Because life is a series of edits

Archive for the ‘Holidays’ 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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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.)

Rural Reflections

In Calling, Family, Holidays, Nature, Places & Spaces, Vacation on July 5, 2014 at 11:29 am

IMG_5173

“The chance you had is the life you’ve got. You can make complaints about what people, including you, make of their lives after they have got them, and about what people make of other people’s lives…but you mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else.” Wendell Berry in Hannah Coulter

After our Colorado trip and two days back in the office in Oklahoma City, we’re here in Illinois wrapping up the last of our vacation days. Altogether, it’s been a good and much-needed break from the past 18 months of school merging and managing, and I’m (almost) ready to jump back into things in earnest next week.

In the meantime, I’m making the most of our last few days here in Pike County where I – along with four previous generations of Dunhams – grew up on our centennial farm. Our girls love being here and connecting with their four Pike County cousins (I have two younger sisters who each have two kids of their own), Megan graciously tolerates the latest tales of townsfolk she has never met, and even our dog, Peaches, seems to have an affinity for the rural life (in particular the John Deere Gator rides, as shown above).

I love the farm. For as long as I can remember, it has meant much to me as a place, an anchor, a stopping-off point, a means of provision, a muse of creativity, a home…the list is endless. The stability of associating myself with a particular 600 acres of God’s green Earth is rare in today’s transient world and has always mesmerized me in its value, both felt and perceived. Even when I didn’t want to be here, or thought there was no future in it for me here, I’ve always loved the farm…and I always will.

But then I ask myself, do I love the farm or do I love the idea of the farm? The answer to both questions is “yes,” which transforms the inquiry into one of degrees (i.e. which one do I love more?). That’s when things get confusing.

There was a time  – when, for instance, I would plow the living room for hours on end as a five-year-old – that my family may have expected me to remain on or eventually return to the farm. At some point, though – exactly when, I don’t know – they let go of that expectation most likely because I did. I remember being 16 and chomping at the bit to leave for college, to graduate and move to The Loop in downtown Chicago (to do what, I had no idea), and never look back. The desire did not spring from some dislike for the rural as much as a fascination for the urban; after all, as the post-WWI song goes, “How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?”

I can’t say I ever felt direct pressure to “be about” the farm; chores (what little of them I had) never came before studies or school events, and farming was never cause for missing a game or performance or church as long as Saturday mornings were kept open for hog work. If anything, there were times in my early teens when I probably felt frustrated that I couldn’t do more to help out in the fields or on the bigger equipment in a more significant way, but God had his reasons, and my parents – perhaps seeing the writing on the wall before I did – acquiesced to those by supporting (and at times, directing) me in other endeavors.

As I’ve grown older, I confess that my pride in telling others of our family’s fifth-generation farm quickly erodes even before the end of the sentence when, inevitably, I know the next question that’s coming: “So what’s going to happen to the farm?” Many times I have felt guilty at being the only son or (though I would not trade any of my daughters for all the farms in the world) that my Y chromosomes couldn’t figure things out enough to produce a male heir to carry on the Dunham name and take to farming more than I did. Neither feeling is fair, but guilt (in particular the self-inflicted kind) does not play by the rules.

As much as the thought of returning to Pike County can be nostalgically attractive, I’ve yet to figure out how to make it happen practically; it would seem I have very little of what it takes to “make it” in the country. While the urbanite wrongly assumes that those living outside city limits are somehow “less than” because they haven’t made it to the city, he would never survive in rural America, which is why he doesn’t try beyond buying some miniscule weekend/vacation acreage upon which his existence does not depend.

I think of Thomas Jefferson’s words concerning agriculture and those who practice it:

“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands.”

Jefferson’s sentiment describes my father and my grandfather; it does not, however, describe me, a truth that at times grieves my heart and disturbs my thoughts. There is no solution or salve for this affliction, save only the choice to still care and the decision to still visit, both of which seem trite compared to the calling and effort of my forebears to sustain this land over the past 100+ years so that I might still engage with it now.

As predominant a sculptor as any in my life, the farm – as a tool in the sovereign hands of God – seems to have shaped me for something other than itself. It’s no secret that I’m eternally grateful for this, but it is also a reality that saddens me some nevertheless.

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.

Let the Learning Continue

In Calling, Church, Education, Family, Friends, Health, Holidays, Marriage, Oklahoma City, Places & Spaces, The Academy, Young Ones on January 1, 2014 at 6:13 pm

2014

My son, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life
and peace they will add to you.
Proverbs 3:1-2

Megan already shared a 2013 summary of sorts in our online Christmas letter, so I’ll save you a rehash here. But I did want to offer a few thoughts I’ve been thinking between Christmas and New Year’s (possibly my favorite week of the year).

Put simply, I’m really glad 2013 is out of here. It was a very hard year, one that I don’t regret, but at the same time one I do not wish to relive again. Foster care, school merging, church planting, another round of husbanding and parenting – all good things that were all hard. Really hard.

It was a lonely year. Despite spending the majority of my days with great people at The Academy, we were always at work on something (and trying to be present on three different campuses every week sometimes felt like being present at none). I enjoy the folks in our Wednesday night City Pres group, but seeing them once a week for an hour or two only goes so far.

Even with Megan and the girls, the “project” of foster care took its toll on our family dynamics and relationships, and while it built new things in, I would say that we all functioned more as partners than as family at times, doing what needed to get done at the expense of deepening our relationships. This kind of sacrifice is not always bad – we grew in other ways as a result – but I don’t want to repeat it to the same degree in 2014.

Things I’m continuing to learn/re-learn (feel free to apply palm to forehead on my behalf if any of these seem obvious):

  • The “why” behind decisions matters, and even when it should be crystal clear, it still bears repeating.
  • Competence is exhausting if it’s all you’re depending on or leading by.
  • The intellectual vacuum I feel having read so little and consistently this past year is scary. Am I really so out of thoughts without those of others? It would seem so.
  • The forties can be a very dangerous time of coasting on past experiences and successes and relying too much on oneself.
  • Another forties temptation: to claim identity in what I do and not in who I am (and Whose I am). Unfortunately, others are too quick to enable this by labeling and pigeon-holing.
  • Technology continues to both accelerate and rob me of time (and I continue to let it).
  • I barely have an idea of what moderation is (and suffer as a result – diet, overworking, time online, vegging, etc.).
  • Being acknowledged is not the same as being known.
  • I am not particularly healthy, but seem to benefit from hardy genes that don’t require a whole lot to function…for now.
  • Regular periods of quiet are scarce and their absence is scarring my soul.
  • All of a sudden I’m older than many of the parents enrolling at our school and therefore viewed as someone who should know (or know better, depending on the complaint).
  • I do not write enough thank you notes (but not because I do not have reasons to do so – God is so good to me, as are His people).
  • The older I get, the harder it becomes to acknowledge how much I still have to learn (humility ages so much better than does pride).

I don’t want to lose sight of all that, by God’s grace, was accomplished last year:

  • Megan and I are still (somehow) married after 17 years.
  • Our kids still seem to love and enjoy us (and we them).
  • Our family is still caring about caring for people.
  • We successfully merged two schools into one.
  • City Pres is growing and purchased a great building in downtown Oklahoma City.
  • We are still seeking to believe and care about God (though we fail by the minute).

But that was last year, and this is this year. And today is the first day of 2014, and tomorrow will be the second. One would think I would have learned more than I have by now, yet I feel the weight of all that I still have not (or at least what I imagine I have not).

So, let the learning continue. And to those whom God will use to teach/re-teach me in 2014, thanks for having God’s best interests for me in mind.

And sorry I can be stubborn. I’m still learning.

(As I finish this post, I’m reminded of Charlie Peacock‘s brilliant song, “Insult Like the Truth,” the lyrics of which Chuck graciously gave permission to use in TwentySomeone. Take a listen here for his treatise on the dangers of a lack of teachability.)

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.

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).

Mizzou-Rah

In Friends, Holidays, Places on May 19, 2013 at 8:44 pm

I would have completely forgotten I graduated from college 20 years ago without this note (which, of course, also included a petition for funds) congratulating me upon the anniversary. While I doubt I'm too specifically "remembered," I'll give a shout out to all my MU peeps and offer a "Mizzou-rah" for all those times that seem like ancient history now.

20th---

(Shameless self-promotion: If you want to read more about my time at Mizzou, order a copy of TwentySomeone and skim it before you give it to your favorite graduate this May.)

Review: Les Miserables

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

Les-miserables-movie-image-hugh-jackman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fourth of July Redux

In Holidays on July 3, 2012 at 8:46 am

Wild-turkey_765_600x450

We're laying low this Fourth of July – no travel, no sales, no fireworks. (Actually, I'm working all day, with family friends coming over for a swimming party in the evening.)

Lest you wonder at my seeming lack of patriotism, I refer you to my post from July 2008: "It's Hard to Soar with Eagles When You're a Turkey". Five years later, still a turkey:

"I know, I know: not only am I a terrible father, I am also a terrible American. I should be shot and hung and forced to watch C-Span. I get that. But I'm a turkey; I'm not an eagle. I don't relish the whole let's-blow-up-millions-of-dollars-worth-of-fireworks-to-prove-ourselves-a-great-nation mentality. It's too flashy; it's too easy."

Happy birthday, America. Now let's live up to our aspirations, for crying out loud.

Summer 2012: A Preview

In Family, Holidays, Travel, Vacation on June 18, 2012 at 10:23 am

I'm a little behind with my annual "here's what we're planning for summer" post. Truth be told, I'm a little out of practice as well, as last summer's plan was pretty easy: move.

DSC_0002

As the picture above documents, Megan and I already took a trip to New York state for a Biblical Imagination Conference (we also saw Niagara Falls). In addition, I led a day-and-a-half New Staff Induction and Megan coordinated our annual Resale for Veritas, and this past weekend I took part in our annual Veritas Board of Directors Retreat. Good times.

What does the rest of June and summer hold in terms of trips and events? Here you go:

June
20-23 Assoc. of Classical & Christian Schools' Repairing the Ruins Conference (Dallas)
We're taking 46 faculty, staff, and parents to Big D to learn more together about classical Christian education. Megan's attending the conference, and the girls will rule the hotel pool. We're also planning to take in a Rangers game on Saturday before heading home.

27-29 Family trip with the Servens (Ozark, MO)
Between the two families (four adults, eight active kids), it took us almost two months to figure out a three-day window of time that we could all make a getaway work. We're glad to have this one on the calendar.

July
6-21 Family vacation (Tulsa, St. Louis, New Salem, Colorado Springs)
This is the big trip of the summer – both sets of grandparents, friends in St. Louis and Colorado Springs, a Cardinals game, a Rockies game, a week of camp at Eagle Lake for the girls, and hopefully some down time for Megan and me at Glen Eyrie and around town. If history is any indication, there are sure to be some Griswoldian stories from this one, so check back in August.

August
Just about all of the following has to do with school starting, so I'll spare you the details (though I'm very excited about our new two-day parent orientations for both campuses).
2-3 New Staff Orientation/Latin Student Workshops
6-7 Staff Orientation
10-11 WISE Parent Orientation (North Campus)
13-14 Staff Orientation
17-18 WISE Parent Orientation (Central Campus)
22/23 First days of School (North/Central)

Honestly (at least from a scheduling perspective), the summer seems almost over before it's begun. Still, we'll make the most of it, supplementing the trips with plenty of book reading and book writing, backyard pool time, trips to the dollar theater, and some cook-outs with friends. There's also lots of work to be done with both Veritas and City Pres, so we'll hardly be bored.

Glad for the breaks, glad for the work from which I need to take them.

Weight, Weight, Don’t Tell Me

In Health, Holidays on November 28, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Doctors-scalesNow that we're on the backside of Thanksgiving but still have Christmas and New Year's up ahead, I'm toying with an idea/practice that I hope will stick. It's new, fresh, and possibly life-changing.

Yes, though I hate it, I'm thinking of exercising…in the evening…at home…a couple times a month…maybe even a few times a week.

I first took notice of my weight (at least enough to write about it) around my mid-thirties when I began to toe the (gasp) 200-pound line. Now twenty pounds beyond that, it's probably time to revisit the topic.

Actually, I need to do more than revisit it; I need to do something about it. So, I'm starting a month earlier than the normal New Year's resolution crowd by exercising three times a week on a treadmill at night.

Why at night? 1) To keep me from falling asleep at 9 p.m. and get more than a page of a book read before bed, and 2) because the morning and afternoon have never worked for me in the past. In other words, this is my last shot. After this, I'm out of ideas.

Exercise always goes better with better eating habits, but I'll let the former lead me into the latter if it so chooses. Regardless, getting the blood pumping (and a few pounds dropping) would be a good thing going into 2012.

As the beer commercials say, "Here we go!"

Black Friday Haiku

In Holidays, Humanity, Thought on November 25, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Black-friday

Black Friday masses
Discounted idol worship
Redeemed by retail?

Forget Chocolate; I’ll Take a Book Instead

In Books, Holidays, Technology on February 13, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Book Heart
Our Valentine's Day tradition here at the Half-Pint House involves two things: board games and books. Megan usually picks out a new game for the fam and purchases a new book for each of the girls to unwrap and enjoy.

This year, we're changing up our routine and letting the girls pick out their own books thanks to Groupon doubling some gift money set aside for Barnes & Noble. With that to look forward to, here's a quote I read in Newsweek over the weekend that sums up my thoughts on the whole ebook question. It's from James H. Billington, librarian of Congress:

"The new immigrants don’t shoot the old inhabitants when they come in. One technology tends to supplement rather than supplant. How you read is not as important as: will you read? And will you read something that’s a book—the sustained train of thought of one person speaking to another? Search techniques are embedded in e-books that invite people to dabble rather than follow a full train of thought. This is part of a general cultural problem."

There are other quotes in the article worth considering, but this one particularly struck me as addressing the real issue. Whether one reads is one thing; how one reads is another. Personally, I need fewer – not more – distractions when I read; thus, I'm still in need of (and in love with) the printed page.

Regardless (and whichever way you may read), have a happy Puke Valentine's Day.

Christmas Eve Assembly Goes Digital

In Family, Holidays, Musicians, Young Ones on December 24, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Some do Christmas Eve assembly with wrenches and screwdrivers; I do it with Photoshop and InDesign. Here's the U2 concert poster I put together tonight for the girls to unwrap together on Christmas morning. Since this concert will be their first real rock show, we thought such a milestone merited a customized promotional piece they can hang in their rooms to build anticipation (not that that will be a problem – they're all already big fans).

Just training them up in the way they should go…or something.

U2 Poster

Lawn Mower Civics

In Family, Holidays, Humanity, Places, Places & Spaces, Politics on May 31, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Mowing the yard is one of my favorite ways to celebrate the Memorial Day weekend. I suppose caring for the tiny piece of land I own is my noble attempt at recognizing the American traditions of honoring soldiers’ sacrifices and observing summer’s arrival.

Perhaps like many, I don’t always think about the freedoms we Americans enjoy, which is why Memorial Day (and what we do on Memorial Day) is important. As we’ve done in the past, we went to Jefferson Barracks today (here are some pics):

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery

Mowing on Saturday and attending the Memorial Day service today got me thinking about ability – specifically, all I am able to do in the U.S. because I happen to live legally within her borders and laws. Here are just a few abilities I have as a U.S. citizen not necessarily guaranteed elsewhere in the world:

I’m able to have four children (all girls). In China, I could only have one child (and the government would want that one to be a boy, so any girls might get aborted).

I’m able to keep a blog or a write a new book without having to submit either to a censor for approval. In North Korea, neither is really an option (Internet and independent ideas don’t jive too well with totalitarian government regimes).

I’m able to freely live and believe according to the Christian Scriptures. While ours is not (nor ever has been) a “Christian” nation, I rejoice at being able to live freely as a Christian within our nation (try testing day-to-day religious diversity in, oh, say, Iran or Saudi Arabia and see where and what that gets you).

Now, lest you think this is just a nice patriotic post on freedom (I’ve tried those a few times before – 1, 2, 3, 4 – but they never seem to end up too warm and fuzzy), let me talk honestly about some personal inabilities that I wrestle with in our fair democracy (for those of you with USA bumper stickers and T-shirts, you might want to stop reading now):

I’m unable to trust elected political leaders. It doesn’t matter the level – national, state, local – nor the branch – executive, legislative, judicial – nor the political affiliation – Democrat, Republican, or Independent – politicians do not have the luxury of asking for my trust and assuming they have it. I am sick of the lack of integrity, of the abuse of power, of the CYA spin, and of the arrogance to think I do not understand enough to know what’s really going on. As far as I’m concerned, politicians can save the rhetoric for their consciences (if they still have any left); their words no longer affect me.

I’m unable to trust government workers. Call it guilt by association, but I’m tired of hearing about those who work for a government agency who seem all too content to siphon off their part of my taxes with little to no thought as to for whom they’re really working (example). I’m not saying there isn’t a place for public service (and I’m not saying every government worker is like this), but there is a philosophical difference between earning a living and spending an apportionment, and most long-term government leaders and workers don’t understand it.

I’m unable to trust the media as a true Fourth Estate. It’s not as if I did before, but the more I read or watch supposed “trusted” news sources, the more the agendas (liberal, conservative, etc.) spill over. One can blame the Internet, I suppose, for severely crippling the budgets of most newspapers and magazines, but someone needs to explain to our media outlets that their job is not to sell stories but to tell them. I’m done with opinion columnists masquerading as reporters (are you listening, Newsweek?) and find myself incredibly skeptical of the phrase “Here’s what’s making news” when it should really be “Here’s what WE’RE making news.”

I’m unable to trust the American Dream. This has never been much of a motivator nor temptation for me, but if it were, it’s become even less so in recent recession years. While cries of socialism/communism have found their way into the public conversation of late, pure laissez-faire capitalism is not the answer either. If the past ten years have taught us anything, I would hope it would be that life and meaning are bigger than an economic system, regardless of which system it is.

Jane Jacobs, in her 2005 book, Dark Age Ahead, argued that “we’re stumbling into the same cultural decline that befell the Roman Empire.” One of her overarching premises was that mass amnesia – not only forgetting something but forgetting that you have forgotten it – is the main cause of a Dark Age. “When the abyss of lost memory by a people becomes too deep and too old,” she wrote, “attempts to plumb it are futile.”

Jacobs went on to identify five pillars of society we need and have come to depend on:

  • community and family
  • higher education
  • the effective practice of science and science-based technology
  • taxes and governmental powers directly in touch with needs and possibilities
  • accountability by the learned professions

She concluded that we in America “are dangerously close to the brink of lost memory and cultural uselessness” concerning these. I concur: We are suffering from mass amnesia these days about most things having to do with taxes, governmental powers, and accountability in the economic, scientific, technological, and (sadly) even religious sectors of our society. We have forgotten that we have forgotten. Memorial Day calls us to remember; interestingly, Deuteronomy does, too (fourteen times, as a matter of fact).

We in America are and always have been a country of ability, but are there others who sense a growing tide of inability washing away the sands of strength from our U.S. shores (at least the ones not covered in oil – thank you, BP)? Care to add to either list (ability or inability), or offer something you think we’ve forgotten that we’ve forgotten? I’d welcome your thoughts.

Until then, I may go mow some more…

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…

Happy April Fool’s

In Family, Holidays on April 1, 2010 at 9:44 am

It's April Fool's Day. As Mark Twain wrote in Pudd'nhead Wilson, "This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four." Indeed.

I'm not one much for physical pranks (to the chagrin of my daughters), but I do enjoy a good pause-of-the-intellectual-faculties kind of joke. This probably has something to do with how enthralled I was as a 14-year-old kid in 1985, when Sports Illustrated published George Plimpton's now-infamous story about Sidd Finch, a rookie pitcher who planned to play for the Mets and could reportedly throw a baseball at 168 mph with
pinpoint accuracy.

I bought it hook, line, and sinker…and laughed at myself for doing so later.

Inspired by that experience, I suppose, I played a trick on Megan's readership last year by hacking her blog with my own piece of journalistic fiction that I thought I'd link up today in case you missed it the first time around.

Happy April Fool's day.

Happy Puke Day

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

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

Bubbaville, Super Bowl, Love

In Friends, Holidays, Places, Places & Spaces, Seminary, Sports on February 3, 2010 at 9:56 pm

When we lived in Colorado, Megan and I hosted an annual White Trash Super Bowl Party.

We took our inspiration from the Colorado Springs neighborhood in which we bought our first house – "Bubbaville," we affectionately called it. You see, we lived down the street from the local Salvation Army; the police helicopters flew over our house every night as we happened to be in the center of their "suspicious behavior" circuit; and our neighbors (with whom we awkwardly shared a driveway) used to loudly ride their four-wheeler around our house for fun.

The idea of an actual party came a couple years later, after we had moved out of Bubbaville and into a different neighborhood across town. We encouraged our friends to embrace their "inner white
trash." For our part, we let our then-very-young children run around in
nothing but diapers; Megan put on a ton of cheap jewelry and frizzed
out her hair; I didn't shower, fix my bedhead, or wear anything but sweats and a white T-shirt. We
thought about putting a couple vehicles up on blocks in the front yard, but
in the end opted for dragging a bunch of stuff out of the garage and putting up a
couple of cheap pink flamingos instead.

Here's an invitation I sent out via email one year:

Superbowl Invite (Low Res)

Our friends gleefully showed up and played their parts: guys wore "wife-beater" T-shirts, fake mullets, and jeans with holes (a la Def Leppard); gals got "creative" with their makeup, giving themselves fake hickeys and black eyes as if they had just fought AND made up with their boyfriends/husbands in our driveway. There were other little kids running around in diapers and pull-ups, and we all sat around laughing at each other – sometimes watching the game, always watching the commercials.

It was funny…and fun…and wrong. Megan felt it…and so did I.

For someone like me, whose sense of humor can seem unfortunately more developed than his sensitivity, having fun at the expense of others is all too easy to be all that good. I learned a long time ago not to use humor as a weapon, but there have been plenty of instances – some public, most private – when I have broken my own cease-fire agreement. The only thing quicker than my brain is my tongue, which can be unfortunate for others when the former follows the latter in an all-out pursuit of anything funny.

When we moved to St. Louis and I got my first full semester of seminary under my belt, the Holy Spirit zeroed in on a couple of areas in my life that caused me to regret and repent of some prejudices I never thought I had. Despite growing up in a county with next to no racial diversity, my prejudices rarely involve race; instead (and as my "white trash" years should have first clued me in), I have to watch out for "education prejudice" – judging others on the education (or the sense of education) I perceive them to have or not have.

While there's more nuance to it than I can describe in words, basically it's a very quick process that goes something like this: if I think I'm smarter than you are, I win; if I don't think I'm smarter than you are, then I ask the question again and again until I can figure out a reason how and why I could be. (Ironically, the ridiculous part in all this is that I assume by default that I'm actually dumber than everyone, which is another example of how sin ratchets up my insecurities and feeds the aforementioned cycle.)

Thankfully – mercifully – I've grown in my understanding of God's love for me through the words and wounds of grace, but the Super Bowl (of all things) and the memories of the "white trash" parties of the past serve as an annual reminder of my need to love others as God loves others, which often – and often simply – means not making fun of them.

As Paul wrote to the Philippians (and as a good friend once shared with me because of my arrogance):

"And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." Philippians 1:9-11

Go Colts.

(Note: To relive last year's Super Bowl (and commercials), I live-blogged it here.)