Because life is a series of edits

Archive for the ‘Westminster’ Category

10 Commandments of Pitching (or What Happens When a Bible Teacher Coaches Baseball)

In Sports, Theologians, Westminster on March 24, 2010 at 11:50 am

Spring Training

Handing out this original (and highly contextualized) paraphrase of Exodus
20:1-20
to our junior varsity pitchers today:

“And Coach spoke all these words:
‘I am the Coach your Teacher, who brought you out of
the dugout, out of the land of the bullpen.

1. You shall not lose control –
mentally, physically, or emotionally.

2. You shall not make for yourself a mess by falling behind counts
or walking batters. You shall not drag or work at a slow pace;
for I, the Coach your Teacher, am a just Coach, punishing the
pitchers for the sin of not throwing strikes through the third or fourth
inning, but showing mound time up to a full seven innings to those
who love pitching and care about the strike zone.

3. You shall not misuse a pitch in the wrong spot
or in the wrong situation, for the Coach will not hold
anyone guiltless who misuses his pitches.

4. Remember your fielders by throwing strikes.
Three balls you are allowed to do all your work,
but three strikes is a Sabbath for the Coach your Teacher.
With them, you shall not wear out your team, neither you, nor your infielders
or outfielders, nor your parents or fans, nor your girlfriends or
wannabe girlfriends, nor the scout within your gates. For with three
strikes in mind the Coach made the decision and the line-up, the
fielding positions, and all who are in them, but he rested on the fact
that you are going to make good pitches. Therefore the Coach trusts you to
throw strikes so the team can make outs.

5. Honor your umpires and your officials,
so that you may live long on the mound
the Coach your Teacher is giving you.

6. You shall not waste pitches.

7. You shall not walk the lead-off hitter.

8. You shall not allow
runners to steal on you.

9. You shall not allow the opposing team
to score the inning after we score.

10. You shall not covet your teammate’s velocity.
You shall not covet your teammate’s curveball, or his changeup
or slider, his two-seam or four-seam, or any pitch that your teammate
throws.’

When the pitchers saw the thunder and lightning and heard
‘Play ball!” and saw the mound in smoke, they trembled with fear. They
stayed at a distance and said to the catcher, ‘Speak to us yourself and
we will listen. But do not have Coach speak to us or we will die.’ The
catcher said to the pitchers, ‘Do not be afraid. Coach has come to test
you, so that the fear of Coach will be with you to keep you from
throwing balls.’”

Hoping this gets the point across. In the meantime, if you’re a fan of both baseball and the Bible, you might enjoy this from a few years back: Moses at the Bat.

Advertisements

Teaching You by Ann Heyse

In Education, Poetry, Westminster on March 16, 2010 at 9:36 am

My English-teaching colleague and friend, Ann Heyse, wrote a wonderful poem for Westminster's Poetry Slam last month. I asked her if I could post it here, as it speaks so beautifully of her passion for trying to teach students who don't always want to learn.

Teaching You
You have it mastered: that attentive façade of interest,
the not-quite blank stare that hides your misery.

You nod, even, at times answer questions, turn in your work, listen to me,
mistakenly thinking that somehow you are doing your work for me.

Your face feigns attention,
When
I know and you know about
your gathering storm.

How inside,
your light’s nearly extinguished,
your help’s long fled,
your safe harbor's destroyed.

I cannot fix or fight your darkness; these are the demons that cling to you,
not me (I have my own).

But here is what I can give:

Prattle to fill your days.

It is only part distraction; more, it is weapon: I give you words, commas,
paragraphs,
sometimes novels to remind you there are stories like yours,

knowing,

the best weapon against your darkness is
normalcy,
kindness,
rhythm:
ordinary moments that build upon
ordinary moments that build upon ordinary moments

Until, you see,
You have built yourself a shelter.
And you can hide there until one day
You, the real you,
smiles back at me.

Why Johnny Can’t Write (Part 2)

In Church, Education, Humanity, Internet, Technology, Thought, Web/Tech, Westminster, Young Ones on March 14, 2010 at 8:29 am

(Continued from my previous post on the topic; sorry for the delay/random smatterings. Can't believe it's taken two weeks, but I'm guessing you found other things to read).

With regard to the problem of teaching and learning the Bible, David Nienhuis sums up the problem nicely: "Biblical literacy programs need to do more than produce informed quoters. They need to produce transformed readers."

Most Scripture memory programs focus on the imperative verses (what to do), almost completely ignoring the indicative verses (what is true). In other words, we in the church spend more time telling kids (and ourselves) what to do for God rather than what God has done for them (and us). In the evangelical church, we're all about the what and how, and hardly about the when, where, and why.

But let's not pretend that decontextualization is just a biblical literacy problem specifically; in today's postmodern world (or post-postmodern world some would say), it is a literacy problem in general. Here's where we come back to basic reading and writing
skills, and these skills' corruption by the very thing so many proclaim will help – technology.

There is, after all, a difference between learning something and learning how to search for something. Is one better than the other? That's a debated question: does a kid really need to learn when or where or why an historical event took place, or does he just need to learn how to search for it effectively with Google? How you answer this question has everything to do with your pedagogy, and while I don't think the two answers are mutually exclusive, I do think the former gets short shrift compared to the latter.

Think about this: nobody memorizes phone numbers anymore because we can just input them into our phone, press the name of the person we want to call, and dial the right number. This works great…as long as we have the phone. But what happens when we lose the phone or the phone stops working? How do we get a hold of the person we're trying to call? What do we really know? We know that we want our phone back and working again, and we realize how lost we feel without it. (Note: For the other two of you in the world who, like me, don't own a cell phone, apply the idea to losing your Web browser bookmarks…it can seem like the most helpless feeling in the world.)

The point is that we live such a wi-fi-enabled, out-sourced, off-site, backed-up life that we use our brains for little more than remembering where we store our passwords than what it is (stories, ideas, responses, reflections) they protect. Ours has evolved into such a non-oral tradition "tradition," that the thought of memorizing sonnets from a poem or narrative stories from the Bible for meaning and not information seems archaic and unnecessary. If we think we need it, we can find it; we don't need to learn it. And if we don't think we need to learn it, well, who cares?

The result of all this (or at least the result I see in the classroom) is a student who struggles to write or process ideas that take more than a paragraph to explain (see this Onion article for a humorous version of the problem) growing up in a culture that validates his multi-tasking dysfunction despite studies like this one and articles like this one that question it as a good means to deal with life. As an educator, I suppose I risk becoming suspect to students and parents (and perhaps colleagues and administrators) in calling for moderation and (at times) sobriety when it comes to drinking the technological Kool-Aid, but when I watch a program like Frontline's Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier, it confirms my concerns. Again, I'm not down on technology, but idolatry is a different matter.

Maybe it's because of the subjects I teach (New Testament and Ethics) or the experience (or lack thereof) I've had in the classroom, but depending on technology instead of using technology to teach seems ridiculous for many reasons, not the least of which is this: what if the power or the Internet goes out? If I can't teach apart from my laptop with its Keynote presentations and Web-access and wikis and online forums and Skype conversations and YouTube clips and ITunes access and podcasts and Scripture software – all of which I use in the classroom – then I'm not sure I'm really much of a teacher.

I need one more post to respond to some of your questions about how we try to apply any of this here at home with our own kids. I promise I won't take another two weeks to get to it, so hang in there. In the meantime, here's a link to the blog of one of my students who has the increasingly rare gift of being a sophomore in high school and able to utilize technology while still thinking and writing meaningfully. Enjoy.

Why Johnny Can’t Write (Part 1)

In Education, Westminster, Young Ones on February 25, 2010 at 8:43 pm

As alluded to in my previous post, I recently experienced a rather depressing "perfect storm" of grading, research, and melancholy that gave me pause as to what in the world I'm doing (or trying to do) in the field of Christian education. A colleague of mine at the middle school level put it well on his blog:

"Some recent observations have caused me to worry about what and how kids are reading, writing, and thinking:

1. The English teachers at our school have been noticing a
gradual loss of reading and writing skills in the last five years. While the “above-average” students still exist in good numbers, there
seems to be more students with “very-low” reading competency.

2. My colleagues and I on the 7th grade team have noticed more
students each year who are struggling with vocabulary and reading
comprehension skills, so that even in math, they struggle with
understanding the questions asked of them.

3. Everywhere you look outside of the classroom, students are
reading a lot, but it’s mostly text messages, instant messages, emails,
teen-related blogs and websites. Teens are often seen viewing screens
yet are very rarely seen reading a book. (Some are calling this
generation of kids the “children of the screen.”)

I agree with his observations and, after spending last weekend reading 50 papers about my New Testament students' study of their own churches (hardly an overly technical writing assignment), I can confirm the reduction of general reading (and writing) competency of freshmen teenagers. Granted, the entertainment value of papers like these is certainly worth something, but let me suggest a more serious significance from a different angle – a more theological and eternal angle.

My specific concern is this: it's not just that kids struggle to write in general; in terms of reading, interpreting, and understanding the Bible, they just have little to write about at all.

In our last Bible department meeting, our staff walked through an excellent article entitled "The Problem of Evangelical Biblical Illiteracy: A View from the Classroom." In the piece, author David R. Nienhuis laments the fact that despite 84% of Americans consider the Bible "very" or "somewhat important" in helping them make decisions in life, recent Gallup polls tell us that only half can name even one of the four Gospels. Nienhuis quotes religion journalist David Gibson in saying that the Bible is "America's favorite unopened text."

"As a professor of New Testament studies at Seattle Pacific University, I [Nienhuis] know this reality only too well. I often begin my survey of the Christian Scriptures course by asking students to take a short biblical literacy quiz, including questions of the sort mentioned above. The vast majority of my students – around 95% of them – are Christians, and half of them typically score just over 50 percent, a failing grade."

Nienhuis continues:

"Most revealing in my mind is the fact that my students are generally unable to sequence major stories and events from the biblical metanarrative. Only 23% were able to order four key events from Israel's history. These students may know isolated Bible trivia (84% knew, for instance, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem), but their struggle to locate key stories, and their general inability to place those stories in the Bible's larger plotline, betrays a serious lack of intimacy with the text – even though a full 86% of them identified the Bible as their primary source for knowledge about God and faith."

Stephen Prothero, in his book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn't, talks about three major shifts that have occurred since the evangelistic Second Great Awakening of the first half of the 19th century. Prothero argues that there has been a shift 1) from learning to feeling, 2) from the Bible to Jesus, and (most importantly) the shift 3) from theology to morality.

I see aspects of each of these shifts on a daily basis in my classroom. Most kids walk into my New Testament class expecting it to feel "fun like youth group" (don't get me started), trusting more their own relativistic answers to the question "What would Jesus do?" than the more concrete answers to "What does the Bible teach?", and proof-texting away complex situations and issues with overly simplistic (and usually out-of-context) applications of biblical verses they quote. I know, I know: they're just teenagers, sure, but it would be a whole lot easier to forgive them their folly if it wasn't for the ugly arrogance that so often clears a path for their misinformed hermeneutics (both of which they have learned well from our mile-wide, inch-deep evangelical churches).

The reality in all this is that Scripture memory done apart from Story breeds fundamentalist legalism. A majority of my own students think they know the Bible inside and out because they were made to memorize random verses in their childhood; the problem is that they have absolutely no idea how any of what they learned fits together (nor why it matters that it does). I agree with Nienhuis when he posits, "I do not see how a person trained to quote texts out of context can truly be called biblically literate."

I don't either, but for brevity's sake, I'll save the rest of my thoughts for my next post.

Out of the Mouths of…Adolescents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

IMG_3833

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

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

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

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

Having the Appearance of Godliness, But Denying Its Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aussies (or at least this school in Australia) Get It

In Education, Internet, Thought, Westminster on September 21, 2009 at 7:17 am

I don't know if you've heard/read about this, but my Bible department head, L.B. Graham, is married to an Aussie who happened to be on the receiving end of the following email:

"This is the message that the Maroochydore High School, Queensland, Australia, staff voted unanimously to record on their school telephone answering machine. This is the actual answering machine message for the school. This came about because they implemented a policy requiring students and parents to be responsible for their children's absences and missing homework.

The school and teachers  are being sued by parents who want their children's failing grades changed to passing grades – even though those children were absent 15-30 times during the semester and did not complete enough school work to pass their classes."

Attached to the email was this audio attachment containing the school's aforementioned voicemail message – a swift kick in the parental pants that American educators can only dream about giving. As the Aussies say, "Dig a hole and bury me, it just doesn't get any better than this!"

Closure?

In Calling, Education, Internet, Westminster on September 9, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Been trying to figure out how to bring closure to the Obama speech conversation. Terry Mattingly's Scripps Howard article from our interview might suffice. Enjoy (or don't).

Putting the Mental in Fundamentalist

In Calling, Church, Education, Internet, Politics, Thought, Westminster on September 5, 2009 at 9:01 am

Schoolbadge1

The hubbub caused by President Obama's planned "Welcome Back" speech to school children on Tuesday is interesting to say the least. For those of you just tuning in to the debate, here's a helpful summary of arguments from all sides concerning the public school arena – not much I could or would add to any of that. However, as I haven't read much from a Christian private school perspective, let me get the conversation started.

On Friday, Westminster received several phone call from parents asking if the school was going to participate in watching the President's speech. The official WCA position for this and other such live presentations is that they are not to take the place of our own academic presentations – those prepared lessons that fit within the planned curriculum for the courses we teach; thus, as guided by our scope and sequence, there is no official planned showing of the President's live presentation in WCA classrooms on Tuesday.

Maybe because we've already had three weeks of school and the idea of a "Welcome Back" speech seems past the expiraton date, I didn't think too much about the email. While I always want to consider whether something like this applies to what we're talking about in Ethics, in light of the fact that my students are gearing up for their first major test next week (and Tuesday finishes up our discussion for that), I figured I'd watch the speech on YouTube and, if anything seemed to apply, bring it in to class afterward.

This idea might get complicated, however, as apparently we had parents (not a lot, but a vocal few) express that if WCA showed the speech, they would keep their kids home from school.

Seriously?

When I got home later in the day, I asked Megan what she had been reading in the blogosphere about President Obama's planned speech, and she told me there were several "sick out" campaigns being organized for Tuesday, mostly by parents whose kids were in public school (though homeschoolers seemed all too eager to jump on the bandwagon as well). When I told her about the phone calls at Westminster, her response was the same as mine.

Seriously?

Am I missing something here? If it's not in the home (and why a homeschooling family would not use this as an opportunity for discussion I have no idea – we are), I would think parents would at least want their kids engaging live presentations like President Obama's in a Christian school, where I as a teacher am going to ask questions like "What can we affirm?" (importance of education, faithful study, etc.) or "What needs to be challenged?" (ideas different from Scriptural truth, etc.). It shouldn't matter who the speaker is – these are the conversations I would think a parent would be PRAYING to take place. Why keep your kids home from them? This logic does not compute; after all, why are they/we here?

At some point, Christians have got to stop putting the mental in fundamentalist and start interacting with the world. Teaching our kids to stick their heads in the sand and ignore anyone they may not totally agree with is, in a word, unChristian. Folks, we can't counter the culture unless we encounter the culture, so let's take off the blinders, read through Acts 17 again, and be some salt and light around here for crying out loud.

Thoughts?

15-Year Old Hopes, Needs & Expectations

In Calling, Education, Westminster on August 13, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Few things are more exciting to me than fresh starts, and today's first day of school was no exception. I have 109 students this year – three sections of sophomores in Biblical Ethics and two sections of freshmen in New Testament. I've taught 25% of these kids in previous years, but the rest are newbies for me, so I've got a lot of new names and faces to learn (I give myself no longer than two weeks to get them down, as that's important).

What a great day: late start (for the kids, that is) at 9:30; shortened 40-minute class periods; lots of familiar faces (and even a few hugs) from former students. Now in my third year teaching the same classes, I actually feel as if I finally know what I'm doing, and having done some initial prep work the previous two years, I could concentrate more on the students without being so distracted by the details. It was fun.

After the initial awkward welcomes and greetings, I live-narrated a 3-minute digital scrapbook of pictures I threw together in iPhoto as a way to introduce myself. Set to Randy Newman's song, "You've Got a Friend in Me," the slideshow moved quickly, and at the end, I invited the students to ask any question they might want to ask as follow-up to what they saw.

A lot of questions were predictable (What's your middle name? Do you have any pets? What were you thinking having four girls so close together?). Here was the funniest question of the day (with exact phrasing): "Mr. Dunham, I'm trying to figure it out, but how would you describe your style of dress?" I confessed I wasn't sure I had one, so this girl came up with one for me: "I'm going to call it 'comfy-casual.'" "Works for me," I said. She smiled, and just like that, we bonded.

Next, I handed out an over-sized notecard to each of the students and, over the course of the 15 minutes or so, asked them to write out and complete the following sentences, which we would share and talk about as a group:

  • "I hope Ethics/New Testament class…"
  • "I need Ethics/New Testament class…"
  • "I expect Ethics/New Testament class…"

The answers were what you might expect – "fun, interesting," etc. – but some went into more detail on their actual cards, which I collected (along with two prayer requests) at the end of class. Some of the kids really got that my classes are meant to be more than requisites for graduation (which they are, requisites, that is); their hopes, needs, and expectations were heartfelt in their desire to learn and walk with God, and I was glad to read them along with the things for which they asked prayer.

Those requests were interesting as well. I was a bit surprised how honest some of them were, even on the first day. There are always the medical requests for sick grandparents or pets (not necessarily in that order), but one theme I picked up on more than usual was a specific stated tension between kids and their fathers (very rarely their mothers). With a slight lump in my throat, I thought a lot about this as I put my girls to bed tonight, saying a prayer for my own kids as well as those I have at school. Stuff like this must break God's heart; I know it does mine.

Tomorrow, we'll deal with more of the nuts and bolts stuff (syllabus, readings, assignments, etc.) before I turn them lose for the weekend with no homework (I don't give any over weekends anyway) and we get into things in earnest next week. But I don't want to lose sight of the realities with which these students began trusting me even the first day out of the blocks. Their busy and dramatic worlds are as jumbled and confusing as anybody's, and I hope/need/expect Ethics/New Testament class to be some part of God's work in their lives this coming year. Let it be so, Lord, in too many ways to count.

The Contentment Equation

In Friends, Health, Humanity, Science, Westminster on March 18, 2009 at 5:54 pm

I had a tough discussion with a student this week – tough not because of the student, but because of the student's family situation. Details aren't important for my purposes here, so I'll refrain from sharing any; suffice it to say, I wanted to help a lot more than I could. Leaving school, I prayed for the student, asking God to grant strength and maturity in handling parents who are both behaving badly.

As I was praying, I wondered when the last time the student had ever felt real and extended contentment in life. Was it within the past year? Doubtful – we've been processing the situation together since at least November. Any time during the teenage years? Possibly, but most of what the student is dealing with has been years in the making, and teenagers pick up on that stuff. When my student was in elementary school? I hope not (that would be a while ago). Even before then? Man.

I think about stuff like this a lot – not just with kids, but adults as well. My theory (and I'm just throwing it out here) is that the further a person has to go back to find real and extended contentment, the older they feel and seem to others. Granted, this idea may not be rocket science (and I'll grant that my definitions of "real" and "extended" are more than a bit fuzzy), but I wonder if a math-type could put together an equation to qualitatively test my hypothesis; all I've got is a gut feeling it's true.

As any good teacher asks a student for an answer to his own question, I tried to answer mine. When was the last period of real and extended contentment for me? When was the first? How many have there been in between? Most importantly (I think), how young (or old) does the accumulation or absence of these make me seem to others? I'll be honest: I feel (and have felt) pretty content for much of the past year, but has that been contentment or just happiness? What really marks a difference between the two?

A favorite passage on this topic is Paul's statement in Philippians 4:11-13:

"I have learned in whatever situation I am to be a content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

God's promise in verse 13 is every Christian's favorite – that is, until they discover that being content is what God promises to strengthen us for (instead of just winning sport events or passing tests). For hermeneutical reasons, I stopped applying this verse to non-contentment kinds of things a long time ago, but I'm not sure how recent it's been since I picked it up again to apply it in the right way. I'm not sure I'm that brave.

With regard to my schizophrenic inquiries above, I'm still thinking through my answers; however, I'm as interested in whether the questions are even the right ones as well. What do you think of my equation (try this for starters: PA (perceived age) = AA (actual age) – C (contentment) / T (time))? How accurate does it seem in measuring your own experience? And what does it take for you to feel as well as talk about being content in your own life?

Approaching Normality?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Schooled

In Education, Thought, Westminster on February 19, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Before professionally stepping into the role of teacher three years ago, my previous experience of the classroom was as a student (elementary, junior and senior high, college, and then graduate level at seminary). Maybe it's because I've had such little formal training that I am fascinated by educational history and the theories behind what goes on in classrooms. While I used to feel intimidated by what I thought I didn't know as a teacher, my increasing sense over the past three years is that I may not have missed as much as I once imagined, mostly because so much of it is out-of-date.

Last Friday, Westminster hosted a teacher in-service for educators within independent schools of St. Louis. The speaker was Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs, and there were about 300 folks in attendance. I've been to a few of these day-long training sessions before, but this one topped the list in terms of providing the best mix of theoretical/practical and strategic/tactical content.

While Westminster is further down the road in several ways in providing a 21st-century education, we got the equivalent of an educational spanking (made easier by some dry humor and a free lunch), as what has been taught and passed on for decades within the American school system is painfully outdated, and our best effort at making a shift forward is barely keeping up. This doesn't mean there aren't some good or even "out front" things going on in American education today, but compared to the rest of the world, we're lagging behind as a whole.

Think about this:

  • The majority of schools (public or private) are running on an educational model established in 1892 (think factories and mass production), with most "current" curricula and practices created and coming out of the 1970s.
  • What is needed to improve this reality is two-fold: short-term upgrades (revision and replacement of dated curriculum and assessment types with more vital contemporary forms), and long-term versioning (new versions of the program structures in our school and institutions that house curriculum and instruction). We shouldn't go "back to basics" but "forward to new basics."
  • Assessment is a demonstration of learning in which the focus should be on feedback. We should design cumulative assessment that helps the learner revise his or her performance independently rather than the teacher revising it for him or her. The focus should be on developing self-assessment rather than just providing teacher assessment.
  • We need a curricular commitment from each teacher with regard to technology. What this commitment includes should be an integrated use of technology that enhances content, an application to a specific unit of study, and one that is evidenced directly in student products and performances. What this commitment is not is the limited and immediate use of a technological tool (i.e. using an LCD projector vs. an overhead; using a computer vs. a typewriter; or using a smart board vs. an LCD projector).
  • Each teacher should commit to identifying at least one specific unit to revise; planning to replace a specific content, skill, and assessment practice with a 21st century upgrade within the unit; sharing the proposed change with colleagues; learning to use the tool that will be requisite to replace the current unit design with the new practice; revising the unit and begin implementation with students; tolerate a certain degree of frustration; celebrating victories; and reviewing and sharing results with peers.
  • With regard to issues of schedule, student grouping patterns, teacher configurations, and space (both physical and virtual), decisions have to be made about all of these elements together, as the whole is the sum of the parts. Key principle: form should follow function (not reverse). I've appreciated Westminster's approach to much of this in the new building currently in design.
  • More on grouping students: we need to replace "ability" groups which focus on student labels and focus on grouping by skills, literacy (language, information, cultural, global), and independent study needs. We also need to rethink lower and upper classmen models and seek to boost the dignity of both college and vocational career paths; in other words, all students should have some experience regarding both.
  • Based on world population percentages and realities, we ought to bag teaching French and focus more on languages like Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, and Arabic (we currently teach French, Spanish, and Latin). We also need to teach all subjects with a more global emphasis (geo-economics, geo-politics, etc.) and do away with state-distinctive education, especially since our American population is so mobile between states.
  • We need to rethink the length of the school year, which, since 1892, has roughly been 180 days and largely based on an agarian calendar. At least five of these days should be allotted for professional development and review of assessment data. Considerations need to include year-round or summer semester possibilities, with consideration given to days not having to be on-site-task vs. seat time.
  • Teacher configurations should include multiple affiliations and task forces grouped to solve specific problems. We should also group teachers both vertically (departments) and horizontally (grade level/age level/skill level) so as to foster better continuity in advancing students.
  • We should rethink our "12 grades" compulsion, allowing for early graduation if/when a student is ready, or an additional year if/when the student is not. We need to replace seat time with task completion that might be accomplished virtually.

There's plenty more where all that came from, but I won't bore you. The fact is that the American education system is in dire need of a major philosophical shift, but this transition seems next to impossible because the key elements of the system (schedule, student grouping patterns, teacher configurations, space) have been in place for the past 100 years. It's the 21st century, but the American school system is and has been stuck – not in the 20th century, but in the 19th!

It's been a slow week (month, year) for comments, but does anybody feel like weighing in on this?

Relearning Diligence

In Education, Humanity, Thought, Westminster on January 7, 2009 at 8:28 pm

Normally a prep period (and a really nice way to end the day), seventh hour in my classroom today played host to one of eleven experiments by our Bible department in which our seniors in Worldviews "taught" our eighth grade Bible students lessons stemming from the Proverbs.

The seniors (about 6 per group) were to create a 7-10 minute documentary-format video illustrating the principles of their assigned proverbial topic. Following the video, each of the seniors was to speak a few minutes from his or her own experience on the topic, and this was to be followed by a 15-minute Q&A time facilitated by the seniors and involving the eighth graders. (Over the course of the next few days, the teachers will process with the seniors while the eighth graders interact in a protected digital environment about what they learned, which will be monitored and "graded" by their teachers.)

As I have neither seniors nor eighth graders, I had little more to do with the initiative than serving as room facilitator and grader. My group had been assigned the topic of diligence to focus and teach on, and despite their tendency toward mouthfuls of imperative legalisms and telling rather than showing their point, they did a decent job with their presentation. Rarely have I seen seniors respect both the task and their younger audience as these students did, and the eighth graders were equally respectful and appreciative of the seniors' attempts to present and interact. It was a nice dynamic.

If there was anything concerning about the experience, it would be my group's seeming replacement of faithfulness with success as diligence's final result. This switcheroo is not unique to our seniors and I'm not meaning to blame them for it here; it is a pathology that plagues so many kids I teach at the freshman, sophomore, and junior levels, probably because it plagues their parents as well. It goes something like this:

diligence = good grades = college of choice = good job = happiness = success

Nearly every senior story followed this flow. The progression wasn't formally charted, but it was certainly assumed and accepted to be true. If I had to sum up what was taught in my classroom seventh hour, it would be that diligence always equals success, and that success will be what you want it to be, so get to work.

In other words, it's what you and I, in our "best" works-based faith, tell ourselves every day of our works-based lives. Who says kids today can't learn?

Granted, the proverbs can certainly be read with a very "name it-claim it" hermeneutic (an unfortunate Christian manifestation of our nation's American Dream religion), but we have to read it within the genre of wisdom literature which tends toward trajectories rather than guarantees. For instance, when we read a verse like Proverbs 10:4 which says, "A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich," we have to understand that just because we avoid sloth does not automatically ensure wealth. Sure, one has a better chance at financial success by working rather than vegging, but that trail is a trajectory, not a guarantee.

After all, life happens; so does God, and God's idea of "success" often (though not always) has more to do with faithfulness than finances (see Psalm 73 for more on this). How do we explain when one works hard but doesn't make it into the college of his choice? How does our theology make sense when one is diligent and doesn't succeed at the level he or she expected to?

Generally speaking, diligence in the Scriptures tends to look and feel a lot more like perseverance than success. Indeed, God in his gracious goodness as a Father tends to bless diligence (Proverbs says so), but that doesn't give us the right to demand such blessing or to remind God of His part in our equation. God owes us nothing and is debtor to no man; we would do well to remember and live by this if we are to walk with Him on His terms. We'd be more humble and grateful people in doing so.

So, we as teachers have some work to do – not only in our students but also in our parents, certainly within the Church and, if we're honest, probably within ourselves. Indeed, we should be diligent because the Scriptures tell us to be so, but let's not be surprised by how God might respond, rather than demand He do what we think He should to keep up His end of the deal. Who becomes God then?

(Note: For more on how parental pressure and material advantage are creating a generation of disconnected and unhappy kids, read The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine. Accurate and thought-provoking.)

Death by Crustifiction

In Pop Culture, Westminster on December 17, 2008 at 9:40 pm

Grading New Testament exams tonight, I came to the page where I ask students to outline the gospel of Matthew. I had no idea that, in chapter 28, Jesus was “crustified.”

(My nine-year-old’s words: “Sounds like something they do at Subway.”)

Breather for Now

In Calling, Education, Westminster on December 10, 2008 at 2:00 am

I pulled the first all-nighter of my seminary career last night, writing 20 one-page reflections and cramming for the final exam for my Old Testament History class. I went to bed from 8:30 to 11 p.m. last night, got up and worked until 5:30 this morning, dozed for half an hour before getting up and teaching the day at school. I then came home and slept for an hour before dinner, studied, took the exam online, and am just now feeling as if I'm on the final approach toward finishing the semester. All that remains is reading two books for my Ancient Near East class and writing two ten-page papers by Tuesday, and I'm done. Piece of (a semi-large) cake.

Believe it or not, I felt pretty good today despite my sleep deprivation, but I was a little sheepish confessing to my students that Mr. Dunham did the very thing he encourages them not to do (procrastinate) and is paying the price. Somehow, with finals week next week, they were less than sympathetic, but thankfully Megan was, keeping a steady flow of coffee going last night and covering my bookstore shifts yesterday and today so I could knock everything out (thanks, Sweetie).

As of tomorrow I'll have both my final exams written for my students and will then need to dive headfirst into a pool of project papers and original parables before next week or I'll be up a creek trying to grade 103 exams on top of all that. At least the papers will all be different, so that will make them more interesting than usual.

In other news, I got official word today that all I need to graduate in May is Christian Ethics, a three-hour course taught by Anthony Bradley. Unfortunately, the course is not offered next semester, so I've already talked with Anthony about doing an independent study with him to meet the requirement. While I really would like to take the class normally, I'm excited by the idea of wrapping up my seminary career (or at least the theological studies part of it) with this kind of learning experience (I'll also be taking a three-hour course called Teaching and Learning, which counts toward the educational ministries degree I'll continue working on past May).

So, there's your educational update for the end of the semester. For any of you of the praying persuasion, pray I can finish well both with my studies and my students, and that I'd actually learn something in the process as well. Oh, and feel free to share any finals week horror stories from this or yesteryear if it will help your therapeutic process. The doctor is in (and it won't even cost you a nickel to comment).

Not Even Jack Bauer Can Get Us Out of This One

In Calling, Humanity, Places, Thought, TV, Westminster on November 24, 2008 at 6:57 am

Powerful episode of 24 Sunday night. “Redemption” caught us up with illegal expatriate Jack Bauer (played by Keifer Sutherland) coming to the aid of African children kidnapped to be made into child soldiers under a would-be dictator.

As always, the show’s story was straight out of news headlines, even including a presidential transfer of power in Washington, with the only major detail missed being the casting of the new President as a woman instead of a black man (apologies to both Senators Clinton and Obama). In a word, the episode was heartbreaking, as the use of thousands of child soldiers is going on in at least 17 different countries today.

For the past two years, Westminster has been involved with an organization called Invisible Children, whose Schools for Schools initiative exists “to creatively raise money for the schools of northern Uganda, improving the quality of education for war-affected students.” So far this fall, the WCA student body has raised over $15,000 (mostly in spare change) to help the same secondary school in Gulu that we helped last year, ranking us first in the country of all participating U.S. schools with less than a month to go of the 100-day window.

While I’m not a big fan of the competitive giving strategy utilized by the organization (and enabled by Westminster), I was glad that one WCA student, as well as my friend and teaching colleague, Ann Heyse, “won” the opportunity to represent our school in Gulu this past summer. Ann spent six weeks with Invisible Children, training teachers and teaching students with her expertise in English, and based on both her personal testimony and her excellently-written blog documenting her experience, it seems the organization does good work in a place that needs much good work done.

Last night, as I watched the two-hour teaser that creatively gets Jack Bauer back to the United States for the show’s seventh full season beginning in January, I found myself overwhelmed by the realism of it all…that is until one particular commercial break when there was a quick screen shot for the Human Rights Watch website, followed immediately by a national Pizza Hut commercial, and then a local ad for St. Louis’ very own Casino Queen (“home of the loosest slots”). Whew. Assuagement by advertising.

What an incredibly confusing postmodern culture we have created, one in which almost every aspect of life is separated from any true and meaningful meta-narrative. How strange to go from African children dying to ordering two-for-one pizzas to having a great time gambling, all in the course of 60 seconds. And yet for those of us who have been breathing this postmodern air our entire lives, the progression doesn’t seem strange at all; it is exactly what we have come to expect (at least, that is, before God’s revelatory red pill of the gospel allows us to see power, gluttony, and greed for what they really are).

We live in a broken world, friends. Whether in Africa or America, ours is both a needy place and time to be alive, and not even Jack Bauer can get us out of this one.