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Archive for the ‘Places & Spaces’ Category

More Than April Showers or May Flowers

In Calling, Church, Education, Family, Friends, Marriage, Places, Places & Spaces, Young Ones on March 8, 2011 at 7:49 pm

About a year-and-a-half ago, I had the idea that it might be a good idea to mark turning 40 (which happened last month) with a 40-day fast from food and media. My goal (as detailed here) was "to spend my extra time reading the Bible, praying, and writing about what God may have should he grant me another 40 years."

The media fast was easy: I didn't touch Facebook, Twitter, or the blog and I didn't miss it. The food fast was much harder, as I attempted a water-only fast (I did have a couple of cups of tea after Day 4 just to taste something other than my mouth). Things were going well enough until my doctor pulled the plug on the fast at the end of Day 10 because I had too many ketones in my blood and could have developed serious kidney problems. While disappointed, I was glad it was her decision to end the fast rather than mine (though she never wrote me that prescription for Five Guys Burger & Fries like I asked).

I lost twenty pounds in those ten days and learned how much food can be an idol for me. I also had a great time reading the Old Testament prophets, listening to God convey his love for his people even in the midst of their sin and rebellion and writing out prayers of confession for myself and supplication for others. Finally, I thanked God for the gift of life and asked him for his favor on another 40 years if he would be so gracious. I had no agenda for this time other than to seek God and to read, listen, and write. In the spirit of the prophets, I even grew a beard that didn't look half bad.

Bearded Craig

On day 39 of this 40-day period, I received an email out of the blue from Julie Serven, wife of Doug (of three-year Mizzou roommate/TwentySomeone co-author fame). After wishing me an early birthday, she wrote:

"I wanted to ask if you would have any interest in pursuing a new career direction? Our Head of School has recently taken a position with a school in Alabama. He has done a great job the last couple of years and has helped in taking the school to a more developed level.

We need someone who is both visionary but also very administratively gifted. Someone with teaching experience, preferably in high school, and experience with managing and working with people. Someone who appreciates the value of a home component in education and is willing to encourage and partner with parents interested in doing so. Someone who could help train the teachers, pastor the parents, and love the kids. Sound like anyone you know? It does to me."

Somewhat dumbfounded by Julie's email and the opportunity she was asking me to consider, I finished my 40 days asking God if this would be something he would have me pursue. While I have absolutely loved teaching these past five years (four at Westminster Christian Academy, one at Heritage Classical School), I had wondered more than once whether I was using my administrative and leadership gifts to the fullest extent that I could. This question was not one of ambition but of stewardship: Was there more God was calling me to do for the Kingdom in the realm of Christian education? Was this role with Veritas an opportunity I was to trust him for in doing so?

After talking with Megan and seeking counsel from several here and elsewhere who know and love us, we decided it was worth pursuing. I composed a letter and resume, notified references, and sent along my testimony and philosophy of education. A week later, the Veritas board flew Megan and me to Oklahoma City for an exhaustingly thorough weekend-long interview; ten days later (after doing due diligence of considering other applicants), they sent us a very gracious official offer; last weekend, I made one more trip to meet with the board to discern face-to-face if indeed this was God's will for all involved. By the end of the meeting, it seemed good to all of us; thus, I accepted the role.

Veritas_logo The school, Veritas Classical Academy, now has 260 students Pre-K through 11th (they are adding 12th grade next year) and currently meets at a church in south OKC. Because of interest in the Edmond/North OKC area, they will be starting a north grammar campus (Pre-K to 5th) with 50 students this coming fall. Plans are to open a south grammar campus in Norman the year after that (starting with 50 students), and then move to purchase land/building for a central upper school campus the year or two after that, the idea being that there would be several feeder grammar schools and one central upper school (6th to 12th, 7th to 12th, or 9th to 12th). They follow a blended (university) model (half in-class instruction and half home instruction), seek to be reasonably (as opposed to maniacally) classical, and are trans-denominational as a school (though the board seeks to be winsomely Reformed in setting and implementing policies).

My role as Head of School will focus primarily on areas of creating and modeling the school's climate and values, recruiting, hiring, and training faculty, leading and counseling staff and parents as they educate their students, resolving conflict and handling disciplinary matters, and working with the board on strategic planning. Secondarily, I will also be responsible (with the help of others) for the alignment and development of curriculum, public relations, fundraising, finance, and other matters of policy and administration pertaining to the school. Oh, and I'll still get to teach a class or two each semester. It's a big job, but one I believe my education and experience (not to mention the wealth of mentoring relationships and supportive friendships I've benefitted from over the years) have prepared me for.

Servens One other pleasant convergence: Doug and Julie have been asked to plant a new PCA church – City Presbyterian – in downtown OKC, starting with an initial gathering of core group members this summer. As if building and leading not just a school but an eventual school system weren't enough, helping to plant an urban church with dear friends we've known for 20 years (Doug and Julie were Megan's NavStaff at Oklahoma State after the three of us graduated from Mizzou together) just seems to be icing on the cake. Who knows? Doug and I might even get ThirtySomewhere finished now that we'll be in the same town.

Spring has brought more than April showers or May flowers for the Dunham family, and we're grateful to God for his leading. While we're looking down the barrel of what promises to be a very intense 3-4 months, we are trusting God to provide above and beyond what we need emotionally, physically, and spiritually as he continues to guide us in this new step of faith. Here's a look at what's ahead (thanks in advance for any prayers on our behalf):

MARCH

10-11: Westminster Christian Academy Parent/Teacher Conferences
11-12: Crossroads Presbyterian Fellowship Women's Retreat
19-24: Spring Break (house-hunting in Oklahoma City)
28: Opening Day (JV Baseball)

APRIL

8-9: Biblical Imagination Conference (Dallas)
15: Classical Conversations Banquet
22-24: Easter Break

MAY

7: Studio Forte Ballet Recital
12: Last Day (JV Baseball)
14: St. Louis Children's Choirs Spring Concert
23: WCA Graduation
27: WCA Last Day of School

JUNE

6: First Week at Veritas (Oklahoma City)
16-18: Association of Classical & Christian Schools Conference (Atlanta)
24-25: Biblical Imagination Conference (Apple Creek, OH)

For Megan's perspective on the move, click over to Half-Pint House.

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Coming to St. Louis in 2011

In Calling, Church, Education, Internet, Musicians, Places, Places & Spaces, Theologians on November 13, 2010 at 8:10 am

Mike Teaching (with logo)

In case you missed it, the website I've been working on for musician/author Michael Card's Biblical Imagination Series just went live this weekend. I used Clover Sites to create it and am impressed (still) with how easy and well-thought-out their content management system is (I've worked with plenty of lousy ones in the past and this was a dream).

For those in St. Louis, we're bringing the conference to Chesterfield Presbyterian Church all day on Saturday, January 15th, with Mike doing a concert on Sunday the 16th. The cost is only $58 for the conference AND concert ($78 if you want Mike's new book and album coming out next year as well – see site for details), and I can personally vouch for the quality of the experience (though the emcee/education guy's a little suspect).

Whether you've read the Bible for years or are just starting out in the Scriptures, this one-day conference would be well worth your investment in cultivating greater biblical literacy and love for God and His Word. Hope to see you there (and please help spread the word about the new Biblical Imagination website and Facebook community – thanks).

Man Crushes & Bromances: The Movie

In Friends, Humanity, Internet, Places & Spaces, Thought on October 5, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Chewy and Han
Jon Barlow and I have been online "friends" (Facebook, blog comments, etc.) for probably 4-5 years, live five minutes apart, are graduates of the same seminary, have many mutual friends in the PCA, and are involved with the same school (I'm a teacher; he's on the board). Both of us have four kids each (I have four daughters; Jon has four sons), and we both love our wives, our kids, theology, philosophy, good writing, interesting music, and well-made films. We both think pretty well in terms of pop culture, and both of us probably spend too much time online (though Jon's finishing his PhD at SLU, so I'm not sure).

The funny thing is, while there seems to be a degree of mutual respect for one another, Jon and I have never met face-to-face. I think our story would make a good movie.

Here's the thing: the thirties are a busy time – possibly the busiest, I've been told by many, for a variety of reasons (young families growing, career paths taking off/changing, etc.). For those of us guys who are more introverted and emotionally fragile (yes, I'm being serious), it can be hard to get below the surface of news, weather, and sports with other men. While I can't speak for Jon, I know I haven't had the depth of male relationships in my thirties that I had in my twenties; more breadth, yes, but depth, no.

Here's a post from Jon's blog which, after reading, I knew we could be friends:

"At church, I feel like a ghost. It is so hard to get to know people in the few milling-around minutes that are available each Sunday. Especially when you've gotta watch your four boys to be sure they aren't running around or misbehaving. At school, I feel like a ghost. What am I going to do – hang out around the office and talk theology? How is that going to ever happen? I'm least ghost-like at home in the few hours between when I get home and when the boys go to bed, and I'm least ghost like in situations where I have to be there for a set amount of time to do some task. But even at the office, I find it hard to really get into my co-workers lives and learn about them. I keep thinking how the boss needs to get this project finished so he can bill it and make payroll for me and the others.

Part of this is also just the season of life that one is in at the time. When kids are young, you can't really be hitting the nightlife, whether recreational or educational, even in a great city like St. Louis and even community involvement is very difficult. And so I think you grin and bear it and hope for a better day and just try to stay sane and healthy and do what you can. The hard parts are those quiet moments – maybe you wake up before everyone else or you're in a public restroom or walking somewhere and there's no radio, no television, no one talking, and you're just stuck with yourself and all the crap in your life is circling your brain like electrons around the core of an atom and you're bewildered and saddened. But I guess that's why they invented the cell phone, so that a game of solitaire is never too far away. Pitiful, but true."

What if Jon and I – without ever meeting – wrote a screenplay about two average, semi-interesting, clearly heterosexual guys who are married, have children, and struggle to make ends meet in their quest to educate themselves and others about God's Word and world. And yet while they know of, know about, and know electronically the other, they never meet – on purpose, it seems – even though they have every opportunity to do so geographically, vocationally, and relationally? What would be gained or lost? And do they meet in the end (and so what if they do)?

Last week, Jon posted on his Facebook page that he was in need of some new clothes because, after years of seminary and grad school, all his clothes were wearing out all at once. I happened to have pants that no longer fit me but matched his measurements, so I messaged him and told him I'd be glad to get them to him if we could figure out a drop that maintained our non-acquaintance existence (the whole thing has kind of become a joke between the two of us, but honestly, I think we're both a little afraid of what might happen if we actually meet face to face – too much friendship pressure). As he had a board meeting at school (in my room, no less), we agreed that I would leave the pants in a bag on my desk for him. The drop worked and we maintained our no-meet streak.

Think of all the humorous scenes we could play out like this in a movie. We've already been in the same room together with neither one of us realizing it until later; we've both found out after the fact that we've been at my township's local arts fair at the exact same time but our paths never crossed; we've both had people tell us (or at least I have – I won't speak for Jon) that we'd be fast friends, but for whatever reason, even when we once tried to get our families together for dinner, things didn't work out. (I'm sure we've been at other events that neither one of us knew about the other being there as well.)

But here's the best part (for the movie, at least): What if, after we get the screenplay written (separately, of course) and some independent film company picks it up and produces it, what if as part of the build-up and promotion of the film, we finally meet on opening night at some film festival somewhere, families in tow and with the joke finally over? What if the film turned into some huge commentary on the challenges of real male friendship in an extremes-preoccupied world (sports fans on one end, geeks on the other), as evidenced by the reality that terms like "man crush" and "bromance" have crept into the vernacular as guys try to describe respect and even affection for one another without being talked about with raised eyebrows? What if?

I'm just throwing it out there. Would you go see a flick like that? What other motivations, scenes, or characters might make it compelling to watch? What would you call it? And do any guys resonate with what I'm talking about, or is this a movie no one would go see? I know the idea is rough and needs refining, so here's your chance to make it better.

We Interrupt Our Normally Non-Scheduled Weekend…

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

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

SEPTEMBER


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

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

OCTOBER

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

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

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

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

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

Hell on The Hill

In Places, Places & Spaces, Pop Culture on July 31, 2010 at 9:38 am

A month or so ago, Megan and I had dinner at an Italian restaurant on The Hill. We parked in front of this large corner lot full of beautiful green grass with a sign in its center across the street. Maybe I grew up loving one too many of Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons, but surely this is what Hell is and will be like (among other awful and unspeakable things).

IMG_5547

IMG_5549

On the Yard Sale

In Family, Humanity, Places, Places & Spaces, Thought, Young Ones on June 27, 2010 at 8:30 pm

IMG_5523So we had a yard sale this past Saturday. Apart from the 95-degree temperature and the 100% humidity, it was good: we got rid of some stuff, made some money, and had a very good reason at the end of the day to collectively hit the sack at 9:30 p.m.

Personally, yard sales are too intimate an experience for me to really enjoy; there’s just something awkward about strangers publicly evaluating what you once thought you wanted. Maybe I just felt self-conscious about all the old Stephen King novels I was getting rid of (would you want to know that YOUR neighbor has read a majority of the man’s books?), but the whole process seems a huge invasion of privacy.

As I was enduring the invasion, I took some mental notes on the variety of yard-salers we encountered during the day. I don’t pretend that this list is exhaustive (and feel free to add your own set of usual suspects in the comments below), but generally speaking, here’s who I did business with during our particular sale on Saturday:

The Early Bird: This person pays no attention to any printed given times as to when the yard sale officially begins; if the sign says 8 a.m., then 7:30 it is. Thankfully, she doesn’t talk much and rarely gets offended if and when you have to ask her to move so you can set up another table of items you’re trying to sell, so it’s usually best to just let this one be.

The Snob: This person parks right in front of and as close as possible to your yard, gets out of her still-running car with her nose stuck up in the air to pick up your sale’s “scent,” and surveys what she already knows you have – nothing she would ever want. Having convinced herself of this truth, she gets back in the car and drives off, grateful once again that she did not waste her time on your junk (and, honestly, good riddance).

The Critic: This person is a distant cousin to The Snob, the difference being that he actually gets out of the car to look through your stuff. Unfortunately, while The Snob communicates her disdain for your offerings from a driving-off distance, The Critic chooses to verbalize his disgust on-site instead, particularly if he feels you have overpriced anything (and especially if he secretly wants to buy it).

The Cheapskate: This person looks through everything – and I mean everything – you have in your yard, taking his time to muse over what its value must have been to you at some point and wondering what must have happened that you would put it up for sale now. Having so cheaply entertained himself with various and sundry scenarios and plots, he finally picks one item priced at fifty cents and asks if you would take forty for it (after all, one’s man’s memories are another man’s bargains).

The Haggler: While often confused with The Cheapskate, The Haggler is actually willing to spend money for what she wants…so long as the sale price is below the amount that’s currently listed. Hers is not a campaign motivated by finances but by victory, as every piece she has ever purchased at a yard sale comes with a complete oral tradition of how much it was, how much she ended up talking the owner down, and why the difference between the two prices makes her superior to the rest of humanity.

The Scanner: This person is usually drinking Starbucks and shows up with his own hand-held bar code scanner, which he uses to check resell value on anything with a bar code. Never mind what the item actually is or what the book in his hand might be about, all this guy cares about is what it’s currently going for on Ebay or Amazon, as this will determine his purchase decision. This was a new one for me.

The Road Trip: This person is not really a person but multiple persons all crammed into one vehicle out hitting yard sales en masse. The goal (I assume) is to have fun going to yard sales together (which seems incredibly flawed thinking in itself); the reality is that with so many people in the car, there’s no room for what one might want to buy, especially if it’s a bigger item. Tip: Be sure to get their money before you promise to hold something for them while they go and get another vehicle (no sense losing a possible sale if they happen to get in an accident joy-riding).

The Buzzard: This person shows up toward the end of the sale and, since she missed all your good stuff, somehow feels entitled to a much lower price than the one listed before she will even think about buying your pathetic leftovers. Sadly, though you’d like to ask her as a matter of principle where she gets off imposing her discount assumption on you, you know she has you, as you really don’t want to haul your stuff back in the house; thus, you end up (grudgingly) caving to her demands.

I’m sure there were plenty of others I could list if I really wanted to get mean, but I’ll stop for now (I do wonder if different geographic areas of the country sport different
yard-saler species or if they’re just variations of the ones above). Of course, there were plenty of really nice people – friends, neighbors, people we’d never met before – who stopped by as well, bought some lemonade or stuff, and just talked a while, which was nice.

All in all, it was a good day and I’m glad we did it, though as with every yard sale, I’m always glad when it’s over and am in no hurry to do one again anytime soon.

Concert Review: Jewel

In Musicians, Places & Spaces on June 12, 2010 at 7:19 am

Thanks to Megan's nifty networking, we enjoyed free tickets/backstage passes to see Jewel when she came through town last weekend. We were big fans when she first came out 12 years ago or so, but hadn't really kept up with her music that much since (to our loss). Wow. What a performer.

The concert was at The Sheldon, which was a nice venue – pretty simple and basic – that allowed Jewel's storytelling and songwriting to nicely color the evening. Her new stuff was as good as anything she's done, and even though she's shown up on the country charts in recent days, she's ever the singer/songwriter who feels most at home with a guitar, a mic, and a crowd.

Here's a little video montage of the evening Megan put together, along with a few thoughts after the show from me. My performance is hardly as animated as Jewel's as we were standing in the lobby after the show and I felt a little self-conscious talking to the camera with everyone milling around, but you get what you pay for.

I'd write more, but since it's almost a week since the show, here's a review that does a nice job summing up my own musical observations. Nice evening all around.

Lawn Mower Civics

In Family, Holidays, Humanity, Places, Places & Spaces, Politics on May 31, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Mowing the yard is one of my favorite ways to celebrate the Memorial Day weekend. I suppose caring for the tiny piece of land I own is my noble attempt at recognizing the American traditions of honoring soldiers’ sacrifices and observing summer’s arrival.

Perhaps like many, I don’t always think about the freedoms we Americans enjoy, which is why Memorial Day (and what we do on Memorial Day) is important. As we’ve done in the past, we went to Jefferson Barracks today (here are some pics):

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery

Mowing on Saturday and attending the Memorial Day service today got me thinking about ability – specifically, all I am able to do in the U.S. because I happen to live legally within her borders and laws. Here are just a few abilities I have as a U.S. citizen not necessarily guaranteed elsewhere in the world:

I’m able to have four children (all girls). In China, I could only have one child (and the government would want that one to be a boy, so any girls might get aborted).

I’m able to keep a blog or a write a new book without having to submit either to a censor for approval. In North Korea, neither is really an option (Internet and independent ideas don’t jive too well with totalitarian government regimes).

I’m able to freely live and believe according to the Christian Scriptures. While ours is not (nor ever has been) a “Christian” nation, I rejoice at being able to live freely as a Christian within our nation (try testing day-to-day religious diversity in, oh, say, Iran or Saudi Arabia and see where and what that gets you).

Now, lest you think this is just a nice patriotic post on freedom (I’ve tried those a few times before – 1, 2, 3, 4 – but they never seem to end up too warm and fuzzy), let me talk honestly about some personal inabilities that I wrestle with in our fair democracy (for those of you with USA bumper stickers and T-shirts, you might want to stop reading now):

I’m unable to trust elected political leaders. It doesn’t matter the level – national, state, local – nor the branch – executive, legislative, judicial – nor the political affiliation – Democrat, Republican, or Independent – politicians do not have the luxury of asking for my trust and assuming they have it. I am sick of the lack of integrity, of the abuse of power, of the CYA spin, and of the arrogance to think I do not understand enough to know what’s really going on. As far as I’m concerned, politicians can save the rhetoric for their consciences (if they still have any left); their words no longer affect me.

I’m unable to trust government workers. Call it guilt by association, but I’m tired of hearing about those who work for a government agency who seem all too content to siphon off their part of my taxes with little to no thought as to for whom they’re really working (example). I’m not saying there isn’t a place for public service (and I’m not saying every government worker is like this), but there is a philosophical difference between earning a living and spending an apportionment, and most long-term government leaders and workers don’t understand it.

I’m unable to trust the media as a true Fourth Estate. It’s not as if I did before, but the more I read or watch supposed “trusted” news sources, the more the agendas (liberal, conservative, etc.) spill over. One can blame the Internet, I suppose, for severely crippling the budgets of most newspapers and magazines, but someone needs to explain to our media outlets that their job is not to sell stories but to tell them. I’m done with opinion columnists masquerading as reporters (are you listening, Newsweek?) and find myself incredibly skeptical of the phrase “Here’s what’s making news” when it should really be “Here’s what WE’RE making news.”

I’m unable to trust the American Dream. This has never been much of a motivator nor temptation for me, but if it were, it’s become even less so in recent recession years. While cries of socialism/communism have found their way into the public conversation of late, pure laissez-faire capitalism is not the answer either. If the past ten years have taught us anything, I would hope it would be that life and meaning are bigger than an economic system, regardless of which system it is.

Jane Jacobs, in her 2005 book, Dark Age Ahead, argued that “we’re stumbling into the same cultural decline that befell the Roman Empire.” One of her overarching premises was that mass amnesia – not only forgetting something but forgetting that you have forgotten it – is the main cause of a Dark Age. “When the abyss of lost memory by a people becomes too deep and too old,” she wrote, “attempts to plumb it are futile.”

Jacobs went on to identify five pillars of society we need and have come to depend on:

  • community and family
  • higher education
  • the effective practice of science and science-based technology
  • taxes and governmental powers directly in touch with needs and possibilities
  • accountability by the learned professions

She concluded that we in America “are dangerously close to the brink of lost memory and cultural uselessness” concerning these. I concur: We are suffering from mass amnesia these days about most things having to do with taxes, governmental powers, and accountability in the economic, scientific, technological, and (sadly) even religious sectors of our society. We have forgotten that we have forgotten. Memorial Day calls us to remember; interestingly, Deuteronomy does, too (fourteen times, as a matter of fact).

We in America are and always have been a country of ability, but are there others who sense a growing tide of inability washing away the sands of strength from our U.S. shores (at least the ones not covered in oil – thank you, BP)? Care to add to either list (ability or inability), or offer something you think we’ve forgotten that we’ve forgotten? I’d welcome your thoughts.

Until then, I may go mow some more…

Summer 2010 Preview, Etc.

In Books, Calling, Education, Family, Humanity, Internet, Musicians, Places, Places & Spaces, Theologians, Thought, Travel, TV, Vacation, Web/Tech, Westminster, Writers on May 23, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Sitting here on a Sunday night listening to some Lucinda Williams and doing a little writing. It's been a while since I've done a summary post of sorts, so since Megan and the girls are out of town and we're collectively an entire season behind to really make the LOST finale worth watching, here are a few things I've been thinking about and/or looking forward to:

School: This week is finals week, so I'll be spending most of my time grading. The good news is, unlike the past three years when I was evaluating projects and papers, I'm going into finals week with nothing other than finals to grade, so that should make for a little less consuming week in general.

In other school news, I've signed on for another year at Westminster, but my role is changing a bit as I'll be leaving the world of freshmen New Testament behind for fourth section of sophomore Ethics and one section of senior Worldviews next year. I'm glad for the transition all around.

One last note on the school front (this time the homeschool front), we're going to be entering a new stage of education here at home. This fall, our two oldest girls will be full-time students at Central Christian School in Clayton, while Megan continues leading the Classical Conversations group and homeschools our younger two (here are details from Megan's perspective).

Summer: In addition to writing (more on that below), my primary goal in June is to hang out with the little ladies, read some books, and get a few projects done around here. In addition, I'll help coach our Westminster summer baseball team for a week in June, as well as get trained on some new school information software, as I've been asked to be a mentor teacher to the rest of the staff this fall.

July ups the ante considerably in terms of travel, as we're planning a family trip to Colorado Springs, as the girls are now old enough (somehow) to attend The Navigators' camping programs (Eagle Lake and Eagle's Nest) we helped lead back in the day. I'll try to see as many folks as I can in a few days' time before I jump on a plane from Denver to Portland for my third year as part of Westminster's Summer Seminar. This time, I'll be investing ten days with 25 soon-to-be seniors in Washington state instead of South Dakota, after which I'll fly back to Colorado and then we'll all drive back to Missouri.

August sees staff reporting as earlier as the week of August 9th, but I'll have a few publishing projects to edit and design from the Washington trip, as well as a fair amount of prep work to finalize for my new
Worldviews class. Orientation starts the 12th and the first day of class is the 16th.

Studying: Despite baseball high-jacking my time and energy, I've been reading in a couple areas of interest this spring, not the least of which has been the study of the end times, or eschatology. N.T. Wright's book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, has been helpful, as has revisiting my notes from seminary (particularly Dr. Dan Doriani's notes from his Epistles and Revelation class). Of the three years I've taught Revelation to my freshmen New Testament classes, I feel like I've done the best job this year.

I'm also finishing up a couple books on education, namely John Dewey and the Decline of American Education by Henry T. Edmondson III, Curriculum 21 edited by Heidi Hayes-Jacobs, and The Secret of TSL by William Ouchi. It seems I've been reading these for a while (and I have), but there's been some good content that's come as a result.

Looking ahead, I have some Worldviews reading to do this summer, including (Re)Thinking Worldview by J. Mark Bertrand; The Compact Guide to World Religions edited by Dean C. Halverson (ed.); The Journey by Peter Kreeft; Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey; and The Universe Next Door by James W. Sire. Should be fun.

Writing: Now that my second book, Learning Education: Essays & Ideas from My First Three Years of Teaching, is finished, I'm turning back to finishing the ThirtySomewhere manuscript this summer. I'm still looking for a formal publisher to get behind it, but now that I've experimented with the self-publishing gig a bit (and am still experimenting), I may go with what I've got at some point this fall and see what happens. We'll see.

I plan to continue blogging here, though I really wonder how much people are interested in anything longer than 140 Twitter characters these days. Speaking of which, I've enjoyed Twitter enough to keep using it, but there again I just have no way of really knowing how far the medium's actual reach is so as to invest more time in it. Oh well.

Guess that's it for now. There's more, but this is long enough. I'll try to post a few more thoughts later on this week (nothing brings out literary creativity like the desire to avoid grading). Have a good one.

Five Years Later

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

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

IMG_5286

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

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

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

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

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

Family Graduation 2010

It is finished.

Out Standing in My Field

In Education, Places & Spaces, Sports, Westminster on May 14, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Coach My first year as a junior varsity baseball coach has officially come to a close. We finished 13-8 – a good season, especially after starting 0-4 in early April. We had a great mid-season run in which we won 12 of 13 games, and we could/should have won four of the seven games we lost, as they were all 1-2 run games.

The three things I preached all season were the importance of attitude (heart), ability (hands), and adaptability (head). Because of the nature of JV baseball – games bumped, umpire no-shows, guys transitioning from varsity – the adaptability point became a favorite joke for the team (as well as our only hope of making it through with our sanity).

A personal highlight was working with JV assistant coach, Slade Johnson. Slade played four years at WCA before playing ball at Wheaton College, and he's starting down the path I just finished – taking classes at Covenant while beginning his teaching career at WCA this coming fall. He brought energy and experience to our team, and we co-coached our way through the year pretty much on the same page the whole way through.

Craig and Slade

We had some Field of Dreams moments as well as some scenes straight out of The Bad News Bears. We had a variety of personalities on the team and some players with multiple personalities on the field. We got better as the season went on and learned to play the game with intensity and pride. We made mental errors that led to physical ones we had to shake off, get over, and move past. Parents were supportive and got behind us, and Megan and the girls were our biggest fans.

The Baseball Ladies

In addition to trying to help the guys learn the fundamentals of baseball, we had plenty of opportunities to help them learn some fundamentals of life; sports – especially team sports – are so good for this. Some things I heard myself say repeatedly this season:

  • Practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.
  • The only thing you can control when bad breaks happen is how you respond.
  • Sometimes you have to deal with bad or unfair calls, so start now.
  • It's only the first inning; relax.
  • Respecting those on your team can sometimes be hard, but it is not optional.
  • Don't make excuses; take responsibility.
  • There's nothing you can do about it; it's not your fault.
  • Let me do the coaching; you do the playing.
  • Win humbly; lose graciously.
  • Play the game and have some fun.

JV Baseball 2010

While we had a few injuries and the occasional sore arm, nothing was paralyzing or fatal, which is not insignificant when one considers the number of baseballs flying around practice, warm-ups, and games during the course of a season. I'm sure we had a few bruised egos here and there (cursing, throwing equipment in frustration, or showing up late without reason guarantees time riding pine), but those heal eventually and "build character" as my father used to say about all things hard.

As much as I could write about the season, this picture with Mark sums up what WCA JV baseball is all about – smiles, smudged eye black, and dirt on the uniform. Love it.

Craig and Mark

(Special thanks to George Sneed and David McFarland for a season of great pictures.)

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concert Review: Jason Aldean

In Marriage, Musicians, Places, Places & Spaces, Thought on March 29, 2010 at 1:37 am

And now for something completely different…

Megan somehow scored free backstage passes, a private "concert"/photo op (with eats and drinks), and free tickets to the Jason Aldean concert at the Family Arena in St. Charles Saturday night. I don't know how she finds this stuff, but I've learned over the years not to ask too many questions so as to not attach myself as an accomplice in whatever illegal activities she may engage in for a cheap date night. But I digress…

Let's be clear: while I appreciate the lyrical cleverness of country music, I'm not that big a fan of the musicality of the genre. Still, a free concert's a free concert, and since "She's Country" at heart, Megan and I went and enjoyed the gig. Jake Owen ("one of People magazine's sexiest men in country music" – oh boy) was the opening act, but everyone was clearly there for Aldean.

Rather than write a detailed review that no one may particularly care to read, I thought I'd record a video blog (vlog) to pseudo-capture the evening. What follows are my hardly technical, barely coherent, and honestly raw thoughts on the show.

Thanks to Megan for her filming/editing job, as well as for treating me to more culture than one man should be allowed to experience in a night.

This Just In

In Family, Marriage, Places & Spaces, Sports, Writers on February 28, 2010 at 8:06 am

We interrupt this discussion to bring you Megan's latest post – on baseball. Hints of spring, familiarity of home, America's pastime done on the cheap…I'm in love all over again.

Bubbaville, Super Bowl, Love

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

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

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

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

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

Superbowl Invite (Low Res)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Colts.

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

Leading Off

In Places & Spaces, Sports, Westminster on January 17, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Bases
“Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” Frederick B. Wilcox

I’m about to enter new territory this spring. No, I’ve not been offered a new teaching position anywhere, nor have I yet to receive a multi-book publishing deal. No, I have not decided to try to finish our attic by myself (God have mercy), nor have I come to the attention of anyone for anything in particular of late.

My new territory? I’m the new junior varsity baseball coach at Westminster…in St. Louis…home of the Cardinals…and supposedly the most intelligent fans in baseball.

Gulp.

Baseball at the high school level in St. Louis is quite the deal, but not as I initially imagined. When I played high school ball back in the day (pitcher, infield) in rural Illinois, there was little overlap of the seasons and most of us played three of them (fall and spring baseball, basketball in the winter). These days in metropolitan St. Louis, kids play two sports in the same season (right now it’s basketball at school and baseball or soccer as part of a “select league” run by former pro/semi-pro/college athletes) and all summer long (again, in these “select leagues”).

While I’ve not had any first-hand experience with these “select teams” just yet (some examples: Gamers, Pirates), I’ve listened a bit and have been able to piece together a few things about them: they’re fairly competitive, incredibly time-intensive, way expensive ($2,500+ for over 100 hours of instruction), and supposedly the best shot a kid has to get recruited/drafted to play college or pro ball, as coaches and scouts tend to prefer this “one-stop-shopping” to watching prep games that might only feature one all-star.

Of course, hearing the boys talk about the possibilities is one thing; listening to parents dream about them is another – in many ways, the kids are more realistic than the adults in evaluating themselves and their chances to make it past high school ball. As I’ve yet to see many of them in action (we’ve had three days’ worth of optional “open gyms” for individual tee work and soft-toss, but the official start of the season isn’t until March 1st), it will be interesting to see who’s more accurate – the kids or the parents.

As Monday is MLK Day and schools are out, Westminster’s varsity baseball coach and I are attending the I-70 Clinic, an annual gathering of high school and college baseball coaches from around the Midwest held at Greenville College and hosted by their baseball team. I have no idea what to expect, but I’m looking forward to going and seeing what I can learn about coaching high schoolers in a game I’ve played and always loved. I’m also hoping to pick up some tips on coaching amateur baseball in a professional baseball town.

Play ball.

My Counsel for Mark McGwire

In Places & Spaces, Sports on January 11, 2010 at 4:06 pm

I suppose you can call it "news" if you want, but is it really any surprise to hear from Mark McGwire himself that the former Cardinals first baseman/Major League Baseball single season home run king used steroids? Let's be honest: this doesn't exactly rank up there with "man bites dog."

Some of my students have asked, from an ethical perspective, what should happen to McGwire? Should he still be included on the home run list(s)? Should he still be considered for the Hall of Fame (he's been on the ballot for the past four years)? Should he still be the batting coach for the Cardinals this year?

Here's what I think: If McGwire really wants to do what is right and honorable, he will HIMSELF 1) request to be removed from the home run list(s); 2) request to be excluded permanently from Hall of Fame consideration; and 3) vow to do his very best to ensure that none of the Cardinals he coaches this year are juicing. Only then will he have any credibility in baseball, as well as any hope of leaving a legacy redeemed from his past.

Maybe – just maybe – others might follow McGwire's lead, with baseball being the better for it. I'm not naive and doubt many (if any) would, but I would sure think a whole lot more of McGwire as a person and, yes, even as a baseball player who played hard, made some mistakes, but had the character – finally – to deal with them honestly.

Kids (and Parents) These Days

In Calling, Church, Family, Holidays, Humanity, Places & Spaces, Thought, Westminster, Young Ones on December 19, 2009 at 9:38 am

Megan and I had a memorable evening Friday night that got us talking about some things that, well, we're not sure we're excited to be talking about. Maybe we're showing our age or our upbringing, but last night was an introspective evening for us in a lot of ways.

The cause of this introspection was Westminster's Christmas Banquet – a formal, end-of-semester dinner for which we were asked last-minute to serve as chaperones. Being the cheapskates we are, we were happy to get gussied up for four hours with 500 of our closest high school-age friends – the food at the Airport Hilton was decent, the service was good, and it was a nice way to officially kick off Christmas Break (even though I've STILL got grading to do this weekend to meet the Monday morning deadline).

Our first moment of introspection came as we dropped our four girls off at our pastor's house for the evening. Our daughters and their daughters (four also) are all roughly the same ages and absolutely love each other, so that wasn't the issue; what was different was Andrew and Lisa also had a Christmas party Friday evening, so the eight little ladies were going to be on their own for the night. As their oldest is 12 and our oldest is ten days from being 11, we were okay with this, but it was a bit surreal leaving the girls without adult supervision for four hours. It seemed we'd crossed a threshold of sorts, so we talked about it for the 15-minute drive to the hotel and decided that, indeed, we had.

When we showed up (early) for the banquet, we found our seats (in back), so we sat and talked about what we might expect this evening. Megan doesn't know many of my students as their paths don't really cross, so the evening was going to be a parade of nameless high schoolers for her; I, on the other hand, knew probably half of the students by name from class or the hallways, and was excited to see them in a different light, one which might give a hint into who they are and are becoming outside of my classroom.

Unfortunately, what I got was an eyeful of how little parents seem to care about their kids (especially their daughters).

With guys in tuxedos and girls in dresses, we expected to see a fair amount of awkwardness as the students adjusted to their fancy duds; what we didn't expect was the ridiculous amounts of make-up, skin, and cleavage we were bombarded with, nor the (short) leather skirts and (tall) stiletto heels that came with them. I couldn't count the number of times I saw girls having to pull up the tight tops of their low strapless dresses in an honest effort to keep themselves from walking right out of them.

The guys were awkward in their own way (one freshman actually wore his cumberbund up around his ribs all night and looked like a mover in one of those support belts to aid his bad back), but you can't tell me they didn't enjoy just sitting back and taking in everything that was about to fall out right before their eyes. I've never seen these guys smile as much as they did last night.

At the risk of sounding like a puritanical prude, the question that kept coming to my mind was "Where are the parents?" Oh, I forgot: they were busy planning the "after-party," the non-WCA-sponsored dance at another hotel where, from reports I always get from the kids the week after such events, is where the real party happens.

Apparently, in addition to providing the DJ and dance floor, these parents "supervise" the opportunity for high school students to "grind" on one another to their hearts' (among other bodily organs') content. I can't count the number of students who've asked me over the past three years if grinding is wrong – they bring it up every time we study (get this) the seventh commandment prohibiting adultery. When I tell them that, yes, grinding is wrong because it's basically "sex with clothes on," you wouldn't believe the pushback I get. You'd think I had accused Bill Clinton of having sex with Monica Lewinsky or something.

This – all this – made up the discussion Megan and I had on the drive back to pick up the girls. If we enroll the girls at WCA (or any school), do they accept a boy's invitation to be his date at a banquet. If they want to, sure, so long as she's dressed appropriately (that is, wearing clothes) and simply going to enjoy the evening with a friend who happens to be male. Do we let them go to "after parties"? A trickier question, but one we will hopefully attempt to answer with them by talking about all the realities in play. Decisions like these come down to clued-in parent involvement – both now and (for us, at least, before) – and I'd sure like to see more of this informed kind at WCA.

Granted, not every WCA student nor every WCA parent is suspect in this, and I could name plenty of students who were appropriately dressed at the banquet who probably didn't attend the after-party due to parental intervention. But as a current high school teacher and future high school parent, let me encourage anyone with kids to re-consider the fact that no one's going to parent your kids for you; frankly, God didn't give us the option when he gave them to us. Hear the words of Deuteronomy 6:5-7:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You
shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them
when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you
lie down, and when you rise."

In other words, we are to parent according to our love for God and the words of his Scripture, and we are to parent as we (and they) go. There are no breaks; it's 24-7, baby, and we will be held accountable for every decision we make (or don't make) in training up our children in the way they should go. Might I humbly suggest that public cleavage and grinding have no place in this biblical equation? God help us all.

‘Tis the Season…

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

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

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

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

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

City of God or Country of God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My best answer: yes.