Because life is a series of edits

Archive for the ‘Humanity’ 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.)

You’ve Got (Someone Else’s) Mail

In Humanity, Internet on December 5, 2014 at 7:10 pm

email-inboxTwice this week, I’ve received emails in my inbox addressed to me but meant for other people.

The first email was from the Bursar at Elon University, a private liberal arts university in Elon, North Carolina, and while the email address was mine, the person addressed in the message was Claire M. Dunham. I’ve never been known as Claire, nor do I know of one to whom I might be related. But I do know that Claire is enrolled for classes next semester at Elon…at least until I figure out her password, hack her account, and cancel her scholarship for listing my email address as hers.

The second email (with multiple emails in the thread) was one in which I was copied by a Carol Dunham. She apparently has a daughter (Michelle), who (ironically) also attends Elon University and is majoring in teaching Spanish. I have no idea why Carol copied me, nor do I have any job leads for her daughter (we already have a good Spanish teacher at The Academy – I’m looking at you, Abby Lorenc). But the most recent email in the thread had Carol thanking Louise (who apparently is the mother of Michelle’s boyfriend) for paying to fly Michelle to Hawaii. I’m guessing Michelle’s living it up on the Big Island, and for some reason, her mom felt the need to tell me about it.

We’ve all heard of identity theft; this is more identity threat.

Does LifeLock know about this? I want them to because it’s my email address! I was surprised by how affected I was by the idea that someone else was using (consciously or not) my email handle. It’s the same feeling one gets after Googling one’s name (not that I’ve ever done that) only to discover you’re not the only Craig Dunham in the world. In fact, there are other Craig Dunhams – some who make you proud to share the name, and others who make you wish your parents trademarked it upon signing the birth certificate. You’re – I’m – the original! Everyone else is but a poor imitation!

As I didn’t have Claire’s actual email address, I went ahead and replied to the Bursar, telling him/her (are Bursars usually male or female?) of the mistake and asking to have my email address removed from Elon’s list, which they did. And because Carol only copied me on her email, I didn’t feel a need to respond (though she is a fellow Dunham, God love her), but will see if she sends something else before inquiring as to what’s going on (and maybe how Michelle liked Hawaii, just to freak her out).

But regardless, I should probably think and pray more about my initial reaction of feeling so threatened by someone else using what I think of as belonging solely to me. Indeed, “a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,” (Proverbs 22:1a), but ultimate identity in any name other than Christ’s can feel like one big and unending Google search.

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.

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).

The Way We “Wrestle” Is to Pray

In Calling, Church, Educators, Family, Friends, Health, Humanity, Marriage, Oklahoma City, Parents, Places & Spaces, The Academy, Young Ones on February 14, 2014 at 7:22 pm

Wrist Prayer

Jesus was never one to over-spiritualize, but he did talk frankly of the Devil and his demons being at work in the world.

Following Jesus’ lead, I don’t want to over-spiritualize, either; yet multiple conversations with many of you in recent weeks have combined with my own acute sense of need to compel me to remind friends that, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:2).

The way we “wrestle” is to pray.

Because God is at work in the world, Satan wants to be as well. Depression, doubt, insecurity, fear – these are all evils from the pit of Hell, and multiple families are experiencing these attacks in various manifestations in the midst of physical sickness and mental weariness of late. Recently, we’ve had students and staff members who have been in the hospital for a variety of (odd) reasons, moms and dads who are struggling through hard life decisions, and just about all of us (my own family included) who are dealing with situations that are unfamiliar and out of our control.

To top it all off, we just finished a 12-day streak of some of the worst winter weather Oklahoma City has seen in a while, which can play havoc with our emotions as much as anything else.

Of course, not all of these trials are in and of themselves evil, but the discouragement that can accompany them (along with the often self-inflicted feeling of faithlessness in our handling them) can easily be used against us. Trust – in God, in each other – can erode, and Satan would like nothing more than to wash away all we have worked so hard to achieve.

With all this on hearts and minds, most of us are aware of at least one person or scenario in need of help. Would you ask the Lord to act in accordance with his “good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Romans 12:2) in providing it? As Jesus does in his prayer in Matthew 6, let me also encourage you to ask the Father to “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Satan does not need more of a foothold in anyone’s life.

I’m not asking anyone to make lists or track answers; I’m just asking us – you and me – to take some time this weekend to pray, that God may meet us in our need, do what he wants through it, reassure us of his love in it, and be glorified as a result of it.

“Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who settest the solitary in families: We commend to thy continual care the homes in which thy people dwell. Put far from them, we beseech thee, every root of bitterness, the desire of vainglory, and the pride of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness. Knit together in constant affection those who, in holy wedlock, have been made one flesh. Turn the hearts of the parents to the children, and the hearts of the children to the parents; and so enkindle fervent charity among us all, that we may evermore be kindly affectioned one to another; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

From The (Online) Book of Common Prayer

(The pictured wrist above belongs to my friend, Jerome Loughridge, who wrote out the names of several of our school staff on his arm to remind himself to pray over the weekend. I was privileged to make the wrist…er, list.)

Wait No More Oklahoma

In Calling, Church, Family, Humanity, Oklahoma City, Parents, Places & Spaces on October 11, 2013 at 11:27 am


Here’s a video we were privileged to be a part of for the upcoming Wait No More Oklahoma City foster care event, Saturday, October 26, at Crossings Community Church.

Deceitful Heart, Desperately Sick

In Calling, Church, Humanity, Places & Spaces on October 7, 2013 at 3:06 am

tree-with-hole

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV)

As an elementary student, I rode the bus to school. The trip took about 30 minutes, and since we lived six miles out of town, I was one of the first to be picked up and one of the last to be dropped off.

As early as Kindergarten or 1st grade (I can’t remember which, but I remember I was young), I came home with my first “bad” paper. I’m not sure how “bad” a “bad” paper was in Kindergarten or 1st grade, but it seemed bad enough at the time that I didn’t want my parents seeing it. I rode the bus home, the whole time trying to figure out what to do with my bad paper. For reasons I still can’t articulate, I was ashamed and afraid.

When the bus dropped me off and drove on down the road and over the next hill to Sarah’s, I had an idea of how to get rid of my bad paper. In our front yard stood a big tree with a hole about eighteen inches in diameter in the trunk about twelve feet up (though to my Kindergarten/1st grade self, it seemed more like 30-40 feet high). If I wadded my bad paper up, I thought, I could throw away my shame and only the squirrels and I would know.

But I had to do it quickly, as Bill the bus driver would be coming back after dropping Sarah off. Obviously, I couldn’t start until the bus made it over the hill, otherwise Bill might see me in his large and powerful rear view mirrors. Instead, I got off the bus, crossed to our front yard, and awkwardly turned around to wave. Then, when I couldn’t see yellow anymore, I ran to the tree, scrambled to get my backpack off, found the bad paper, wadded it up, and started throwing.

Either I miscalculated the effects of the wind on a single wad of paper in flight or my aim was just that bad, but I didn’t get my bad paper in the hole on the first try. In fact, my plan took several tries and was interrupted by Bill driving the big yellow school bus back over the hill, with me running back to the side of the road, again awkwardly waving. I then walked back to the tree and kept trying to hide my shame.

I did this multiple times, but never got caught. My parents never walked around the house to find me throwing wads of paper into the tree, and if Bill ever did see what I was doing by way of one of his large and powerful rear view mirrors, he never stopped and said anything. The tree became my own personal wastebasket of shame, and while my papers got better (those Kindergarten/1st grade years were brutal), if there ever was a bad one, I always knew exactly what to do with it.

My aim got better as I got older…as did my ability to hide, emotionally and otherwise.

Twelve years ago, my parents had that tree cut down. Though I had lightheartedly confessed my sin to them one Thanksgiving in my mid-twenties, when I heard the news, I immediately felt the same old shame and fear all over again because of all the bad papers I imagined they surely must have found. I couldn’t remember how many there were (it had been a long time), but I was sure those papers had somehow unwadded themselves to form a nice, neat stack of humiliation that was at least three feet high.

As it turned out, after 25 years of Illinois rain and snow, heat and humidity, the papers had decomposed; there was no three-foot high stack, nor even any resilient corners of pages with my Kindergarten-scrawled name on it. The evidence of my elementary school failures was gone, but even now I cringe at how deceitful I was in attempting to hide it. Why was it so important to cover up my shortcomings? And how in the world did I learn to do so at such a young age?

While I’m not proud that I lied for so long to my parents, that was only a symptom; the prophet Jeremiah describes my real problem: a deceitful heart, desperately sick. Even now – as a so-called “adult” – I am still that Kindergartener standing in front of that tree with a hole into which I’m tempted to throw my bad papers. While this can feel like solving the problem, it reminds me what my problem really is: my heart needs a Confessor to forgive rather than a tree to conceal.

“I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds…Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.”
Jeremiah 17:10, 14

The Condition of My Sole/Soul

In Calling, Church, Family, Friends, Health, Humanity, Oklahoma City, Places, The Academy on September 8, 2013 at 8:37 pm

DSC_0002 As I’ve done before, I took a picture of my shoes tonight. My daughters wondered if I was going to try to sell them online. I’m actually thinking of making a display box for them to remind myself that shoes are no more good without an intact sole than I am without mine (intact soul, that is).

I noticed these shoes breaking down at the beginning of summer (the heel on the the right shoe had already begun to decompose), but I hit August and never seemed to have or take the time to buy a new pair once the hole developed.

To compensate, I spent more mental energy than I had making sure I didn’t cross my legs with my foot up in the air, advertising the color of my socks that day. I was careful on rainy days (and we had several of them this summer) as to where I stepped, as I was vulnerable not just to the biggest of puddles, but to the dewiest of grass as well.

Having made the aforementioned adjustments, I thought I could just keep going, which I did…until the remains of the inner liner gave way and all that was left between my foot and the pavement was my sock, which didn’t last more than a day during car line of the opening week of school. Concrete and cotton are not friends, and my foot paid the price for their dysfunctional relationship.

Two weeks ago, I finally went to the shoe store. I proudly announced to the staff there that I thought it was time I bought a new pair of dress shoes. I showed them the bottoms of my old shoes. They were amazed. They took pictures. They said they had never seen a pair of dress shoes that beat up. I beamed with pride even as my feet hurt. My sole-abuse was (or seemed) justified.

Just like my sole, my soul – the essence of who I am – has worn through some as a result of the past two-and-a-half years in Oklahoma. Sure, the shoe still fits and functions, but that doesn’t mean I should keep wearing it as it is.

I took time this weekend to sort some of this out. I spent a lot of time thinking, writing, editing, praying, and resting. I consolidated a majority of my digital life and re-read and re-evaluated what – good and not so much – had brought me to this time and space. While my work and call are far from fulfilled (God asks for and is doing so much!), for the first time in a very long time, I caught a glimpse of a few adjustments I need to make so as to avoid burnout in fulfilling them. They won’t be immediate and will be more of a months-long process than a weekend project, but I liked being able to identify the need and the difference. It felt good.

To be clear, I’m not even close to fizzling or frying; hardly. I still love God, my wife, my kids (biological and foster), what we’re doing at The Academy of Classical Christian Studies and City Presbyterian, and with whom and why we’re doing it. I’m also looking forward to heading to Merrimack, NH, this weekend as we start up the third leg of the Biblical Imagination conferences, which are always personally edifying.

The fact is that I’m encouraged most days, Oklahoma continues to grow on me, and we’re paying our bills and eating. God has just shown me a few important things in the midst of all the good things, and I felt led to share them with you, ask you to pray, and encourage you to glean from my experiences what God might show you concerning yours.

No need to worry; no need to call.

It’s just time to get some new shoes.

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).

Losing the Fight Over Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Any Place Safe? Sadly, No

In Education, Humanity, Thought, Young Ones on December 14, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Newton

I've not had much time to follow the tragedy of today's
elementary school shootings in Connecticut, but here are a few quick thoughts
in their wake.

Few things strike us as painfully as the loss of children;
we see Jesus love them in the New Testament and, as parents, we love them and
would do all we can to keep them safe. Unfortunately, "safe" can
become an idol, which shootings like the one in Connecticut reinforce.

In the next few days, we'll hear calls for more security and
cries for more training – just like after Columbine, just like after Virginia
Tech. Safety at all costs will be both the goal and the solution, but even with
new
safety protocols
the
Connecticut school district had just implemented
, "safety" was
not enough.

The simple fact is this: As long as evil still exists, none
of our kids are truly ever "safe." It's not the way it's supposed to
be, but it is the way it is.

This, of course, doesn't mean we as parents and
administrators don't try. Like the doors in your home, we have locks on ours at
school; as you keep tabs on your kids when they're outside, so do we when
they're with us; similar to how you watch who has access to your kids, we do
the same. We run "stranger danger" drills, we ask those we don't
recognize to identify themselves, and we train staff to never leave kids alone.

Indeed, we pursue safety, but accurate thinking on safety is in degrees, not
absolutes. Thinking more this way keeps us from being overconfident
that, because we have locks on the doors
and have run drills, nothing bad should ever happen. Walking our halls, I'm much more vigilant
because I DON'T believe we're totally secure than I would
be if I mistakenly thought we were. Despite our best
measures, no school is "safe," and this should motivate us to
do all we can to be "as safe as we can."

But none of us does it perfectly and, regardless of how safe
we want to make this broken world, there's only so much we can do this side of
God's complete restoration of it. I don't pretend to understand God's hand in this,
another school shooting, but when I consider the extent and depth of our human
depravity, I'm frankly amazed it doesn't happen more than it does. As
much as some may want to blame God for the former, I choose to give Him credit
for the latter.

Pray for the families in Connecticut. And pray for our Veritas families that, yes, our kids
would be safe, but also that we would recognize how limited, vulnerable, and
dependent we are on the God at work restoring the world we have so badly
broken.

A Matter of Desire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSC_0101

Seven years later after starting seminary in the summer of 2005.
DSC_0125

The new entry way to Westminster Christian Academy.
DSC_0194

Cousins Ryan and Tucker filling water balloons with Maddie and Chloe.

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

DSC_0255

A black bear taking a stroll in front of the Pink House.
DSC_0293

Eagle Lake Day Camp at Glen Eyrie.

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

DSC_0162

The Grand Hall at Westminster.

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

DSC_0225

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

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

DSC_0289

Walking with Katie and Chloe through the Glen Eyrie grounds.

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

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

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

And Now, Melancholy

In Arts, Family, Humanity, Marriage, Vacation, Young Ones on March 20, 2012 at 11:09 am

Melancholy

Every now and then, my melancholy gets the best of me and things go a little gray here on the blog. Maybe it's the rainy weather we're currently experiencing over all of Spring Break (or just the fact that I haven't really been able to take one), but I'm a little down.

No need to feel sorry for me, though (I'm quite capable of doing that on my own). Some things I've heard myself thinking of late (perhaps you can relate and at least know you're not alone):

  • I increasingly find myself chained to my laptop. While I love my Mac product(s), I don't like being inseparable from them. True, all it takes is shutting the lid, but so much of what I do requires time on it that it's beginning to lose its luster.
  • The amount of time spent thinking about life outside these United States continues to dwindle as I get older. Part of this is has to do with plenty of other thoughts occupying my head; part of it has to do with the fact that there is just no way to afford such travel anyway, so why bother? I want to care more about the world, but I don't.
  • Speaking of money, it's wearying watching people throw money at things that don't matter (and I'm not just talking about our federal and state governments), especially when I have so many better ideas of what they could do with it. My heart is living in Psalm 73 these days.
  • Our yard is little more than weeds right now, and after the rain of the past 24 hours, the weeds are all submerged in a big swamp. I want to care about property, but when things happen beyond my control, it becomes more of a challenge.
  • I'm thinking about lighting my desk on fire so as to gain a fresh start there (it's amazing to me how far I've fallen in this area of organization, particularly when I think of past posts like this one).
  • The idea of ever writing a book again is, at best, as or more fleeting as my cluttered attention span. (Sadly, the same could be said for ever reading one again as well.)
  • I continue to see my many failures as a husband and father and wonder how our family is really going to turn out when it's all said and done. Being married and parenting is hard and I wish I were better at both.

So there you have it – a collection of (mostly) first world problems that I'm even embarrassed sharing (yet another contributor to my funk of late). Of course, there are deeper issues beneath these scenarios, so pray I can recognize and offer them to God and regain some hope in my fallen perspective.

That is all.

(Melancholy (1891) painting by Edvard Munch)

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?

Man Crushes & Bromances: The Movie

In Friends, Humanity, Internet, Places & Spaces, Thought on October 5, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Chewy and Han
Jon Barlow and I have been online "friends" (Facebook, blog comments, etc.) for probably 4-5 years, live five minutes apart, are graduates of the same seminary, have many mutual friends in the PCA, and are involved with the same school (I'm a teacher; he's on the board). Both of us have four kids each (I have four daughters; Jon has four sons), and we both love our wives, our kids, theology, philosophy, good writing, interesting music, and well-made films. We both think pretty well in terms of pop culture, and both of us probably spend too much time online (though Jon's finishing his PhD at SLU, so I'm not sure).

The funny thing is, while there seems to be a degree of mutual respect for one another, Jon and I have never met face-to-face. I think our story would make a good movie.

Here's the thing: the thirties are a busy time – possibly the busiest, I've been told by many, for a variety of reasons (young families growing, career paths taking off/changing, etc.). For those of us guys who are more introverted and emotionally fragile (yes, I'm being serious), it can be hard to get below the surface of news, weather, and sports with other men. While I can't speak for Jon, I know I haven't had the depth of male relationships in my thirties that I had in my twenties; more breadth, yes, but depth, no.

Here's a post from Jon's blog which, after reading, I knew we could be friends:

"At church, I feel like a ghost. It is so hard to get to know people in the few milling-around minutes that are available each Sunday. Especially when you've gotta watch your four boys to be sure they aren't running around or misbehaving. At school, I feel like a ghost. What am I going to do – hang out around the office and talk theology? How is that going to ever happen? I'm least ghost-like at home in the few hours between when I get home and when the boys go to bed, and I'm least ghost like in situations where I have to be there for a set amount of time to do some task. But even at the office, I find it hard to really get into my co-workers lives and learn about them. I keep thinking how the boss needs to get this project finished so he can bill it and make payroll for me and the others.

Part of this is also just the season of life that one is in at the time. When kids are young, you can't really be hitting the nightlife, whether recreational or educational, even in a great city like St. Louis and even community involvement is very difficult. And so I think you grin and bear it and hope for a better day and just try to stay sane and healthy and do what you can. The hard parts are those quiet moments – maybe you wake up before everyone else or you're in a public restroom or walking somewhere and there's no radio, no television, no one talking, and you're just stuck with yourself and all the crap in your life is circling your brain like electrons around the core of an atom and you're bewildered and saddened. But I guess that's why they invented the cell phone, so that a game of solitaire is never too far away. Pitiful, but true."

What if Jon and I – without ever meeting – wrote a screenplay about two average, semi-interesting, clearly heterosexual guys who are married, have children, and struggle to make ends meet in their quest to educate themselves and others about God's Word and world. And yet while they know of, know about, and know electronically the other, they never meet – on purpose, it seems – even though they have every opportunity to do so geographically, vocationally, and relationally? What would be gained or lost? And do they meet in the end (and so what if they do)?

Last week, Jon posted on his Facebook page that he was in need of some new clothes because, after years of seminary and grad school, all his clothes were wearing out all at once. I happened to have pants that no longer fit me but matched his measurements, so I messaged him and told him I'd be glad to get them to him if we could figure out a drop that maintained our non-acquaintance existence (the whole thing has kind of become a joke between the two of us, but honestly, I think we're both a little afraid of what might happen if we actually meet face to face – too much friendship pressure). As he had a board meeting at school (in my room, no less), we agreed that I would leave the pants in a bag on my desk for him. The drop worked and we maintained our no-meet streak.

Think of all the humorous scenes we could play out like this in a movie. We've already been in the same room together with neither one of us realizing it until later; we've both found out after the fact that we've been at my township's local arts fair at the exact same time but our paths never crossed; we've both had people tell us (or at least I have – I won't speak for Jon) that we'd be fast friends, but for whatever reason, even when we once tried to get our families together for dinner, things didn't work out. (I'm sure we've been at other events that neither one of us knew about the other being there as well.)

But here's the best part (for the movie, at least): What if, after we get the screenplay written (separately, of course) and some independent film company picks it up and produces it, what if as part of the build-up and promotion of the film, we finally meet on opening night at some film festival somewhere, families in tow and with the joke finally over? What if the film turned into some huge commentary on the challenges of real male friendship in an extremes-preoccupied world (sports fans on one end, geeks on the other), as evidenced by the reality that terms like "man crush" and "bromance" have crept into the vernacular as guys try to describe respect and even affection for one another without being talked about with raised eyebrows? What if?

I'm just throwing it out there. Would you go see a flick like that? What other motivations, scenes, or characters might make it compelling to watch? What would you call it? And do any guys resonate with what I'm talking about, or is this a movie no one would go see? I know the idea is rough and needs refining, so here's your chance to make it better.