Because life is a series of edits

Archive for the ‘Seminary’ Category

A Response to International Burn-a-Koran Day

In Calling, Church, Seminary on September 8, 2010 at 2:08 pm

There are plenty of things to be said about the ridiculous Burn-a-Koran Day planned for September 11th, but none of my words are as kind and respectful as these from Nelson Jennings, Covenant Seminary professor of World Mission. In an attempt to diffuse the situation, Dr. Jennings has initiated with those planning the event, following up with this letter in the past week. I commend it to you and encourage you to pray for the situation.

Dear Dr. Terry Jones and Members of the Dove World Outreach Center,

As I previously indicated to you both by email and over the phone, I recently became aware of your “International Burn a Koran day,” scheduled for September 11. You have publicly announced the event, and urged others to participate, through your church’s website and through a specially created Facebook page. As the Facebook page puts it, “On September 11th, 2010, from 6pm – 9pm, we will burn the Koran on the property of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL, in remembrance of the fallen victims of 9/11 and to stand against the evil of Islam. Islam is of the devil!” The scheduled event is receiving widespread attention, and various people are expressing their opinions and intended responses.

Relations today between people who are Muslims and people who are Christians are of extraordinary importance – including in an unprecedented way those of us in the United States of America. People’s beliefs about God and salvation are at stake, as are the well-being of local communities, societies, and international relations between countries. It is within this extraordinary situation that you, together as a Christian pastor and as an expressly Christian community, have taken the initiative to conduct, publicize, and invite participation in what can only be called – too mildly or too extremely, depending on one’s perspective – such a provocative event as this “International Burn a Koran day.”

In response to this event that has been scheduled by other Christians in the United States, that has been publicized within today’s extraordinary situation of Muslim-Christian relations, and to which I and others have been invited to participate, I believe that it is incumbent on me as one Christian leader serving a portion of the wider Christian community to issue a public response. (Please note, however, that this response is my own; I am not serving as a spokesperson for any church or organization.) My response consists of the following points:

  1. I agree with you that human beings’ salvation from sin and hell, as well as to eternal life with the living and triune God, is through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
  2. I commend you for your concern for and solidarity with fellow Christians worldwide.
  3. I respect the time-honored freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
  4. I encourage only peaceable responses toward you – i.e., against Dr. Terry Jones, members of the Dove World Outreach Center, or others who are in agreement with your religious beliefs about Islam – insofar as you do not cause immediate threat to others of bodily harm or damage to personal property.
  5. I realize that there are complexities beyond the scope of this short response in the enormous and worldwide matter of Muslim-Christian relations, particularly those associated with the interrelationship between religious and societal/governmental concerns.
  6. I realize as well that there are deep emotions – associated with both religious and social/national identity – over the events of September 11, 2001 in particular and Muslim- Christian relations in general.

At the same time, I espouse the following beliefs that contradict reasons for the scheduled Qur’an burning:

  1. Christians, whether individually or organized, should eschew violent
    and inflammatory actions taken as Christians against anyone –
    particularly violent and inflammatory actions taken in the name of, and
    with the alleged support of, expressly religious teachings.

    • Using proper force, including violent force, is a God-given
      prerogative of certain societal and governmental authorities (including
      Christians serving in those roles), not of Christians (or members of any
      other religious tradition) as individual or organized Christians (or as
      members of any other religious tradition).
    • Violent and
      inflammatory actions taken for expressly religious
      purposes usually (often unwittingly) support other, non-religious
      interests, for example political, ethnic, and economic interests.
  2. Christians, while devoted to the overall well-being of the local communities, countries, and world of which we are members, must be able to differentiate between (although not totally separate) our devotion to the wider, international Christian community and our devotion to our local communities, countries, and world. Similarly, Christians must be able to differentiate between (although not totally separate) the actual interests of the wider, international Christian community and those of our various local communities, our countries, and of the entire world. I believe that, in particular, you fail properly to differentiate between devotion to, as well as the actual interests of, the wider Christian community and the United States of America, for example in the statement on “The Church Must Take Action”.
  3. Christians must not simplistically categorize Islam, whether uniquely or together with other religious traditions, as “of the devil.” Instead, Christians should see non-biblical religious traditions as a combination of human aspiration for the Creator God, sinful rebellion against that same Creator God, and satanic deception. Not only is it therefore overly simplistic and reductionist to categorize Islam or any other religious tradition by reference to less than all three of these aspects, but doing so is also insulting, derogatory, and unnecessarily inflammatory toward fellow human beings, fellow bearers of God’s image, and fellow citizens of local communities, countries, and the world.

As I consider all of the statements above, I am firmly persuaded:

  1. To urge you to cancel, as well as apologize (with an explanation so that, as much as possible, you are not unfairly misunderstood) for the scheduling and publication of, the planned public Qur’an burning;
  2. Not to participate in the event (if it takes place), as well as to urge others not to participate in any such event.
  3. To encourage you and other Christians to seek constructive relations with people who are Muslims on individual, local community, national, and global levels. Such constructive relations, I believe, are evangelistic, peaceful, and cooperative.

Much has been written elsewhere concerning these various points, and there is much more to discuss. I welcome constructive interaction with you and others who are interested.

Respectfully,

J. Nelson Jennings
St. Louis, MO

Five Years Later

In Calling, Church, Education, Family, Friends, Places & Spaces, Seminary, Theologians on May 22, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Here are a few shots from Covenant Seminary's 2010 graduation, in which I earned my second masters, this one in educational ministries. Here I'm receiving my diploma from seminary president Bryan Chapell while commencement speaker Alistair Begg looks on):

IMG_5286

With professor Jerram Barrs (I was Jerram's teaching assistant for a year-and-a-half and love him dearly):

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With Dr. Donald Guthrie, lead professor of Covenant's education program (I am the Padawan learner to his Jedi knight):

IMG_5292

With Dr. Bob Burns, professor of educational leadership and an elder at our church:

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With Tom Rubino, with whom I started summer Greek in 2005 and at last finished in 2010 (Tom earned his M.Div. and M.A.C. (counseling) degrees). It meant a lot to both of us to start and finish together.

IMG_5288

And of everyone at commencement, here are the five who matter most (thanks, ladies):

Family Graduation 2010

It is finished.

Let the Commencin’ Begin

In Calling, Education, Seminary, Westminster on May 19, 2010 at 10:43 am

I finished my last seminary class on Monday with my Educational Capstone portfolio and presentation. Unless I hear differently between now and then, I'm set to graduate from Covenant with my Masters in Educational Ministries (for those keeping score, I graduated last year with a Masters in Theological Studies).

Five years – that's how long all this has taken. When people ask if I'm planning on going for a Ph.D., my answer is standard: "I'd love to (and I really would), but only if someone else is paying for it." (Feel free to submit all benefactor/patron/Sugar Daddy offers in the comments below.)

As a way of bringing some initial closure to my seminary days (and as some pre-celebration before graduation on Friday), here's my final reflection paper from my Capstone project. For what it's worth…

In considering my Educational Capstone experience, my feelings are mixed, though not in an altogether negative way. As was intended, I can vouch for having a sense of accomplishment from looking back over coursework from my education career at Covenant. I can also give testimony that the portfolio concept of review intended to capture and showcase such accomplishment is good and one I enjoyed very much. That said, my mixed feelings regarding the Capstone stem from my own imagination of how much more this final seminary class could have been had I not been so involved in, well, my education career.

Reading through my portfolio, one thing I consider a huge strength of my Educational Capstone experience has been my opportunity to be an education student while working as a full-time teacher. The benefits of having a hands-on, ready-made laboratory of learning are innumerable and really comprise the theme of my enclosed book, Learning Education: Essays and Ideas from My First Three Years of Teaching. It’s been a great opportunity and a real advantage for a multitude of reasons in my time finishing my education degree.

However, I can’t help but wonder how my experience might have been different without being a teacher while taking the course. Had I been a full-time student (rather than a part-timer perpetually scrambling to make time to attend class meetings and complete various stages of work on assignments and projects), I wonder what different themes might have been more dominant in my encounter otherwise. It’s not that I regret the challenges of the past three years, but I do wonder if/how I would have learned and applied the theories, concepts, and applications of Christian education differently if I weren’t so desperate to use them immediately on a weekly/daily basis.

In looking back through assignments, reflections, concept maps, outlines, and notes for my project, the general sense I had was that, because of my life situation (full-time teacher, part-time student), I probably rushed through absorbing many of the conceptual and technical theories in order to get to the application of them as quickly as possible. In other words, it’s not that I don’t understand many of the presumptions behind Christian education, but I don’t feel they are as much in the forefront of my mind as I would like since I’ve had to focus so much on doing the actual work of educating throughout my time.

Thankfully, I realize that none of this is without potential amendment, and I am certainly willing and able to design a summer course of my own to review what I may have been forced to hastily read and try to understand (and I did read, by the way, every assignment with highlighter in hand). The question, of course, is will I this summer? And if not this summer, this year? And if not this year, then when?

But here is where the two main points of what I’ve learned in my course of study – God as Master Teacher and Teacher as Learner – bring comfort and hope. While my formal degree program of study may be coming to a close, God’s program of study continues, and if I am at all “smokin’ what I’m sellin’” when it comes to teaching and my passion for it, I do not doubt that my study of all things education is still really just beginning.

As I know to be true (academically as well as experientially), we tend to learn when we’re curious, and even writing about my curiosity of what I may have not fully grasped makes me want to start all over again in two weeks with Michael Anthony’s Introducing Christian Education to figure out the questions to the answers for which I’m looking. This, I suppose, is the fun part about the field of education – the accepted default is not that one has learned all one needs to, but that one has learned much about all there still is to learn – and this is the sense I have finishing my degree, which seems good to me.

My other thought with regard to my Educational Capstone is how so much of my life has seemed designed to support what I’m doing now. This should not surprise me, as I believe in a sovereign and involved God who often blesses His people by surprising them with His creativity, but there were several tangible times across the semester when I vividly recall sitting back, shaking my head, and marveling at just how something I’d already learned and experienced was of benefit to me in the here and now.

Truly, God does not waste life. The examples are myriad: growing up on a farm and learning the value of hard work; being a student who always seemed to love school; playing sports and always wanting to coach; participating in extra-curriculars of music and speech and being able to speak with a measure of understanding in both; approaching college for both the personal development as well as the academic degree; investing ten years in youth ministry with The Navigators and learning so much about kids, leadership, and the practical realities of ministry in the process, all while working in areas of graphic design, public relations, program planning, counseling, and administration; receiving training in Reformed theology in seminary and (finally) being able to name the doctrine of common grace as so much of the explanation for my perspective on culture and people – by God’s grace, everything seems more intentional than accidental.

My Educational Capstone experience has helped me recognize all this in both tangible and ethereal ways, and I’m grateful that I can not only say it is so having learned as a student from God the Master Teacher, but that I also know it is so, as the desire to teach and to learn in service of Christian education continues to burn within me. It is one thing I do not doubt, but instead resonate with the psalmist when he writes:

“O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” (Psalm 71:17-18)

And for that – all of that – I am most grateful. Thanks for a great education experience.

Learning Education: Second Endorsement

In Books, Education, Seminary, Westminster on May 10, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Here's a second endorsement for Learning
Education: Essay & Ideas from My First Three Years of Teaching
,
this one from the seminary professor level:

Learning Education (cover)“How
does a teacher learn how to teach? Craig answers his own question by
weaving together a colorful tapestry of reflections, papers, logs, and
reviews from his own early teaching odyssey. Teachers from every
experiential strata will identify with his heartfelt descriptions of the
highest highs and lowest lows. They will also appreciate Craig’s
ultimately hopeful, redemptive tone that reminds us that the best
teachers are those who love to learn. They are those who take their cues
from the Master teacher who embodies the grace and truth Craig so
skillfully reflects.”

DR.
DONALD GUTHRIE
, PROFESSOR OF EDUCATIONAL MINISTRIES, COVENANT
THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

If you haven't done so yet, click here
to order
your copy. And please help spread the word via your blog, Twitter, or
Facebook account.

Learning Education: First Endorsement

In Books, Calling, Education, Seminary, Westminster on April 29, 2010 at 10:05 am

Here's the first endorsement (a very kind and gracious one from my own Head of School) for Learning Education: Essay & Ideas from My First Three Years of Teaching:

Learning Education (cover) “Teachers learn most of what they come to know and trust about teaching during their first three years. Craig provides an insightful and compelling practitioner’s view of the joys, pitfalls, and non-negotiables of the early years that are the building blocks of successful teaching and effective learning. His reflections will resonate with the veteran teacher, as well as encourage those beginning or establishing their careers in Christian education.”

JAMES C. MARSH, JR., HEAD OF SCHOOL
WESTMINSTER CHRISTIAN ACADEMY

Click here to order your copy. And please help spread the word via your blog, Twitter, or Facebook account.

Now on Sale: Learning Education

In Books, Calling, Education, Seminary, Westminster on April 27, 2010 at 6:39 am

My second book, Learning Education: Essays & Ideas from My First Three Years of Teaching, is now available through Second Drafts for just $12.75 (+$3 for shipping).

In addition, purchase my first book, TwentySomeone: Finding Yourself in a Decade of Transition, and get the best price available at just $10 (+$1 for shipping).

To order online, go to the Second Drafts storefront and click the book(s) you want, add them to your cart, click checkout, and pay via PayPal (allow 7-10 days for delivery).

Storefront
If you'd rather pay by mail, indicate which book(s) you want, add $3 for shipping for your first book (+$1 for each additional book), make your check out to me, and mail to:

Craig Dunham
7419 Canterbury Avenue
St. Louis, Missouri 63143

Be sure to include your shipping address with your order (allow 7-10 days for delivery). Questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments and I'll get back as soon as I can.

Thanks in advance for your order, as well as for spreading the word
about the new book.

Learning Education: The BookShow

In Books, Calling, Education, Seminary, Westminster on April 22, 2010 at 10:11 am

Here’s a sweet little preview of my forthcoming book via Blurb‘s BookShow widget. While the book will be in paperback instead of the displayed hardback, you can flip through the entire thing below and get an idea of its “plop” value.

Blurb’s prices are way high for individual orders, so I’m working on a little storefront you can order through to get Learning Education at a 23% discount (from $20.55 down to $15.75, which includes shipping – I’ll even sign it for you). This will go live on Tuesday, so check back then to place your order.

In the meantime, I’d really appreciate your help in spreading the word about Learning Education. As it’s obviously written with educators (particularly new educators) in mind, would you mind emailing every teacher you know and linking them here?

And, since we’re coming up on graduation season, don’t forget that TwentySomeone makes a great gift for college graduates and their parents alike, so let them know (again, I’ll have a special deal on the storefront Tuesday – I’m happy to sign those as well).

More as I have it. Thanks for your help.

Learning Education: The Introduction

In Books, Calling, Education, Seminary, Westminster on April 20, 2010 at 9:43 am

I’m celebrating a milestone of sorts today, namely the third anniversary of officially being hired as a teacher at Westminster Christian Academy. In honor of the day, as well as that Learning Education releases in less than a week, I thought I’d post the introduction to the book here. Hope you enjoy.

On April 20, 2007, I was a second-year seminary student with an undergraduate degree in geography who wanted to write and teach for a living. I’d already written my first book, but the only real classroom credential I could list on a resume was teaching Bible part-time at a classical school the year before. My mother was an English teacher for 30 years, and my grandfather had been a beloved elementary school principal for 40; maybe, I thought, that would count for something.

There I was – a guy in his mid-thirties with little formal classroom experience and no education degree – applying for a Bible position that over 50 others were applying for as well. Married with four daughters, I’d spent the past 12 years raising support as part of our camp and conference ministry, but since I was no longer camping and conferencing, the support was running out. I was only halfway through seminary and had failed Hebrew twice; a full-time teaching position just seemed out of the question.

Gracious personal references somehow positioned me as one of the top three candidates applying for the role, but I still had to convince the administration I knew something about teaching (or at least enough to get hired and learn what I didn’t). After a shaky interview (remember my qualifications – or lack thereof), I taught an 80-minute Ethics class I’d prepared on the eighth commandment. By God’s grace, I received a round of student applause at the end of the class (a first, I was told), and a phone call later that day informing me I got the job.

Now began the real education…mine. Finishing my degree while teaching full-time gave me a chance few teachers get – take important education classes toward qualifying me for what I was already doing as a real teacher. Forget eight weeks of student semi-teaching; this was a daily do-or-die, trial-by-fire, multi-year, hands-on reality…and the best (and hardest) training for “learning” education.

Meant to be as much memoir as methodology, Learning Education chronicles these first three years and what it was like to go to class in the evening, learn something new, and try it out with students the very next morning (honestly, some of the best lesson plans my first year were little more than this). I wrote a lot about what I was learning as a student, and even more about what I was learning as a teacher (though I wouldn’t say the two were or are mutually exclusive by any means).

While most of the material is comprised of edited blog posts and submitted seminary papers, I’ve also included interviews, emails, lists, notes from reading logs, quotes from articles and book reviews, and anything else that seemed to make summarizing sense of my experience. Read the book straight through, or pick and choose according to your interests. I won’t promise you’ll become a better student or a better teacher, but my prayer for you – as it was for me – is that you’ll become better as both.

April 27th is the official release day, so mark your calendars and spread the word. More to come between now and then…

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

In Family, Health, Places & Spaces, Science, Seminary, Young Ones on April 17, 2010 at 6:55 am

In the past week, I've coached five baseball games, the last of which counts almost for two as it went 12 innings (high school games are seven innings). The good news: we won every game (even the 12-inning one); the other news: by the end of the week (or really by Wednesday) I was completely exhausted.

When I got home Friday night after school, a seminary class, and a reunion dinner with my family to reintroduce myself as husband/father, I was so tired that I was in bed and asleep by 7:30…that is, until Megan came to bed at 11:30, which is when I woke up and couldn't go back to bed. I knew I was still wiped out, but I could not for the life of me fall back asleep. And now it's early morning. Nuts.

I remember taking a psychology class my sophomore year in college and reading about sleep deprivation experiments done on mice. Somehow, before taking that class, I had honestly believed that one's need for sleep was simply mind over matter; we didn't really need to sleep, but it was a good idea to do so anyway. I'm not kidding: I honestly thought this (in the words of Bugs Bunny, "What a maroon.")

Then I read about experiments in which researchers filled an aquarium with four inches of water and placed a long triangle-shaped column the length of the aquarium floor. The edge of the triangle jutted up out of the water by an inch or so, and the mice would perch themselves on the edge so as not to fall in and get wet. However, when the mice fell asleep, their grip on the edge relaxed, they fell off, woke up, and scrambled back onto the edge, newly awakened but increasingly sleep-deprived. This went on for days and weeks until they finally died from sheer exhaustion.

Maybe it's my farm background, but I've never been a real night owl; even in college, I was usually in bed by 9:30 and up before everyone else in the dorm. This all changed 8-10 years ago in Colorado, as I started getting up in the middle of the night multiple times – sometimes because of crying kids, but often because I just kept waking up and couldn't go back to sleep. I began to notice that I didn't dream anymore, and I needed naps more than I used to because I was just so tired all the time. I also snored, which along with my constant getting in and out of bed,
kept Megan up at night.

This sleep pattern continued when we moved to St. Louis five years ago, but it didn't make sense because we were through the crying-kids-at-night stage, yet I was still waking (and getting) up. Studying in seminary became especially difficult as I couldn't read anything even early in the evening without falling asleep 20 minutes later. Then, when I started teaching full-time in addition to everything else, I would come home from school and have to lay down for a good hour, as I was so wiped out from the day.

At Megan's request, I finally did a sleep study at St. Luke's Sleep Medicine and Research Center and found out that I woke myself up approximately 100 times a night due to sleep apnea. Apparently, I have very narrow nasal passages that hinder my breathing and keep my brain from dropping into REM sleep because it's too busy making sure I don't stop breathing altogether by causing me to gasp for more air. Yet because I had been kind of asleep, I never really noticed (though Megan did, especially the gasping part).

For the past couple of years now, I have been sleeping with a mask that's connected to a ventilator of sorts and pushes air through my nasal passages to keep them from collapsing during the night. The mask took some getting used to (I'm a tummy sleeper, so I've had to learn to sleep more on my side), but the change has been remarkable: I sleep harder, I rarely wake up enough to get up in the middle of the night, and best of all, the dreams are back and that really makes me happy (I have cool dreams).

Except last night, when there were no dreams because there was no sleep. I was afraid this might happen going to bed so early, but I had little choice – my body just wouldn't stay up any longer. So, I'm a little tired this morning, but as this is my last clear Saturday to work on my seminary capstone project, I need to resist the urge to try to go back to bed. Thankfully, I have four alarm clocks with legs who will do the trick when they get up pretty soon, but for now, I'm glad a night like last night is the exception and not the rule anymore.

(Note: I'm not paid to endorse sleep studies, but if you're constantly tired, give some thought to whether it could be because of poor sleep. As was true in my case, you may not know what you don't know.)

Out of the Mouths of…Adolescents

In Church, Education, Pop Culture, Seminary, Theologians, Westminster, Young Ones on February 21, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Here are some choice selections from the papers my New Testament freshmen are getting back tomorrow. The assignment was for students to interview a member of their church's leadership and write a 2-3 page paper explaining their fellowship's/denomination's doctrinal beliefs about things like governance, worship style, sacraments, purposes, functions, etc. (I've thrown in some comments from me just for kicks.)

"The denominational ties of our church are a key belief of our denomination and have no higher archy." [That's good. I prefer the lower kind of archy myself…]

"We
participate in the Lord's Supper about every three months. We drink
grape juice and not wine, and once you have been saved, you are aloud
to participate in it." [So much for using the time for silent reflection…]

"Our church has a leadership structure like the federal government." [Oh, God help us…]

"Teaching, theology, evangelism, and outreach are defiantly important to the church." [Okay, okay, you made your point. Now back off, Barbie…]

"In our denomination, we believe in theology and use evangelism to share the gospel." [Oh, so that's how it works…]

"One of the things that sets apart my church from many other churches is we seek to be Christ-like." [Attention churches seeking to be otherwise, this might be part of your problem…]

"There is also a plurality of elders, which means the ruling elders and pastors each have one vote." [If they only have one vote, doesn't that mean there is a singularity of each elder?]

"My church's worship style is the substance of style." [So Word to your Father, yo…]

"Our pastor bases the sermon straight form the Bible itself and does not interpret the Bible in any way." [Which is another way of saying he reads it…]

"Our church has two types of worship: liturgical and a more open, less-structured style." [So are we to understand that the second group meets in a nest?]

"I
would say the weakest part of the church in my eyes is the youth group.
I have been to several different youth groups and ours is not as good
as others. The main reason for this is because there are more kids at
other youth groups." [Indeed, youth ministry is full of these chicken-or-egg dilemmas, which is why I'm not a youth pastor…]

"There are many reasons why my church is a PCA church; firstly, it resides in the Apostles' Creed, and secondly,
it states facts in the catechism." [Anybody driven by that neighborhood and heard the building reciting the Confession?]

"According to my pastor, we believe all orthodox beliefs…and some of our own as well." [This one's possibly my favorite, especially since I know the pastor…]

"If there is something in a service that I do not like, I can just go to another service that I do like." [Moral therapeutic deism, anyone?]

"The church
participates in many functions such as work programs, community
services, etc. My pastor also mentioned the many asylums that care for orphans
or widows." [Is "asylums" what we're calling deacons nowadays?]

"The senior pastor reports to the elders and the small pastors report to the senior pastor." [Note to graduating seminary students under 5'8": don't even mess interviewing with this one…]

"My
pastor thinks that church is very important for Christians…and when
asked if church was important for skeptics, he quickly agreed, saying,
'Skeptics are looking for the truth, making church a good place to find
it.' He wasn't sure if church was important to God." [I'm so relieved.]

"We differ in belief from many other churches similar to ours." [Or put another way, they think the same as many other churches different from them.]

"After visiting our church for the first time, we loved the way the pastor did his sermon.
He just really got the message across and did it in a way that makes
you feel almost involved." [Lord, have mercy if he had actually crossed that line…]

"Our church is very big on the authority and suffering of the Bible." [I'm guessing she meant "sufficiency," but why major on minors?]

"My mom and I were church shopping and accidentally found our church." [Must have been hiding in the "discount sales" bin…]

"I
appreciate how everything is kept modern. There is a live band playing
like a Christian rock concert. For me, it makes it easier to worship
because I can sing as loud as I want without anyone hearing me." [Because, of course, that is the point of worship…]

I've got a post brewing from both a theological and educational perspective on what I think is going on here, so stay tuned…

Bubbaville, Super Bowl, Love

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

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

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

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

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

Superbowl Invite (Low Res)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Colts.

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

‘Tis the Season…

In Books, Education, Family, Holidays, Movies, Places & Spaces, Pop Culture, Seminary, Thought, Travel, Vacation, Westminster on December 6, 2009 at 10:46 pm

IMG_3833

…when Megan bakes cookies and leaves them around for me to pretend to ignore. It's also when we put up a tree and clutter it (and the house) with all things Christmas holiday. Ah, the sights, sounds, smells, and stuff of the season.

But I digress. Lots going on this week. Here's a rundown:

  • The two-year hostage situation of St. Louis' main east/west artery has ended, as I-64/40 is open again. If all goes according to plan, I should be able to cut 10 minutes off my once-25-minute commute to/from school and seminary, which is exciting. All in all, the process wasn't that bad, but I wouldn't want to do it again anytime soon.
  • I'm finishing up the fourth and fifth commandments with my Ethics students, as well as the book of Matthew with my New Testament kids this week. Finals are next week, so I've got a few tests to write and more than a few papers and assignments to grade. Glad to be two weeks away from Christmas break.
  • This week is a big one in terms of finishing my seminary studies for the semester. I have an hour-long group project presentation on Monday, a paper due on Wednesday, and two finals to take by Sunday and then I'm down to my final semester at Covenant (and probably forever, unless some university wants to give me a full-ride to work on a Ph.D.). It will feel really good to finally be finished, both in a week and in five months.
  • Megan and I are turning in our collective resignation letter to Nick at the Covenant bookstore, with our last day being December 30th (Nick's actually known about it for months, so it's not that big a deal). It was a good year-and-a-half at my first real retail experience, but I've got to make room to coach JV baseball in the spring, so something had to go.
  • I'm planning to post my 2009 booklist in another week, so check back soon if you're still looking for readable gift ideas. I was initially disappointed in my list this year, but at second glance it's not that bad (though I definitely didn't read as much fiction as I have in the past). Look for it in another few days.
  • Speaking of books as gifts, TwentySomeone wraps as well at Christmas as at graduation time (just wanted to let you know in case you're still looking for a present for a hard-to-buy-for twentysomething in your life).
  • And speaking of Christmas, in addition to the obligatory family
    roadtrips/celebrations, we're planning to paint another room (dining)
    over the holidays and get some time hanging out here at home. We're also looking forward to seeing the movie Up in the Air with George Clooney, as parts were filmed in St. Louis (and some of those parts right here in our little Maplewood community).

Guess that's about it. If you're
in town or passing through over the holidays, come on by – being the introverts that we
are, we might not answer the door, but you'll enjoy the trip.

Having the Appearance of Godliness, But Denying Its Power

In Books, Calling, Church, Health, Seminary, Westminster, Writers on November 24, 2009 at 6:54 am

LeadersJourney “In his classic book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster reminds us that the spiritual disciplines are uniquely designed by God to allow us to receive his grace by allowing ‘us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us…We must always remember that the path does not produce the change; it only puts us in the place where the change can occur.’”
The Leader’s Journey, p. 136

I’m trying to recall when in my life I’ve felt most spiritually disciplined. It hasn’t been often.
My first thought goes back to my sophomore year of college, when I embraced (via The Navigators) the concept of Scripture memory and the Quiet Time (or “Q.T.,” as we affectionately called it then). I would rise every morning at 6 a.m. (after a 9:30 p.m. bedtime – unheard of for dorm life), make my way down the hall to the student lounge (which was always empty that early in the morning), and read, pray, write, memorize, and review verses for an hour. Over the next couple of years of doing this, I read through the Bible a few times, memorized (and retained) 2-3 verses a week, and filled 6 journals with my thoughts. I learned and grew a lot those three years, which was good. I was hungry to do so.

My second memory consists of a collage of my first three summers at Eagle Lake – first as a counselor responsible for the physical and spiritual care of a tee-pee of seven teenage kids each week, then as one of four program directors responsible for the whole camp (about 2,000 souls each summer). The sense of responsibility I felt was enormous, and my prayer life reflected it through multiple prayer walks (often in the same day) around the lake, across camp, and on a particular flat rock in the path leading to the A-frame. I prayed a lot those first three summers – sometimes out of gratitude, but mostly out of desperation – as the challenges felt immense and my ability to meet them seemed so small. These were hugely developmental times in terms of spiritual growth and leadership, and much of this had to do with those times spent in prayer, voicing my dependence to God.

If spiritual hunger and voicing my dependence to God are criteria for engaging in the spiritual disciplines, one might think there would be plenty more examples of having done so in my life. After all, since my days in college and at camp, I’ve gotten married, had four children, bought three different houses, written a book, traveled and spoken many times, experienced significant ministry transition, graduated from seminary, and now teach 100 high schoolers a day in my New Testament and Biblical Ethics classes. It would seem I have/have had reasons to exercise my dependence on God through spiritual disciplines.

Unfortunately, I haven’t felt spiritually disciplined for a long time, for in addition to the spiritual disciplines producing fruit in me in the past, they have also made me more competent at handling life and ministry in the here and now. Maturity, of course, is by God’s design, but competence is not meant to be an end in itself but a means to the end of continuing spiritual transformation and formation. This is what Foster means when he writes, “the path does not produce the change; it only puts us in the place where the change can occur.” Thus, when I have been most desperate, it has been when I have been most spiritually disciplined – not because I had to be, but because I needed to be.

In considering all this (and I do often), I think of Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:2-5:

“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”

Sadly, I recognize myself too much in these verses – not in every way mentioned, but in more ways than I care to admit. The appearance of godliness – so often mistaken as competence – too easily hides my desperation for God. Self-reliance and self-sufficiency – values affirmed in our culture – too often numb my felt need to practice the spiritual disciplines as they numb my real need to experience God. Spiritual disciplines can help me realize what’s going on in my life, but only God has power to transform my heart.

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.

Now Practicing in Maplewood

In Books, Family, Health, Seminary, Young Ones on November 10, 2009 at 6:06 pm

“Systems theory focuses on what man does
and not
on his verbal explanations about why he does it.”
Murray Bowen in Family Therapy in Clinical Practice

I love Murray Bowen and systems theory. I remember first formally encountering Bowen’s work in my Marriage and Family class at Covenant and thinking, “Not only does this make complete sense in explaining the dynamics of human relationships, it also appeals to how systematic/systemic thinkers (like me) think.” From that point forward, I was hooked.

Having grown up on a farm, I was raised and led to believe that the world was basically secure rather than basically threatening, and that as long as I did my homework, finished my chores, and got to (and out of) bed at a decent hour, things would generally work out for the best. Mine was a fairly consistent existence with little drama involved.

As a result of my background, I sometimes struggle with others whose commotion tends to trump logic. In the past, I have resorted to more emotional outbursts myself in order to "out-emote the over-emotional," beating them at their own game, and (foolishly) trying to illustrate how ridiculous the drama can be. This, of course, is rarely effective (though somewhat disturbingly enjoyable), and I recognize that I assume this position when I fail to consider the systems (family, organizational, etc.) at play in the various situations.

Thankfully, after years of learning things the hard way, I'm finally on the brink of a major break-through by being able to give up my attempts to "out-emote the over-emotional"; indeed, my days of "trying to illustrate how ridiculous the drama can be" may be at an end.

What's my secret? I'm the father of four daughters. Here's my team of therapists:

19Dunham

It's good to be on the road to recovery…

(Photo by Kelly Park Photography)

Judged with Greater Strictness (gulp)

In Books, Calling, Education, Seminary on November 5, 2009 at 9:06 am

Leaders Journey “Rather than living a reflective life characterized by the classic spiritual disciplines, far too often we live a frantically busy life that occasionally has daily quiet time. As we try to get some control over all the things that pull at us, God is assigned to the ‘spiritual’ or ‘Sunday’ part of our lives, rather than permeating all that we do. Consider: Do you have a prayer life or a life of prayer? Occasions of fasting, or a lifestyle of fasting? Do you relegate Jesus to a quiet-time encounter early in the morning, or engage in a reflective lifestyle that seeks to know Jesus’ presence in every moment of the day?”
The Leader’s Journey, p. 11

One of the toughest challenges being a Bible teacher is this reminder from James 3:1: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” If there’s a verse that keeps me up late at night, it is this one.

Or is it? Let’s be honest: when was the last time I was actually up late fretting in holy fear over this Scripture passage? Or any Scripture passage? Based on my sleep habits (usually to bed around 9:45 and out as soon as my head hits the pillow), one might justifiably suggest that I’m not too bothered by the possibility of any stricter judgment to come. In fact, as one of my fellow teachers once concluded when he heard when and how I fall asleep, “You must have a clear conscience.” Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.

Maybe it’s due to the subject matter (New Testament and Biblical Ethics) or the fact that I’m incredibly (unfortunately) gifted in “do as I say, not as I do” theology, the longer I teach, the more dangerous I see myself becoming as a teacher. My fear stems not from being a “bad” teacher theologically, nor from aspiring to be a “good” (or even “great”) teacher of the Scriptures. My fear is fooling everyone (including myself) into thinking that everything I teach is indeed everything I practice – precisely, particularly, perfectly. In my vocation as a Bible teacher, I worry as much about hypocrisy as I do hermeneutics, lest what I have learned and now teach as “truth” be possibly negated by not living all or any of it.

This feeling of hypocrisy – so graciously allowed by God’s Spirit to check me in the here and now – would seem to be part of that stricter judgment I normally reserve for a future date. Yet God is never content to let my inconsistent behavior go unaddressed and only (finally) to be judged at some cosmic Bema Seat; he is always at work by his Spirit (in conjunction with my conscience) to judge me in the present, that I may be made aware of my sin and repent.

Herrington, Creech, and Taylor write in their book, The Leader’s Journey, that “We often believe that the great difficulty in life is knowing the right thing to do. Sometimes it is. At other times, however, the difficult thing is simply having the inner resources to do what we believe is right.” (p. 17) I fully resonate with their statement, as so often the question for me is not what I am reading in the Bible, but if I’m reading enough so that the Bible can read me? Can I really address the subject of Sabbath with my students when my Sabbath is as subject to preference and schedule as theirs is? How is it my place to challenge my students on prayer when prayer has so little place in my own life? Once again, hypocrisy trumps hermeneutics.

The authors quote Dallas Willard in his book, The Divine Conspiracy, on “the futility of attempting to direct our lives by asking the question ‘What would Jesus do?’ when we are not practicing the spiritual disciplines that Jesus practiced regularly in his life. Attempting to ‘perform’ as Jesus did when we are under pressure to compromise only frustrates most of us.” (p. 23) Maybe the reason I so rarely ask the WWJD question is I so poorly practice the spiritual disciplines needed to discern any answer to it. Again, my conscience condemns me.

My only hope in all this is Jesus – the Great Teacher himself – who endured the strictest of judgments to be found righteous in what he taught and how he lived. Jesus did not practice “do as I say, not as I do” theology; no hypocrisy trumped his hermeneutics. It is this Teacher who calls and motivates me to teach, and it is this Teacher who must empower me if I am to do likewise.

Welcome, Interns (Part 3)

In Church, Education, Seminary on November 3, 2009 at 5:44 am

(Part 3 of "Welcome, Interns" for my Ed. Leadership class. Part 1 is here; part 2 is here.)

6) Greater influence requires greater awareness – of others and yourself. One of the most important things you will learn about during your time at First Presbyterian is the power of influence – yours upon others, others’ upon you, and everyone’s upon the system. Before you can own your influence, you have to grow in your awareness of it by paying more attention to others and their responses and reactions to you. This is not a call to an unhealthy preoccupation with yourself; however, having an idea of how your presence (or absence) shapes meetings, discussions, decisions, events, and evaluations can give you great insight into why and how God has gifted you the way he has (or perhaps hasn’t). Embracing this discovery process and owning the results of it are key to developing yourself as a person; helping others embrace and own these same things in their lives develops you as a leader.

7) You are not your gifts, and your gifts are for others. As tempting as it may be to view your internship as the vehicle through which to highlight your many ministry talents (sort of a “Denominational Idol,” if you will), now’s as good a time as any to develop a healthy theology of spiritual gifts and abilities. First and foremost in this endeavor should be the idea that you are not your gifts, with a prime corollary being that your gifts are for others – believers and skeptics alike. Few things are less attractive than a show-off in the Body of Christ, so don’t be that guy. Instead, ask God and your leadership for the opportunities that they think will best help you help First Presbyterian; then, after being faithful in those opportunities, ask them for their honest feedback, not taking personally their comments (good or bad), but seeking to listen for how God may have used your gifts in the lives of others. Remember: you are not your gifts, and your gifts are for others. This feedback and (hopefully) affirmation from the church – not just generic spiritual gift tests or surveys, though they’re helpful – is how you discover more of who God made you to be and why.

8) Inspiration matters, but so does your integrity in summoning it. Understand right now that there is no Intern-of-the-Year award at First Presbyterian; thus, there’s no need to be (or try to be) the most hip, charismatic, and brilliant intern the church has or will ever have. This may disappoint some of you who, by nature, are hip, charismatic, and brilliant and were hoping for your shot at the title, but for others of you who are less hip, charismatic, and brilliant, let this lack of award competition be permission to be who you are and inspire others accordingly. Don’t hear what I’m not saying: inspiration is, well, inspiring, and people at First Presbyterian probably don’t get enough of it, but the inspiration they’re looking for – indeed, the inspiration they need – is the Spirit’s inspiration in response to the Spirit’s inspired Word. This doesn’t mean you can’t play an inspired part – just make sure it’s a supporting role, one that doesn’t compromise your personality and character to play it.

9) Be an optimistic realist instead of a pessimistic idealist. It’s easy to be the guy in the corner who knows how church is supposed to be and relishes being the one who doubts it ever will be. His is a "no-lose" situation; that is, if something screws up, he’s right, but if something actually works, he’s merely surprised (rather than wrong), while everyone else is simply relieved that something went well. But “no-lose” does not equate to “win-win,” so this isn’t very helpful. What is helpful (and, I've learned, more accurate and biblical) is taking the perspective of an optimistic realist – that is, one who recognizes the bad that could happen, but prays with hope that good will overcome. That said, resist evaluating everything by the pessimistic idealist’s “It’s never what it could be” declaration of doom, and rather adopt the optimistic realist’s approach of “It is what it is, but I pray it can be better,” as it’s a much healthier perspective for you, those you lead, and those who lead and work with you.

10) Prayer is not hard; wanting to pray is what’s difficult. That’s because wanting to pray means being willing to recognize your needs before God. And, while not wanting to do this for the sake of your pride may seem selfish enough, let’s add to the dysfunction: perhaps you’d rather judge others for having needs, which makes you feel better about having (but not praying about) yours. It’s sick, isn’t it? Indeed it is – which is why you as an intern need to wrestle not with your guilt over your real prayerlessness, but with your pride over your pretend sinlessness. After all, what is prayer if it is not a measure of how sufficient you view yourself? If you really want to grow in prayer, ask God to show you how competent you aren’t during this internship. You may be surprised how much more you pray as a result.

So there you have it: ten thoughts to consider as you prepare for your internship at First Presbyterian this summer. Granted, my ideas may not seem particularly insightful, but I share them with you in hopes that they will become more so. As you should do with all counsel (solicited or unsolicited) from others, chew on the meat, spit out the bones, and pray the Spirit would wash away any bad taste left in your mouth.

In close, don’t take yourself too seriously or your sin too lightly. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Have a great summer.

Welcome, Interns (Part 2)

In Church, Education, Seminary on November 1, 2009 at 11:54 pm

(Here's part 2 of "Welcome, Interns" for my
Educational Leadership class. Part 1 is here.)

1) Change is not the enemy; loss (real or perceived) is. Believe it or not, people are open to change, but usually not for change’s sake. As unspiritual as it sounds, people tend to evaluate change by how it impacts them, and most resist change if said impact is (or seems) negative. Don’t waste emotional energy if people push back against your initiatives; figure out why they’re doing so by asking, “What are they afraid of losing?”

2) Challenging (not upholding) the status quo is your role as a leader. I’m guessing that during your internship, you’ll experience more than a few “this is how we do things around here” moments. These are not exclusive to churches – businesses, government, and the military have their own versions – but they are especially interesting coming at the hands of the church member who seems to have more power than the elder board combined; or the Sunday School teacher who is a curriculum terrorist and threatens to blow up anything he or she hasn’t used before; or a moody staff member who's the only one with the keys. You’re probably not going to be around long enough to change folks like these (it takes years), but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask fair questions, suggest creative improvements, and encourage others to persevere in their battles against the status quo. This is what leaders do, so don’t let differences (real or perceived) between your role and your circumstances here at First Presbyterian convince you otherwise.

3) Save your breath to cool your coffee…or learn to like it really hot. You’ve probably heard that you have to pick your battles, but you have to pick the timing of your battles as well. This is true not just in your day-to-day interactions with others; it’s true in your understanding of the wider scope of First Presbyterian’s history. Before you give in to your seemingly insatiable itch to criticize those all-important decisions regarding worship style, sanctuary color scheme, or bulletin font, do yourself a favor and research the when, what, and why of who made those decisions and how. You don’t know how much heat you can take right now, but you’ll find out soon enough if you pick the wrong time to fight a battle, wrong or right. Major on the majors and leave the minor stuff to those who don’t know better (but will soon learn).

4) Never, ever write off anyone, especially those who are your biggest critics. I can think of at least ten people in the past five years who I was once tempted to write off (and probably tell off as well) for being or seeming a hindrance to the purposes of God, only to encounter them in a completely different context in church or in life at a later date actually making a difference. For all its universality, the Body of Christ is a small world (the PCA is even smaller), and often the quickest way you can hamstring the process of making your contribution within it is to write off the potential of others to make theirs. By grace, people can change; if you don’t believe that, you have no business being in ministry.

5) It’s not experience that’s the best teacher; it’s evaluated experience. Any long-term benefit of your internship will be in direct proportion to the amount of your short-term evaluation done not just on your own, but with someone else here committed to your success. Peers can be helpful in this area, as can participants within your particular ministry context, but I can’t stress enough the importance of seeking, finding, and pursuing a Paul to your Timothy in order to process all that you’ll learn. Life and ministry are both less about having a closet of “Been There, Done That” T-shirts and more about having someone honestly engage with you about how each one fits…or how it doesn’t. Find that person now.

(To be concluded tomorrow.)

Welcome, Interns (Part 1)

In Church, Education, Seminary on October 31, 2009 at 8:16 pm

I'm working on a couple different papers this weekend for my Educational Leadership class. Below is the first page (really just the intro) to a 5-7 page essay addressing the following question:

First Presbyterian Church hires fifteen interns every summer. The supervising pastor heard that you have taken this class and asks you to speak to the interns for about 15-20 minutes. These interns will be working with existing groups in the church and will be responsible to plan and prepare programs (with or for them). You will tell them, in your own words, what major concerns they need to attend to as they develop and implement ministry through these programs. In giving this advice, feel free to illustrate your points using examples from your own experience, stories you have heard in class, or to cite publications (though it is not necessary for you to do so). This “talk” should be about 5-7 pages and will be evaluated on the basis that its’ points are clearly stated and explained, and are internally consistent with each other.

Congratulations on your internship this summer at First Presbyterian! I know you’re excited to be here, and you should be – this is a great place and you’re going to have a great summer.

As I’ve been asked to speak to help prepare you as an intern, I feel the need to more clearly define the term. According to my dictionary, an “intern” is “a student or trainee who works, sometimes without pay, at a trade or occupation in order to gain work experience.” Sounds noble and something to aspire to, right? Maybe, but let me suggest you broaden your definition; I offer this as an add-on: “one after the other” (“in turn,” get it?).

You see, the good news is you’re one of fifteen interns chosen to minister here at First Presbyterian for the summer; the other news is there were fifteen different interns sitting where you’re sitting last summer and, Lord willing, there will be fifteen different interns sitting where you’re sitting next summer. In other words, you – and they – are, were, and will be part of an established system here at First Presbyterian – one that has been here before you and, God willing, will be here after you as well. Having this perspective is very important as you consider your place and time in the here and now because, as you probably noticed, I didn’t say First Presbyterian is, was, or will be a perfect system; actually, it’s a fairly flawed one.

It’s flawed because it’s made up of flawed people. If you don’t believe this, then you’re about to find out. You’re about to find out that those to whom you look for leadership can be distracted and demanding. You’re about to find out that those who will look to you for leadership can be impatient and selfish. You’re about to find out that those with whom you labor can be prideful and competitive.

Oh, and you’re about to find out that you can be all of the above…and more.

The other thing you’re about to find out is that all of these flaws (and more) have unfortunately made their way into parts of the First Presbyterian system. People you’ve never met (nor will) are responsible for problems you’ll encounter this summer, and the sooner you recognize that these problems don’t begin or end with you, the more you’ll be able to help First Presbyterian and those who comprise it now (as well as in the future).

With all this in mind, could I offer a few words of counsel as you begin your internship? I don’t offer these as “Truth,” but I do think there’s truth in them. Ten thoughts:

(To be continued as soon as I write it; meanwhile, feel free to add your words of wisdom.)

Making Beautiful Music

In Calling, Church, Education, Family, Friends, Seminary on October 9, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Practice of Adaptive Leadership

Continuing thoughts from my studies in Educational Leadership (see this previous post for more). Forgive the book report, but that's what it is (though hopefully more "reflective"):

“How you are tuned is another default setting in the system that is yourself. Each person is like a stringed instrument, tuned in a slightly different way from everyone else. As you go through life, your strings resonate with the environment based on your own particular tuning. Your tuning derives from many different things: your childhood experiences, genetic predispositions, cultural background, gender, and loyal identifications with various current and historical groups. Your tuning in your professional life may also be affected temporarily or long term by what is happening in your personal life.”
The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, p. 195

“Your sin ignites the sin in me.”
Bill Thrall in The Ascent of a Leader

Reading in chapter 15, I really liked and “resonated” (pun intended) with the metaphor of people being stringed instruments. I also really appreciated the admonishment to be more aware of our individual “tuning” so as to be more capable of discerning what’s going on in us and in others when tension and conflict emerge.

Contagion of sin fascinates me: passages in Psalms and Proverbs promise our sin will pass down to third and fourth generations, but we also pass on sin to those in the same generation (and often the same room). “Sin migration” intrigues because, though sad, it’s so tangible to watch. My vibrating strings cause others’ string to vibrate for good or ill (and vice versa) – sometimes we make beautiful music together; other times, not so much.

I liked how the authors talked about how vibrating strings “may prevent you from seeing the situation more fully and may inhibit you from responding in productive ways” (199). I apply this idea when, over a period of a few hours or even days, I can get worked up over something that someone else’s additional vibrations playing along inflame by adding to the noise. This is why gossip and slander are so dangerous for me, and why I do my absolute best to try to avoid them – they can vibrate all too easily in my own mind and heart.

I also liked how the authors said that “the more finely tuned your strings become over time, the more you are at risk of seeing the things happening in the environment you are sensitive to, even when they are not there” (199). As a very high intuitive, I’ve caught myself responding to a lot of string vibrations that either weren’t vibrating as loudly as I perhaps thought they were, or sometimes even at all. Combine my high receptivity with a high moral (at times, moralistic) perspective, and I can die on a hill for just about anything in minutes. (It’s hard to lead people when you’ve died before the battle begins.)

This leads to the third point I really appreciated: “When others know how you are tuned, they have more power to entice you to partner with them to support their own interests or to derail you from yours” (199). This could also be translated as “pulling one’s chain,” or in the authors’ language, “plucking one’s strings.” I wouldn’t say I’ve fallen prey to others too often in this, but that has more to do with the quality of character and trust of those around me more than anything.

As the authors note, our greatest strength is often our greatest weakness. My intuition can easily be an Achilles Heel in the hands of others with different motives other than love. Thankfully, those around me recognize who I am and how I think; they love me by not trying to stifle or manipulate my intuitive sense, but at the same time, they help keep it in perspective by trusting me with their need and desire for it. There's nothing like someone looking you in the eye and depending on you to keep you honest.