Some thoughts on foster care in Oklahoma on The MiddleGround. (Not my best look, but with a face/body for radio, well…)
Archive for the ‘Oklahoma City’ Category
(The following manuscript is of the message I gave at Eagle Lake Camps chapel on Sunday, June 22, 2014. It was an honor to speak at such a beloved place from my past.)
I’m going to be speaking from Psalm 16 this morning, so while you’re finding your seats, you can begin turning there in your Bibles. While you’re doing that, let me introduce my family. Megan and I have four daughters: Maddie is 15, Chloe is 13, Katie is 12, and Millie is 10, and have lived in Oklahoma City, where I serve as Head of School of The Academy of Classical Christian Studies. Maddie and Chloe came to camp three years ago, and Katie and Millie will be joining you this week. As perhaps you’ve heard, Eagle Lake is a special place for us. Megan and I met here 21 years ago. I served as a Rez counselor, program director, musician, and Onsite Director from 1992-2001, while she served as a Kitchen staff, Rez counselor, Crew counselor, store manager, and nanny 9 of those 10 years.
If I remember this time of summer correctly, you’ve been here long enough to know what’s supposed to be going on, but that whole “fourth week/first week” thing is perhaps beginning to ring hollow. You’ve probably heard others – if not yourself – begin to grumble, and the idea of six more weeks is perhaps not quite as rosy as it was four weeks ago. There’s no place like camp to discover what we’re capable of – good, bad, and ugly – but there’s also no place like camp to learn to trust God with the good, bad, and ugly we discover.
This is what I want to talk with you about today. If you have any hope of lasting the rest of the summer – of God preserving you – it begins with taking refuge in Him. Look at Psalm 16:1-2: “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’” Taking our cue from David, what does taking refuge in God yield? I’d like to suggest four preservations:
Because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for godly company. Look at verses 3: “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” Now notice the comparison in verse 4: “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.”
Whether in college at the University of Missouri, when we were on staff with the Navs for 12 years here in the Springs, when we moved to St. Louis to begin seminary, or during the past three years of our lives in Oklahoma City, we’ve always been with good, godly people. But here’s our secret: we’re not the ones doing the surrounding; we just happen to enjoy the providence of God – in his refuge role – doing so.
Whether you recognize it happening or not, God is at work building at least one friendship (though I’ll be surprised if it’s only one) that will continue on with you ten, twenty, even dare I say fifty years as a result of your time at Eagle Lake. I say this out of experience, and I’m not even talking about the yahoos in the back.
We moved from St. Louis to Oklahoma City three years ago, and in doing so, have since reacquainted with Molly – one of my wife’s Rez Campers back in 1994, who with her husband sent their little girl and twin boys to the school I lead. One of my Grammar school principals, Alison, was one of my Program Coaches for two years in 1995 and 1996. We go to church with Brian and Matt, who were former counselors and now are both married to their wives and have a couple of kids. At church, we also get to see our pastor’s wife, Julie, who was a counselor in 1993, as well as a founding board member of our school. And speaking of board members, Jonathan, is about to come on our board, and he was a former camper! (This should give each and every one of you pause as to how you view that camper who keeps throwing rocks and won’t listen.)
These are just former staff and campers living in the same town. All of these friends came through Eagle Lake back in the day, walked with God through their twenties and thirties, and were established in Oklahoma long before we ever got there. The same has been true of every place we’ve lived, and so many places in between. This is what God does when he tells Peter in Matthew 16 that, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Because the Lord is our refuge, he is at work keeping us from the sorrows of those who run after another god and drink the ungodly offerings of blood and take their names. Because the Lord is our refuge, he is preparing excellent ones, in whom will be our delight, not just for when you return home or to school in August, but for the rest of your days and wherever you go as part of his universal church.
But that’s just the beginning. The second preservation is this: because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for contentment. Look at verses 5 and 6: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”
We need to understand something here: the language used is not of preference but allotment; that is, God – not us – is the one choosing our portion, giving us our lot to hold, drawing where our lines will fall, and the one from whom we inherit whatever inheritance he decides. We are not learning to be content with what we choose; we are learning to be content with what he chooses for us.
I know of no better place to learn a lifestyle of contentment than camp. Notice what I said there – not a lesson, but a lifestyle – of contentment. As our American culture sees generation after generation more and more infected with an entitlement epidemic, we see this illness come to camp in campers and sometimes (I hate to say it) in staff. The plain and reality is, if you’re only content when you’re comfortable, you’re not content but pacified.
I don’t remember what summer it was, but I do remember that one of our counselors that year – I’ll call her Maggie – had no interest in learning about contentment at Eagle Lake. It was about the third or fourth week when she came into my office every day crying, begging to go home. She’d been a little sick the week before, was more than a little homesick since she’d arrived, and when we tried to help her through it by assigning a co-counselor, giving her three afternoons off to rest, and just trying to listen to and love her, she would have none of it. Her heart was hardened and her eyes were angry. She had what I call the two-year-old syndrome: she wanted what she wanted and she wanted it now.
That Thursday evening, she followed me into my office, demanding that she be allowed to leave. I reached into my filing cabinet, pulled out her staff agreement, and told her that if she was going to go home, she was going to have to rip up her signed agreement then and there. As I pushed it across the table to her, I told her I hoped she would think about the worth of her name and what her signature on the agreement meant. Without batting an eye, she grabbed the paper, held it up in front of me, and dramatically ripped it into four pieces. Without saying a word, I took a phone book, placed it on the table, and told her to book her flight out the following morning.
A few years later, I received a letter from Maggie, in which she asked forgiveness for her discontent. By the conviction of the Holy Spirit, he had led her to repentance, embracing what was surely awkward and uncomfortable for her and trusting him – and me – to walk through it with her. It was an amazing privilege to forgive.
Because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for our contentment with our chosen portion – lot, cup, drawn lines, inheritance. I’m sure you’ve already recognized areas of frustration this summer – 3-minute showers, uncomfortable conditions, whiny campers, time that’s not your own – but God is sovereign and sovereignly at work in growing you by these means. These opportunities are providential for you to learn in whatever situation – whether brought low or abounding, facing plenty or hunger, in abundance or need – to be content. Confess your covetousness and expose your feelings of entitlement to one another. Admit when you’re acting like a two-year-old and put on your big boy or girl pants and grow up. And trust that you can do all these things through Christ who strengthens you as you pursue this contentment, which is the actual context of this most misquoted verse.
The third preservation is this: because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for delight in his constant presence. Look at verses 7-8: “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”
At our school back in Oklahoma City, we spend a tremendous amount of time pushing back on a modern culture fooled into thinking that education is all about information transfer. When I talk with parents, teachers, and especially with students, I’m always asking the question posed by James K.A. Smith in his book, Desiring the Kingdom: “What if education isn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?”
At our school, we don’t want kids to just learn the Law; we want them to learn to love the Law because, as Calvin reminds us, the Law reflects like a mirror the perfection of God; it restrains like a bit in a horse’s mouth evil; and it illuminates like a lamp that which pleases God. But where are kids going to learn to love the Lord and his Law? My friend Andrew Kern of The Circe Institute suggests that, “We become what we behold.” This is why the psalmist can speak in verse 7 about the counsel and instruction he’s received. As verse 8 reads, he has set the Lord before him; he is at his right hand and he is not shaken because what he beholds is not shaken.
This whole “becoming what we behold” idea should sound familiar. What is the goal of Eagle Lake Camp? “The goal of Eagle Lake Camp is to inspire Christ-centered love and commitment, through counselor relationships, in the midst of exciting outdoor experiences.” The worst thing you can do with kids this summer is reduce Jesus to an intellectual idea to be merely accepted, catalogued, or easily referenced. Paul says it beautifully and simply in 1 Corinthians 11:1 – “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Trust in this – and rejoice! – that somehow – by God’s unbelievable goodness – campers might become what they behold in you because you – together – are becoming what you behold in Christ.
The fourth and final preservation I want to remind us of today is this: because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for hope of everlasting joy and the path of direction. Look at verses 9-11: “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
When I consider the story God has written for this place from before the creation of the world, I am blown away. And, when I consider the few pages of that story that happened to include Megan and me, my heart is overcome with thankfulness to the Lord. I think of all God has done here and the thousands upon thousands of challenges He has overcome to ensure the 57th summer of Eagle Lake Camps happens, and my whole being rejoices. Personally, when I consider all that the Lord did in me in my time here, my flesh dwells secure, for He did not abandon my wretched and pathetic soul, nor let me see corruption, but made known to me a path of life by way of His presence and His people.
The Lord showed me here that I had an anger problem…because I had a control problem…because I had a people-pleasing problem…because I had a pride problem. The Lord loved me enough to place me in a beautiful place surrounded with good people through which He taught me the importance of Luke 16:10, “That he who is faithful with very little will be faithful with much.” He taught me to be teachable – to recognize correction from my leaders, my peers, and (gulp) my campers – not as punishment but as discipline for my good, for He disciplines those He loves. Hebrews 12:11 – the first verse I ever memorized – reminds us that, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” These promises have rung true in my life, not because I was always true to them, but because the Lord – our promise-making, covenant-keeping God – always was.
Which is why I can be confident in reminding you of four promises in Psalm 16:
- Because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for godly company.
- Because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for contentment.
- Because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for delight in his constant presence.
- Because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for hope of everlasting joy.
Let us glory in God’s preservation, reminding each other and ourselves that He is our Refuge, that He is our Lord, and indeed, we have no good thing apart from Him.
Reflecting on the fact that, as of this week, we’ve lived in Oklahoma City for three years. Here’s a video tour (or more accurately, a tour of videos) to commemorate the milestone.
We’ve had a hand in creating a new mascot…
…a new school…
…and a new church.
We’ve fostered and become advocates for foster care…
…reminisced and remembered…
…had fun at another’s expense (quite justified)…
…had fun at our own expense (quite amusing)…
…and periodically had a little too much time on our hands (quite disturbing).
By God’s grace and providence, it’s been a hard and happy time – rarely one or the other; more frequently, one and the same. There’s more to say than anyone would read, and still more to do that too much nostalgic navel-gazing would allow.
Perhaps we should just let Psalm 16 have the last word:
Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.
The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
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.”
(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.)
My son, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life
and peace they will add to you.
Megan already shared a 2013 summary of sorts in our online Christmas letter, so I’ll save you a rehash here. But I did want to offer a few thoughts I’ve been thinking between Christmas and New Year’s (possibly my favorite week of the year).
Put simply, I’m really glad 2013 is out of here. It was a very hard year, one that I don’t regret, but at the same time one I do not wish to relive again. Foster care, school merging, church planting, another round of husbanding and parenting – all good things that were all hard. Really hard.
It was a lonely year. Despite spending the majority of my days with great people at The Academy, we were always at work on something (and trying to be present on three different campuses every week sometimes felt like being present at none). I enjoy the folks in our Wednesday night City Pres group, but seeing them once a week for an hour or two only goes so far.
Even with Megan and the girls, the “project” of foster care took its toll on our family dynamics and relationships, and while it built new things in, I would say that we all functioned more as partners than as family at times, doing what needed to get done at the expense of deepening our relationships. This kind of sacrifice is not always bad – we grew in other ways as a result – but I don’t want to repeat it to the same degree in 2014.
Things I’m continuing to learn/re-learn (feel free to apply palm to forehead on my behalf if any of these seem obvious):
- The “why” behind decisions matters, and even when it should be crystal clear, it still bears repeating.
- Competence is exhausting if it’s all you’re depending on or leading by.
- The intellectual vacuum I feel having read so little and consistently this past year is scary. Am I really so out of thoughts without those of others? It would seem so.
- The forties can be a very dangerous time of coasting on past experiences and successes and relying too much on oneself.
- Another forties temptation: to claim identity in what I do and not in who I am (and Whose I am). Unfortunately, others are too quick to enable this by labeling and pigeon-holing.
- Technology continues to both accelerate and rob me of time (and I continue to let it).
- I barely have an idea of what moderation is (and suffer as a result – diet, overworking, time online, vegging, etc.).
- Being acknowledged is not the same as being known.
- I am not particularly healthy, but seem to benefit from hardy genes that don’t require a whole lot to function…for now.
- Regular periods of quiet are scarce and their absence is scarring my soul.
- All of a sudden I’m older than many of the parents enrolling at our school and therefore viewed as someone who should know (or know better, depending on the complaint).
- I do not write enough thank you notes (but not because I do not have reasons to do so – God is so good to me, as are His people).
- The older I get, the harder it becomes to acknowledge how much I still have to learn (humility ages so much better than does pride).
I don’t want to lose sight of all that, by God’s grace, was accomplished last year:
- Megan and I are still (somehow) married after 17 years.
- Our kids still seem to love and enjoy us (and we them).
- Our family is still caring about caring for people.
- We successfully merged two schools into one.
- City Pres is growing and purchased a great building in downtown Oklahoma City.
- We are still seeking to believe and care about God (though we fail by the minute).
But that was last year, and this is this year. And today is the first day of 2014, and tomorrow will be the second. One would think I would have learned more than I have by now, yet I feel the weight of all that I still have not (or at least what I imagine I have not).
So, let the learning continue. And to those whom God will use to teach/re-teach me in 2014, thanks for having God’s best interests for me in mind.
And sorry I can be stubborn. I’m still learning.
(As I finish this post, I’m reminded of Charlie Peacock‘s brilliant song, “Insult Like the Truth,” the lyrics of which Chuck graciously gave permission to use in TwentySomeone. Take a listen here for his treatise on the dangers of a lack of teachability.)
(The following piece was originally written and posted on the City Presbyterian blog.)
City Presbyterian just bought a building – a beautiful old brick structure straddling the line between wealth and poverty in downtown Oklahoma City. Renovated five years ago, the facility is in better shape than a 93-year-old building should be, and, as of November 1, we’re its new stewards.
We’re all pretty excited about closing on the property, but not because it means we’ve finally arrived (we haven’t), nor that we eventually will (we won’t). We’re excited about our new church building because we’re excited about being Christ’s Church; any other motivation runs the risk of idolatry.
In a previous post, I wrote about the challenges of “finding” a church. I also promised a few ideas as to having a right perspective in the process. Toward that end, and in the wake of our recent acquisition of the property at 13th and Shartel, here are two thoughts I would offer:
A church is not a building and a building is not a church. There’s something to be said for beautiful architecture, as it reminds us that God is a God of aesthetic as well as order. And while we need beauty, aesthetic, and order to flourish in our humanity, God has nevertheless prospered His Church when those things haven’t always been present. If one’s evaluation of a church begins or ends with a building, there’s probably some room to grow in a more biblical understanding of ecclesiology.
This doesn’t mean there sometimes isn’t a need for functional space – the Bible is filled with places of worship that ranged from a pile of stones to Jerusalem’s temple. The point is that these places had purposes that were responses to God and not just the whims of man. When we want something because we want something – especially when it comes to buildings – we run the risk of making its acquisition an idol, with our subsequent fulfillment impossibly dependent upon it.
A church’s people make up a church, but the church is not (only) for its members…or even its non-members. One of the biggest tensions a church experiences is trying to figure out who it’s for – the members or those the members are trying to reach. Bitterness comes from those in the pews if they feel they are only a pastor’s pawns; apathy comes from those not in the pews because this reinforces their belief that a church doesn’t care about them. As a possible answer to the question, neither is correct; the Person the church should be for and about is Christ.
Of course, because Jesus is who He is, by being for and about Him, everyone benefits, members and non-members alike. When members stop asking the question “What’s in it for me?” and start asking “What’s in it for God?”, their focus has much more of a worship tint that colors everything they do, whether it be attending a morning service or caring for the poor, widowed, or orphaned.
Churches don’t need programs when their congregants desire God, and skeptics can’t use a church’s preoccupation with itself as further justification for their disbelief. Programs don’t change people and hyprocrites are still the biggest obstacle to the skeptic’s faith; only the work of the Holy Spirit through Christ’s authentic and genuine Body makes the difference.
Without trying to idolize or idealize, Acts 2:42-47 is as succinct a picture of who and what the early Church was about (notice the place of people and the people in the place):
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Buildings and benefits are outcomes, not goals; teaching and togetherness are primary; worship of God through work with each other yields results. The early Church’s commonality is not some pre-Communist socialism in which one says, “What’s yours is mine,” but rather a picture of true Christianity that says, “What’s mine is yours.” This – all this – is what Christ desires of His Bride the Church, and what we at City Pres hope to pursue – with a building and as few programs as possible – to be about what Christ wants, for this is most assuredly what all most need.
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
3 John 1:4
Earlier this morning, I flew out of Oklahoma City for Merrimack, New Hampshire, where I’ll take part in a weekend conference called the Biblical Imagination Series with author and musician Michael Card. Mike and I have been friends for more than a decade, and we occasionally partner together to help believers engage with the Bible at the level of an informed imagination.
I mention this because I have the same goal when I teach the New Testament to Dialectic students. However, I have a huge advantage teaching our eighth graders over the majority of adult audiences we teach through Biblical Imagination, as our eighth graders – especially those who have been with our school multiple years – know their world history.
Just yesterday, we were learning about the intertestamental period – the roughly 400 years between Old and New Testaments and an important period to at least be familiar to better understand the historical and cultural context surrounding Jesus’ incarnation as recorded in the gospels. (It also makes for a fantastic mini-lesson on God’s prospering of his people Israel throughout history, but I digress.)
Drawing a timeline to chart some dates, places, and people groups, I was pleased at what my students already knew – not just the basic grammar of when, where, and who, but also the how and why of the order and power transitions from the Persians to the Greeks to the Romans (and before those, from the Assyrians to the Babylonians to the Persians). It was not just one particularly bright student helping me fill out the timeline; it was the entire class seemingly not even thinking twice about doing so.
As we continued, I mentioned to the students how they knew more about the history of the world at 14 than I did at 34 when I began seminary. I shared that, to my regret, it wasn’t until then that I really studied these cultures and civilizations in any systematic manner that stuck, and I was glad to learn more with them as we asked questions and discussed these periods and people of these times.
Later that afternoon, when I mentioned the joy of my experience to one of my teaching colleagues, she smiled knowingly. “They don’t even know how smart they are,” she replied. “It’s amazing.” Indeed, there was a matter-of-factness to their answers, all without a hint of arrogance (at least that I could pick up externally).
I’ve taught the Bible to plenty of 14-year-olds in my day; the difference at The Academy is that so many others have also taught them – when they were 12…8…6. It’s a privilege to teach New Testament to students who have taken two years of Old Testament with our own Josh Spears. It’s a gift to ask students to reference certain biblical stories and turn to particular books, the content and order of both their grammar school teachers have ensured they have learned. It’s humbling to talk with students about the Jesus of the Bible, knowing that these conversations have and will continue with parents around the dinner table at home (I know this because I’ve already had parents email to tell me about them).
As one teacher emailed me this week (and multiple teachers in both models and at all three trivium levels have echoed in conversation), “I have never been more energized by my students.” This sentiment, of course, doesn’t guarantee that every day will be this way or that our kids are perfect (newsflash: they aren’t), but it does speak of what our kids are capable – learning that goes beyond just knowledge for their own sakes to understanding that energizes and inspires those around them.
If there’s a better gift to offer our students and our inspiration-hungry world, I don’t know what it is. I’m grateful for our kids.
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.
For starters, the typical vernacular used in describing the process is not helpful. “Finding” a church makes the activity seem so much more elusive and mysterious than it needs to be, and this plays to the “grass will perpetually be greener” mentality with which we pragmatic humans (particularly Americans) already struggle. Perhaps a better way of speaking is of “identifying” a church, as this takes away some of the pressure of visiting so many in hopes of not missing the absolute right one (which does not exist anyway).
Another complicating factor is the fact that churches are more different from one another than they are alike these days. This was not as much the case 100 years ago, when the amount of variation was minimal in terms of church building design, worship service direction, denominational distinctives, and pastoral personality in the pulpit. Today, however, it seems every aspect of church is little more than an element for variation and branding (which personally drives me crazy), but that’s a result of the past 50 years of uber-individualized evangelicalism.
Children (young or older) always muck things up a bit, not because they aren’t a necessary consideration, but because different parents evaluate their church experience differently. From one parent’s perspective, that no child gets misplaced for an hour-and-a-half may be the extent of expectations met; for another, there are higher expectations – namely that a child is not only not lost, but provided a stimulating craft, an engaging time of interaction, healthy snacks, timely diaper changes, a sense of being loved and looked out for on an individual basis, and absolutely NO cartoon animation featuring certain vegetables who sing and dance. (Note: For older kids, expectations can range from no one getting pregnant to no one ever being bored, the latter of which is often viewed by parents as the bigger sin.)
There are plenty of other variables that people tend to use in church selection: facility (or lack thereof); friendliness (actual or perceived); location and drive distance (how far is too far?); bulletin usage (or lack thereof); dress code (spoken and unspoken); congregational demographics (does everyone look like/different from me?); pastor training and education (pick your denominational/non-denominational bias); Scripture translation (and whether it’s actually used); music instrumentation (enough said); website design (20th or 21st century?); frequency of sacraments (weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually); outreach and evangelism vs. discipleship and congregational care (always a fun tension)…just to name a few.
The process and degree of evaluating all this each and every Sunday gets redundant. It can feel like the search for church might never end (especially in a city the size of Oklahoma City where someone could realistically attend a different church each and every day of the week for years).
But this is not the goal, and this should not be the plan. In my next post, I’ll write more about what could and (dare I say it) should be our perspective in engaging in a search for church.
Bobby 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).
“The brave find a home in every land.”
One week ago, I led the first meeting of The Academy‘s new Operational Team, comprised of equal parts administrative staff from our previous two schools.
I started with an odd question, particularly since the new school came into being just a few weeks ago: Are we in the glory days of The Academy? While I asked the question rhetorically, in the past five months since announcing our new school, I’ve come across four different perspectives – syndromes, really – out of which people usually answer:
- Those with Founders Syndrome tend to think the question is a silly one even to ask; it’s been downhill from the very beginning when things were small, simple, and good, and this is just a continuing stumble away from that path.
- Those with Separatist Syndrome argue we were better off separated and should never have done this in the first place; after all, there’s just no way things can possibly be as good together as the good that we once had apart.
- Those with Fatalist Syndrome are not nearly as vocal, but for no real good reason, they genuinely believe the whole thing was over before it started; the end is near, they think, and it’s just a matter of time.
- Those with Futurist Syndrome come from the perspective that the past counts for little to nothing; the only real good that is going to come from any of this lies in the days to come.
Lest we think one of these is right, I would suggest none is; in fact, the Scriptures would seem to caution us against adopting any of these perspectives. Consider:
Ecclesiastes 7 pushes back on the Founders and the Separatists: “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (verse 10). Things change: people are different, places are different, needs are different, culture is different, times are different. This doesn’t mean that God has changed and is different as well, but the Scriptures remind us that, even in his constancy, he is always doing something new. Our role is to respond accordingly (see Psalm 98:1).
So much of the Bible argues against the Fatalist view that it seems silly to even list Scripture to make the point. Suffice it to say, the covenantal story of God’s redemption of a fallen creation, renewed over and over again throughout history with a people so unworthy of such renewal, would seem to banish any kind of fatalist idea. There is no precedent or permission to be fatalistic because God is anything but.
Concerning the Futurist perspective, Proverbs 22:28 is succinct in its caution not to diminish the past (“Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set”), nevermind the majority of the Old Testament’s example after example of what happens when one generation forgets the former. And I’m not convinced that what many consider to be the most futurist book in the Bible (Revelation) didn’t hold plenty of meaning at the time for John’s audience suffering under the persecution of Domition during the late first century.
So what’s an alternative to being Founders, Separatists, Fatalists, or Futurists? I’d like to suggest we become “Faithfulists” instead.
In thinking of an illustrative biblical character, it’s hard to do better than Caleb as an example of a “Faithfulist.” In the Old Testament story of the spies sent to explore the Promised Land, the Bible says that Caleb didn’t choose to cower to the brutal realities of strong people present in the land in large and fortified cities (Numbers 13:28). Contrast his response with that of the spies, who quaked in fear, alarming the people and concluding, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are” (Numbers 13:31), for it “is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height” (Numbers 13:32).
There were two extremes to the spies’ disobedient response:
- Reticent unbelief (extreme caution/fear) that initially paralyzed them (see Numbers 13:31-33)
- Presumptuous unbelief (overconfidence/carelessness) with which they later tried to make up for their original fear (see Numbers 14:44)
The results of both did not turn out well. The dichotomy of decision merited vastly different outcomes – the death of an entire generation of people just outside the Promised Land and Caleb’s (and Joshua’s) entry into it. Caleb received what he had been promised because of his faith in Who had promised (see Joshua 14). He was brave, and as the Roman poet Ovid eloquently points out, “The brave find a home in every land.”
Brave is what Faithfulists are; believe – in God and enough to do what he asks – is what Faithfulists do; a home in every land is just the beginning of the Faithfulist’s reward.
(Art: The Grapes from the Promised Land, Nicolas Pussin, 1660-1664)
“A well-spent day brings happy sleep.”
Leonardo da Vinci
“At this I awoke and looked, and my sleep was pleasant to me.”
I slept well last night, not because I was tired (I was), nor because all’s right with the world (it isn’t). I slept well last night because I had just witnessed truth, goodness, and beauty at work, and it was comforting.
Last night, I (along with four other teachers – Abby Lorenc, Alex Kelley, Josh Spears, and Todd Wedel – and four sets of super-supportive senior parents) had the privilege of hearing from our four seniors – Sarah Baskerville, Ruth Serven, Mackenzie Valentin, and Austin Clark. Each presented what we’re calling our Classical Capstone – a 25-minute speech followed by a 10-minute question and answer period, during which the student fields questions from parents and faculty advisors concerning what he or she has just presented. In addition to the presentation, students have the opportunity to create something that goes along with the topic discussed.
As the Capstone is a year-long project, Academic Dean Todd Wedel put together a 35-page booklet detailing the initiative’s requirements. Here’s the overview paragraph:
The Classical Capstone is the culmination of the Classical and Christian education at Veritas. Through the process of developing their Classical Capstones, students will be required to determine a topic of interest to themselves, formulate a driving question or concern, conduct background research, take a position, motivate the position or concern to their audience, work through drafting the Classical Capstone, publicly present the Capstone Project and answer questions from the audience, defend their project during a formal examination, and reflect up on what they have learned about the learning process, themselves, and a Christian worldview
through the various stages of the Classical Capstone.
The project is designed to encompass the students’ classical Christian education:
The Classical Capstone will demand that students demonstrate all the elements of a truly classical education, familiarizing themselves with the grammar of their topic or subject, determining the connections between/among viewpoints/sources/positions/expressions, and expressing their viewpoint cogently, clearly, and winsomely. The Classical Capstone will demand, as well, that the entirety of the Project is imbued with a Christian worldview, from the way students select an appropriate topic, to the way they conduct research, to the type of argument or position they formulate, to the way they express their position, to the way they respond
to questions and challenges.
So that students avoid becoming overwhelmed or lost in the process, they are able to choose a faculty advisor to walk through the year with them:
Students will work with a Faculty Advisor during the course of their Project in conjunction with the Classical Capstone Director. The Faculty Advisor will help with the selection and narrowing of topic/focus, aid in direction of research, aid in the formulation of appropriate argument, and serve as one of the members of the examination panel.
Finally, when all’s said and done (as it was last night), there are “deliverables”:
Although the most common form of the Classical Capstone’s final deliverable will be a paper, students are not limited to this form. Other forms of rhetoric-level instruction are acceptable and encouraged if they comport with students’ natural gifts and abilities. The scope of the project will still involve background research and may require written work even if the final deliverable is not written (e.g. a student may need to write an analysis and defense of a painting or musical composition). Deliverables will be evaluated on their ability to demonstrate standards of biblical aesthetics including order, balance, harmony, unity-in-diversity, etc.
I’m not sure I can think of a better way to invest two hours. Our students presented very thoughtful and well-written papers on the topics of our human need for art, what good art is and should be, how our relationship to food has everything to do with our relationship to others, and (just for fun), an in-depth analysis of William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
As Mackenzie’s presentation involved a study of journal-making, she made two beautiful leather-bound journals – one with paper she bought, another with paper she made out of (I’m not kidding here) old jeans. Ruth, having talked about art more literarily, brought copies of an original short story heart-wrenching in its description of two boys caught between dysfunctional parents called “The Tree”.
Sarah, advocating for a cultural return to “cuisine” (and not just “cooking”), baked amazing homemade pumpkin muffins using her own recipe for everyone in attendance. And Austin had obviously invested his “project” time in a ton of extra reading and research, as evidenced by his phenomenal grasp of the complexities of the Normans and Saxons during his Q&A time.
With only a month of school left (and a thousand thoughts having to do with it running through my mind), it was nice to sit back and witness why it’s all worth it. Last night was a celebration of our seniors’ hard work and accomplished rhetorical gifts which served to reaffirm the trivium as a tried and true educational methodology. In addition, seeing their desires (and not just their words) shaped by education that is truly Christian was inspiring.
Make no mistake, their grasp – like mine – of the nuances of life is far from perfect and still developing (some of the parents’ careful but challenging questions spoke to this). But, it is being shaped and redeemed by the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Gospel, reminding me of Philippians 1:6, that He who began a good work in these students will bring it to completion at the day of Christ.
I’m not sure there’s a more comforting thought with which to hit the hay.
Our two oldest have been rehearsing their hearts out for this performance in a couple of weeks. Proud of them for their efforts, glad for them for the opportunity. Tickets available.
Idyllic overkill, but there are worse places to live. Glad to be part of the renaissance.
I know the month is hardly over, but I'm not sure I'll have time to post again until February. In the meantime, here's a visual record of some things I got to do in January:
Sell an old car (our 1998 Delta 88 threw a rod and died a peaceful death in our driveway)
Buy a "new" car (meet "Victor the Volvo," a 23-year-old car whose official color is "wine")
Chronicle blatant church hypocrisy (best picture ever)
Take part in City Pres' first-ever leader retreat (I'm the one about to throw up on the right)
Eat (and live to tell about it) at a place featured on Man vs. Food
Care for our first foster child (this 3-year-old was cute as a button)
Study with daughters at Starbucks (also known as caffeinated homeschooling)
Launch a new school (The Academy) with friend and fellow Head of School, Nathan Carr
All in a month's work…
Our friends at Providence Hall Classical Christian School have put together an exciting celebration of author Charles Dickens and "his inimitable legacy." Mark your calendars!
So I'm sitting in an enormous but quiet room at an undisclosed location with Doug Serven, my former college roommate, co-author, and friend of 20 years sitting 50-feet away on the other side. Doug and I have committed to take Mondays this summer to work together – not necessarily on the same thing but in the same room – if for no other reason than just to be together doing it.
It's taken us a year of living in the same city to figure out our need for this – for our personal sanity, for our friendship, and perhaps for the sake of another book. We probably realized it was a good idea a while ago, but in the challenges of our first year in Oklahoma City (his as lead pastor planting City Presbyterian; mine as Head of School leading Veritas Classical Academy), this is the first day out of the past 365 that we've finally been able/chosen to schedule this length of regular time.
After a morning of working on different individual church/school responsibilities and then stepping out for a bite to eat at lunch, we came back to digitally dust off the pseudo-manuscript we had started almost four years ago for ThirtySomewhere. Five minutes in, Doug leaned forward, put his head on the table, and declared how overwhelming this all felt.
And it does – writing a book at 41 seems a whole lot different than writing a book at 31. It shouldn't in theory; after all, we have more life experiences from which to pull. The challenge is stepping out of life's experiences in order to pull from them.
Thus, the Mondays idea…or whatever part of Mondays we get in the midst of everything else. We've walked through our summer calendars and blocked out what we could, but with trips and everything else, we can only grab four Mondays across the whole summer. Still, we're starting with those and will see what happens.
(If you see ThirtySomewhere on a bookshelf somewhere in a year-and-a-half, it worked.)
Back in April, my two younger girls (along with 70+ of their grammar school classmates from Veritas) participated in the Oklahoma City Marathon, running the 1.2-mile Kids Marathon and generally having a good time. I kick myself for not having signed up to run with them (safety was not an issue – it was a regular fence-lined cattle chute through downtown), but the idea of doing so just never crossed my mind, so I didn't.
I wouldn't say I'm activity-averse, but I do have an overly-active homebody gene that often reacts negatively to situations involving crowds (i.e. thousands of people running all over downtown Oklahoma City). My aversion is not a phobia (rarely do I make decisions out of fear), nor is it born out of a superiority complex or condescension toward others (seeing myself in spandex shorts has helped me with that). But it is a preference – one that probably works against the idea of me ever running a marathon.
Simply put, I might be interested in training for and running 26.2 miles if I didn't have to do it with and when anyone else did.
About the same time last month, I came across the following quote from author/pastor Tim Keller: "The more independent you are, the less intimate your relationships." I didn't want to retweet it, but I did. To paraphrase Bono: "You preach (tweet) what you need to hear."
While I've always gotten along with people, I've usually (strangely) also found myself maintaining an independence from them. Megan says I'm my own best friend, and while I think that's true, it doesn't strike me as bad. I'm a pretty good friend (so what if it happens to be to me in addition to others).
In my mind, the danger of independence manifests itself more in narcissism (this post, for example) than doing something stupid. While I'm certainly capable of the latter, my logic filter is more developed than my desire to think about something other than myself. Thinking about oneself is not always evil, but only thinking about oneself usually is.