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Archive for the ‘Writers’ Category

The Classical Capstone

In Arts, Calling, Education, Oklahoma City, Thought, Writers, Young Ones on April 24, 2013 at 8:35 am

“A well-spent day brings happy sleep.”
Leonardo da Vinci

“At this I awoke and looked, and my sleep was pleasant to me.”
Jeremiah 31:26

I slept well last night, not because I was tired (I was), nor because all’s right with the world (it isn’t). I slept well last night because I had just witnessed truth, goodness, and beauty at work, and it was comforting.

Last night, I (along with four other teachers – Abby Lorenc, Alex Kelley, Josh Spears, and Todd Wedel – and four sets of super-supportive senior parents) had the privilege of hearing from our four seniors – Sarah Baskerville, Ruth Serven, Mackenzie Valentin, and Austin Clark. Each presented what we’re calling our Classical Capstone – a 25-minute speech followed by a 10-minute question and answer period, during which the student fields questions from parents and faculty advisors concerning what he or she has just presented. In addition to the presentation, students have the opportunity to create something that goes along with the topic discussed.

As the Capstone is a year-long project, Academic Dean Todd Wedel put together a 35-page booklet detailing the initiative’s requirements. Here’s the overview paragraph:

The Classical Capstone is the culmination of the Classical and Christian education at Veritas. Through the process of developing their Classical Capstones, students will be required to determine a topic of interest to themselves, formulate a driving question or concern, conduct background research, take a position, motivate the position or concern to their audience, work through drafting the Classical Capstone, publicly present the Capstone Project and answer questions from the audience, defend their project during a formal examination, and reflect up on what they have learned about the learning process, themselves, and a Christian worldview
through the various stages of the Classical Capstone.

The project is designed to encompass the students’ classical Christian education:

The Classical Capstone will demand that students demonstrate all the elements of a truly classical education, familiarizing themselves with the grammar of their topic or subject, determining the connections between/among viewpoints/sources/positions/expressions, and expressing their viewpoint cogently, clearly, and winsomely. The Classical Capstone will demand, as well, that the entirety of the Project is imbued with a Christian worldview, from the way students select an appropriate topic, to the way they conduct research, to the type of argument or position they formulate, to the way they express their position, to the way they respond
to questions and challenges.

So that students avoid becoming overwhelmed or lost in the process, they are able to choose a faculty advisor to walk through the year with them:

Students will work with a Faculty Advisor during the course of their Project in conjunction with the Classical Capstone Director. The Faculty Advisor will help with the selection and narrowing of topic/focus, aid in direction of research, aid in the formulation of appropriate argument, and serve as one of the members of the examination panel.

Finally, when all’s said and done (as it was last night), there are “deliverables”:

Although the most common form of the Classical Capstone’s final deliverable will be a paper, students are not limited to this form. Other forms of rhetoric-level instruction are acceptable and encouraged if they comport with students’ natural gifts and abilities. The scope of the project will still involve background research and may require written work even if the final deliverable is not written (e.g. a student may need to write an analysis and defense of a painting or musical composition). Deliverables will be evaluated on their ability to demonstrate standards of biblical aesthetics including order, balance, harmony, unity-in-diversity, etc.

I’m not sure I can think of a better way to invest two hours. Our students presented very thoughtful and well-written papers on the topics of our human need for art, what good art is and should be, how our relationship to food has everything to do with our relationship to others, and (just for fun), an in-depth analysis of William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

As Mackenzie’s presentation involved a study of journal-making, she made two beautiful leather-bound journals – one with paper she bought, another with paper she made out of (I’m not kidding here) old jeans. Ruth, having talked about art more literarily, brought copies of an original short story heart-wrenching in its description of two boys caught between dysfunctional parents called “The Tree”.

Sarah, advocating for a cultural return to “cuisine” (and not just “cooking”), baked amazing homemade pumpkin muffins using her own recipe for everyone in attendance. And Austin had obviously invested his “project” time in a ton of extra reading and research, as evidenced by his phenomenal grasp of the complexities of the Normans and Saxons during his Q&A time.

With only a month of school left (and a thousand thoughts having to do with it running through my mind), it was nice to sit back and witness why it’s all worth it. Last night was a celebration of our seniors’ hard work and accomplished rhetorical gifts which served to reaffirm the trivium as a tried and true educational methodology. In addition, seeing their desires (and not just their words) shaped by education that is truly Christian was inspiring.

Make no mistake, their grasp – like mine – of the nuances of life is far from perfect and still developing (some of the parents’ careful but challenging questions spoke to this). But, it is being shaped and redeemed by the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Gospel, reminding me of Philippians 1:6, that He who began a good work in these students will bring it to completion at the day of Christ.

I’m not sure there’s a more comforting thought with which to hit the hay.

Booklist 2012

In Books, Writers on December 31, 2012 at 12:26 pm

As we close 2012, I give you the 21 books I read this year (along with my rating of each out of ten). Here's to 2013 being a year of reading and big ideas for all. Happy New Year!


  • The Third Conversion: A Novelette by R. Scott Rodin –
    A small book on relational fundraising as told through a set of
    conversations between development officers. Meh. (4)
  • The Price of Everything: A
    Parable of Possibility and Prosperity
    by Russell D.
    Roberts –
    Really liked this book and its narrative approach to understanding
    economics. (8)


  • Samson and the Pirate Monks by Nate Larkin – I’ve
    read several of these “men and porn” books and this is the best of the
    lot. (7)
  • Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren Winner –
    A quiet book that brought me up to speed on some sadness of my friend’s
    last few years. Lauren always writes well; I just didn’t know what to do,
    say, or how to help after reading it. (6)

March (1)

  • Mark:
    The Beginning of the Gospel
    by Michael Card – The second of a four-book
    layman’s commentary on the Gospels. No one makes Jesus and the disciples
    come alive for me like Mike does. (7)

April (1)

  • The
    Enemy Within: Straight Talk About the Power and Defeat of Sin
    by Kris Lundgaard –
    Liked this book’s distillation of John Owens’ books, Indwelling Sin and The
    Mortification of Sin
    . Helpful. (8)

May (3)

  • American
    Government: Brief Edition
    by James Q. Wilson – A succinct and helpful summary
    of all aspects of our American form of government. Now if it would just
    work… (7)
  • A Patriot's History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen – Enjoyable history
    text that leans way right at times. (7)
  • A
    People’s History of the United States
    by Howard Zinn– Enjoyable history text that
    leans way left at times. (7)

June (1)

  • I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe – Loved Wolfe’s writing and story of a small town
    girl who goes to a big-time college and learns some hard (and sad)
    lessons. I want my girls to read this before they leave home…and I
    don’t. (9)


  • Desiring
    the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation
    by James K.A.
    Smith – Best book I read all year. Smith is a very good scholarly writer
    with even better ideas about education. Thesis: “What if education wasn't
    first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?” Yes. (10)
  • Treasure

    by Robert Louis Stevenson – Listened to this with Megan and the girls in
    the van on vacation this summer. A classic. (9)

August (0)

September (1)

  • Bad
    Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics
    by Ross Douthat –
    my other favorite read of the year, Douthat’s book about the state of
    American Christianity (and how and why it is what it is) blew me away in
    its historical, cultural, and theological analysis. Wow. (10)

October (2)

  • Making
    It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life
    by David Allen  – Listened to this on a road trip and
    was glad to do so – best stuff I know of for getting better at getting
    things done. (8)
  • New
    Sales. Simplified.: The Essential
    Handbook for Prospecting and New Business Development
    by Mike Weinberg  – Dynamic debut from my friend on the
    meat and potatoes of making the sale. Applied much to my marketing and fundraising
    plans for Veritas. (8)

November (2)

  • The
    Baylor Project: Taking Christian
    Higher Education to the Next Level
    by Barry G. Hankins and Donald D. Schmeltekopf – Can a Protestant
    university be a first-class research institution and preserve its soul? Engaging
    collection of essays on how Baylor is attempting to do just that. (7)
  • Community:
    Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support
    by Brad House – Seemed almost too
    co-dependent and used way too much Christian-ese to make the argument for why
    and how life should be lived in small groups. (5)

December (4)

  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens  – Wanted to
    like this one more than I did. Let’s just say it all makes sense when you
    realize Dickens got paid by the word. (6)
  • The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined by Salman Khan – Great analysis of the limitations of traditional
    public education; good ideas about teaching true mastery; bad ideas about
    what a complete education can and should be. (5)
  • Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We
    Worship and the Wounds We Carry
    by Mike Wilkerson – Liked this one a
    lot as a primer on how sin works and how the Gospel calls us to respond.
    Best part: Exodus is the key text considered. (8)
  • King Alfred’s English: A History of the
    Language We Speak and Why We Should Be Glad We Do
    by Laurie J. White and Marika Mullen – Really liked this book and its engaging
    convergence of literary, historical, and philological studies of English.

(Peruse booklists from previous years here: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006.)

Review: Bad Religion by Ross Douthat

In Books, Calling, Church, Thought, Writers on September 3, 2012 at 3:45 pm

One of the benefits of getting older is reading books that bring context and perspective to one's experience of recent history. I remember initially thinking about this during my first year at the University of Missouri as I listened to my American history professor lecture on the Vietnam War. In his early 50s at the time (1989), my prof's passion for both the era and the book he had assigned to us (The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien) could not be denied.

Until that point, whether in high school or college, I had never taken a
history class that had brought me to the present year; like most my
age, Vietnam was about as far as we got, despite all that happened in
the 1970s and 1980s. Attending class and doing the reading for this first college history course, I wondered what it felt like to read and study a book about a period of history one had actually lived through only twenty years previous.

BadreligionThis is probably why I enjoyed New York Times columnist Ross Douthat's Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics as much as I did. Not only have I lived through two-thirds of the past 60 years that Douthat primarily focuses on, but his analysis and contextualization of this period of time within the larger breadth of history (American and otherwise) is quite revealing of how we have arrived where we are religiously, politically, economically, and socially.

In his breakneck-paced prologue, Douthat summarizes his take and cuts to the chase as to where American Christianity is in 2012. Taking a page from The Reason for God by PCA pastor/author Timothy Keller (who wrote a glowing endorsement for the book), Douthat writes:

"America's problem isn't too much religion, or too little of it. It's bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in its place…The United States remains a deeply religious country, and most Americans are still drawing some water from the Christian well. But a growing number are inventing their own versions of what Christianity means, abandoning the nuances of traditional theology in favor of relgions that stroke their egos and indulge or even celebrate their worse impulses. These faiths speak from many pulpits – conservative and liberal, political and pop-cultural, traditionally relgions and fashionably 'spiritual' – and many of their preachers call themselves Christian or claim a Christain warrant. But they are increasingly offering distortions of tradtional Christianity, not the real thing." (p. 4)

From here, Douthat launches out on a 125-page reconnaissance, skimming the fields of the early twentieth century before landing the plane post-WWII during the Eisenhower years. Holding forth four personalities – neo-orthodox intellectual Reinhold Niebuhr, evangelical evangelist Billy Graham, Roman Catholic bishop and broadcaster Fulton Sheen, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King – as responsible representatives of the (mostly positive) convergence of formerly-divided houses of mid-century Christendom, Douthat sets the stage for the locust years to come.

The aforementioned convergence began to slow and segregate during the turbulent 1960s, with trouble coming at the hands of both the accomodationists within the more mainline churches and the resisters within the more fundamentalist churches. Over the next 50 years, records Douthat, the pressures of questionable technological ethics, overt political partisanship, temptation from economic affluence, and a "waning of Christian orthodoxy had led to the spread of Christian heresy rather than to the disappearance of religion altogether." (p. 145)

To quote G.K. Chesterton: "When people turn from God, they don't believe in nothing – they believe in anything." These "anything" beliefs are what Douthat uses the second half of his book to investigate and address. And, while he is extremely fair, he pulls no punches taking to task the Christian heresies propagated by liberal scholars (i.e. Bart Ehrman), prosperity gospel preachers (Joel Osteen, et. al.), "God Within" mystics (Deepak Chopra, Oprah), and American nationalists (Glenn Beck, David Barton). The pace of the book slows a bit here, but only because Douthat is thorough in his approach.

Finally, Douthat ends his book with a chapter of conclusion entitled "The Recovery of Christianity," offering "four potential touchstones for a recovery of Christianity." While he rightly handles what he calls "postmodern opportunity: the possibility that the very trends that have seemingly undone insitutional Christianity could ultimately renew it," he stumbles a bit in making a distinction between the "emerging" and "emergent" church (they are different) as part of that possible solution, but his other three options are interesting to consider and he presents them with a heartfelt hope for change.

My only other critique of the book has to do with Douthat not always drawing as much separation between Christianity and Mormonism as I would like to see. While he seems to understand that the latter is not just a "funky" subset of the former, I was surprised by occasional "doctrinal issues aside" language used that seemed to minimize any differences between the two, thereby occasionally giving Mormonism more theological credibility than orthodoxy allows.

That said, Douthat's scholarship is well-researched, yet his writing is still very accessible to a popular audience, efficient in thought and prose and briskly readable. And, while his historical interpretation is impeccable, he is certainly no slouch in walking through the nuances of doctrinal debates either, whether they be of the Protestant or Catholic variety (Douthat himself is a practicing Catholic, but he cuts the Vatican no slack, nor does he outright diminish contributions of the Reformers).

Highly recommended.

Un-Manic Monday(s)?

In Books, Calling, Friends, Oklahoma City, Places, Writers on June 11, 2012 at 1:34 pm
Craig and Doug 2011

Craig & Doug, 2011.

So I'm sitting in an enormous but quiet room at an undisclosed location with Doug Serven, my former college roommate, co-author, and friend of 20 years sitting 50-feet away on the other side. Doug and I have committed to take Mondays this summer to work together – not necessarily on the same thing but in the same room – if for no other reason than just to be together doing it.

It's taken us a year of living in the same city to figure out our need for this – for our personal sanity, for our friendship, and perhaps for the sake of another book. We probably realized it was a good idea a while ago, but in the challenges of our first year in Oklahoma City (his as lead pastor planting City Presbyterian; mine as Head of School leading Veritas Classical Academy), this is the first day out of the past 365 that we've finally been able/chosen to schedule this length of regular time.

After a morning of working on different individual church/school responsibilities and then stepping out for a bite to eat at lunch, we came back to digitally dust off the pseudo-manuscript we had started almost four years ago for ThirtySomewhere. Five minutes in, Doug leaned forward, put his head on the table, and declared how overwhelming this all felt.

And it does – writing a book at 41 seems a whole lot different than writing a book at 31. It shouldn't in theory; after all, we have more life experiences from which to pull. The challenge is stepping out of life's experiences in order to pull from them.

Thus, the Mondays idea…or whatever part of Mondays we get in the midst of everything else. We've walked through our summer calendars and blocked out what we could, but with trips and everything else, we can only grab four Mondays across the whole summer. Still, we're starting with those and will see what happens.

(If you see ThirtySomewhere on a bookshelf somewhere in a year-and-a-half, it worked.)

Booklist 2011

In Books, Writers on December 28, 2011 at 12:07 am

It was a pretty personally disappointing year of reading, both in terms of quantity (didn’t even average two/month) and quality (the least amount of theology and classics reading I've done in the past five years). In conducting the autopsy here, I realize that I simply tried to read too many books at once; as a result, I lost interest in several and found it hard to pick back up when and where I left off with a few.

New year, new rule: no more than three books (preferably of different genres) at a time.

Those qualifiers out of the way, it’s with great shame that I post my annual booklist, complete with notes and rankings (10 is highest) for each. In light of the thin offerings, perhaps a look through my previous years' lists (2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006) will aid in your search for a good book. Hope to do better in 2012 (please add your recs below).

January – June (0)

  • Started Atlas Shrugged and about a dozen other books during this six-month period, but we moved/started a new life in Oklahoma, which is my only semi-legitimate excuse.

July (3)

  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand – Absolutely dumbfounded by the fiscal prophecy of the first third of the book; the 1,000 pages dragged in the middle but still good. (7)
  • The Case for Classical Christian Education by Douglas Wilson – A primer for anyone involved in classical Christian education; could do without some of the attitude, but okay. (7)
  • The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo – Interesting read about Jobs and his role as innovator (not inventor) at Apple; some helpful strategy observations. (6)

August (4)

  • Repairing the Ruins edited by Douglas Wilson – Another of Wilson’s contributions, this one reads a little more moderately in terms of tone; good content. (8)
  • Histories (volumes 1 & 2) by Herodotus – First two books I read on the iPad. Skimmed much of it, but parts made it a fascinating look into the ancient world. (6)
  • Teacher by Mark Edmundson – Took 50 pages to get into memoir of Edmundson’s favorite teacher, but worth sticking it out; never get enough of these. (6)

September (2)

  • The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer – Skimmed through this once before, but had to read about/revisit more carefully the education I never received. (8)
  • The Great Expectations School by Dan Brown – File under “Everything you’ve heard about urban public schools is true.” Sad take from a first-year teacher. (8)

October (3)

  • The Secret of Terror Castle (The Three Investigators #1) by Robert Arthur – Revisited (with my second daughter) my youth w/ Alfred Hitchcock-involved series; Investigators better than the Hardys. (7)
  • Cardboard Gods by Josh Wilker – Nostalgic walk through 1970’s baseball cards with plenty of narcissism along the way; good idea, but could have been more. (4)
  • Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki – Simple (but not simplistic) book that gets so much right about how people are motivated and enchanted; highlight of the fall. (9)

November (2)

  • Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson – One of the saddest books I’ve read in terms of leadership and legacy. Jobs was a hero, but not for nearly as much as I thought. (8)
  • Wisdom and Eloquence by Robert Littlejohn and Charles T. Evans – Lucid expression of classical Christian education from two long-time practitioners; well-written pedagogical gold. (9) 

December (2)

  • Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson – Read it too disjointedly, but this “conversation in spiritual theology” also seemed to wander a fair amount; still, some insights/moments. (7)
  • Pastor by Eugene Peterson – Listened to this one and loved it. Peterson is both accurate and articulate in his description of his craft; best of the year for me. (10)

Lessons from the Wilderness

In Nature, Places, Writers on October 24, 2011 at 12:04 am

Got an email today from an old acquaintance from back during my Christian camp and conference center days. Here's what he wrote:

Hey, maybe you could offer some advice on an article I've been asked to write for 3CA (Christian Camp and Conference Association). I'm writing on "best practices" of how those who work at Christian camps and conferences can grow and nourish their own faith. From your experience in Christian camping, would you do me a favor and answer a few quick questions?

How can they do it?

What might it look like (paint a word picture from your experience)?

Any particular Scripture that inspires you in this area?

Here's what I wrote back (complete with a pic from my old program director days – circa 2004 – and a trivia question: Can you name the Christian pseudo-celebrity in the picture?):

God Knows What Retreat

From what I remember about my time in the 3CA world, the biggest irony of camp and conference work is its potential personal hypocrisy: working ridiculous hours so others can get away from their ridiculous hours; never wanting to recognize one's own limits (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual) while encouraging others to repent of their anger at theirs; downplaying one's need for the Church and Sabbath while trying to meet them for others.

Christian camp and conference workers – much like health care professionals or pastors – can be the worst patients. Go to a 3CA conference and check out the physical shape so many directors and staff are in. While harder to measure, the same reality is often true of their spiritual shape (or at least it was of mine): little discipline in Scripture reading and meditation, less dependence in prayer, rare trust or submission to elders of a local church, and minimal personal evangelism. When camp and conference workers lack resolution in their own lives in these or other areas – all while trying to solve the same problems in others' – they risk hypocrisy. This was the tension I felt and fought for years on a daily basis.

In terms of solutions, for me, "best practice" started with personal repentance before God and others that a self-made martyrdom and "Oh, Lord, beat me so I'll feel better" mentality was far from biblical, as it made ministry more about me than about God and those he might use me to help.

Practically speaking, regular reassessment of (or perhaps creation of) job descriptions, evaluations of schedules, and emphasis on personal and communal responsibility to ensure that all heed Christ's call to "Come with me by yourselves (plural) to a quiet place and get some rest" (Mark 6:31) is foundational, but must be committed to and carried out at all levels of the organization to really be effective.

I can think of no better warning for camp and conference center staff than this quote from C.S. Lewis:

"Those like myself, whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty; we easily imagine conditions far higher than any we have really reached. If we describe what we have imagined we may make others, and make ourselves, believe that we have really been there."

In my mind, this is and always will be the potential curse of the camp and conference center staff, but it takes courageous leaders to call it what it is and care for their staff (and themselves) in honest ways concerning it.

Felt good thinking through some of that – should probably do more before I forget some of those lessons (there's plenty of opportunity for personal application here and now).

Second Drafts, Redux

In Calling, Internet, Technology, Writers on May 31, 2011 at 7:34 am

Five years ago (give or take three weeks), I created and launched Second Drafts. Here was part of the birth announcement (you can read the original post here):

My friend and co-author, Doug Serven, is right when he says the idea of writing a book is a lot more appealing than actually doing it. In fact, a lot of bookwriting (at least in our experience) amounts to "vomiting on the page" and then rearranging what sticks. Doug is fond of the vomiting part; I tend to tolerate the rearranging (though we each did a fair amount of both).

Likewise, life is much like bookwriting, as so much of living is really editing what we and others "throw up" (again, continuing the vomit metaphor). Anyone can come up with a first draft of something; writing the second draft, however – revising thoughts, letting go of bad choices, and improving the overall whole of the manuscript – is the more difficult part of the process…and the most rewarding.

So, with that in mind (and just to be sure I run the metaphor fully into the ground), my goal is always to think about life "editorially" – listening for Voice, considering word choice, getting rid of fluff. You're invited to bring your red pen along (or your purple one if red is too threatening) and mark things up with me, or just wait around for the finished project.

A word of warning, though: if you wait, you'll probably wait a long time. Writing and life are both too confusing without community. You're welcome (and wanted) as part of mine.

Leave it to me to equate writing and vomiting (actually, readers have probably drawn the conclusion before, but were too kind to leave their observation in the comments).

I haven't spent as much consistent time on the blog in recent years due to the advent of micro-blogging (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), but I still enjoy keeping one for reasons of posterity and/or narcissism. Two-and-a-half years ago, I wondered aloud if blogging was dead, but looking back on my own experience, I would say the medium was not so much on its deathbed as my literary creativity seemed to be.

Five years later, I choose to relaunch here at Second Drafts with a new header and color scheme, a slightly different design, and a new hope of some reinvigorated reasons to write. I shouldn't lack for material – new state, new place, new people, new job – but I suppose dealing with aspects of the novelty is what keeps me from writing about it.

So, welcome (or welcome back). Do me a favor and spread the word that everything old is new again here at the blog. And drop in every now and then and leave a fresh comment or add to an interaction – those mean more than you ever might think.

The Write Stuff

In Writers on September 16, 2010 at 9:21 am


A funny thing happened on the way to choir drop-off Wednesday night:
due to a change in plans, I ended up without my MacBook.

This was significant because, since my two oldest daughters'
children's choir rehearsal is just far enough from home to weekly
justify spending two-and-a-half glorious hours in a very quiet part of a
county library to write, it doesn't take much convincing for me to
"take one for the team" and do the drop and pick-up. On Wednesday night,
I'm happy to serve.

Still, the problem: no computer. What was I thinking? Should I go
home, get it, and come back? Seemed silly, but this was my writing night
(it's not like I get to do this every evening).

Not wanting to waste the time driving, I pulled into the library
parking lot, grabbed some paper from the floor of the van (there was –
and always is – plenty), found a pen, and walked in the door strangely
giddy at the prospect that I was about to publicly go "old school" by
putting pen to paper to crank out some content. I anticipated the scrawl
sound of my Pilot
Precise V5 rolling ball
scratching across the paper. I recalled the
joy – yea, even the novelty – of not having to delete wrong words and
phrases before continuing, as I could just scribble them out and keep
moving forward.

I found a table. I sat down. I spread out the paper. I pulled out the
pen. I wrote.

Somewhere Wendell
smiled…and it was good.

"I don't do this enough," I thought, moving my right hand almost –
but not quite – silently over the flat surface of paper on table. I had
no desire to do anything else but to embrace my kinesthetic side and
write, letting my words come not just from my brain but through
my body as well.

This was not a foreign sensation to me. I was 15 years an avid
hand-journaler before I crossed over to the kinesthetic Dark Side of
blogging nearly ten years ago, but even my experience now seemed novel,
for I was writing on loose-leaf paper that was indeed as loose as leaf
gets, having been ripped out of the crumpled notebook in the van.

In my handwritten habit of the past, I usually wrote into bound
journals, but I was hesitant to write without some degree of
concern that what I wrote needed to look somewhat presentable
should I die and someone (God forbid) read my journals. I was a victim
of the literary version of thinking that if you're going to be in an
accident, at least have on clean underwear. Like a new pair of
tighty-whities, my journal writing was clean…but it was tight. But no

But then I stopped. My left brain caught up with my right brain long
enough to bring to mind articles – myriads of them, it seemed – with
titles meant to remind me of my position in this world of twenty-first
century and the land of all things digital. Having found their way to me
because I'm a teacher, the articles psychologically attacked my
handwriting bliss with their theses of why "Some Blogs I Like, and Why Teachers Should Be Using Them,"
and why handwritten expression should not even be considered as part of
"21st Century Excellence."

I recalled an article I read just a few weeks ago about wired
Chinese college students who could not remember how to write out their
language because they were so used to typing pre-formed characters that
their hands physically – kinesthetically – once learned to form, and
that's when I wondered: Was I the last person in the world – at that
moment – writing by hand? Was I the last hand standing?

I thought of my four daughters, all to whom Megan and I
have stressed the importance of good handwriting AND proper typing
skills (not to mention fundamental English grammar instead of text
graffiti). They're learning the aforementioned joy of free writing,
scribbling, and progress that handwriting provides as well as the
digital version of diction that the educational elites are hurriedly
hurtling us toward.

At least I thought they were learning. Weren't they

I hoped so, but then the thought crossed my mind: were they learning
from my enjoyment of writing – from my experience of the
convenience of the scribble; the brevity of the note; the flow of the
letter? Did they even know what Daddy's handwriting looked like? Could
they read not only the meaning of my handwritten words, but the subtext
beneath their father's flair? Could they do so in a personal letter from
me in the future? Would they even know what a letter – a personal,
intimate, handwritten letter that crinkled at one's touch and so often
smelled of its sender – was?

I wondered. And I wonder.

So many ideas; so many dilemmas. And all this because I forgot my
computer on the Wednesday night choir run. What post might I have come
up with otherwise if I'd been able to type? I have no idea, but here's
what this one looked like before my keyboard took all the fun out of it.


Biblical Imagination: New Opp w/ Michael Card

In Books, Calling, Church, Education, Musicians, Theologians, Writers on August 6, 2010 at 12:14 pm

When I was 14, a friend of mine gave me my first Michael Card cassette, Scandalon. The year was 1985. Though quite different from the music my friends were listening to at the time, I was desperate for anything that spoke of my new friend, Jesus, who had just introduced Himself to me a few months earlier.

Thirty days later, I had worn out the tape.

While I enjoyed the richness of Michael’s distinct voice and memorable melodies, I was more intrigued by the words and phrases that made up his profound lyrics. Sadly, growing up in my small-town Methodist church, I had not heard much about (let alone begun to understand the meaning of) “the stone that makes men stumble and a rock that makes them fall” (Scandalon), or that “the Lamb is a Lion who’s roaring with rage” (The Lamb is a Lion), or that when we follow Christ, we are following “God’s own fool” (God’s Own Fool). I was fascinated.

Though little of the language made sense to me at the time, I kept listening (though I had to get another tape—where were CDs when I needed them?). I also began reading (barely) the Scriptures, which I didn’t understand much at first, either. But whether listening to Michael (and others), or “semi-reading” the Bible, the imagery of it all stuck with me, dancing in my high school-aged head at night, sparking a hunger and thirst within me not only for this imagery’s meaning, but for being able to respond to its meaning. That’s what the power of creativity can do…and that’s what it has done in my life.

In 2002, as the program director for The Navigators Glen Eyrie Group, I booked Mike for a series of conferences/concerts at the Glen and insisted he be part of planning them. This was surreal for me and new for Mike (he had never had the opportunity to actually speak into the planning of a retreat for which he had been booked), and together we created the Scribbling in the Sand Conference on Creativity.

Twenty-five years since that initial listen to Scandalon and five years since our last conference days, I'm flying to Nashville this weekend to hang with Mike, as he has asked me to join his team as a creative adviser/collaborator/teacher for the next stage of his ministry. Mike has just signed a four-book deal on the topic of biblical imagination with InterVarsity Press, has a new album coming out in February, and wants to converge all these together in a weekend retreat/conference experience beginning next year.

Because of our friendship and past ministry together, he's asked me to help, both as a facilitator and as a co-teacher like we used to do back in the day. I'm thrilled, especially since a majority of the teaching he's doing these days is in the summer, which works well with my own teaching schedule during the school year at Westminster Christian Academy.

As a friend of mine mentioned as we were having breakfast this morning, God does not waste a thing in our lives. Indeed, to trace the hand of God through all of this has been yet another significant lesson in the reality of God's sovereignty and the importance of our faithfulness in the littlest of things. I don't know all that lies ahead (whether with Mike or otherwise), but I do know that God does, and he has proven himself trustworthy far too many times throughout history (the world's and my own) to doubt him.

I'm sure I'll have more after the trip, but in the meantime, thanks for any prayers you may offer on my behalf. Pray I'll be faithful to what God (and Mike) may be asking me to do as part of this new opportunity, as well as to what I'm doing now here in St. Louis.

Summer 2010 Preview, Etc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Post-Easter Thought

In Books, Church, Holidays, Humanity, Theologians, Writers on April 5, 2010 at 10:25 am

From Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright:

"As the reformers insisted, bodily death itself is the destruction of the sinful person. Someone once accused me of suggesting that God was a magician if he could wonderfully make a still-sinful person into a no-longer-sinful person just like that. But that's not the point. Death itself gets rid of all that is still sinful; this isn't magic but good theology. There is nothing then left to purge. Some older teachers suggested that purgatory would still be necessary because one would still need to bear some punishment for one's sins, but any such suggestion is of course abhorrent to anyone with even a faint understanding of Paul, who teaches that 'there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.'" (p. 170)

And continuing on in Romans 8:10-11:

"But if Christ is in you, although the body is
dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him
who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ
Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through
his Spirit who dwells in you."

The point: death deals with sin and it is done; life comes by resurrection…and then after it, according to Wright, as resurrection is really "life after life after death." (p. 169)

Grateful to God for his mercy and grace to even be able to think, dwell, and hope on any of this today…

This Just In

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

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

Dispatch from Wartburg

In Church, Education, Theologians, Writers on January 3, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Luther's Desk

As I lamented with a colleague my 2009 booklist, she made the observation that I had read little to no biographies in 2009 and ought to amend that for 2010. Taking her advice, I pulled off the shelf a 300-page biography on Martin Luther. Thus, in this first post of 2010, rather than critique something (as I am usually wont to do), I thought I'd
share a few thoughts and quotes from my Christmas break reading. I hope they're encouraging as you start the new year in earnest this week.

The good thing about James Kittelson's Luther the Reformer is that it is an enjoyable and theologically astute biography with a balanced approach to a man often caricatured as "unbalanced" (make no mistake, Luther was no saint, but he lived very consistently). Kittelson early and accurately identifies so much of what drove Luther to be the Reformer we know him to be, but he does so in a way that is as human as it is theological:

"Luther discovered that true religion was far more than just the proper inclination of the heart and earnest attempts to work out his salvation. But every time he tried to fan his own spark of goodness, he found that all he was doing was focusing his attention on himself. From his own teachers, he knew that to think of himself was to be in his most sinful state. How then could he 'do what was within him' without yielding to the basest of motives, the desire to save his own skin? How could he possibly confess every one of his sins when he knew that he did so only for the purpose of currying the favor of a righteous God who would surely condemn him for them? Every act of confession therefore became yet another sin. The sincerity of the confession and of the acts of penance that followed was always in question. And if he himself questions his motives, how could they not have been more than dubious in the mind of a God who knew all and was always right?" (80)

The book is filled with original quotes from Luther, many of the ones below I resonate with in a deep and desperate way. Here are three which particularly struck me:

"Learn Christ and him crucified; despairing of yourself, learn to pray to him, saying, 'You, Lord Jesus, are my righteousness, but I am your sin; you have taken on yourself what you were not and have given me what I was not.' Beware of aspiring to such purity that you no longer wish to appear to yourself, or to be, a sinner." (95)

"For it cannot be that a soul filled with its own righteousness can be replenished with the righteousness of God, who fills up only those who hunger and are thirsty. Therefore, whoever is full of his own truth and wisdom is not capable of the truth and wisdom of God, which cannot be received save by those who are empty and destitute." (99)

"The Christian life does not consist of being but of becoming, not of
victory but the fight, not of righteousness but of justification, not
of comprehending but of stretching forward, not of purity but of
." (109)

In chronicling Luther's life, Kittelson is particularly insightful of both Luther's historical context of Roman Catholic corruption and God's use of him within it:

"Luther had developed a way of understanding the Christian life that utterly contradicted what he, and everyone else in his day, had been taught. He flatly denied that there was any possibility of becoming genuinely better in the presence of God. As time passed, Christians could hope only to become ever more radically dependent on the righteousness of God in Christ." (99)

In addition to the encouragement taken from the above passage, I took to heart the orator Mosellanus' description of Luther below:

"In his manner and bearing, he is very polite and friendly and has nothing of stoic severity or crabbiness about him; he comports himself well at all times. People chide him about only one failing, that in rebuttal he is somewhat more intense and biting than is appropriate for someone who wants to open new paths in theology and be regarded as taught by God." (145)

Ahem. Moving on, here's Luther on the concept of will:

"The human will is like a beast between [God and Satan]. If God sits on it, it wills and goes where God wills to go…If Satan sits on it, it will and goes where Satan wills. Nor does it have the power to choose which rider it will go to or seek, but the riders struggle over which of them will have it or rule it." (206)

On education (Luther, after all, was a professor as well as a theologian and pastor):

"If I could leave the office of preacher and my other duties, or were forced to do so, there is no other office I would rather have than that of schoolmaster or teacher of boys. For I know that next to the office of preaching, this is the best, the greatest, and the most useful there is. In fact, I am not absolutely certain which of the two is the better." (248-249)

And finally, with regard to depression and the importance of community (and despite my introverted preferences to the contrary, curse him):

"Satan delights in the solitude of Christians." (251)

While we in the Presbyterian branch of Protestantism often align ourselves more with Calvin than Luther in areas of systematic doctrine, church government, and the sacraments, if you haven't read any Luther lately, it might do your "frozen chosen" heart good to slip in a book or biography in 2010. It's done mine good in starting off the year.

I know I've got some Lutheran scholars lurking out there. What say you?

(About the title: In honor of Luther, I'm naming my home study space "Wartburg" (pronounced "Vartburg"), the castle to where Frederick of Saxony "kidnapped" Luther to save his life and from where Luther published a dozen books and translated the entire New Testament into German in a mere matter of months. Must have been the desk…)

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.

City of God or Country of God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My best answer: yes.

Mid-Week Memo

In Books, Musicians, Pop Culture, Technology, Travel, Writers, Young Ones on October 14, 2009 at 10:20 am

It's been a while since I've done a random links post, so since it's mid-week and I'm always looking for an excuse not to grade something, here are a few items that might strike someone's fancy:

  • It's tough being married to a celebrity, as more and more people know me as "Megan's husband." This will probably continue for at least another month since I'm married to one of the six official members of the St. Louis Mom Squad. The cool part is the role comes with new wheels (temporarily, that is – click link for details).
  • As it was a slow day in the bookstore yesterday, I read the first 75 pages of Donald Miller's new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. The first couple of chapters have some great quotables about understanding life as story, and the following chapters provide humorous illustration of the ideas. I liked it.
  • My wife and daughters are pretty excited that Owl City is coming to The Pageant in January. Megan is contemplating getting tickets for all of us to go as a family, which I'm presuming would probably be different from their normal crowd.
  • I've always wanted my own op-ed column in a newspaper; this opportunity with the Washington Post may be my big break (of course, it requires me writing something for consideration – any suggestions?).
  • In case you hadn't heard, I reluctantly started using Twitter a few weeks ago. While I'm still evaluating its real value (some general stats), I have enjoyed following/stalking a few people here and there (search for "SecondDrafts" to see whom, as well as to follow me if you like).

That's it for now. I need to finish well the day so as to get ready for the black tie/red carpet vehicle pick-up tonight with the Mrs. and Misses. Honestly, I don't mind being "the husband," but the paparazzi can be annoying.

Words to Live/Write By

In Poetry, Writers on December 8, 2008 at 2:00 am

"If you would not be forgotten
As soon as you are dead and rotten
Either write things worth reading
Or do things worth the writing"
Benjamin Franklin

Writer’s Life

In Writers on November 25, 2008 at 7:49 pm

I rarely think of or introduce myself as a writer (that is, a Writer), but these are familiar nonetheless (#2 is my favorite, but watch them all to experience the process).

Sobering Up

In Politics, Writers on August 29, 2008 at 5:56 am

Maybe I’m just suffering from a DNC hangover, but apparently I’m not the only one. You have to read David Brooks’ column in the New York Times today. It’s a little cynical for him, but see if you can spot some truth in and among the overstatement. Here’s his opening paragraph:

“My fellow Americans, it is an honor to address the Democratic National Convention at this defining moment in history. We stand at a crossroads at a pivot point, near a fork in the road on the edge of a precipice in the midst of the most consequential election since last year’s ‘American Idol.’”

Read the rest here.

Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis

In Books, Writers on July 2, 2008 at 2:57 am

Despite his stated belief in purgatory (albeit somewhat qualified) and some interesting linguistic gymnastics on the topic of bodily resurrection, C.S. Lewis‘s last book (published post-humously), Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, offers insight and comfort regarding the duty (and sometimes drudgery) of prayer. Some favorite quotes:

“We have long since agreed that if our prayers are granted at all they are granted from the foundation of the world. God and His acts are not in time. Intercourse between God and man occurs at particular moments for the man, but not for God. If there is – as the very concept of prayer presupposes – an adaptation between the free actions of men in prayer and the course of events, this adaptation is from the beginning inherent in the great single creative act. Our prayers are heard – don’t say ‘have been heard’ or you are putting God into time – not only before we make them but before we are made ourselves.” (p. 48)

“I have never met a book on prayer which was much use to people in our position. There are many little books of prayers…but you and I wouldn’t know what to do with them. It’s not words we lack! And there are books on prayer, but they nearly all have a strongly conventual background. Even the Imitation [of Christ by Thomas a Kempis] is sometimes, to an almost comic degree, ‘not addressed to my condition.’ The author assumes that you will want to be chatting in the kitchen when you ought to be in your cell. Our temptation is to be in our studies when we ought to be chatting in the kitchen. (Perhaps if our studies were as cold as those cells it would be different.)” (p. 62)

“It is well to have specifically holy places, and things, and days, for, without these focal points or reminders, the belief that all is holy and ‘big with God’ will soon dwindle into a mere sentiment. But if these holy places, things, and days cease to remind us, if they obliterate our awareness that all ground is holy and every bush (could we but perceive it) a Burning Bush, then the hallows begin to do harm. Hence both the necessity, and the perennial danger, of ‘religion.'” (p. 75)

“An omission or disdain of petitionary prayer can sometimes, I think, spring not from superior sanctity but from a lack of faith and a consequent preference for levels where the question ‘Am I only doing things to myself?’ does not just out in such apparent crudity.” (p. 87)

“William Law remarks that people are merely ‘amusing themselves’ by asking for the patience which a famine or a persecution would call for if, in the meantime, the weather and every other inconvenience sets them grumbling. One must learn to walk before one can run. So here. We – or at least I – shall not be able to adore God on the highest occasions if we have learned no habit of doing so on the lowest. At best, our faith and reason will tell us that He is adorable, but we shall not have found Him so, not have ‘tasted and seen.’ Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures ‘patches of Godlight’ in the woods of our experience.” (p. 91)”

“The truth is, I haven’t any language weak enough to depict the weakness of my spiritual life. If I weakened it enough it would cease to be language at all. As when you try to turn the gas-ring a little lower still, and it merely goes out. Then again, by talking at this length about prayer at all, we seem to give it a much bigger place in our lives than, I’m afraid, it has. For while we talk about it, all the rest of our experience, which in reality crowds our prayer in to the margin or sometimes off the page altogether, is not mentioned. Hence, in the talk, an error of proportion which amounts to, though it was not intended for, a lie.” (p. 113)

“I have a notion that what seem our worst prayers may really be, in God’s eyes, our best. Those, I mean, which are least supported by devotional feeling and contend with the greatest disinclination. For these, perhaps, being nearly all will, come from a deeper level than feeling. In feeling there is so much that is really not ours – so much that comes from weather and health or from the last book read. One thing seems certain. It is no good angling for the rich moments. God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when He catches us, as it were, off our guard. Our preparations to receive Him sometimes have the opposite effect. Doesn’t Charles Williams say somewhere that ‘the altar must often be built in one place in order that the fire from heaven may descend somewhere else?'” (p. 117)

A kindred spirit (but an incomparable writer)…