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Archive for the ‘Places & Spaces’ Category

Signing Off

In Calling, Family, Friends, Holidays, Humanity, Internet, Places & Spaces, Pop Culture, Thought on January 1, 2015 at 12:10 pm

That's All Folks

In news that you’ll only read here, Second Drafts – my blog home for the past ten years – is closing its doors, with no plans to be reopened or replaced. I’ll save you the self-serving explanations and simply say that, for a variety of reasons, it’s time to move on.

That said, let me leave you with a final “best of” collection from the past ten years. After writing nearly 1,000 posts, I’m including 30 of my more popular and personal favorite ones – a wide variety I’d love you to read just one more time. (To be sure, there are easily another 30 I would include if I gave myself permission, but enough about me, what do you think about me?)

One of the reasons I include these and perhaps not others has as much to do with the interaction (back when people actually responded to blog posts and not just the social media announcing them), so be sure to read the comments. (Of course, you’re always welcome to troll the archives for more as you like, but I imagine you have a life.)

While I will no longer be blogging here anymore, I’ll continue to contribute a periodic post to The Scholars Blog and City Presbyterian blog every six weeks or so. For better or for worse, I still feel I have thoughts and words to share, but it’s time to develop those in a different way and for a different audience. At least personally, my blogging days are done. It’s been a good run.

Whether you’ve been a long-time or recent reader, thanks for the gift of your interest and attention. I’ve never taken it for granted. Enjoy reading/re-reading the posts, and if you’d be so kind, leave me a comment below to say you did. Thank you.

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Rural Reflections

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

IMG_5173

“The chance you had is the life you’ve got. You can make complaints about what people, including you, make of their lives after they have got them, and about what people make of other people’s lives…but you mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else.” Wendell Berry in Hannah Coulter

After our Colorado trip and two days back in the office in Oklahoma City, we’re here in Illinois wrapping up the last of our vacation days. Altogether, it’s been a good and much-needed break from the past 18 months of school merging and managing, and I’m (almost) ready to jump back into things in earnest next week.

In the meantime, I’m making the most of our last few days here in Pike County where I – along with four previous generations of Dunhams – grew up on our centennial farm. Our girls love being here and connecting with their four Pike County cousins (I have two younger sisters who each have two kids of their own), Megan graciously tolerates the latest tales of townsfolk she has never met, and even our dog, Peaches, seems to have an affinity for the rural life (in particular the John Deere Gator rides, as shown above).

I love the farm. For as long as I can remember, it has meant much to me as a place, an anchor, a stopping-off point, a means of provision, a muse of creativity, a home…the list is endless. The stability of associating myself with a particular 600 acres of God’s green Earth is rare in today’s transient world and has always mesmerized me in its value, both felt and perceived. Even when I didn’t want to be here, or thought there was no future in it for me here, I’ve always loved the farm…and I always will.

But then I ask myself, do I love the farm or do I love the idea of the farm? The answer to both questions is “yes,” which transforms the inquiry into one of degrees (i.e. which one do I love more?). That’s when things get confusing.

There was a time  – when, for instance, I would plow the living room for hours on end as a five-year-old – that my family may have expected me to remain on or eventually return to the farm. At some point, though – exactly when, I don’t know – they let go of that expectation most likely because I did. I remember being 16 and chomping at the bit to leave for college, to graduate and move to The Loop in downtown Chicago (to do what, I had no idea), and never look back. The desire did not spring from some dislike for the rural as much as a fascination for the urban; after all, as the post-WWI song goes, “How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?”

I can’t say I ever felt direct pressure to “be about” the farm; chores (what little of them I had) never came before studies or school events, and farming was never cause for missing a game or performance or church as long as Saturday mornings were kept open for hog work. If anything, there were times in my early teens when I probably felt frustrated that I couldn’t do more to help out in the fields or on the bigger equipment in a more significant way, but God had his reasons, and my parents – perhaps seeing the writing on the wall before I did – acquiesced to those by supporting (and at times, directing) me in other endeavors.

As I’ve grown older, I confess that my pride in telling others of our family’s fifth-generation farm quickly erodes even before the end of the sentence when, inevitably, I know the next question that’s coming: “So what’s going to happen to the farm?” Many times I have felt guilty at being the only son or (though I would not trade any of my daughters for all the farms in the world) that my Y chromosomes couldn’t figure things out enough to produce a male heir to carry on the Dunham name and take to farming more than I did. Neither feeling is fair, but guilt (in particular the self-inflicted kind) does not play by the rules.

As much as the thought of returning to Pike County can be nostalgically attractive, I’ve yet to figure out how to make it happen practically; it would seem I have very little of what it takes to “make it” in the country. While the urbanite wrongly assumes that those living outside city limits are somehow “less than” because they haven’t made it to the city, he would never survive in rural America, which is why he doesn’t try beyond buying some miniscule weekend/vacation acreage upon which his existence does not depend.

I think of Thomas Jefferson’s words concerning agriculture and those who practice it:

“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands.”

Jefferson’s sentiment describes my father and my grandfather; it does not, however, describe me, a truth that at times grieves my heart and disturbs my thoughts. There is no solution or salve for this affliction, save only the choice to still care and the decision to still visit, both of which seem trite compared to the calling and effort of my forebears to sustain this land over the past 100+ years so that I might still engage with it now.

As predominant a sculptor as any in my life, the farm – as a tool in the sovereign hands of God – seems to have shaped me for something other than itself. It’s no secret that I’m eternally grateful for this, but it is also a reality that saddens me some nevertheless.

Insecurities and the Seven Sons of Sceva

In Calling, Church, Family, Friends, Humanity, Musicians, Places & Spaces, Theologians, Thought, Travel, Vacation, Young Ones on June 27, 2014 at 12:43 am

“But the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?'” Acts 19:15

This verse (along with the passage from which it comes) has run through my head about a hundred times in the past week. Believe it or not, we’ve been on vacation, but my insecurities are no respecter of calendar dates, locations, or accommodations. I’m never surprised (though never ready) when feelings of unworthiness and personal contempt raise their ugly heads and say hello.

Without boring you with too many details (ask my wife: vacationing with me is about as exciting as watching paint dry), I started off our trip alone, flying to North Carolina to cover for Michael Card, who was teaching an intensive Bible seminar at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville. It’s unfortunate that many folks my age (43) and younger don’t have a knowledge of or appreciation for Mike’s music, writing, and teaching, but the older (50 and above) folks know a good thing when they find it; many of them follow Mike across the country for his concerts or Biblical Imagination conferences or even around the world (he had just gotten back from a tour in Ireland in May and takes a group to Israel every year in January).

Mike’s “fans” tend to have more gray hair, available time, and discretionary funds than most, all of which equate to big expectations when they’re shelling out $429 a pop at one of the premier conference centers in the country to hear arguably one of the best Bible teachers in the world. The topic for last week was the Gospel of John, for which Mike has just finished a new book and album (pre-order yours here). The good news was he was able to teach Monday-Thursday; the other news was, due to a mistaken double-booking, he was going to have to leave late Thursday night and needed a pinch-hitter to wrap up the week.

Overlooking the Smoky Mountains at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, NC.

As Mike and I have done conferences together off-and-on for 12 years now, he asked me if I would fill in for him. Without really considering the dynamics, I said I would. I flew out Wednesday night, sat in on three sessions on Thursday, and then Mike and I executed a brief baton pass toward the end of the Thursday evening meeting. It went well, but I still had two sessions by myself on Friday morning and 120 folks who, without intending to be evil, had to be asking the demon’s question with a twist:

“Jesus I know, and Michael Card I recognize, but who are you?”

Fast-forward to Sunday morning. After leaving The Cove Friday afternoon and flying to Denver that evening, I met up with Megan and our two youngest daughters and drove to the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park to pick up our two oldest daughters who had just finished RYM Camp with our City Presbyterian Pyretics group (major props to youth director Jarod Mason and intern Laura Parsons for coordinating and chaperoning). From there, we drove to Colorado Springs and up to Eagle Lake Camps, where Megan and I met and invested ten years (1992-2001) of our lives, and where I was to speak at staff chapel on Sunday morning. (As their two older sisters had three years previously, our two younger daughters were also set to attend camp this week.)

With Maddie, Millie, Katie, and Chloe on the deck of Lilly cabin at Eagle Lake northwest of Colorado Springs, CO.

As you might imagine, the crowd was much younger than at The Cove; instead of 120 senior citizens, I was looking down the barrel of 120 wild-eyed high school- and college-aged students who will spend the rest of the summer caring for over 2,700 kids from all over the country. The energy was overwhelming, as was my self-doubt. I had worked weeks in advance on my message, but now that I was onsite, I wondered if it would actually connect; most of these kids would have been in diapers (if they were even born) when I was at Eagle Lake in my twenties, and it’s never pretty when an older speaker attempts to play hipster (which I didn’t) to reach a younger audience.

While many of the staff had apparently heard of me (it’s not hard to be a camp celebrity just by virtue of having lasted ten years at one), I couldn’t help but imagine them saying to themselves:

“Jesus I know, and some counselor I heard a story or two about from twenty years ago I recognize, but who are you?”

Who are you? Luke records that the evil spirit asked the question not of Christian believers but of “itinerant Jewish exorcists” who “undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits” (Acts 19:13). In other words, these “seven sons of Sceva” (great ska band name!) were trying to coast on the coattails of Jesus and Paul, but the evil spirit would not be fooled. The result wasn’t pretty: “The man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded” (Acts 19:16).

The story is a reminder as well as a warning. Whether speaking to a weekend conference or camp audience or to our family and friends on a daily basis, are we doing so as followers of Christ or as Christian posers? Are we ministering out of the overflow of our relationship with Jesus, or are we name-dropping the Savior and his apologists in hopes that – somehow – His power will transfer anyway? As the passage records, there are few more dangerous sins than the sin of presumption.

The question of “Who are you?” is as pointed an accusation Satan and his agents of evil can throw at us, as there is no more powerful attack than one that attacks our person. But this is when we remind Satan (and ourselves) of who the Lord says we are. Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:9-10 are helpful:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

In case you were wondering, the two sessions at The Cove went better than I hoped (there’s no more honest compliment than conferees confessing afterward that, yes, they had been disappointed you weren’t the original speaker, but they saw God’s hand in it and were glad and grateful after all). The talk at Eagle Lake seemed to hit home (there’s no more humbling thanks than when semi-awkward 19-year-olds try almost too hard to convince you that your message was exactly what they needed that morning). Whew.

The good news of the Gospel is that, while feelings of insecurities may be frequent and no fun, they can keep our poser potential in check if we confess them to Jesus so He can remind us who – and Whose! – we are. To do otherwise – to “fake it ’til we make it” despite our insecurities – will leave us naked, wounded, and in a vulnerable state that we will only want to hide from others and from God.

The Lord Is Our Refuge

In Calling, Church, Education, Friends, Oklahoma City, Places & Spaces, Travel, Vacation, Young Ones on June 22, 2014 at 5:30 pm

Cross (low res)

(The following manuscript is of the message I gave at Eagle Lake Camps chapel on Sunday, June 22, 2014. It was an honor to speak at such a beloved place from my past.)

I’m going to be speaking from Psalm 16 this morning, so while you’re finding your seats, you can begin turning there in your Bibles. While you’re doing that, let me introduce my family. Megan and I have four daughters: Maddie is 15, Chloe is 13, Katie is 12, and Millie is 10, and have lived in Oklahoma City, where I serve as Head of School of The Academy of Classical Christian Studies. Maddie and Chloe came to camp three years ago, and Katie and Millie will be joining you this week. As perhaps you’ve heard, Eagle Lake is a special place for us. Megan and I met here 21 years ago. I served as a Rez counselor, program director, musician, and Onsite Director from 1992-2001, while she served as a Kitchen staff, Rez counselor, Crew counselor, store manager, and nanny 9 of those 10 years.

If I remember this time of summer correctly, you’ve been here long enough to know what’s supposed to be going on, but that whole “fourth week/first week” thing is perhaps beginning to ring hollow. You’ve probably heard others – if not yourself – begin to grumble, and the idea of six more weeks is perhaps not quite as rosy as it was four weeks ago. There’s no place like camp to discover what we’re capable of – good, bad, and ugly – but there’s also no place like camp to learn to trust God with the good, bad, and ugly we discover.

This is what I want to talk with you about today. If you have any hope of lasting the rest of the summer – of God preserving you – it begins with taking refuge in Him. Look at Psalm 16:1-2: “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’” Taking our cue from David, what does taking refuge in God yield? I’d like to suggest four preservations:

Because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for godly company. Look at verses 3: “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” Now notice the comparison in verse 4: “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.”

Whether in college at the University of Missouri, when we were on staff with the Navs for 12 years here in the Springs, when we moved to St. Louis to begin seminary, or during the past three years of our lives in Oklahoma City, we’ve always been with good, godly people. But here’s our secret: we’re not the ones doing the surrounding; we just happen to enjoy the providence of God – in his refuge role – doing so.

Whether you recognize it happening or not, God is at work building at least one friendship (though I’ll be surprised if it’s only one) that will continue on with you ten, twenty, even dare I say fifty years as a result of your time at Eagle Lake. I say this out of experience, and I’m not even talking about the yahoos in the back.

We moved from St. Louis to Oklahoma City three years ago, and in doing so, have since reacquainted with Molly – one of my wife’s Rez Campers back in 1994, who with her husband sent their little girl and twin boys to the school I lead. One of my Grammar school principals, Alison, was one of my Program Coaches for two years in 1995 and 1996. We go to church with Brian and Matt, who were former counselors and now are both married to their wives and have a couple of kids. At church, we also get to see our pastor’s wife, Julie, who was a counselor in 1993, as well as a founding board member of our school. And speaking of board members, Jonathan, is about to come on our board, and he was a former camper! (This should give each and every one of you pause as to how you view that camper who keeps throwing rocks and won’t listen.)

These are just former staff and campers living in the same town. All of these friends came through Eagle Lake back in the day, walked with God through their twenties and thirties, and were established in Oklahoma long before we ever got there. The same has been true of every place we’ve lived, and so many places in between. This is what God does when he tells Peter in Matthew 16 that, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Because the Lord is our refuge, he is at work keeping us from the sorrows of those who run after another god and drink the ungodly offerings of blood and take their names. Because the Lord is our refuge, he is preparing excellent ones, in whom will be our delight, not just for when you return home or to school in August, but for the rest of your days and wherever you go as part of his universal church.

But that’s just the beginning. The second preservation is this: because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for contentment. Look at verses 5 and 6: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”

We need to understand something here: the language used is not of preference but allotment; that is, God – not us – is the one choosing our portion, giving us our lot to hold, drawing where our lines will fall, and the one from whom we inherit whatever inheritance he decides. We are not learning to be content with what we choose; we are learning to be content with what he chooses for us.

I know of no better place to learn a lifestyle of contentment than camp. Notice what I said there – not a lesson, but a lifestyle – of contentment. As our American culture sees generation after generation more and more infected with an entitlement epidemic, we see this illness come to camp in campers and sometimes (I hate to say it) in staff. The plain and reality is, if you’re only content when you’re comfortable, you’re not content but pacified.

I don’t remember what summer it was, but I do remember that one of our counselors that year – I’ll call her Maggie – had no interest in learning about contentment at Eagle Lake. It was about the third or fourth week when she came into my office every day crying, begging to go home. She’d been a little sick the week before, was more than a little homesick since she’d arrived, and when we tried to help her through it by assigning a co-counselor, giving her three afternoons off to rest, and just trying to listen to and love her, she would have none of it. Her heart was hardened and her eyes were angry. She had what I call the two-year-old syndrome: she wanted what she wanted and she wanted it now.

That Thursday evening, she followed me into my office, demanding that she be allowed to leave. I reached into my filing cabinet, pulled out her staff agreement, and told her that if she was going to go home, she was going to have to rip up her signed agreement then and there. As I pushed it across the table to her, I told her I hoped she would think about the worth of her name and what her signature on the agreement meant. Without batting an eye, she grabbed the paper, held it up in front of me, and dramatically ripped it into four pieces. Without saying a word, I took a phone book, placed it on the table, and told her to book her flight out the following morning.

A few years later, I received a letter from Maggie, in which she asked forgiveness for her discontent. By the conviction of the Holy Spirit, he had led her to repentance, embracing what was surely awkward and uncomfortable for her and trusting him – and me – to walk through it with her. It was an amazing privilege to forgive.

Because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for our contentment with our chosen portion – lot, cup, drawn lines, inheritance. I’m sure you’ve already recognized areas of frustration this summer – 3-minute showers, uncomfortable conditions, whiny campers, time that’s not your own – but God is sovereign and sovereignly at work in growing you by these means. These opportunities are providential for you to learn in whatever situation – whether brought low or abounding, facing plenty or hunger, in abundance or need – to be content. Confess your covetousness and expose your feelings of entitlement to one another. Admit when you’re acting like a two-year-old and put on your big boy or girl pants and grow up. And trust that you can do all these things through Christ who strengthens you as you pursue this contentment, which is the actual context of this most misquoted verse.

The third preservation is this: because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for delight in his constant presence. Look at verses 7-8: “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”

At our school back in Oklahoma City, we spend a tremendous amount of time pushing back on a modern culture fooled into thinking that education is all about information transfer. When I talk with parents, teachers, and especially with students, I’m always asking the question posed by James K.A. Smith in his book, Desiring the Kingdom: “What if education isn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?”

At our school, we don’t want kids to just learn the Law; we want them to learn to love the Law because, as Calvin reminds us, the Law reflects like a mirror the perfection of God; it restrains like a bit in a horse’s mouth evil; and it illuminates like a lamp that which pleases God. But where are kids going to learn to love the Lord and his Law? My friend Andrew Kern of The Circe Institute suggests that, “We become what we behold.” This is why the psalmist can speak in verse 7 about the counsel and instruction he’s received. As verse 8 reads, he has set the Lord before him; he is at his right hand and he is not shaken because what he beholds is not shaken.

This whole “becoming what we behold” idea should sound familiar. What is the goal of Eagle Lake Camp? “The goal of Eagle Lake Camp is to inspire Christ-centered love and commitment, through counselor relationships, in the midst of exciting outdoor experiences.” The worst thing you can do with kids this summer is reduce Jesus to an intellectual idea to be merely accepted, catalogued, or easily referenced. Paul says it beautifully and simply in 1 Corinthians 11:1 – “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Trust in this – and rejoice! – that somehow – by God’s unbelievable goodness – campers might become what they behold in you because you – together – are becoming what you behold in Christ.

The fourth and final preservation I want to remind us of today is this: because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for hope of everlasting joy and the path of direction. Look at verses 9-11: “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

When I consider the story God has written for this place from before the creation of the world, I am blown away. And, when I consider the few pages of that story that happened to include Megan and me, my heart is overcome with thankfulness to the Lord. I think of all God has done here and the thousands upon thousands of challenges He has overcome to ensure the 57th summer of Eagle Lake Camps happens, and my whole being rejoices. Personally, when I consider all that the Lord did in me in my time here, my flesh dwells secure, for He did not abandon my wretched and pathetic soul, nor let me see corruption, but made known to me a path of life by way of His presence and His people.

The Lord showed me here that I had an anger problem…because I had a control problem…because I had a people-pleasing problem…because I had a pride problem. The Lord loved me enough to place me in a beautiful place surrounded with good people through which He taught me the importance of Luke 16:10, “That he who is faithful with very little will be faithful with much.” He taught me to be teachable – to recognize correction from my leaders, my peers, and (gulp) my campers – not as punishment but as discipline for my good, for He disciplines those He loves. Hebrews 12:11 – the first verse I ever memorized – reminds us that, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” These promises have rung true in my life, not because I was always true to them, but because the Lord – our promise-making, covenant-keeping God – always was.

Which is why I can be confident in reminding you of four promises in Psalm 16:

  1. Because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for godly company.
  2. Because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for contentment.
  3. Because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for delight in his constant presence.
  4. Because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for hope of everlasting joy.

Let us glory in God’s preservation, reminding each other and ourselves that He is our Refuge, that He is our Lord, and indeed, we have no good thing apart from Him.

Three Years: A Hard and Happy Time

In Calling, Church, Family, Friends, Marriage, Oklahoma City, Places & Spaces, Students, Teachers, The Academy, Veritas on June 9, 2014 at 7:45 am

City Pres Particularization

Reflecting on the fact that, as of this week, we’ve lived in Oklahoma City for three years. Here’s a video tour (or more accurately, a tour of videos) to commemorate the milestone.

We’ve had a hand in creating a new mascot

…a new school

…and a new church.

We’ve fostered and become advocates for foster care…

…mourned loss…

…reminisced and remembered…

…partied…

…had fun at another’s expense (quite justified)…

…had fun at our own expense (quite amusing)…

…and periodically had a little too much time on our hands (quite disturbing).

By God’s grace and providence, it’s been a hard and happy time – rarely one or the other; more frequently, one and the same. There’s more to say than anyone would read, and still more to do that too much nostalgic navel-gazing would allow.

Perhaps we should just let Psalm 16 have the last word:

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.

The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.

The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.

I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Doing Good

In Calling, Humanity, Places & Spaces, Thought on April 23, 2014 at 8:18 am

keep sowing

By temperament and by training, I tend to have a critical eye when it comes to customer service. So, in a world in which the fine art of serving others has gone by the wayside, whenever I have a good experience, I always want to trumpet it. Today, I had two such good experiences, both within ten minutes of each other.

The first one was courtesy of Swedish Motors in Edmond. You may remember that we bought a 1990 Volvo from Swedish back in January of 2013. Well, a few weeks ago, the power windows and air conditioning suddenly went out. I guessed it was something as simple as a fuse, but the supposed simplicity of fixing the problem didn’t make it any easier to bring it in, as it required a special trip and (I assumed) a couple of hours for it to get looked at and fixed.

Well, surprise, surprise. Wrangling out a few hours in my schedule to take it in, I met Jim at the front desk who asked me for the reason I came in today. I told him the symptoms and my diagnosis of what I thought might be the problem. He immediately said, “Let’s take a look,” and I followed him out into the parking lot. Sure enough, it was the fuse, so he walked back in, grabbed three new fuses of a higher capacity (I didn’t have any extras), installed it, started the car, and it was done – air conditioning and power windows in full working order. I asked Jim what I owed him and he said nothing. He then said that if I ever have any trouble, bring it in and they’ll take care of it.

Yes.

I got in my car and drove east a few blocks on 15th street to the Starbucks I was planning to walk to and work at while I was waiting on the car. Normally observant and self-aware, while I was waiting to place my order, I took a step back and somehow managed to knock a porcelain travel mug off the top shelf of a display, smashing it to bits. Immediately, two employees came to clean it up, reassuring me that it wasn’t a big deal, that they had extras in inventory, and that they planned for breakage. Joking that I didn’t want Starbucks to go under because of my clumsiness, I stepped up to place my order, offering to pay for the mug. Instead, the gal working the register told me that that wasn’t necessary and that my drink was free because she wanted to make sure I had a good day.

I was blown away.

Good service is a powerful thing, and I wish more companies and businesses recognized it as such – not just as a way to make and keep customers, but especially as a way to influence people and change the world. Galatians 6:9-10 comes to mind:

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

So kudos to Swedish and Starbucks. You made my day and inspired me to try to make someone else’s. Thanks for doing good today.

On Death and Dying in a Digital Age

In Church, Family, Friends, Health, Humanity, Internet, Places & Spaces, Technology, Thought on March 1, 2014 at 9:32 am

Moleta

“While the dead don’t care, the dead matter.
The dead matter to the living.”

Thomas Lynch

My mother-in-law, Moleta King of Owasso, OK, passed away earlier this week after battling ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) for the past two years. Hers was the first passing I’d ever been completely present for, from roughly 15 hours before the time of death early Tuesday morning through her burial Friday afternoon. For reasons good and otherwise, it’s been the longest week I can remember – good, in that this kind of loss forces us to slow down and mourn by way of our memorial traditions; otherwise, in that we (or some of us) push back against grief’s delays in ways our modern world has trained us – by way of technology.

Don’t get me wrong: there is comfort in hearing from hundreds of friends who, for various reasons, cannot be present with the living as they mourn their dead. A product of our overly-mobile culture, this distance disconnect can be overcome instantly via phone, email, and text messaging (along with our more traditional – but time-requiring – means of letter writing, card sending, and flower delivering). But what left me wanting this past week was the public display of affection made possible by social media. At the risk of offending those who employed it (all with the best of intentions, I’m sure), let me explain.

I became tired of people proclaiming they were praying for me/us on Facebook, mostly because I doubted they really were. It felt like there was a “crisis reminder” right next to the “birthday reminder” on the screen, so of course folks needed to click it and leave a trite message. “Praying for you!” “You’re in our thoughts and prayers!” And my personal favorite: “Prayers coming your way!” (Let’s be honest: if prayers are coming my way, we’re screwed; we pray to God, not to each other.) Of course, I know some – perhaps many – people did pray when they said they would (I’m not completely jaded), but I confess Facebook often felt too quick and too convenient to take the message to heart.

The other thing that bothered me (and I write this with no condemnation of my family, but as a completely hypocritical member of it) was how we gravitated to our own digital worlds in the midst of our grief. Both my family (wife and four girls, ages 10-15) and Megan’s sister’s family (husband and wife with five kids, ages 9-22) are fairly “wired,” and I counted at least eight smart phones, six laptops, and a desktop among us that received more than their fair share of attention this past week. Granted, some use was to make plans or to communicate them, but I would venture that just as much or more was in pursuit of comfort and general distraction. I kept wondering (again, without judgment of a crime – if it was one – to which I was certainly an accomplice), how much did we miss from each other because of the separation of our screens?

Years ago, I read a fascinating book titled Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality by Thomas Lynch. A writer, poet, and undertaker, Lynch writes from a unique first-person perspective of the generalities and nuances of life, death, and the often-uneasy tension that exists in their co-existence in our world. He has published several books along the theme of death and dying, including The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, and more recently, The Good Funeral: The Good Funeral: Death, Grief, and the Community of Care. (PBS’ Frontline actually turned The Undertaking into this documentary by the same name, which I watched with my four daughters a few hours before leaving for the visitation on Thursday as a way of explaining what all had happened since their grandmother’s death.) He writes:

“Grief is the tax we pay on our attachments…the price we pay for being close to one another. If we want to avoid our grief, we simply avoid each other.”

Was our family’s tendency toward technology in some way self-protective against the idea of losing each other as we had already lost Moleta? I’m not sure any of us would have verbalized it as such (nor probably would any of us still), but I do wonder. Was our handling of death and dying in our digital age normal? Was it healthy? Could it have been better without the phones and laptops? Would it have been? I don’t know.

A couple other observations from a tough week:

  • Everyone suddenly becomes a theologian at visitations, memorial services, and funerals. I heard plenty of bad theology from people – some who didn’t know any better, plenty of others who should – that it took all I could muster to keep from putting on sackcloth and ashes and weeping and gnashing my teeth. “Heaven got a new angel today!” “She finally got her wings!” And my personal favorite, spoken without a trace of irony: “I’m sure she’s having a great time, but Heaven sounds boring to me.” And then there came the platitudes: “Nothing can hurt her now.” “We’ll get to see her again one day.” “She’s in a better place.” While this last set may be true, I hate them, and I judgmentally hold in contempt those who use them. I’m not saying I’m right in doing this; I’m just saying I do this.
  • I can’t remember the last time I cried and don’t really care that I rarely do – it fits well with the Spock stereotype people often enjoy at my expense. (Interestingly, when I was not trying to get some work done across the week, I watched the first five Star Trek movies on Netflix just to touch base with my Vulcan counterpart. The more I learn about Spock’s back story, the more I happily embrace the aforementioned comparison. It’s not that Spock didn’t have emotions; on the contrary, as a Vulcan he was fiercely emotional, but was trained and learned to master his feelings to the point where he was confused for and known as being emotion-less.) All that said, I finally cried (“leaked” is probably a better word) at the end of the memorial service, so I really am human in case anyone was wondering.

As always with me, there are plenty more observations, but most are either too personal or too meaningless (or both) to write here. I’ve said before that death is life’s great perspective-bringer, but after experiencing death’s bringing of perspective this week, I’ve had enough, at least for now.

Which brings me back to Lynch and the comfort with which he writes and thinks about death. His is a wonderful analysis neither morbid in tone nor myopic in perspective; rather, he writes in a way that is warm, helpful, and full of insight into the meaning of life as viewed through death’s reality, which is not something to be feared, but to be embraced as another part of the whole of life:

“It was there, in the parlors of the funeral home – my daily stations with the local lately dead – that the darkness would often give way to light. A fellow citizen outstretched in his casket, surrounded by floral tributes, waiting for the homages and obsequies, would speak to me in the silent code of the dead: ‘So, you think you’re having a bad day?’ The gloom would lift inexplicably. Here was one to whom the worst had happened, often in a variety of ways, and yet no word of complaint was heard from out the corpse. Nor did the world end, nor the sky fall, nor his or her people become blighted entirely. Life, it turns out, goes on with or without us. There is at least as much to be thankful for as wary of.”

Indeed, but only because Jesus says so (and not because someone tells me on Facebook).

The Way We “Wrestle” Is to Pray

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

Wrist Prayer

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

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

The way we “wrestle” is to pray.

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The (Online) Book of Common Prayer

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

Let the Learning Continue

In Calling, Church, Education, Family, Friends, Health, Holidays, Marriage, Oklahoma City, Places & Spaces, The Academy, Young Ones on January 1, 2014 at 6:13 pm

2014

My son, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life
and peace they will add to you.
Proverbs 3:1-2

Megan already shared a 2013 summary of sorts in our online Christmas letter, so I’ll save you a rehash here. But I did want to offer a few thoughts I’ve been thinking between Christmas and New Year’s (possibly my favorite week of the year).

Put simply, I’m really glad 2013 is out of here. It was a very hard year, one that I don’t regret, but at the same time one I do not wish to relive again. Foster care, school merging, church planting, another round of husbanding and parenting – all good things that were all hard. Really hard.

It was a lonely year. Despite spending the majority of my days with great people at The Academy, we were always at work on something (and trying to be present on three different campuses every week sometimes felt like being present at none). I enjoy the folks in our Wednesday night City Pres group, but seeing them once a week for an hour or two only goes so far.

Even with Megan and the girls, the “project” of foster care took its toll on our family dynamics and relationships, and while it built new things in, I would say that we all functioned more as partners than as family at times, doing what needed to get done at the expense of deepening our relationships. This kind of sacrifice is not always bad – we grew in other ways as a result – but I don’t want to repeat it to the same degree in 2014.

Things I’m continuing to learn/re-learn (feel free to apply palm to forehead on my behalf if any of these seem obvious):

  • The “why” behind decisions matters, and even when it should be crystal clear, it still bears repeating.
  • Competence is exhausting if it’s all you’re depending on or leading by.
  • The intellectual vacuum I feel having read so little and consistently this past year is scary. Am I really so out of thoughts without those of others? It would seem so.
  • The forties can be a very dangerous time of coasting on past experiences and successes and relying too much on oneself.
  • Another forties temptation: to claim identity in what I do and not in who I am (and Whose I am). Unfortunately, others are too quick to enable this by labeling and pigeon-holing.
  • Technology continues to both accelerate and rob me of time (and I continue to let it).
  • I barely have an idea of what moderation is (and suffer as a result – diet, overworking, time online, vegging, etc.).
  • Being acknowledged is not the same as being known.
  • I am not particularly healthy, but seem to benefit from hardy genes that don’t require a whole lot to function…for now.
  • Regular periods of quiet are scarce and their absence is scarring my soul.
  • All of a sudden I’m older than many of the parents enrolling at our school and therefore viewed as someone who should know (or know better, depending on the complaint).
  • I do not write enough thank you notes (but not because I do not have reasons to do so – God is so good to me, as are His people).
  • The older I get, the harder it becomes to acknowledge how much I still have to learn (humility ages so much better than does pride).

I don’t want to lose sight of all that, by God’s grace, was accomplished last year:

  • Megan and I are still (somehow) married after 17 years.
  • Our kids still seem to love and enjoy us (and we them).
  • Our family is still caring about caring for people.
  • We successfully merged two schools into one.
  • City Pres is growing and purchased a great building in downtown Oklahoma City.
  • We are still seeking to believe and care about God (though we fail by the minute).

But that was last year, and this is this year. And today is the first day of 2014, and tomorrow will be the second. One would think I would have learned more than I have by now, yet I feel the weight of all that I still have not (or at least what I imagine I have not).

So, let the learning continue. And to those whom God will use to teach/re-teach me in 2014, thanks for having God’s best interests for me in mind.

And sorry I can be stubborn. I’m still learning.

(As I finish this post, I’m reminded of Charlie Peacock‘s brilliant song, “Insult Like the Truth,” the lyrics of which Chuck graciously gave permission to use in TwentySomeone. Take a listen here for his treatise on the dangers of a lack of teachability.)

What Church Is (and Isn’t)

In Calling, Church, Oklahoma City, Places & Spaces on November 9, 2013 at 8:50 am
City Pres' new home at 13th & Shartel, downtown OKC.

City Pres’ new home at 13th & Shartel, downtown OKC.

(The following piece was originally written and posted on the City Presbyterian blog.)

City Presbyterian just bought a building – a beautiful old brick structure straddling the line between wealth and poverty in downtown Oklahoma City. Renovated five years ago, the facility is in better shape than a 93-year-old building should be, and, as of November 1, we’re its new stewards.

We’re all pretty excited about closing on the property, but not because it means we’ve finally arrived (we haven’t), nor that we eventually will (we won’t). We’re excited about our new church building because we’re excited about being Christ’s Church; any other motivation runs the risk of idolatry.

In  a previous post, I wrote about the challenges of “finding” a church. I also promised a few ideas as to having a right perspective in the process. Toward that end, and in the wake of our recent acquisition of the property at 13th and Shartel, here are two thoughts I would offer:

A church is not a building and a building is not a church. There’s something to be said for beautiful architecture, as it reminds us that God is a God of aesthetic as well as order. And while we need beauty, aesthetic, and order to flourish in our humanity, God has nevertheless prospered His Church when those things haven’t always been present. If one’s evaluation of a church begins or ends with a building, there’s probably some room to grow in a more biblical understanding of ecclesiology.

This doesn’t mean there sometimes isn’t a need for functional space – the Bible is filled with places of worship that ranged from a pile of stones to Jerusalem’s temple. The point is that these places had purposes that were responses to God and not just the whims of man. When we want something because we want something – especially when it comes to buildings – we run the risk of making its acquisition an idol, with our subsequent fulfillment impossibly dependent upon it.

A church’s people make up a church, but the church is not (only) for its members…or even its non-members. One of the biggest tensions a church experiences is trying to figure out who it’s for – the members or those the members are trying to reach. Bitterness comes from those in the pews if they feel they are only a pastor’s pawns; apathy comes from those not in the pews because this reinforces their belief that a church doesn’t care about them. As a possible answer to the question, neither is correct; the Person the church should be for and about is Christ.

Of course, because Jesus is who He is, by being for and about Him, everyone benefits, members and non-members alike. When members stop asking the question “What’s in it for me?” and start asking “What’s in it for God?”, their focus has much more of a worship tint that colors everything they do, whether it be attending a morning service or caring for the poor, widowed, or orphaned.

Churches don’t need programs when their congregants desire God, and skeptics can’t use a church’s preoccupation with itself as further justification for their disbelief. Programs don’t change people and hyprocrites are still the biggest obstacle to the skeptic’s faith; only the work of the Holy Spirit through Christ’s authentic and genuine Body makes the difference.

Without trying to idolize or idealize, Acts 2:42-47 is as succinct a picture of who and what the early Church was about (notice the place of people and the people in the place):

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Buildings and benefits are outcomes, not goals; teaching and togetherness are primary; worship of God through work with each other yields results. The early Church’s commonality is not some pre-Communist socialism in which one says, “What’s yours is mine,” but rather a picture of true Christianity that says, “What’s mine is yours.” This – all this – is what Christ desires of His Bride the Church, and what we at City Pres hope to pursue – with a building and as few programs as possible – to be about what Christ wants, for this is most assuredly what all most need.

Wait No More Oklahoma

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


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

Deceitful Heart, Desperately Sick

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

tree-with-hole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redeeming Baseball

In Calling, Places & Spaces, Sports on October 6, 2012 at 4:08 am

Regarding the ridiculously ruled infield fly in the eighth inning of last night's MLB Wildcard game between the Braves and the Cardinals, here's what I wish would have happened:

As Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is (rightly) arguing the call with the umpires and Braves fans are (wrongly) revving up to throw whatever they can get their hands on out on the field in protest, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny calmly walks out on the field to join the discussion with the men in black.

Listening for a moment to the "discussion" (if that's what you want to call the heated dialogue that goes on between managers and umpires over a blown call), Matheny puts his hands up to quiet both sides, suggests that the call was way out of line and should be reversed, and actually argues for loading the bases for the Braves and charging an error to Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma (for that's what it so painfully was) before walking calmly back to the dugout to finish managing the game.

Atlanta fans are dumbfounded as they drop the bottles and trash from their hands and have a seat. Cardinal fans are proud, for any one of "the smartest fans in baseball" can recognize how horribly wrong the call is. In addition to growing his reputation for having a fine mind for baseball, Matheny demonstrates his heart for justice as well. Best of all, the game goes on without some silly twenty minute delay (and a slew of protest for days to come), and regardless of who wins, baseball comes out the winner.

Wouldn't that have been classy and inspiring? Beautiful, even?

Atlanta's retiring living legend, Chipper Jones, whose fourth-inning error on what should have been a standard 5-4-1 double-play that was really the beginning of the end for the Braves, gave his typical try at class in his post-game interview:

"Ultimately, I think that when we look back on this loss, we need to
look at ourselves in the mirror. We put ourselves in that predicament. … [So]
I'm not willing to say that that particular call cost us the ballgame.
Ultimately, three errors cost us the ballgame, mine probably being the
biggest."

Jones admirably took responsibility, but for redemption to happen, it has to cost somebody something, and the Cardinals were the only ones in the position to pay up.

I don't blame Matheny for not doing so (no other manager in baseball would have); I just wish he did. That's how baseball could have been redeemed last night.

That's what I wish would have happened.

Marathon Thoughts

In Oklahoma City, Places & Spaces on April 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Back in April, my two younger girls (along with 70+ of their grammar school classmates from Veritas) participated in the Oklahoma City Marathon, running the 1.2-mile Kids Marathon and generally having a good time. I kick myself for not having signed up to run with them (safety was not an issue – it was a regular fence-lined cattle chute through downtown), but the idea of doing so just never crossed my mind, so I didn't.

I wouldn't say I'm activity-averse, but I do have an overly-active homebody gene that often reacts negatively to situations involving crowds (i.e. thousands of people running all over downtown Oklahoma City). My aversion is not a phobia (rarely do I make decisions out of fear), nor is it born out of a superiority complex or condescension toward others (seeing myself in spandex shorts has helped me with that). But it is a preference – one that probably works against the idea of me ever running a marathon.

Simply put, I might be interested in training for and running 26.2 miles if I didn't have to do it with and when anyone else did.

About the same time last month, I came across the following quote from author/pastor Tim Keller: "The more independent you are, the less intimate your relationships." I didn't want to retweet it, but I did. To paraphrase Bono: "You preach (tweet) what you need to hear."

While I've always gotten along with people, I've usually (strangely) also found myself maintaining an independence from them. Megan says I'm my own best friend, and while I think that's true, it doesn't strike me as bad. I'm a pretty good friend (so what if it happens to be to me in addition to others).

In my mind, the danger of independence manifests itself more in narcissism (this post, for example) than doing something stupid. While I'm certainly capable of the latter, my logic filter is more developed than my desire to think about something other than myself. Thinking about oneself is not always evil, but only thinking about oneself usually is.

Some Regrets…No Doubts

In Calling, Family, Friends, Marriage, Oklahoma City, Places, Places & Spaces, Young Ones on August 28, 2011 at 6:22 pm

On Friday, the girls and I got home from school around 2 p.m., as Veritas is only in session on Fridays until 12:30. My normal "Daddy's home" routine is to greet Megan (usually with a hug), greet the dogs (also usually with a hug), and then head upstairs, change clothes, and collapse on the bed for a period of time in direct proportion to what kind of day/week it's been.

As we just finished our first week – a very good but exhausting one – my time on the bed went a little longer than normal. After 45 minutes of repeatedly falling asleep but then being awakened by one of four daughters, I gave up the idea of a nap and came downstairs. The girls wanted to watch something, but I was not in the mood for Phineas & Ferb; thus, we pulled up Chariots of Fire on Netflix and enjoyed.

There's a scene toward the end of the film in which Erid Liddell can only watch the finals of the race he was favored to win (the 100-yard dash) because his Sabbath conviction stood in the way of participating in the qualifying heats the previous Sunday. As Liddell is sitting in the stands waiting for the race to begin, a friend leans over to him and asks if he has any regrets. Liddell's response: "Some regrets…no doubts."

I resonated with Liddell's sentiment. Moving to Oklahoma has hardly been an awful thing and I have no doubts we are supposed to be here. But I'd be lying if I said there weren't some regrets that I've been processing and feeling this summer.

I suppose the first source of grief is just the loss of time and money that goes with any major transition. In thinking back through all the hours invested praying and wrestling with the pros and cons, asking questions and communicating decisions, selling a house and buying a house, packing, loading, moving, unloading, and unpacking, and paying for it all, I regret the toll our move required and the burden it placed on our family. A look at my minimal reading list or our bank account confirms that it's been a tough seven months.

Second, I regret distancing the relationships we had in St. Louis (as well as the ones previously distanced in Colorado Springs before we moved from there). We've always been fortunate to have surrounded ourselves with good people, but that fact is not always comforting when you have to leave them behind. I miss those I used to work with, went to church with, laughed with, argued with, and just loved being with. These are wounds that I don't anticipate healing completely.

Third, I miss the simplicity of "just being a teacher" and being able to focus exclusively on the science and art of teaching. I first felt this reality in May, when I finished teaching and started my new role as Head of School ten days later (moving in between), but being around kids this past week really made me miss the classroom and the discussions I got to have with students all day long.

Fourth, I miss the Midwest and the common sense spirit of keeping your head down and your nose to the grindstone because, well, that's what people do in the Midwest. Granted, the Southwest is perhaps not that different, but while I never thought I'd miss the weather in St. Louis, after living through the hottest summer on record in Oklahoma, I confess I miss that as well.

Finally, I regret the potential risks I've exposed my family (and others) to in leaving a well-established, well-respected, and well-funded school in an amazing brand new building run by seasoned leaders who know what they're doing in order to be a first-time Head of School in a fledgling education movement that rents limited space every week in two churches just to have a place to meet three days a week. I won't say the pressure's overwhelming yet, but there is pressure, and I feel it on a variety of levels.

Some regrets, yes. Plenty of them. But no doubts. None at all. I'll write about why in my next post.

U2: A Recap

In Family, Musicians, Places & Spaces, Young Ones on July 20, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Girls Outside Busch

Smiles

Word

U2

Wiped

Always Pain Before a Child Is Born

In Arts, Calling, Church, Education, Family, Oklahoma City, Places & Spaces, Thought, Vacation, Young Ones on July 12, 2011 at 10:48 pm

I've been listening to a fair amount of U2 the past couple days as part of my preparation (yes, preparation) for the upcoming concert at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. If you remember, we're planning to take the girls on Sunday, and I can't wait for their reactions to all that they will see, hear, and experience at their first-ever rock concert.

I've written before about the band and the fact that their music has served as a soundtrack for just about every major transition I've experienced. True to form, six months before we moved to Oklahoma, we bought tickets to the St. Louis show for July 17th and gave them to the girls for Christmas, not knowing until a few months later that we wouldn't be living there anymore come summer. When I took the new role, the only contingency was that we could take a week of vacation leading up to the concert. I won't say it would have been a deal-breaker…but it could have been.

As it turns out, "vacation" started Saturday, but it's not exactly the one we originally planned. Megan and the girls arrived in St. Louis as of Sunday night, but they've spent the past two days in the dentist and optometrist offices trying to get one last round of check-ups in before our insurance transfers in August.

I'm still in Oklahoma as I felt the need to be at several important meetings yesterday and today. I'll fly up early Wednesday morning to join the ladies for a couple days at the farm before spending Saturday and Sunday around a hotel pool gearing up for the show that night. We'll then drive back to OKC all day Monday (I'm looking forward to the drive, as it will be the first time we all will get to process the concert at length together).

Today, while making the drive up and down I-35, I listened to "Yahweh" from How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. Below is the acoustic version of the song (the album version includes the bridge and features a more rock arrangement) from the Chicago concert we were actually at in 2005 (don't make fun of Larry's one-finger string arrangement – he's a drummer, God love him):

The song is a prayer – a prayer I prayed with tears today as I wove in and out of traffic trying to get where I needed to go. It's how my prayers to God sound these days – prayers filled with painful self-awareness of my inadequacies as well as angry frustrations at my limitations. As in the chorus, the desperate cry of "Yahweh" was about all I could manage to get out while driving through Oklahoma City, and that was okay.

What's weird is it's been a great six weeks – six weeks that I would change very little about in terms of what we've done and accomplished. But six weeks does not a school build, nor a church plant. Every day has been hard, and from what I can tell, every day is going to be hard for a long time. I'm embarrassed by my impatience, but grateful for it too in that it reminds me I still expect God to do something here (and there is so very much that only He can do).

In looking through the playlists posted from the last few U2 concerts, I don't see "Yahweh" anywhere on them. Still, maybe the Lord will spark Bono to change things up and do it Sunday night, which if that happens, I will break down weeping at the gift it would be while my wife and daughters (once again) wonder what's wrong with Daddy.

And the answer is nothing…and everything – all of which God – Yahweh – cares for deeply.

 

Take these shoes – click clacking down some dead end street
Take these shoes and make them fit
Take this shirt – polyester white trash made in nowhere
Take this shirt and make it clean, clean
Take this soul – stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul and make it sing

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I'm waiting for the dawn

Take these hands – teach them what to carry
Take these hands – don't make a fist
Take this mouth – so quick to criticize
Take this mouth – give it a kiss

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahewh, Yahweh
Still I'm waiting for the dawn

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, tell me now
Why the dark before the dawn?

Take this city – a city should be shining on a hill
Take this city if it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart, take this heart
Take this heart and let it break

Make Us an Offer We Can’t Refuse

In Places & Spaces on June 1, 2011 at 7:57 am

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We're yard-saling today. We did this last year, too. The culture is, well, fascinating.

A Beautiful Season

In Arts, Places & Spaces, Sports, Westminster on May 19, 2011 at 9:27 pm

"I love baseball.
You know it doesn't have to mean anything,
it's just beautiful to watch."
Woody Allen in Zelig

I hung up my baseball uniform today. Granted, I hung several of them up (uniform collection is one of the least glamorous parts of high school coaching), but I paused an extra moment when I came to number 20. Though I had picked it last year simply because it was the biggest jersey available (ahem), wearing it this year ironically corresponded with our JV team's final number of wins this season – the most victories for a JV baseball team in Westminster's 28-year history.

Huddle with Tickets

I mentioned the irony of my number to the guys in my pre-game talk last Thursday – the last game of the season and the one we needed to win to reach 20. As there are no playoffs or post-season games at the junior varsity level, total number of victories would seem all a JV team can shoot for to register its existence. But in baseball (as in most sports), record (we were 20-2 on the year) rarely captures what a season means to a coach and his players; relationship does that.

While we had our share of ups and downs, we loved one another even (and especially) when we didn't always like each other. Sure, there was plenty of competition for positions and no one wants to ride pine when his team is on the field, but the guys worked through a lot of that early in the season (sometimes with a little help from their coaches) and came to be each other's biggest fans.

Out of 22 games, no lineup was the same (Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is not the only one who can manage by "platoon"). At the JV level, our goal is to play as competitively as we can while playing as many as we can – winning games and preparing guys to be able to one day contribute at the Varsity level. In addition, JV provides the opportunity to call up some guys from our Freshman team (in only our second year, they went a very respectable 9-4 this spring) to see what various winning permutations the future might hold.

For some this season, action on the JV (or Freshman) team may have been all they saw, but they played a lot, learned a lot, and won a lot. For others, contributing at the Varsity level came sooner than later, as we played our last four games without three of our sophomores who got "called up" and are still playing as our Varsity just won districts on Wednesday for the sixth straight year.

District Champions

One of our JV player's dads sent me a gracious email summing up our season this way:

"Our family appreciates the time you gave to coaching the boys the past two years. You somehow managed to get playing time for everyone, which doesn't happen much in high school baseball, and you did it without weakening the team's performance in any way.  That's an impressive accomplishment for any coach."

I received several notes like this from parents, and being the affirmation junkie that I am, appreciated every one of them. Still, the one thing that meant the most to me this season happened after our 19th win. We were playing a 4A school (Westminster is 2A in size) and the opposing team's coach had told his team that we were not any good; he did not even have enough respect for us or our program to throw an actual pitcher against us, but simply plucked an infielder and had him awkwardly pitch.

We ended up winning, 18-3. After the game and our normal post-game meeting in the outfield, the guys made a few mini-speeches and handed my assistant coach, Slade Johnson, and me a manilla envelope with 15 tickets to a Cardinals game. Their parents had chipped in on so that we could all go to a game together (which we did Wednesday night after having the guys over for grilled hot dogs and wiffle ball – see below).

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After handing over the tickets (and with even bigger "ah, shucks" smiles than before), the guys made a few more mini-speeches about my leaving for Oklahoma and presented me with an authentic Rawlings bat with my name engraved in the barrel and their signatures scrawled on the bat head. Marveling at both the beauty and the meaning of the piece of wood I held in my hands, I nearly cried at the classy thoughtfulness of it.

Baseball Bat

The next day, we won our twentieth and final game. As I was walking off the field after shaking hands with the other team, the Lord gave me an idea for our post-game meeting. Since I had received a bat from the guys the day before, I thought it might be a good idea to rightly set up my successor. Grabbing my coach's fungo bat, I made my own mini-speech and presented it to Slade, who will be overseeing and coaching the JV and Freshman teams next year. He was thrilled (notice Lil' Blue in his hand below).

Passing the Bat

After the meeting, as Slade and I were walking back to the dugout, the guys presented their final gift to me: my very first water cooler shower. Strangely (and after the initial cold shock), I was honored by this just as much as I was by the bat the day before. Why? Because my players felt comfortable and secure enough in their relationship with their coach to have some fun with me. The day before they had honored me with their respect; now they honored me with their trust. I don't know if they caught it or not, but it was a beautiful illustration of how we are to walk with and enjoy our relationship with God.

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It was a special season – one that I will take with me to Oklahoma and hold onto for years to come. I told the guys that, if they work hard and commit themselves to each other in doing so, I believe they have a great chance of one day winning a state championship. I also told them that, if and when they make it that far, I will be catching a plane back to St. Louis to be there. I think they believe they can do it. I think they believe I will, too.

So, for all you baseball fans out there, there's your post-season wrap-up. Thanks to my players, their parents, my fellow coaches, and the Lord God who gave us baseball. The only season that can top this one is still to come…and will play on through eternity. Look for me: I'll be the one in the coach's box down the third base line…

(Thanks to Dale Froeschner and Megan for the photos. For Megan's thoughts, click here.)

The Boys (and Girls) of Summer

In Family, Places, Places & Spaces, Sports, Westminster, Young Ones on March 31, 2011 at 8:10 am

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It probably has something to do with living in St. Louis, but I always find myself writing a post on the occasion of Major League Baseball's opening day. As usual, humor me.

Whether or not she meant for the opportunity to coincide, Megan scheduled a tour (via Groupon) this past Sunday afternoon of Busch Stadium III. It had just snowed the day before and there were at least a dozen people on the field trying to dry things up; otherwise, we and the 20 other people on the tour pretty much had the place to ourselves.

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As you may know, St. Louis is a great baseball city with the second-most World Series championships to its credit (10; only the New York Yankees have more at 27). Somewhat unrelated (but interesting nevertheless), we've also had a fair number of official logos during this time (Slugger Bird – fourth from the left – was always a favorite of mine).

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The history is rich, and some of it is represented at different locations throughout the stadium: vintage uniforms encased with pennants and other timeless memorabilia; a tribute to former Cardinals radio announcer, Jack Buck; various World Series programs and trophies scattered here and there.

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The Redbirds aren't the only ones who open their season this week; Westminster's baseball season started for us as well. This is my second year coaching the junior varsity/freshmen at WCA and I have an unbelievably talented group of guys who really love the game. It's also a treat to be part of a coaching staff under head coach Rich Van Gilst (now in his 28th season) and with pitching coach Andy Benes, former Cardinals pitcher who spent 14 years in the big leagues.

Last week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ranked WCA's varsity team number one for small schools in St. Louis. My part in that (along with stellar assistant coaches Slade Johnson and Micah Gall, two guys in their twenties who were both solid players in high school and college) is to build guys into varsity-level players during their freshmen and sophomore years. While we're certainly not the only ones investing in their baseball skills (many of our guys play baseball year-round for other coaches), it's fun to see "our boys" do well when they get the chance to play up.

For instance, two days ago, Ben Lovell, my top pitcher from last year as a freshman, started his first varsity game as a sophomore, going six innings and getting the win against one of the big Parkway public schools (check out his post-game interview). Last night, due to some injuries with some of our seniors, Mark McFarland, another sophomore, got "called up" to do some varsity relief pitching and threw two innings and also got the win. Today, a third sophomore, Davis Vanderslice, is making his first varsity start, and I'm confident he'll do well, too.

Sure, I hate to lose the guys from the junior varsity team, but it's fun to both help prepare and celebrate with them before and after their "big break." It's also fun to "call up" a few freshmen to help out on the junior varsity level in replacement (having lost two of my sophomore starters, I'm starting two freshmen pitchers in games later this week). Finally, it's very enjoyable to win games with guys at the junior varsity level (we won our first game 7-0 by playing really good defensive against another of the big Parkway schools).

Tonight, after our JV and Freshman games were canceled due to rain (the joys of playing baseball in March in the Midwest), I came home and played catch with my two youngest, both of whom are learning to love baseball as much as their two older sisters. It's amazing how much they've improved in their catching and throwing since last year, all from simply growing one year older. We laughed, we talked, we threw, we caught. It was fun.

At whatever level – half-pint, freshman, junior varsity, varsity, the Majors – baseball is the same great game that gets the entire city of St. Louis excited when the boys (and girls) of summer show up and start playing in the spring. It's as perfect a game as there is, and I'm glad to relive my love for it as a former pitcher/player and now as a coach.

Play ball! And go Redbirds!

(For more baseball thoughts over the years, click here, here, here, here, and here.)