ebb and flow of history more effectively when it is contextualized chronologically rather than “packaged” in the more modern made-for-TV monthly “histories”  (particularly if these histories don’t line up with the narrative our students are studying).

In terms of school-wide celebrations and observations, because we are a Christian school, we align ourselves with the Protestant Church calendar (Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost). This doesn’t mean there aren’t other worthy seasons to celebrate or holidays to observe, but we have to make decisions by some criteria and have chosen the Church calendar to guide us in doing so.

That said, we do not have school today in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King and his legacy as a Christian pastor and non-violent leader of the civil rights movement. This is the first year our school has observed the holiday, and we hope all Academy parents will participate with their children in discussing Dr. King and how God used this particular man at a particular time to bring about needed change in our country. (One thing I try to do with my kids each year is watch and discuss MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech together, but there are several other events in our OKC community honoring his life for those in search of a more physical activity.)

One of my favorite emphases to teach in our eighth grade New Testament class is the Christian foundation for racial reconciliation as lived out by the early Church in the book of Acts. One cannot read about the cross-cultural linguistic understanding given by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2 or the Apostles ensuring the care of both the Hellenist and Hebrew widows in Acts 6 or Peter and John witnessing the coming of the Spirit to the Gentiles in Samaria in Acts 8 or Peter’s vision and interaction with Cornelius and the Caesarian Gentiles in Acts 10 (to name just a few) without recognizing God’s heart for unity among his people. Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28-29 sum up how we in the Church are to view one another:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

As an heir according to promise, Dr. King knew and built upon this Christian foundation of reconciliation; without it, he would have had no message (listen to the biblical dependence of King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” and imagine it without its biblical references). Thus, when we honor Dr. King on Monday, we really honor the Gospel – the foundation of any freedom, equality, and unity we have. May this same Gospel be the one that redeems and restores the racial relationships in our country, our churches, our schools, our hearts, and especially the hearts of our children.

Ten Years of “Being Social” Online

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

Craig with Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

social-evolution

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

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

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

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

God’s Will for Your Life

In Calling, Holidays, Students, Thought on November 18, 2013 at 9:58 pm

fork

(A meditation I gave our North Campus students ten days before Thanksgiving.)

This morning, I am going to tell each and every one of you what God wants you to be when you grow up. You’re going to have to pay attention because I’m going to move very quickly, but by the end of our time this morning, you will know God’s will for your life.

Before I get to you, though, I thought you might like to know what I thought I wanted to be when I grew up.

When I was five or six, I wanted to be a farmer like my father. I loved my dad and he loved what he did, so I thought that seemed to make sense. But our farm had been in our family for five generations and I was scared I would mess it all up, so that didn’t really work out.

Like a lot of boys, I went through a firefighter phase, mostly because I watched a lot of Emergency! and the trucks were big and red and the idea of driving one seemed pretty neat (unlike the idea of actually fighting fires, which I had no desire to do).

I remember also thinking about becoming an astronaut, but I was afraid if my nose itched I wouldn’t be able to scratch it while wearing my spacesuit, so that was out.

When I was 10, I wanted to be an archaeologist like Indiana Jones, because finding things like the Ark of the Covenant and Holy Grail before the bad guys did just seemed awesome. I later learned that that’s not what most (if any) archaeologists do.

When I was 12, I wanted to be a professional baseball player and play for anyone who would take me. I wasn’t bad and I would have played for free, but most major league teams don’t take 12-year-olds except as bat boys and that was when I peaked.

When I turned 16, I wanted to be a rock star. I got my first keyboard and started writing songs. I visited and dreamed about moving to Nashville, which lasted until I was about 25, when I figured out I wanted to be a husband and got married instead.

When I turned 27, I became a father for the first time and liked it so much that I did it three more times. I still like being a father and am just glad I have the kids I have because I’m not very good at it.

When I turned 30, I went through a slight mid-life crisis ten years early and thought I might like to be an FBI agent. I actually filled out a preliminary application, but the Bureau apparently didn’t like “Because I like The X-Files” in answer to their question of “Why do you want to be an FBI agent?”

Through most of my early thirties, I wanted to be a published author, which I became; however, unless your published book sells millions and millions of copies (which mine didn’t), you usually have to write more than one for that to work out.

From there, I wanted to be a college professor, so I went to graduate school and graduated, but I never went on to get those letters behind my name so I could put Dr. in front of my name. And that was okay.

In my mid-to-late 30s, I became a teacher like my mom and my grandfather, and then when I turned 40, I became a Head of School for the first time. My mother wasn’t convinced I knew what I was doing and asked me if I was qualified for the job. I honestly didn’t know and couldn’t think of a good answer, so I just said “No.”

I won’t bore you with my tales of being a nursing home touring musician, or Christmas tree shearer, or Illinois State Capitol tour guide, or camp director, or conference coordinator, or graphic designer/webmaster. Good times, all.

So what is God’s will for your life? Same as it’s been for me these past 42 years, as found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

What does God want you to be when you grow up? Thankful.

Better get to it.

Meeting Needs (“Sexy” or Otherwise)

In Calling, Church, Family, Humanity, Oklahoma City, Places, Thought on July 20, 2013 at 12:15 am

HandsBobby and Jennifer just welcomed home their soon-to-be adopted son. Another couple in our church are two weeks into parenting their just-adopted newborn daughter. Megan and I just received our tenth placement (a newborn) since we began emergency foster care in January.

We’re glad to be part of a church that cares about children. But what other congregational care is happening – or should be – at City Pres?

There’s no question God calls the Church to look out for children – Jesus rebukes the disciples in Matthew 19 for not doing so, while James at the end of James 1 in part defines true religion by how we care for the orphan.

But Jesus talks about caring for all people (many of them not children) throughout the Gospels, and the second category of James’ religion equation has to do specifically with widows (and no one else).

As a friend recently remarked, adoption and foster care can seem more “sexy” than ministering to the adult/widow crowds. How are we doing in supporting church members doing the latter?

When was the last time we got behind the middle-aged parent caring for an aging parent or grandparent (sometimes in her own home) out of regard for Exodus 20:12? Who’s supporting the young man visiting inmates in prison a la Hebrew 13:3 (actually, is anyone visiting inmates in prison these days)? Are we trying to help the health care professional in our midst serve the mentally or physically disabled, or is David’s concern for Mephibosheth lost on us (and therefore them)?

Since January, Megan and I have received money, clothes, diapers, car seats, baby swings,notes of encouragement, and pats on the back for our emergency foster care efforts. City Pres and her members have been in our corner from the beginning, and this has meant the world to us and our  four girls as we’ve cared for the ten little ones through our home the past seven months.

How far would this same support go for the mom caring for her kids, husband, and mother/grandmother at home? Or for the twenty-something trying to make a difference with a weekly visit to one of the six corrections/detention centers in the OKC metro? Or for the professional counselor in our congregation working with those whose minds or bodies just won’t?

Modern evangelicalism tries to rationalize that not everyone’s called to be involved with foster care and adoption (an excuse I don’t buy, per Jesus’ and James’ own words), but to not be called to care about anyone? No way.

Pray, search your heart, ask around, find a need, work to meet it, repeat. It’s not hard and should be what we do at City Pres for everybody (not just us more “sexy” types).

What I’ve Yet to Learn on Summer Vacation

In Family, Friends, Health, Holidays, Places, Thought, Vacation on June 23, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Vacation

We're set to go on "vacation" in another week, which only means we're seeing a few friends and family in a few places we've already lived. When it comes to "vacation", we stopped using the "v" word a long time ago; we're always taking "trips" instead. (For the antithesis of our experience, Google "Vacation".)

Our initial plans for a break were to start this week and go through the Fourth of July week for a total of 12-14 days away, but that schedule got thrown out months ago because of a board meeting this Friday, as well as that, summer or not, we've got a limited amount of time to launch a new school two months from today. And that's okay…or at least reality.

I don't know if it's a blessing or a curse, but reality is where I tend to live and move and have my being, often at the expense of my many idealist dreams. I wanted to take Megan to London for a week for our honeymoon; we ended up renting a cabin in Arkansas for three days because we had neither time nor money to do otherwise. I went to Africa and planned for our family to spend six months in Uganda in the fall of 2001 (with an eye to possibly staying years as missionaries); Megan, however, became pregnant with our third that summer and 9/11 happened in September, so those plans changed.

After a nice "trip" back to Colorado Springs (where we lived for 12 years) last summer, we hoped to return this summer so the girls could finally go to Eagle Lake together (the last year it would be possible because of their ages) and we could get some time alone as well as part of a major staff reunion; however, school merger necessities made that trip impossible, especially if we wanted to also get back to the family farm in Illinois, which we haven't been to since Christmas (another "trip").

Our plan next week? We just finalized it this weekend (which gives you some indication of how little it actually entails): see a few friends in St. Louis, spend 4-5 days on the farm, catch Megan's parents in Tulsa on the way back. That's it…and usually what it always is.

I feel like a failure when it comes to the Great American Vacation, largely because I'm not sure I have the courage (among other things – time, money, people-quotient) to actually take one. We've made noble attempts – the aforementioned trip to Colorado, for instance, or an actual "vacation" in the summer of 2009 to Florida so we could take a few pictures and prove to the girls that they, indeed, had once stood on a beach and seen an actual ocean – but in 16 years, that's about it.

I remember one year before we had kids, Megan and I got a phone call from a timeshare company inviting us to make a trip from Colorado Springs to Pagosa Springs for a free weekend getaway if we sat through their presentation. We went, but the only thing I remember from the time was the company representative asking me how "committed" we were to "vacation." Committed to vacation? As a farm kid, I had never heard those words used in the same sentence before. We didn't buy a timeshare.

I get that people need breaks (and maybe it's my pride that wrestles with that fact that I do as well), but taking time off (especially when I love what I do as much as I do) is a very unnatural experience for me. Even when we leave on "vacation" next week, it's going to be a working trip: we're unveiling new uniforms for The Academy that Monday and if there's anything people have opinions about more than what their students are learning, it's what their kids are wearing while they're learning. It's too early in our school's one-month-old existence to make this kind of announcement and not be available (at least by phone, email, or online) should there be any questions.

What is it I've yet to learn on summer vacation? I suppose it's just how and why (not to mention where and when) to actually take one. For those who have figured it out, I welcome your rationales.

And if you're on vacation, well, I guess, enjoy it (somebody has to).

The Classical Capstone

In Arts, Calling, Education, Oklahoma City, Thought, Writers, Young Ones on April 24, 2013 at 8:35 am
IMG_1911

“A well-spent day brings happy sleep.”
Leonardo da Vinci

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leonard Bernstein’s Mass

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

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

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.

Mockingbird Sun: “My Hometown”

In Thought on February 11, 2013 at 6:33 am

It's a rare day when I'm on the cutting edge of what's coming up in the music scene, but if you're into a band that "draws from the slow blue heat of vintage country to solder
whiskey-washed folk with classic American rock and roll," then Mockingbird Sun might be for you.

What's my source? Well, I happen to periodically work with the father of one of these guys, but this is not a case where dad thinks too highly of his offspring. They're good, as evidenced by their song, "My Hometown," on CMT – great story angle, solid musicianship, tight vocals, and a gentle humility that serves the song well.

Check 'em out and enjoy.

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.