Because life is a series of edits

Archive for the ‘Seminary’ Category

A Few Things on Friday

In Education, Health, Pop Culture, Seminary on August 28, 2009 at 11:49 am

I haven't done a random Friday post for a good while, so I thought I'd throw out a couple things here:

  • I am way behind on email and it's driving me nuts – I'm usually a "zero inbox" kind of guy. The worst part is it's not even "good" email – somebody either wants me to know something or wants something from me. Remember the early days when we actually used email to write personal letters? Sigh.
  • We're officially two weeks into school already and it feels good. I'm really enjoying the kids in each of my classes, and I think the feeling seems mutual. Still, here's the semi-depressing thought of the week (as overheard in the teacher's lounge on Monday): "We'll have three weeks of school under our belts by Labor Day weekend." Just doesn't seem right.
  • Speaking of school, my final year of seminary officially begins on Monday. After earning an MA in Theology last May, I'm trying to finish up my MA in Educational Ministries in 2010. Classes this semester: Educational Leadership (Mondays) and God's World Mission (online). Next semester is the Capstone class, which serves to summarize and systematize everything we've learned on the education track.
  • I'm going to be one of two "co-coaches" for Westminster's JV baseball team next spring. Pretty stoked about that. Pitchers and catchers (and everyone else) report March 1.
  • Haven't had too many offers (or really much sympathy in general) in
    response to my previous post on the book status, so I'll suck it up and
    stop talking about it here (for those trying to make a point, I got it).
  • I've lost ten pounds in the past two weeks, due largely to a change in diet and a slight increase in activity. Been eating a lot of cottage cheese and nuts while avoiding bread and carbs like the plague. Also laying off anything that would cause my body to produce sugar (read about the South Beach Diet for more).
  • Glad for the weekend and the beautiful weather coming our way. This has definitely been the mildest summer in the MIdwest that I can remember, though I'm guessing we'll get a hot day or two in September just to keep us honest.

Hope everyone has a nice, productive yet restful weekend.

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Four Years Later

In Calling, Education, Seminary on June 2, 2009 at 9:38 am

Craig Being Hooded

Covenant Theological Seminary Graduation, May 15, 2009

Master of Arts in Theological Studies

(Photo by Kelly Park)

500

In Books, Calling, Family, Internet, Places, Places & Spaces, Seminary, Sports on April 21, 2009 at 11:09 am

If anybody's still reading, you know I've been dragging my feet a bit on this, my 500th post here at Second Drafts. The reason is partly due to the fact that I haven't had much to write about (or time to write about it), and partly because I've been waiting for just the right topic to inspire me for this post's supposed significance.

Significance, however, is overrated. So, to bring some closure (at least for now), I thought I'd give you a peek into what I'll be doing over the next four months and simply call it a post. Of course, I may throw a picture or thought up here every now and then just to surprise folks, but for now, consider this the official start of my blogging sabbatical.

In the meantime, here's what I plan to be doing:

May
1-3: First official Dunham family camping trip of the season
8-10: Meet with potential ThirtySomewhere publishers in Colorado Springs
14-15: Covenant Seminary baccalaureate/graduation
23: Westminster Christian Academy graduation
29: School's out for summer

June
ThirtySomewhere writing/editing
Covenant Seminary Bookstore (one day a week)
5-7: Clayton Community Theatre's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
12-14: Clayton Community Theatre's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
15-27: Westminster Christian Academy Summer Seminar in South Dakota
29: St. Louis Cardinals game

July
ThirtySomewhere writing/editing
Covenant Seminary Bookstore (one day a week)
19-25: Dunham family trip to Florida
27: St. Louis Cardinals game

August
ThirtySomewhere writing/editing
Covenant Seminary Bookstore (one day a week)
10: St. Louis Cardinals game
13: Westminster Christian Academy first day of school
31: ThirtySomewhere manuscript to publisher

In terms of the work, I tend to write best in the early morning, so when I'm not traveling or working the bookstore, my daily schedule will involve getting up at 4:30 or 5 a.m., writing for 3-4 hours, and then editing/revising a couple hours that afternoon. My goal will be 1500-2000 solid words (about 4-5 pages, double-spaced) per day. If I can put together 100-125 good pages and edit them together with roughly the same number from Doug by end of summer, we'll be in great shape.

So, stay tuned/subscribed for the occasional pic or progress report, but any prayers and general words of encouragement for the project are greatly appreciated.

Have a great summer.

Approaching Normality?

In Books, Calling, Education, Family, Places & Spaces, Seminary, Westminster on March 2, 2009 at 11:39 am
"Normality: being within certain limits that define the range of normal functioning."

I've not been motivated to write much of late as 1) there's been so little interaction here on the site the past two months; and 2) I'm up to my eyeballs reading and writing. For those anticipating email from me for one reason or another, hang in there – it's coming.

As it's now March, I'm newly-stoked about the fact that, in roughly 2 1/2 months, I'll be on the backside of a seminary degree and another school year of teaching. This summer will mark our fifth year in St. Louis, which doesn't really seem possible. Time flies when you're in transition, I guess, and it's felt like we've been in transition most of that time.

Thankfully, it's beginning to feel less transitory, and I hope this trend continues as we expect getting a more "normal" summer under our belts. Currently, I have no plans to 1) take summer classes; 2) buy a house; nor 3) move. I do plan to go to South Dakota again with 25 WCA high schoolers in June, possibly make a trip to a beach in Florida with Megan and the girls in July, and finish (finally) writing the ThirtySomewhere book with Doug by mid-August, but that's about it (and that's enough).

Between now and then, I've got a downstairs at home to fix up and paint over Spring Break, six hours of course credit to finish at Covenant, and four commandments and half of the New Testament left to teach (not to mention all the grading that goes with that). I've also got plenty of husbanding and parenting to do, so that should keep me out of trouble.

In many ways, it feels like I'm coming to the end of a particular chapter of life. How do I know a new chapter might be beginning? Several reasons, but mostly because U2's got a new album coming out tomorrow, and that usually means something cosmically significant for us (more on that, perhaps, in a future post).

Faith’s Geography

In Poetry, Seminary on November 17, 2008 at 2:00 am

Trying to finish up a reflection paper tonight. Here's my intro:

Faith's Geography
“Yahweh’s intention for his people (Israel) is that they enjoy the good life…the land comes to symbolize the life with Yahweh in ideal conditions, a quality of life which might be characterized as the abundant life.”
Dr. Elmer A. MartensGod’s Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology

“Geography – it’s everywhere.”
Dr. Kit SalterUniversity of Missouri School of Geography

I was a geography major in my undergrad days at the University of Missouri. I like to boast that this fact uniquely qualifies me to read roadmaps, but that’s about the extent of my abilities. Instead of map-making or map-reading, I was more interested in cultural geography’s preoccupation with the question, “Did people shape the land or did the land shape people?” The answer was always “yes;” the work was determining the degrees of each.

My study of the Old Testament this fall reacquainted me with my cultural geography roots. In following the nation of Israel from its beginning with Abram in Ur, through its migration to Egypt by Jacob and Joseph, to its Exodus into the wilderness led by Moses, to its conquest of the Promised Land under Joshua, through its struggles of settlement under the Judges, to its glories of the Davidic monarchy in Jerusalem, to its exile to the lands of Assyria and Babylon, and finally to its Palestinian return under Persia, there is (pardon the pun) much ground to cover as to the impact of the land on Israel and Israel's influence on it. For as Elmer Martens observes, “Statistically, land is a more dominant theme (in the Bible) than covenant."

Yeah, so it's a stretch, but I'm running with it (gotta make that undergrad degree seem worth something somehow). In the meantime, here's something actually worth reading – a poem by Sean Kinsella I came across in the journal First Things. I liked it.

the geography of my faith

this is
the tent of my anticipation

at the entrance of which
Sarah laughing stands

this is
the hilltop of my affliction

upon which
Isaac lies bewildered bound 

this is
the spring of my abandonment

to which
Hagar has weeping fled 

this is
the mill of my aspirations

at which
Samson blinded labors 

this is
the geography of my faith

in which
in me my Saviour lives

Putting the “Part-Time” in “Part-Time Student”

In Seminary on November 7, 2008 at 10:02 pm

My seminary education has perhaps reached the tipping point where the cost required in terms of money, time, and energy is beginning to outweigh the degree’s value theologically, professionally, and personally. God willing, I’m due to finish in May (at least with one degree), but I’m afraid I’m going to be disappointed by what I finish with when it’s all said and done.

The problem is this: after four years of study (two full-time, two part-time), all I’m going to end up with is an MA in Theological Studies, which is normally only a two-year program. Most of the classes I took at the MDiv level covered the requirements for the MATS, but the degree is not going to reflect all that work. Several MDiv courses are MDiv only (preaching classes, for instance), so I’ve paid for hours that don’t count for MATS requirements (though I’m sure they’ve been of benefit, cost not withstanding). 

I recognize that I did this to myself by first switching to part-time last year in order to teach full-time, then making the switch from the MDiv program to the MATS earlier this year because of schedule complications and language struggles. At the time (and even still), my choices seemed limited because of circumstances (children needing to eat, failing Hebrew twice, etc.), so I went in a different direction from my initial one, letting go of the MDiv in the process and assuming the MATS would still stimulate.

Unfortunately, the MATS courses I’m taking now are much less challenging than their MDiv counterparts; though the workloads are similar in terms of amount of reading and papers, the content is much less technical and engaging (barely a step above a decent Sunday School class) and I’m bored. Weekend classes (like the one I’m taking this weekend on the Ancient Near East) tend to be too big and designed for folks interested in general explanations I’ve already studied rather than the more esoteric aspects of the Scripture that I haven’t. All this too quickly enables my preference to blend into the crowd and multi-task on something else (this post, for example), and I feel like I’m spinning my wheels.

Here’s an illustration of what I’m talking about: I have 40 papers (I’m not kidding – a two-page reflection for each of the 39 Old Testament books of the Bible, as well as one five-page paper) due between now and the end of November. I haven’t started on any of them, mostly because I’m not too motivated to write reflections I know no one is really going to read with any kind of technical eye (not to mention the fact that I often write blog posts longer than these assignments and they’re not going to take me all that long to do).

Granted, the purpose of the assignment may be to get students to interact with the Scripture at a personal level, but knowing the evaluation of said assignment will be little more than a completion grade given by some T.A. who has to read a hundred other sets of reflections is not really motivating to me. It’s what I call a “plop value” assignment; if it’s got good “plop” when you drop it on a desk, you get an A.

So much of what I studied the first two years was at a much deeper level than I am studying now, and the let-down of needing to study with little more effort than I put in at college (which was minimal) is palpable. I miss my full-time days of seminary and the single-focus of that time; in some ways it was harder because of all the extenuating circumstances (tiny apartment on campus, tons of technical reading, Greek and Hebrew out the wazoo), but it was easier, too, as the phrase “I’m in seminary” meant I was solely working full-time on Covenant’s most comprehensive degree.

I suppose one could argue for the blessing of a lighter load in the midst of everything else (full-time job, wife, four children, etc.), but it doesn’t work that way for me. Instead, I find myself sympathizing with the semi-sad narrative of the baseball player who couldn’t make it in the major leagues and is now playing AA ball somewhere. The good news is he’s still playing baseball; the bad news is he’s not playing it in the bigs. In case you’ve never been to a major or minor league baseball game, the difference is vast: sure, the fields are similar and the rules are the same, but the way things are played on the field is, as the saying goes, a whole different ballgame.

Harry Potter for Presbyterians

In Books, Church, Seminary, Theologians on October 11, 2008 at 7:35 am

The Reformed folk of the world (among others) are gearing up for the release of the new ESV Study Bible on Wednesday. Around these parts (especially if you’re a seminary student), it’s going to be insane. I think of it as Harry Potter for Presbyterians.

This past Thursday, when I arrived at Covenant’s bookstore to work my afternoon shift, I saw 25 unopened orange, white, and black boxes in the back, just waiting to be “received” (the term we use for the process of entering new books into the system before putting them on the shelves). Thinking it might be a good idea to go ahead and process the new ESVs, I giddily asked my boss, Nick, if I could open a box, to which he responded that we’re not supposed to open them until Tuesday.

What!? Wait until Tuesday!? It’s not like we’re going to give away the story! Sigh.

Respecting Nick’s wishes, I received some other boxes of books, periodically glancing through the door to the back and trying to figure out how to get my grubby hands on one of the new Bibles without Nick knowing. I could open a box, take a look, and then re-tape it (unfortunately, our tape is clear and their tape was white); I could open a box and say it was already opened (presumably by Dave, my co-worker who worked the morning shift), but Nick would never believe me (and Dave would never do that).

Nothing like questionable employee integrity at a bookstore that espouses a Christian worldview (or the fact that I teach Ethics for a living at a Christian high school) for irony.

I resisted two hours of temptation on Thursday and survived, but I’ve got another two-hour shift on Monday that will surely test my mettle. Thankfully, I work Tuesday afternoon, so I’ll finally get one (free for employees!) without having to deal with the hundreds of PCAers the next morning who will have camped out that night dressed as their favorite Bible character to be first in line to get their own personal copy.

I’m guessing I’ll miss the bulk of those sitting on the floor frantically reading while they wait to check out, not to mention Nick dressed up like Moses, holding out a copy of the ESV in each hand. I’ll probably also miss all the squeals of surprise at the 200-plus full-color maps and the gasps of joy at the 20,000 notes written by “a team of 95 outstanding evangelical Bible scholars and teachers,” including several of my professors from Covenant.

Indeed, by my Thursday afternoon shift, the store will probably be completely ravaged from the events of the day before, and it will fall to me to deal with all the empty boxes and jostled books. I’ll work my shift knowing that folks will probably still be cuddled up with their new ESV Bibles, refusing to come out of their apartments and homes until they read the book cover to cover. As I’m shelving whatever few copies remain from our massive 25-box order, I’ll smile at the thought of dozens more readers accessing the ESV’s special online resources, reliving the Bible in a kind of digital glory.

It will be a magical day. J.K. Rowling would be proud. And, I think, God will be pleased.

Anybody getting an ESV on Wednesday?

The Reverse

In Books, Calling, Family, Seminary on August 28, 2008 at 2:00 am

As mortgage payments tend to be more than the rent kind, I started a second job this week working part-time in Covenant Seminary's bookstore. It's a good schedule for me that works with my teaching: Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays from 4-6 p.m., and about every other Saturday from 9:30-2:30. In addition, Megan will cover the Saturday shift occasionally, as well as do some work for the bookstore once its new website launches later next month.

Our new bosses are the bookstore's new owners, Nick and Suzanne Gleason, both of whom we've known for a few years and attend church with at Memorial. Nick worked in the bookstore for several years' worth of seminary days, and just last month bought the store from its previous owner. The Gleasons are now in the process of building upon the bookstore's "good books" reputation, as well as improving some systems and general use of space at the seminary that, well, need some improving.

This is the first time I've ever worked a job in retail, and I confess I've gone back and forth on whether I'm cut out for it. Whereas Megan's personality (ISTJ) and past experience (she worked at several home decorating/fabric stores in high school, as well as ran the bookstore at Eagle Lake for years) lend themselves well to a retail environment, yours truly felt like a fish out of water, gutted, and packed in a can on my first day. The cash register scared me; the credit card machine even more so. It's no fun learning a job while physically handling other people's money…in front of them.

Halfway through my second day, I was feeling better about the technical end of things, that is until a semi-huge wave of insecurity washed over me as I was adjusting books and restocking inventory. A professor at the seminary had walked in, seen me, and the conversation went something like this:

Him: "Hey! Good to see you. Are you helping out in the bookstore today?"

Me: "No. I'm a new employee."

Him: "So you're not teaching anymore?"

Me: "Oh, I'm still teaching."

Him: (puzzled look) "Oh."

Me: (sheepish look) "Yeah."
I'm not sure why I was slightly embarrassed; it certainly wasn't because of my part-time job (books? are you kidding?), nor does it have anything to do with my full-time job (teaching the Bible on a daily basis? what more could I want?). Maybe it's that I'm having to work two jobs to make ends meet, but even then I'm grateful God is providing for our family through both of them.

No, I think my insecurity stemmed from my realization that I seem to have an uncanny knack for doing just about everything in reverse order, which has to be some kind of corollary of George Castanza's "opposite" theory. Here are just three examples (there are more) of my "reverse" tendencies:

  • Go into ministry full-time for 12 years, then attend seminary
  • Get a job teaching full-time, then take education classes
  • Write a book, then work in a bookstore

What's next? Keep a blog, then become narcissistic?

Summarizing on a Saturday

In Education, Politics, Seminary, Sports, Westminster on August 23, 2008 at 11:31 am

I recognize the past week has been less than impressive in terms of original content. Here’s an attempt at righting that wrong:

1. As I see it, the selection of Joe Biden as Barack Obama‘s running mate makes a lot of sense…in the short term. Biden personifies age and diplomacy more than Obama does, and his infamous tongue will serve well in swatting away John McCain‘s attacks, thereby letting Obama do what he does best in focusing on the positive. Long term, though, the Democrats are going to be stuck after eight years, as no one’s going to elect Biden because of his age, and I don’t think even Hillary will be in the picture by then (though I still wouldn’t count her out in this race – stranger things have happened).

2. If McCain chooses Mitt Romney, I think he’s done. The two don’t even like each other, and both bolster the “rich, white guy” stereotype that unfortunately marks the Republican party. Maybe this is why Romney is actually a VP possiblity – it sends a message to the conservative base that McCain really is one of them – but that’s not going to be too motivating to moderates and undecideds weary of the stereotype. Picking Romney doesn’t seem very much of a maverick move for the Maverick, but I’m not sure who else in the Republican party would be. How about Ron Paul?

3. With the Olympics finishing up tomorrow, I have mixed feelings about these Games in China. My hope is that, through all the interaction with other countries and greater exposure to democracy, something would stir in China that, down the road, would bring real change to the lives of her citizens. My fear, however, is that any such seed will be rooted out, no thanks to the softened stance of mainstream American journalists (particularly NBC, who patronizingly broadcasted the Games) and the IOC‘s UN-like oversight of the whole spectacle in general. It will be interesting to see what comes of the investigation of China’s women’s little girls’ gymnastics team, and what the world’s response will be to the verdict (if indeed any is given).

4. I register for fall classes at Covenant this coming week, and then start the following Tuesday. I wish I had a little more of a breather between my summer course and the beginning of five new hours this semester, but I don’t get to vote. If all goes well, I should finish a master’s in theological studies in May of 2009 (that’s this coming spring!) and a master’s in educational ministries in May of 2010. Neither is that far away, but it still feels like miles to go before I sleep, as these folks must similarly feel.

5. Speaking of sleep, I have an uncanny ability to get some. I swear I was asleep twenty seconds after my head hit the pillow every night this week. My co-teacher, Larry Hughes, says I must have a clear conscience; I assure him it’s just that I’m tired.

6. I really like my classes at Westminster, and boy howdy, is it ever easier doing this the second time around. Whereas the first year seemed so much like walking in the dark and trying to teach something along the way, this year would seem to be the one in which I really figure out what exactly I’m teaching and the best way to teach it. I’ve got a great schedule, some cool kids (ones I’ve had and ones I haven’t), and I’m pretty pumped about taking bigger steps this year toward being a great teacher.

7. The new header above is not final. My friend, Kent, is playing with a couple design ideas after some feedback I gave him on the one above, so I should have the final one up soon. Hang with me.

I’ve got pictures and smoke detectors to hang, a few books to finish, and some email to catch up on this weekend, so I’ll wrap it up. If you’re still around, thanks for reading.

Thank You, Sir, May I Have Another?

In Books, Seminary on May 31, 2008 at 2:00 am

Here's a look at the reading list for the Spirit, Church, and Last Things class with Dr. Robert Peterson I'm taking online this summer:

  • Berkhof, Louis - Systematic Theology
  • Clowney, Edmund - The Church
  • Ferguson, Sinclair - The Holy Spirit
  • Fudge, Edward & Peterson, Robert - Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue
  • Hoekema, Anthony - The Bible and the Future
  • Letham, Robert - The Lord’s Supper
  • Peterson, Robert - Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment
  • Peterson, Robert & Williams, Michael – Why I Am Not an Arminian
  • Westminster Confession of Faith

Thirty-eight lectures, ten weeks, nine books, multiple syllabus readings – classic Doc P.

Summer Plans

In Church, Education, Family, Friends, Places, Places & Spaces, Seminary, Sports, Young Ones on May 24, 2008 at 6:46 am

My friend, Ed, asked for a post on what summer holds. Here it is.

1. I’m one of seven Westminster teachers taking 28 high school students on Summer Seminar to South Dakota for two weeks in June. Over the course of a 12-day trip to and through the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota, students will explore the theme of “shalom” (restoration) through three, two-day course cores in literature, ethics, and science. The culmination of the course will be a writing project that integrates a travel journal, a guided project (literary analysis of readings, poetry, photography, etc.), and their understanding of the Christian worldview (I’m in charge of this “integration” part). Should be fun.

2. Speaking of Westminster, I’m hoping to take a half-day a week to work on my teaching. I’ve kept a semi-detailed calendar of what I covered (either intentionally or unintentionally) each day this past school year, and I’d like to give that some evaluation and attention in order to figure out what I actually taught and how to do it better. Armed with some honest feedback from my students and revised scopes and sequences from the Bible department, I want to put some good work into how to teach as a more effective translator.

3. In addition to thinking about teaching, I’ll be participating in a class offered by Covenant titled “Spirit, Church, and Last Things” online this summer. After my experience with Ancient & Medieval Church History this past semester (good class, but I wasn’t as consistent as I wanted to be in keeping up), I’m not all that thrilled about online learning, but you do what you’ve got to get in the classes you need to finish a degree.

4. I’ve got piles of books from a variety of genres that I want to read. Personally, I’d also like to get back to more devotional reading and journal writing as, for better or worse, the blog has taken over the time I have in the past done both, and I can feel the difference in heart and hand. There’s just no replacement for meditative reading and writing, but I’ve not done much of either for a long while. Oh yeah, I’m also supposed to be writing/finishing the first draft of a book this summer.

5. I’m working on some leader development training and initiatives for Memorial for this summer and fall, and hope to do some planning/recruiting for those. Unfortunately, this is an area that got bumped to the back burner this past school year because of my first year teaching, but I’m glad for the request and opportunity to still be involved in this way a year later. I think our family is also going to start attending a small group over the summer, which should be interesting (I’m not really much of a small group guy).

6. While I’ve not really gained any significant weight, I’d like to shed some pounds and actually get back on an exercise regimen of some sort. For whatever reason, I just enjoy exercising my brain much more than I do my body. Guess I’m just too Neo-Platonic for my own good.

7. We may get some tickets to a couple Cards games in July – just when it’s hot enough to really be miserable. I imagine I’ll do a fair amount of yard mowing, grilling, and sweating this summer, not to mention cursing the I-64 construction still going on (it will be interesting to see how increased tourist traffic during the summer months affects things; so far, we’ve managed, but it’s getting old).

8. We’ll also make a few weekend trips to the farm over the summer, as there’s nothing better than sitting with a cold glass of iced tea out on the back patio listening to the corn grow. I’m sure there will be pictures.

9. While buying a house and moving is, I suppose, still a possibility over the next couple of months, the further we get into summer, the less excited I’m going to be about it. Obviously if the bank warms to our terms soon, we’re not going to walk away from things, but we’re not exactly going house-hunting either.

10. Of course, the best part about summer will be being home more with Megan and the girls – playing in the backyard, going to the library, reading books, renting and watching a flick, seeing friends, and just being a family. We’ve tried to keep formal activities for the little ladies to a minimum, so we’re hoping it will be pretty laidback. I want/need to read to them more at night (Megan’s been handling most of that all school year), as I don’t want to miss the window here – they’re all just growing up so too fast.

In a nutshell, that’s our summer.

Dostoevsky on World History

In Church, Seminary on May 6, 2008 at 2:00 am

While cramming lectures for my online church history class (which, as of today, I have 10 days to complete), I came across this quote from Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground:

"You can say anything you like about world history, anything that might enter the head of a man with the most disordered imagination. One thing, though, you cannot possibly say about it: you cannot say that it is sensible."

My thoughts exactly on the Medieval/Dark Ages period of the Church.

Five Things of Late

In Books, Education, Friends, Pop Culture, Seminary, Technology, Westminster on April 24, 2008 at 2:00 am

1. I can't remember where I read it, but I've been thinking a lot about the idea that, with the proliferation of so many news/infotainment sites, headlines tend to be more and more alarmist in nature so as to capture (and re-capture) readership. No wonder the world feels like it's falling apart at such a frightening rate as of late.

2. Though I'll always be a baseball fan first, soccer is starting to grow on me. I've been watching Westminster's girls varsity soccer games the past couple of weeks with my 6- and 4-year-olds and the constant action has been fun for them and for me. It also helps that we've been winning.

3. The month of May is filling fast with end-of-the-school-year events, seminary graduation parties, ballet and choir recitals for the girls, and other various and sundry challenges to finishing my remaining assignments for my own classes. I've blocked the next three Saturdays in hopes of wrapping up, but it's going to be close.

4. Teaching the Eighth Commandment and pleading with my sophomores and juniors to apply God's Word to their (illegal) music downloading/sharing practices may just get me killed. To their credit, some students are really wrestling with the issue now, even publicly asking for prayer at the end of class for the desire to change their ways. Hard but encouraging.

5. It seems like I'm reading a lot but not finishing much at all. I'd list the half-read titles here, but they'll be the same in another month, so I'll spare you the details. One thing's for sure: I'm going on a fiction binge at the end of May.

A Degree of Transition

In Family, Places & Spaces, Seminary, Westminster on April 16, 2008 at 5:02 am

A reader named Kevin recently left a comment inquiring as to my reasons for transitioning from a Masters of Divinity to MA degrees in theological studies and educational ministries at Covenant. As I just wrote my official transition request letter to the seminary faculty a couple of weeks ago, I thought I’d post it here for him (and anyone else) who might be interested.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to a decision like this than a one-page letter can capture, but for the sake of everybody’s attention spans, this should suffice for now. Feel free to leave a comment if you want more specifics and I’ll be glad to share a few (or at least make some up).

Dear Covenant Faculty,

This letter is an appeal for your approval of my request to transition from Covenant’s M.Div. track to a dual-track of M.A.T.S. and M.A.E.M., effective at the end of this spring semester. My reasons for making this change stem from both calling and common sense.

In 2005, my main reason for coming to Covenant was to invite new voices of input to speak into my life – personally, emotionally, spiritually, theologically. I had little aspiration to pursue ordained pastoral ministry, but had set my sights on the M.Div. nonetheless, as it was the most comprehensive degree Covenant offered.

After two years as a full-time seminary student, as well as this past year as a part-time student also teaching full-time at Westminster Christian Academy, a switch from the M.Div. to a double masters in theological studies and educational ministries seems apropos to equip me in my call to write at a popular level and teach at a high school level.

If all goes according to plan, I anticipate finishing the M.A.T.S. one year from now, then completing the M.A.E.M. the following year. The conclusion of these degrees is important not only for what it represents of my studies, but also for the sake of beginning to reallocate resources of time and finances to our four daughters’ education.

Megan and I look forward to staying in St. Louis after completing these degrees. In addition to our involvement at Memorial Presbyterian, I plan to continue teaching at Westminster in the areas of Biblical Ethics and New Testament, as well as be of any help to the seminary (and The Schaeffer Institute) that I can.

All that said, I would appreciate your endorsement of our plan by approving this request. It goes without saying, but thank you for your investment in my life and ministry in my time at Covenant. I count it a privilege to have had this opportunity to learn from you.

Gratefully,

Craig Dunham

PS: For more information about my thought process, please consult Drs. Douglass, Guthrie, or Barrs, as they have been on the receiving end (perhaps to their chagrin) of most of my degree transition conversations and know my heart in the matter.

I’ll let you know what the faculty say when I hear back from them next week.

No Joke

In Calling, Education, Seminary on April 2, 2008 at 2:00 am

I had an appointment for some academic advising at Covenant this afternoon and, in the process of doing the old degree audit and figuring out what I've taken and what I still need to take, I got some good news this April Fool's Day.

Barring any major screw-ups, I should finish my MA in Theological Studies one year from now. More good news: if class scheduling works out, I could be done with my MA in Educational Ministries the following spring.

Then I's bonafide.

Bittersweet Break

In Calling, Friends, Seminary, Vacation on March 25, 2008 at 6:56 am

Due to either brilliant planning or pathetic procrastination, my Westminster Spring Break is turning out to be more about remembering what it’s like to be a full-time student than what it’s like to be a teacher with a week off. On the docket:

  • Listen to seven 45-minute lectures, read five chapters, complete a study guide, and take the mid-term for my Ancient & Medieval Church History class
  • Write a 5-page paper for my Children’s Ministry class
  • Write two CD reviews and a 10-page paper for my Music & Theology class

I’m spending today at Covenant with two main purposes in mind:

  1. To get away and focus (the Catacombs are a bit too chilly and noisy for extended periods of time studying)
  2. To schedule some academic advising in response to Covenant’s publication of next year’s class schedule (if all goes well, I may actually be able to finish my Masters degree in Theological Studies a year from now)

I’m preparing myself this morning for somewhat of a bittersweet encounter, namely going to my first seminary chapel all year. In addition to seeing lots of familiar faces and sitting through an optional mid-week chapel whose participants are actually interested (unlike the mandatory weekly high school chapels I’m used to refereeing), my friend Ronnie is preaching.

Ronnie and I started seminary in the same Beginning Greek class almost three years ago. He (along with Rob, Tom, Mitchell, Josh, Mike, and dozens of others) are graduating this May with an actual Masters of Divinity degree after 36 solid months of ridiculous class loads and more Hebrew than I ever wanted (or was able) to endure.

While I’m happy and proud of all of them for gutting it out these past three years, I confess I’m more than a little sheepish about showing up today in my part-time, four-year, non-language, theological studies kind of way. Though none of them possess a superiority complex because of our divergent seminary paths, I (like the 14-year-old I perpetually think of myself as) am able to provide enough of an inferiority complex for all of us.

Indeed, I’m that gifted.

That said, I’m looking forward to what God will teach me today – about his unconditional love, about his sovereign plan, about the community of his people. I need to learn more about these things today, as they may be the only things that get me through this week of full-time seminary student studies with hope instead of drudgery as my companion.

Becoming More Like Them (part 2)

In Church, Education, Seminary on March 10, 2008 at 4:53 am

I resonate with Campagnola’s assessment, particularly when she writes:

“The contemporary church has often understood this verse (Matthew 18:3) to teach what great kingdom citizen character looks like – a child-like faith, humble and meek and ever ready to believe in Jesus. But Jesus took the disciples beyond the questions of character and greatness and challenged their theology of salvation and kingdom life. He made the child the reference point for:

• conversion – change and become like little children…to enter the kingdom
• community – become like little children in order to exemplify kingdom life
• calamity – unless you change…you will never enter the kingdom of heaven

He unfolds this in the subsequent verses with parallel language: change is evident when you humble yourself like this child; become is evident when you welcome a little child like this in my name; calamity awaits you if you cause one of these little ones to sin.” (72-73)

The way this challenges me is by revealing my lack of faith in thinking children are just little people we have to deal with because they’re young. How many times have I wondered what the early church did with their members’ children? How many ways have I imagined that, somehow, children must have been more godly then since their parents were who God was working through to begin the church? Answer: too many times to mention without embarrassment at my untamed idealism, to be sure.

Rather than lamenting that I have to deal with kids in church because (darn it) they’re young and not adults yet, how would my heart change if my default mentality was more along the lines that I get to minister to them because they’re young and not adults yet? What would that feel like for me, and (as importantly), what would it feel like for them?

I physically cringed at Campagnola’s statement that, “Children are seen as a distraction, and indeed they can be distracting as they respond to what is happening in worship and teaching that does not reflect their presence” (73), but not as much as I did when I read her follow-up questions 14 pages later: ““Is this relevant? Is this transferable to contemporary culture? Is there room in the ethics and handling of children for this perspective? Is there room in modern churches? Who is distracting whom?” (87).

Then it hits me: when we in the church refuse to become child-like, we are being childish; in not wanting to bring our children “into our midst,” we are being selfish; in not considering our children as “models of kingdom life,” we are being proud; in not looking to our children as “mirrors of kingdom hearts,” we are being blind; and in not honoring our children as “martyrs of kingdom rejection,” we are being unjust.

Is this the kind of existence Jesus calls us to embrace? Hardly. Is this the kind of life Paul calls us to forsake? Indeed. Perhaps we should spend more time wondering about children and their place in the church and less time thinking about adults and their place in heaven.

By Jesus’ own words, I wonder if there will be any adults in heaven anyway.

Becoming More Like Them (part 1)

In Church, Education, Seminary on March 9, 2008 at 4:08 pm
“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus, Matthew 18:3

“If growing up means it would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree,
I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up, not me!”
Peter Pan, “I Won’t Grow Up”

Child-like. Childish. In most adult minds, there are few differences between the two, as evidenced by most church children’s ministries’ desire that kids forsake childish ways in exchange for a more adult variety. After all, wasn’t it Paul who said, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me”? Indeed.

But there’s a difference between being “child-like” and “childish.” Shelly Campagnola, in her article in the book, Children’s Spirituality, paints a powerful picture of child-likeness – not for children (after all, a kid is as close to being a child as one can get) but for adults. She writes:

“What does it mean to become like a child? It means to see children from God’s redemptive perspective, and to become like children from the culture’s perspective. The child is on the outside, not included in the inner circle of those who think they have the way to God. The child is on the bottom, not considered eligible for recognition or participation and thus does not seek those. The child is powerless, voiceless, defenseless, claimless, forgotten and forsaken. The child is the one who is brought to Jesus, not one who assumes access. The child is the one pulled out of the gutter by a hand that says he does not belong there even when everyone else says he does.” (86-87)

Becoming child-like is not about being young-at-heart, but about being young, period; it’s not about children becoming more like us, but about us becoming more like them.

It’s for the Kids

In Church, Education, Seminary on February 9, 2008 at 4:44 am

In a class on the topic of children’s ministry this weekend at Covenant. Regardless of how what I learn gets used in the church, having four kids in the age range, I’m interested (I figure it’s time to go back and learn what I thought I already knew about children and any ministry to them – like many, I did all my best parenting before I had kids).

Personally, the musty church basement of the Griggsville United Methodist Church was a warm place for me when I was a child in Sunday School. I remember being fascinated by the stories and characters of the Bible, singing songs, and knowing my teacher would be there every Sunday. In retrospect, this was the beginning of God drawing me to Himself.

By my standards today, I would not consider any aspect of my Sunday School experience particularly biblical or well done – the moralistic curricula played into my perfectionist tendencies; the songs were cheeseball and the piano was always slightly out of tune; and I always sensed that there was unspoken tension among the teachers as to who got which room (they were all different sizes), who was the better teacher (we kids had favorites), and whether each of them truly believed what they taught (sadly, children’s ministry was and still is the victim of the wretched “warm body” recruit).

Yet I include my experiences as ones God used to reach me. Unlike Richard Dawkins’ argument in The God Delusion that “natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents and tribal elders tell them” (p. 205), I believe that, despite imperfect curricula, less-than-ideal space, and adults who had barely more knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures than I did at the time, God designed me – as he has all of the elect – to respond to Him, even (and often) at a young age.

God laid enough of a foundation of faith during my childhood to hold the weight of my first real spiritual steps to become a Christian at age 14. If He could do this despite the inadequacies of my church’s children’s ministry, I wonder what He would do through redeeming curricula, good space, and teachers called and trained to minister to children.

Indeed, I wonder.

On Reading, Thinking, Learning

In Books, Church, Education, Seminary, Theologians, Westminster on January 26, 2008 at 12:32 pm

The best part about education is the worst part about education: the more you learn, the more you realize how much there is to learn. And then comes the worst realization of all: there’s no way or time to learn it all. And that stinks.

I experience this sensation everytime I walk into a library or bookstore and remind myself again that, if I manage to average reading 60 books a year and even live to be 100, I’ll only have read 6,000 books in my lifetime (and that’s counting younger years of my life when I didn’t read 60 books a year, so it would be less). This thought makes me very sad.

All that said, of late I’ve been reading a few books on some challenging topics, namely Islam and evolution; the title of the former is Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t by Robert Spencer, and the latter is The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I’m still working through them, intrigued by the arguments, perspectives, and applications of each.

In addition, I read The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness by Simon Wiesenthal, a memoir of a Jewish concentration camp prisoner asked by a dying Nazi soldier for forgiveness. The last half of the book is a compendium of short essay responses from 53 “distinguished” men and women (theologians, political leaders, writers, jurists, psychiatrists, human rights activists, Holocaust surivovrs, and victims of attempted genocide) and their opinions on what Wisenthal should have done (he did nothing). Interesting to think through.

This weekend, I need to begin immersing myself in the world of Ancient and Medieval Church History, as I’m taking my first Access class through Covenant. I’m supposed to work through thirty-six recorded lectures by Dr. David Calhoun and volume 1 of Justo L. Gonzalez‘s book, The Story of Christianity, no later than May 15th. There are also quizzes, tests, and a project. Even then, I’ll just be scratching the surface of all that went on from the time of the early church until the Reformation. Nuts.

I’m taking two other classes at Covenant this spring (Children’s Ministry and Youth Ministry Across Culture), but those are each a weekend class, so they shouldn’t be too bad. This is good, as I still need to help my own students make sense of all the letters of the New Testament and the last four of the Ten Commandments (like there’s any way to cover any of those to the depth I want to in the course of a semester).

Which brings me back to my original thought: the more I learn, the more I want to learn, and the more frustrating I become that I can’t learn it all, even in a hundred lifetimes. My hope for Heaven is that we don’t get to just download everything we don’t know in one fell swoop; I’d rather have to learn it, as at least then I’ll have plenty of time to do so.