Because life is a series of edits

Archive for the ‘The Academy’ Category

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.

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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.)

Understanding That Energizes

In Education, Oklahoma City, Students, Teachers, The Academy, Young Ones on September 13, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Lightbulb

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
3 John 1:4

Earlier this morning, I flew out of Oklahoma City for Merrimack, New Hampshire, where I’ll take part in a weekend conference called the Biblical Imagination Series with author and musician Michael Card. Mike and I have been friends for more than a decade, and we occasionally partner together to help believers engage with the Bible at the level of an informed imagination.

I mention this because I have the same goal when I teach the New Testament to Dialectic students. However, I have a huge advantage teaching our eighth graders over the majority of adult audiences we teach through Biblical Imagination, as our eighth graders – especially those who have been with our school multiple years – know their world history.

Just yesterday, we were learning about the intertestamental period – the roughly 400 years between Old and New Testaments and an important period to at least be familiar to better understand the historical and cultural context surrounding Jesus’ incarnation as recorded in the gospels. (It also makes for a fantastic mini-lesson on God’s prospering of his people Israel throughout history, but I digress.)

Drawing a timeline to chart some dates, places, and people groups, I was pleased at what my students already knew – not just the basic grammar of when, where, and who, but also the how and why of the order and power transitions from the Persians to the Greeks to the Romans (and before those, from the Assyrians to the Babylonians to the Persians). It was not just one particularly bright student helping me fill out the timeline; it was the entire class seemingly not even thinking twice about doing so.

As we continued, I mentioned to the students how they knew more about the history of the world at 14 than I did at 34 when I began seminary. I shared that, to my regret, it wasn’t until then that I really studied these cultures and civilizations in any systematic manner that stuck, and I was glad to learn more with them as we asked questions and discussed these periods and people of these times.

Later that afternoon, when I mentioned the joy of my experience to one of my teaching colleagues, she smiled knowingly. “They don’t even know how smart they are,” she replied. “It’s amazing.” Indeed, there was a matter-of-factness to their answers, all without a hint of arrogance (at least that I could pick up externally).

I’ve taught the Bible to plenty of 14-year-olds in my day; the difference at The Academy is that so many others have also taught them – when they were 12…8…6. It’s a privilege to teach New Testament to students who have taken two years of Old Testament with our own Josh Spears. It’s a gift to ask students to reference certain biblical stories and turn to particular books, the content and order of both their grammar school teachers have ensured they have learned. It’s humbling to talk with students about the Jesus of the Bible, knowing that these conversations have and will continue with parents around the dinner table at home (I know this because I’ve already had parents email to tell me about them).

As one teacher emailed me this week (and multiple teachers in both models and at all three trivium levels have echoed in conversation), “I have never been more energized by my students.” This sentiment, of course, doesn’t guarantee that every day will be this way or that our kids are perfect (newsflash: they aren’t), but it does speak of what our kids are capable – learning that goes beyond just knowledge for their own sakes to understanding that energizes and inspires those around them.

If there’s a better gift to offer our students and our inspiration-hungry world, I don’t know what it is. I’m grateful for our kids.

The Condition of My Sole/Soul

In Calling, Church, Family, Friends, Health, Humanity, Oklahoma City, Places, The Academy on September 8, 2013 at 8:37 pm

DSC_0002 As I’ve done before, I took a picture of my shoes tonight. My daughters wondered if I was going to try to sell them online. I’m actually thinking of making a display box for them to remind myself that shoes are no more good without an intact sole than I am without mine (intact soul, that is).

I noticed these shoes breaking down at the beginning of summer (the heel on the the right shoe had already begun to decompose), but I hit August and never seemed to have or take the time to buy a new pair once the hole developed.

To compensate, I spent more mental energy than I had making sure I didn’t cross my legs with my foot up in the air, advertising the color of my socks that day. I was careful on rainy days (and we had several of them this summer) as to where I stepped, as I was vulnerable not just to the biggest of puddles, but to the dewiest of grass as well.

Having made the aforementioned adjustments, I thought I could just keep going, which I did…until the remains of the inner liner gave way and all that was left between my foot and the pavement was my sock, which didn’t last more than a day during car line of the opening week of school. Concrete and cotton are not friends, and my foot paid the price for their dysfunctional relationship.

Two weeks ago, I finally went to the shoe store. I proudly announced to the staff there that I thought it was time I bought a new pair of dress shoes. I showed them the bottoms of my old shoes. They were amazed. They took pictures. They said they had never seen a pair of dress shoes that beat up. I beamed with pride even as my feet hurt. My sole-abuse was (or seemed) justified.

Just like my sole, my soul – the essence of who I am – has worn through some as a result of the past two-and-a-half years in Oklahoma. Sure, the shoe still fits and functions, but that doesn’t mean I should keep wearing it as it is.

I took time this weekend to sort some of this out. I spent a lot of time thinking, writing, editing, praying, and resting. I consolidated a majority of my digital life and re-read and re-evaluated what – good and not so much – had brought me to this time and space. While my work and call are far from fulfilled (God asks for and is doing so much!), for the first time in a very long time, I caught a glimpse of a few adjustments I need to make so as to avoid burnout in fulfilling them. They won’t be immediate and will be more of a months-long process than a weekend project, but I liked being able to identify the need and the difference. It felt good.

To be clear, I’m not even close to fizzling or frying; hardly. I still love God, my wife, my kids (biological and foster), what we’re doing at The Academy of Classical Christian Studies and City Presbyterian, and with whom and why we’re doing it. I’m also looking forward to heading to Merrimack, NH, this weekend as we start up the third leg of the Biblical Imagination conferences, which are always personally edifying.

The fact is that I’m encouraged most days, Oklahoma continues to grow on me, and we’re paying our bills and eating. God has just shown me a few important things in the midst of all the good things, and I felt led to share them with you, ask you to pray, and encourage you to glean from my experiences what God might show you concerning yours.

No need to worry; no need to call.

It’s just time to get some new shoes.

On Being a Faithfulist

In Calling, Education, Oklahoma City, The Academy on June 17, 2013 at 8:37 am

Grapesfromcanaan

“The brave find a home in every land.”
Ovid

One week ago, I led the first meeting of The Academy‘s new Operational Team, comprised of equal parts administrative staff from our previous two schools.

I started with an odd question, particularly since the new school came into being just a few weeks ago: Are we in the glory days of The Academy? While I asked the question rhetorically, in the past five months since announcing our new school, I’ve come across four different perspectives – syndromes, really – out of which people usually answer:

  1. Those with Founders Syndrome tend to think the question is a silly one even to ask; it’s been downhill from the very beginning when things were small, simple, and good, and this is just a continuing stumble away from that path.
  2. Those with Separatist Syndrome argue we were better off separated and should never have done this in the first place; after all, there’s just no way things can possibly be as good together as the good that we once had apart.
  3. Those with Fatalist Syndrome are not nearly as vocal, but for no real good reason, they genuinely believe the whole thing was over before it started; the end is near, they think, and it’s just a matter of time.
  4. Those with Futurist Syndrome come from the perspective that the past counts for little to nothing; the only real good that is going to come from any of this lies in the days to come.

Lest we think one of these is right, I would suggest none is; in fact, the Scriptures would seem to caution us against adopting any of these perspectives. Consider:

Ecclesiastes 7 pushes back on the Founders and the Separatists: “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (verse 10). Things change: people are different, places are different, needs are different, culture is different, times are different. This doesn’t mean that God has changed and is different as well, but the Scriptures remind us that, even in his constancy, he is always doing something new. Our role is to respond accordingly (see Psalm 98:1).

So much of the Bible argues against the Fatalist view that it seems silly to even list Scripture to make the point. Suffice it to say, the covenantal story of God’s redemption of a fallen creation, renewed over and over again throughout history with a people so unworthy of such renewal, would seem to banish any kind of fatalist idea. There is no precedent or permission to be fatalistic because God is anything but.

Concerning the Futurist perspective, Proverbs 22:28 is succinct in its caution not to diminish the past (“Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set”), nevermind the majority of the Old Testament’s example after example of what happens when one generation forgets the former. And I’m not convinced that what many consider to be the most futurist book in the Bible (Revelation) didn’t hold plenty of meaning at the time for John’s audience suffering under the persecution of Domition during the late first century.

So what’s an alternative to being Founders, Separatists, Fatalists, or Futurists? I’d like to suggest we become “Faithfulists” instead.

In thinking of an illustrative biblical character, it’s hard to do better than Caleb as an example of a “Faithfulist.” In the Old Testament story of the spies sent to explore the Promised Land, the Bible says that Caleb didn’t choose to cower to the brutal realities of strong people present in the land in large and fortified cities  (Numbers 13:28). Contrast his response with that of the spies, who quaked in fear, alarming the people and concluding, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are” (Numbers 13:31), for it “is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height” (Numbers 13:32).

There were two extremes to the spies’ disobedient response:

  1. Reticent unbelief (extreme caution/fear) that initially paralyzed them (see Numbers 13:31-33)
  2. Presumptuous unbelief (overconfidence/carelessness) with which they later tried to make up for their original fear (see Numbers 14:44)

The results of both did not turn out well. The dichotomy of decision merited vastly different outcomes – the death of an entire generation of people just outside the Promised Land and Caleb’s (and Joshua’s) entry into it. Caleb received what he had been promised because of his faith in Who had promised (see Joshua 14). He was brave, and as the Roman poet Ovid eloquently points out, “The brave find a home in every land.”

Brave is what Faithfulists are; believe – in God and enough to do what he asks – is what Faithfulists do; a home in every land is just the beginning of the Faithfulist’s reward.

(Art: The Grapes from the Promised Land, Nicolas Pussin, 1660-1664)

We’re Off Like a Herd of Turtles

In Parents, Students, Teachers, The Academy on June 6, 2013 at 10:55 am


I’m not even sure I can put into words the swirl of thoughts and emotions that I find myself consumed by these days as I think about The Academy of Classical Christian Studies. Perhaps like you, I am a concoction of wonder, doubt, fear, worry, hope, excitement, and faith concerning our new school.

There was a recent episode of The Office (or so I’ve heard) in which one of the characters muses “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” I resonate with the thought, especially on the heels of a last-minute trip I took to St. Louis to watch the boys I coached two years ago as freshmen and sophomores win their third straight state baseball championship. The weekend was a good weekend because those days were good days.

What about now? Have we just left the best days we’ve known as Providence Hall and Veritas, or are there new ones God has planned for The Academy?

I think we all know what the answer is; the question is, do we believe – really believe – it? I confess it’s been more than once that Nathan Carr and I have thought about what it would have been like to not investigate, instigate, and implement our new school. Life already seems more complicated since we were separate entities, but we’re not separate anymore (at least not legally as of June 1), and both of us hope this isn’t a mistake.

I honestly don’t think it is, but I can’t definitively say it’s for the best either, at least not yet. I have no immense amounts of evidence, no undeniable proof yet of this being for the good. I think it will be and I’m betting it will be, but I don’t know. The only thing I know is that we’re all once about to embrace a whole lot of work and risk and hope and pressure that I’m praying will – in two years, in five years, in ten years – seem silly to remember as such.

Like you, I want to have the sense that Jesus is leading, willing, and able to engage with us in the midst of all that we’re trying to do. I don’t doubt his hand, nor do I sense his absence, but it will take time to look back and identify a prolonged confidence of rightness about all of this. The fact is we’re all a little bit nervous.

I won’t pretend: I’m sometimes at a loss as to how to really pull this off. A majority of us have experience in education, but few of us can say we’ve ever merged two schools into one, nor have many of us even seen it attempted or done well. Maybe it won’t be as hard as I think it will be…or maybe it will be. Regardless, that shouldn’t stop us; we have the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and each other – I’m not sure there’s anything more we need.

Obviously, all of this would be easier if decisions could be purely objective, if opportunities could be evaluated one-dimensionally, and if nobody involved really cared about any of it. The reality, however, is our decisions involve real people, our opportunities are multi-layered, and we are a school filled with passionate people – board members, families, parents, faculty, staff, and students – who really care. If we’re not careful, this could be a train wreck waiting to happen.

But it’s also an amazing chance to believe God for something more – something more than we think we’re even capable of believing. As we step out in faith, I want to ask you to commit with me in our relational covenant – that 1) we would believe the best in one another; that 2) we would stand shoulder with one another; and that 3) we would talk to and not about one another as we endeavor to move forward as The Academy of Classical Christian Studies.

Healthy things grow beautifully into the way they were designed to grow; unhealthy things mutate – often into ugly and dysfunctional things that eventually die. Our relationships are the key to our growth and whether that growth is healthy or not.

Are we really going to pull this off? Is it really possible to grow our new school into what we hope it will become?

You and I both know that if God’s answer is “yes,” then so should ours be. In the past eight months – while working with dozens of godly and talented people from both schools – there have been plenty of opportunities for the possibility of God to say “no,” but that word has not seemed to come.

Instead, we have felt confident to move forward, even though we see in a mirror dimly, but hope to one day see more face to face; despite the fact that we know only in part but trust to know one day fully, even as we have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12). I’m grateful for your willingness to go with us and pledge to you to lead you and follow Christ as best I can.

“If there is an end for all we do, it will be the good achievable by action.” Aristotle

Let’s do this!

On Teaching Atrocities (My Advice to a New History Teacher)

In Calling, Education, Humanity, Pedagogy, Poetry, Politics, The Academy, Young Ones on March 25, 2013 at 1:35 pm

“In both 7th grade and 12th grade, we are about to talk about World War II. With that, comes discussing atrocities such as the Holocaust and the Rape of Nanking. However, I am unsure how to appropriately teach the specifics. They were very important events that need to be understood, but I also know I need to be aware of the level of the students that I teach. As much more experienced teachers than I, I was hoping that you could give me advice on how to talk about these subjects with the students.”

The biggest thing to think through is your own personal preparation; that is, understand that the kids will take their cue from how you present and process with them, so if they see you being ONLY objective, then anything truly awful will seem shocking because we as humans shouldn’t be unemotional when it comes to these things. In other words, students need to see you deal emotionally with the grief and not just the facts of these atrocities.

That said, you have to really check your own heart in presenting some of this. It’s easy to throw something gratuitous out there either via image or story in order to get a reaction and reassure yourself that the students are listening, but we as teachers have to resist that temptation. The kids need to know what happened, and they also need to know how we feel about what happened. Definitely hold off on an overuse of graphic images at the 7th grade level, as well as be careful even at 12th grade – it’s just too easy to go for the easy gut reaction and miss the nuance and respect that these events require.

For 7th grade, students read “The Hiding Place,” so they get a pretty good feel for at least one expression of the Holocaust. In general, for that grade, keep it fairly objective and general. While they need to know these things have happened, the number of dead, the sort of categories of offenses (using Jews for scientific experiments, etc.) are more appropriate, probably, than the specific instances, descriptions, etc. It is a good opportunity to talk about human depravity and the nature of evil AND that the greater majority of Germans (for example) didn’t actually participate, but nor did they act against. It’s useful to discuss, in general, that the feeling of “I would never. . .” is exactly what often allows evil to take place.

For 12th grade, there is more of an opportunity to talk more directly about the experiences and the factual accounts. Here’s where images would perhaps be more appropriate. There are also lots of good connections with our Comparative Religions class, and again with the nature of evil and the fallen nature of humanity. Since it’s American History, focus on American perceptions (or misperceptions) and the same sort of willful ignorance as other nations. Perhaps connections with how Americans view events today and how we expect our country/government to act, intervene, etc. Or, in other words, what makes the Holocaust so special given the number of atrocities and scale in the 20th century?

Finally, be very careful what the kids see/hear you laugh about; humor is a natural protection mechanism we use when dealing with atrocities like these, but it can come off very crass. There needs to be a sacred approach, not just a funny self-protective one, to dealing with these matters of life and (unfortunately) death.