Because life is a series of edits

Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Rural Reflections

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

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“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.

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Something of the Marvelous

In Family, Nature, Places, Travel, Vacation, Young Ones on March 21, 2013 at 9:14 am

"In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous."
Aristotle

Few things take my mind off the past and the future like camping does. I've just returned from spending two days and two nights living almost
exclusively in the present, and it was so good I didn't want to come
back.

I'm late to the joys of camping. Some of this is not my fault (I only remember one camping trip my family took when I was a kid and it was eight miles from my house); most of it, however, is (I lived 12 years in Colorado Springs, worked at a camp for 10 of those, and never even owned a sleeping bag, for crying out loud).

Come to think of it, I still don't even own a sleeping bag. I really am (and always have been) a camping lightweight.

Lightweight or not, when I hit my late-30s and felt the need to do something unique, experiential, and (let's be honest) cheap with Megan and our growing girls, camping suddenly became a legitimate option. Megan found a great family tent on Freecycle, we borrowed some gear, and presto – we were campers.

Our girls – all four of them – absolutely love it. This blessing is not lost on me, as it would stink if even just one were only slightly amused or (worse) completely repulsed by the idea of hiking, eating, and sleeping outside. In addition, while I wouldn't say it's her favorite thing as she longs for a Winnebago, Megan's usually good for at least a couple days and nights without a shower, so I've got that going for me.

This most recent trip (our first over a Spring Break) was different for a variety of reasons, most notably the addition of a set of young foster boys (4 and 3) to the mix. While overall a positive experience for everyone (especially the boys), let's just say there's another reason I didn't start camping until after our girls were five and older – taking two little kids camping overnight was a boatload of work for all of us.

We decided to go to the Wichita Mountains
Wildlife Refuge
– 60,000 acres of southern plains set aside to preserve buffalo, longhorn, and elk – about 90 minutes southwest of Oklahoma City.

Cacti

We didn't see any elk, but we saw enough buffalo and longhorn to say we did.

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Longhorn

We got to the Refuge on Monday late afternoon and promptly set up camp. The girls know our routine and helped the boys find a place within it.

Campsite

Tent Building

Old Blue

After getting set up and taking a walk down to the lake, we cooked some hoboes…

Hoboes & Chairs

Hobo

…then built a fire and roasted some s'mores (the boys' first).

Campfire

Laugh by Light

It was a cold evening (mid-40s) in the tent…

Tent Girls

…but everyone made it up for a breakfast of eggs and bacon.

Bacon

That first morning, we took the boys on a nice little adventure up Little Baldy, which was about a twenty minute hike from our campsite. As it was the first activity of the day, the little guys managed, but the girls ended up carrying them some on the way back.

Little Baldy

Backpacks

We hung out at the campsite some and then grilled some hotdogs for lunch.

Hot Dogs

After lunch, Megan offered to lie down with the boys in the tent so the girls and I could jump in the van to drive six miles to the Sunset trailhead to hike Elk Mountain. This was a longer hike (about four miles roundtrip) and a little more of a challenge, but the ladies love them some hiking, so it was fun.

Hikers

On Top of Elk Mountain

After being gone for a couple hours, we came back to camp and the boys just waking up. We hung out for an hour or so in camp before loading up for a trip to the visitor's center and a drive up to the peak of Mount Scott.

Visitor Center

Mount Scott

Directions

We then headed into Medicine Park to experience a little southwest Oklahoma culture and Ann's Country Kitchen. Good food, lots of local color.

Ann's

Restaurant

After picking up some ice and water, we drove back to the Refuge, built another fire, and had another round of s'mores. We were all pretty wiped and called it a night around ten, though the girls could have stayed up longer playing cards by lantern light.

Lantern Laughs

The next morning, we had a muffin breakfast, broke down camp, packed up (it's amazing how much stuff we brought for a two-night camping trip – again, we're lightweights), and made the drive back to OKC. We got the van unloaded, started some laundry, ate lunch, and then the boys took a four-and-a-half hour nap while I took the girls to see The Hobbit at the dollar theater – a nice end to three days of fun.

Pulled Over & Waiting Here in Tornado Alley

In Nature, Places, Pop Culture on April 14, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Tornado

So we're supposed to get major storms and other various and sundry severe weather this weekend, beginning mid-to-late afternoon today and throughout the evening tonight. Always one to completely underestimate the power of nature, I have been pacing around all morning trying to figure out how to speed things up and get there. I've thought about jumping in the old Delta 88 and driving around looking for one, or even standing out in the middle of my cul-de-sac with a sign reading "Do your worst!" directed at any apporaching mesocyclones.

In my brazen ignorance, I've subjected my family to a not-so-bad-B-movie called Tornado Valley (my personal tornado favorite, Twister, is not available for streaming) and an old NOVA documentary on the F5 that hit Moore in 1999. I've downloaded a couple of tornado alert apps on my phone and even thought about chanting some old high school cheers from back in the day (ironically, we were the "Tornadoes" at Griggsville High, but that's as close to seeing any as I've come).

For all you Okies out there, what do you do while you sit around and wait to get blown away? I'd like to start a list to get me through the rest of the day…after which you may never hear from me again. Ideas?

Lessons from the Wilderness

In Nature, Places, Writers on October 24, 2011 at 12:04 am

Got an email today from an old acquaintance from back during my Christian camp and conference center days. Here's what he wrote:

Hey, maybe you could offer some advice on an article I've been asked to write for 3CA (Christian Camp and Conference Association). I'm writing on "best practices" of how those who work at Christian camps and conferences can grow and nourish their own faith. From your experience in Christian camping, would you do me a favor and answer a few quick questions?

How can they do it?

What might it look like (paint a word picture from your experience)?

Any particular Scripture that inspires you in this area?

Here's what I wrote back (complete with a pic from my old program director days – circa 2004 – and a trivia question: Can you name the Christian pseudo-celebrity in the picture?):

God Knows What Retreat

From what I remember about my time in the 3CA world, the biggest irony of camp and conference work is its potential personal hypocrisy: working ridiculous hours so others can get away from their ridiculous hours; never wanting to recognize one's own limits (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual) while encouraging others to repent of their anger at theirs; downplaying one's need for the Church and Sabbath while trying to meet them for others.

Christian camp and conference workers – much like health care professionals or pastors – can be the worst patients. Go to a 3CA conference and check out the physical shape so many directors and staff are in. While harder to measure, the same reality is often true of their spiritual shape (or at least it was of mine): little discipline in Scripture reading and meditation, less dependence in prayer, rare trust or submission to elders of a local church, and minimal personal evangelism. When camp and conference workers lack resolution in their own lives in these or other areas – all while trying to solve the same problems in others' – they risk hypocrisy. This was the tension I felt and fought for years on a daily basis.

In terms of solutions, for me, "best practice" started with personal repentance before God and others that a self-made martyrdom and "Oh, Lord, beat me so I'll feel better" mentality was far from biblical, as it made ministry more about me than about God and those he might use me to help.

Practically speaking, regular reassessment of (or perhaps creation of) job descriptions, evaluations of schedules, and emphasis on personal and communal responsibility to ensure that all heed Christ's call to "Come with me by yourselves (plural) to a quiet place and get some rest" (Mark 6:31) is foundational, but must be committed to and carried out at all levels of the organization to really be effective.

I can think of no better warning for camp and conference center staff than this quote from C.S. Lewis:

"Those like myself, whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty; we easily imagine conditions far higher than any we have really reached. If we describe what we have imagined we may make others, and make ourselves, believe that we have really been there."

In my mind, this is and always will be the potential curse of the camp and conference center staff, but it takes courageous leaders to call it what it is and care for their staff (and themselves) in honest ways concerning it.

Felt good thinking through some of that – should probably do more before I forget some of those lessons (there's plenty of opportunity for personal application here and now).

Bass Pro Meets the Rookies

In Nature, Oklahoma City, Places, Young Ones on June 21, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Shotgun Nam

This picture cracks me up. Seeing my girls so intently "shoot" guns at Bass Pro makes me wonder if Oklahoma has already changed us in just ten days (into what, I'm not sure I want to know). More vividly (at least to me), watching them awkwardly aim at targets posted all over the display felt oddly familiar: this is what I've been doing as Head of School as well. The difference? The girls' targets don't move; mine do.

Conquering Campers

We Interrupt Our Normally Non-Scheduled Weekend…

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

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

SEPTEMBER


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

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

OCTOBER

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

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

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

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

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

Children of the Corn (No, Not THOSE Kids)

In Family, Movies, Nature, Places, Young Ones on September 11, 2010 at 9:23 am

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We were on the farm for Labor Day weekend and enjoyed some of the most perfect weather ever for camping out, playing baseball, fishing, swimming, roasting hot dogs, and star gazing from the back of a straw-filled wagon at night. We also had a great time with Mom and Dad hosting friends of theirs from Chicago (of course, Peaches was a huge hit).

As nature's beauty tends to inspire, our 11-year-old ended up writing the first draft of her descriptive paragraphs project about the weekend. Folks, we may have another writer on our hands (though out of curiosity, I went to I Write Like and plugged in the paragraphs below for fun; the analysis came back as "Stephen King," which was a little disturbing, I suppose, but nevertheless a nice title tie-in to the picture above). Enjoy.

"I felt the sharp rocks sting my bare feet as I walked across the gravel driveway that led to the door of my grandparents' house. The feel of the wind made me calm, as the glowing sun shone upon me. My lungs were filled with fresh country air. I could smell the pine trees. I admired the lovely patterns on each and every flower. The smooth blades of grass soothed my aching feet as I skipped across the homemade baseball field that my cousins and I loved.

I heard the birds singing their sweet songs, and the rustle of the breeze as it played between the tall stalks of corn. When I camped outside that night, the cicadas chirped, as the woodpeckers plowed into a tree. It was all a natural lullaby. My aunt and I took a stroll down to the pond where the trees were formed into the most perfect shade. We watched the pond as the ripples of water floated across the surface to the other side. I picked soybeans and snacked all the way home. As I jumped in my van, I stared out the window as the corn waved goodbye."

Summer Seminar Washington: A Summary

In Education, Nature, Places, Science, Travel, Westminster on July 26, 2010 at 7:51 am

As you know if you've been following along, I just recently returned from my third Summer Seminar, this time to the Pacific Northwest. One of the students' assignments was to journal their thoughts regarding the intricacies in nature that we saw on the trip. Not wanting to miss the opportunity myself, I pulled out my own journal and wrote a bit. Here (with a few pictures the students took) is what I wrote:

Summer Seminar is blowing me away right now as we process the intricacy of all that we're seeing. I confess I'm at a point where, as I consider our experience at the Hoh Rain Forest with what we saw earlier today at Ruby Beach's low tidal pools, I'm struggling a bit with my faith that God really created it all, is sovereign over it all, is aware and at work in it all. The complexity of the way the different systems complement and interact with each other is just so mind-boggling; likewise, the beauty is amazing as there is form and function, aesthetic and efficiency, and I marvel at the creation – process and product – wondering how God can be the Lord of it all?

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Strangely, the experience causes one of two responses in me: the first is the realization that, once again, I have made God too small and in my own image; the second is the recognition that I can become numb to creation and wonder if, maybe, it really is the rarest function of random chance and evolution, for it all seems so big (too big) for anyone (even God) to have created and set in motion and rule over. This is just the Pacific Northwest! What about the rest of the U.S.? The world? The universe?

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The Christian worldview, both theologically as well as ecologically, does not work with a small, ethnocentric god created in my own image. I forget (again) how much work it is to keep from limiting my understanding of the person of God, but am reminded (again) by His creation of plenty of reasons that help me doubt my doubts.

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I do not believe the world's existence to be luck or chance. God has taken credit for His work of creation, and I am wrong to limit His person in the face of the reality of the intricacies I see in the world. My limited understanding of all He has made does not negate the truth that these ecosystems and their connections (which are difficult to fully comprehend) were and are under God's sovereign reign.

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My mind, as well as my heart, can only grasp so much. The main question
I've been asking myself on the trip is what does it all mean?
What do I and these kids (as well as the world and its inhabitants)
take away from all of this creation that might change and bring
contribution to God's world? How do we translate our awe at God's
intricacies into actions on behalf of them?

Re-reading my entry and seeing the pics brings to mind the beginning of Psalm 14:

"The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'"

Lord, forgive me for my doubts…and keep me from being so foolish before You.

Twilight It Isn’t

In Books, Education, Nature, Places, Science, Travel, Westminster on July 9, 2010 at 5:36 am

Twilight-eclipse-2

I'm flying to Portland today in preparation for Westminster's Summer Seminar in Washington, which starts tomorrow and runs for the next ten days. We've got 22 soon-to-be-seniors and 7 staff (none of whom are pictured above) going on the trip. Here's a tentative (read: weather-permitting) itinerary:

July 10, Saturday
Rendezvous with students/staff in Portland, OR
Lunch
Transport to Forks, WA (yes, I know this is where the Twilight "saga" is set, but no, that's not why we're going there)

July 11 or 12, Sunday or Monday
Forks logging and mill tours
Hoh Rain Forest hike
or
Hurricane Ridge
and Crescent Lake

July 13, Tuesday
Tidal pool study at Ruby Beach
Transport to Mossyrock

July 14 and 15, Wednesday and Thursday
Mt. Rainier
or
Mt. St. Helens

Transport to Deschutes River state park

July 16, Friday
Hike Mt. Hood (Copper spur: 7.8 miles)

July 17 and 18, Saturday and Sunday
Raft Deschutes River

July 19, Monday
Holiday Inn Express, Portland, OR

July 20, Tuesday
Depart

Core classes include:

  • Is This the Way It’s Supposed to Be?
    This core will introduce the tension of needing a vital raw material, yet wrestling with the consequences of acquiring that resource.
  • The Biology of the Old Growth vs. the Modern Lumber Industry
    This core will explore the idea of an old growth forest juxtaposed with a replanted forest: Can we simply replant and expect to sustain the old growth ecosystem?
  • The Way It Should Be: Systems That Function
    This core will explore ecosystems functioning as they were intended to and seek to understand that species work towards the benefits of the entire system due to a “biological Invisible Hand”.
  • The Cedar as Central: The “Buffalo” of the Pacific Northwest
    This core will explore the Native American view of the old growth cedar as central to their survival and how the same cedars are central to the survival of Forks, WA. Students will understand the centrality of the cedar to an old growth ecosystem and its species. A comparison will be drawn to the buffalo on the Great Plains. What are the differences between the White and Native American views of these natural resources?
  • Sustainability
    This core will explore author Lynn White’s claim that a Christian worldview with its notion of dominion is ultimately responsible for the ecological crisis. Students will also interact with Francis Schaeffer’s "Pollution and the Death of Man" as a counterpoint to White’s ideas and will seek to explore a proper Christian view of dominion with an emphasis on sustainability.
  • Mt. St. Helens: A Theological View of Restoration
    This core will explore the gradual, natural restoration of Mt. St. Helens and the parallel idea of God’s restoration of Creation from a Reformed eschatological position.
  • The Economics and Politics of Logging: What Will It Cost You?
    This core will explore the costs of proper dominion. Considering that the whole Old Growth debate is driven by the economics and politics of rationing a scarce resource, students will be introduced to the notion that proper dominion will be costly to their generation.

Students are to have read The Final Forest: The Battle for the Last Great Trees of the Pacific Northwest by William Dietrich and written an introductory three-page response essay before the trip. They'll then submit five revised journal entries, culminating in a five-page essay due at the end of the month. I'm responsible for the reflecting/writing/grading aspect of the trip, as well as for publishing a book compilation of the students' best writing and pictures.

All in all, it should be fun. If I see Edward or Bella, I'll say hello for you…

City of God or Country of God?

In Books, Calling, Church, Nature, Places & Spaces, Seminary, Theologians, Thought, Writers on November 21, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Maybe I've read too many Wendell Berry books, but it's taken some time for me – a country boy – to come around to the thought of the city being a cherished part of the Christian mission. Indeed, I get the concept of the biblical narrative taking us from the Garden (Genesis) to the City (Revelation), and it does seem God spends an awful lot of time in the Scriptures interacting with ancient cities and their inhabitants, but it's only been since moving to a big city myself that my heart has warmed to the idea.

Growing up six miles outside a town of 1,200 (Griggsville, IL – "Purple Martin Capital of the Nation") two hours north of the STL, my big city experiences were few and far between. When I did visit St. Louis or Chicago (which my family rarely did), or even when I traveled overseas at the age of 16 to major cities like London, Paris, or Munich, I was rarely scared by them, but I was not all that enamored, either. While I enjoyed the idea of being there, the cities all felt too touristy to me (granted, a tourist), and I just couldn't figure out who or how one enjoyed living in a place so overrun by millions of non-residents.

This theme continued when I moved west. Colorado Springs – as beautiful as it can be – seemed to prostitute itself to the spring break and summer tourist crowds. Add to that feeling the fact that there's absolutely no good way to drive east-west in town (which was unfortunate, since that was how we had to go to get to our PCA church), and I began to lament our attempts at church community in the city. I couldn't figure out how church "happened" naturally and personally in a city of 350,000, let alone 3.5 million.

Then we moved to St. Louis – a classic example of an American city that has suffered from decades of racial tension, white flight to the suburbs, and inner-city poverty (both financial and human). As the middle-class moved out, so grew with them the megachurches. Harvie Conn, in his book The American City and the Evangelical Church, sums up well what seems to have gone on here and in other metropolitan areas like it:

"The community church has become a regional church. And in
becoming a regional church it becomes a megachurch…In this
decentralized world the church loses its grip on local geographical
neighborhood and is transformed into a megachurch, twenty-five minutes
by car. The size of the megachurch becomes limited only by the size of
its parking lot. And the lost community created by this change finds
its replacement in the small cell groups and house meetings also
characteristic of the successful megachurch." (p. 191)

(Random thought: Maybe this is why I really don't like small groups – it's an unconscious rebelling against megachurches everywhere. Actually, I love the Catholic "parish model" with churches
geographically placed throughout the city and members living within the
neighborhood attending; in fact, if it weren't for those pesky doctrinal issues – worship of Mary, sainthood, purgatory, etc. – I'd probably have become Catholic by now if for no other reason than I love the architecture. But I digress.)

After we moved to Maplewood (where we live half a house from the St. Louis city/county line), we knew we wanted to be part of as local a PCA congregation as we could. Thankfully, Crossroads Presbyterian was just a ten-minute walk around the corner and up the hill from the house we bought, and we're glad for the fact that in terms of both vision and facility, there are no plans nor means to grow the church beyond 300 members without planting another church (which we're actually doing now) first.

All that said, my heart for the city (Maplewood and/or St. Louis proper) is growing in addition to my heart for the country. Yes, I'm still waiting for the PCA to catch a vision for church planting in more rural areas, but I know it's tough financially and (honestly) culturally. But, while I still feel the need to be an advocate for rural ministry here in the city, I'm glad to feel an expanding love in this country boy's heart for the city as well.

So, with apologies to Augustine, is it the city of God or the country of God that matters?

My best answer: yes.

Life on Other Planets: Some Thoughts

In Church, Humanity, Movies, Nature, Places, Science, Theologians, Travel on August 7, 2009 at 8:43 am

A friend of mine and I sat through the movie Knowing the other night. While one of the worst movies I've watched in a while (incoherent plot, numerology silliness, Nicolas Cage once again playing Nicolas Cage), the film did serve one purpose: it got us talking about the idea of life on other planets.

Despite my X-Files affections, I tend to doubt that we have neighbors in the universe: other populated worlds aren't mentioned in the Bible, and most scientists say the odds against are just too huge otherwise. Maybe I'm your typical egocentric human, but when astronomer Carl Sagan said that if life didn't exist elsewhere in the universe it would be "an awful waste of space," I guess I feel kind of special.

At the same time, I recognize that just because the Bible doesn't record the existence of life on other planets doesn't mean there isn't. Remember: the Bible is a historical-redemptive narrative, not an all-encompassing science book. And speaking of science, there are plenty of scientists who do not share my doubts, running huge scientific initiatives and spending a boatload of money in hopes of making some kind of contact with other beings.

Despite my doubts, and certainly different from the typical evangelical Christian line, the argument for other life in the universe does seem plausible, if for no other reason than the very nature of God as Creator. But here's the question I think it all comes down to: The Scriptures attest to our fallen nature as created beings, but is that to mean all that is on the Earth or all that is in the entire universe?

The question is important because, while we have the account of God redeeming Earth through Christ, if there are indeed other beings in the universe and the universe is indeed fallen, then was there a plan of salvation for other planets as well? C.S. Lewis believed so, namely that when the Bible talks of "creation," it is in reference to the Earth and not necessarily the universe. From this perspective, the idea of other created beings without need of redemption is possible; we just don't have a record of it.

Thinking about all this is particularly interesting in light of mankind's desire to explore space. Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking says that the only way humanity can survive is to figure out how to leave the planet; hence, the importance of the U.S. space program. This, of course, begs the question: If the Earth is the only fallen part of God's creation, what does our going out into a non-fallen universe mean? Does it matter? And what would it be like to meet other creation who are intact in their creation perfection?

This is what I understand Lewis' Space Trilogy
to be about: man
leaves Earth
(called the Silent Planet, as it was cut off from the rest of the
universe because of its evil), to colonize elsewhere in the universe
(Perelandra) among beings not in need of redemption. These innocents, though not fallen
themselves, are nevertheless affected by humans and Earth's evil
before it is all finally resolved in the Siege of Deep Heaven against
the Bent One of Earth. In other words, sinful Earthlings contaminated another part of space which, until their arrival, had not been so. Thankfully, however, good overcame evil.

I've always thought of and understood the Fall applying to all of God's universal creation; thus, I differ with Lewis' premise that creation perfection is alive and well outside the surly bonds of Earth. Having said that, however, if God so chose to redeem other inhabitants of his universal creation, I'm assuming he has both prerogative and means to accomplish his will. In my finite, self-centered self, it's just easier to think about me and Earth, especially since God gave us a record of all he has done for redemption here (not to mention that I have no plans or desire for leaving).

Still thinking on this, but I'll stop for now. Anyone have a more formed/informed thought?

Oxymoron of the Month

In Nature, Pop Culture on October 21, 2008 at 5:53 pm

Over lunch today, I was flipping through the September 2008 issue of National Geographic when I came across the Explorers-in-Residence Program. Hmmm.

Hurricane Ike Hits…St. Louis?

In Church, Friends, Nature, Places, Places & Spaces on September 15, 2008 at 2:00 am

The remains of Hurricane Ike blew through the Midwest late last night and early this morning, downing a tree limb in our backyard, taking out power at our church (we worshipped by candlelight), and flooding the basement of the building that houses the More Than Carpentry ministry our church helps support in Wellston (to answer the question of "why Wellston?," read this story published today in the Post-Dispatch).

While the rain was abundant and hard, the majority of the flooding came from a nearby stream that jumped its banks, leaving an unbelievable six-and-a-half feet of water standing in the basement of the building, which is about the size of a junior high school. I just got back from helping, but there were plenty of folks still working – draining water, salvaging what could be salvaged, and throwing away a lot of ruined materials. There's no worse feeling than walking away from a clean-up effort left undone, but it will literally be weeks before the mess is no longer (if anybody's got a picture from tonight, send it to me and I'll post it here to illustrate what I mean).

This is yet another set-back for the ministry (the building has already suffered break-ins and vandalism), and though people's spirits were upbeat tonight, the damage will surely inflict melancholy on more than we who are naturally gifted with it. As you pray for those in Houston, pray for those in St. Louis (and elsewhere) who, somehow, were affected by the same massive hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.

From my Bible reading tonight:

"The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters…The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever." Psalm 29:3,10 (ESV)

Vacancy

In Nature on July 30, 2008 at 10:07 am

Vacancy

This is the second bug shell – intact except for the “exit hatch” out the back – that we’ve found around the house. The analogies are many, but I’ll save those for now; just thought it was cool.