Monday, March 31, 2008

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I want to go to the Trinity Arts Conference.  I received a brochure for it in the mail a while back, and I came close to throwing it away immediately because conferences are generally not feasible.  There are usually schedule conflicts, the cost is almost always prohibitive, and what would we do with the kids?  They certainly couldn't sit through a marathon-style writer's workshop.  No, conferences don't work for the Duncan family.

But . . .

A few days after the brochure arrived Mary Ann was cleaning some clutter--most of which was mine--off of the kitchen counter.  She was flinging junk mail into the trash rapid-fire.  Since I am the pack rat of the family she often comes across items I have senselessly kept, and in the midst of this particular purge she came across the brochure.

"Did you want to keep this?"

"Yeah, I just keep it around to torture myself," I replied.

"You want me to throw it away?"

Her arm moved toward the trash can.  I hesitated.  It's a funny thing; last year I didn't think twice about the Trinity Arts Conference.  Maybe I thought it was a nice idea, but I wasn't even tempted to go.  I was (and still am) a poor seminary student with a wife and multiple children, after all.  Somehow this year felt different.

"Let me see it."

Mary Ann handed me the little green paper and I looked it over.  $135 for the conference, housing included.  I'm also considering pursuing writing as a career, so whatever critique I could get would help.  If I saved a little money, or maybe asked for an early birthday present . . .

But what about Mary Ann and the kids?  Well, that is a problem.  On one hand, the conference is in Dallas, and Mary Ann's aunt Pam lives about a half hour to forty-five minutes away.  That could work, but that would keep us apart for the weekend.  It wouldn't be as fun by myself, and I'd probably get lonely.  Not only that, but Mary Ann ain't a bad writer herself.  Those of you who have read her blog know this.  Anyway, she has a good idea for a children's book and would probably benefit from the writer's workshop as much as I would.

I don't know if I'll go to the conference or not.  It would be sweet, I don't deny, but I don't know if I can justify it.  So, if anyone has any advice just leave a comment.  Or, in lieu of advice, send money.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Full On, Five-Alarm, Red Alert Homeschooling: The Cycle Continues

I am in full on, five-alarm, red alert, hide your copy of The Well-Trained Mind homeschooling mode.  

I should probably explain.  You see, I live a cyclical life, which means I flit from interest to interest in a more or less orderly fashion.  For example, an interest in philosophy might yield to theology, which might yield to music, which might yield to literature, which might yield to philosophy, and so on.  Sometimes I skip one interest or another, but mostly the cycle continues to click, whir, and rattle its way through my head.

Roughly five years ago the topic of homeschooling got added to the cycle.  This was coincident with the birth of my first son, Max.  You see, I was educated/marred in the public school system so I knew that I did not want the ravening bureaucrats of American public education working their 'magic'--the educational equivalent of avada kedavra--on my children.  And since I'm bad with numbers, and therefore bad with money, I knew I'd always be poor, so private school was also out of the question.  That left homeschooling, and that meant I had some serious research to do.

I don't know if you realize this, but combining the vigilance of a first-time father with the zeal of an anti-bureaucratic crank yields a near nuclear amount of energy.  I dove into my homeschooling research headfirst, and in roughly two minutes I had discovered the aforementioned book The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer.  After reading about classical education for a bit longer I decided that it was definitely the way to go.

By this time all you homeschooling moms out there have probably noticed the lack of reference to my wife thus far.  There's a reason for that:  I didn't really ask her opinion.  Don't misunderstand, we had agreed to homeschool before we actually had children, but the classical education thing was my baby. The majority of the work was going to fall on her shoulders, but I couldn't help myself.  As Woody Allen said in a somewhat different context, "The heart wants what it wants."

So the plan was set.  Mary Ann and I agreed that we would homeschool using the classical method.  I bought a few books and then came to the realization that my one year old probably wasn't going to be entering kindergarten in the next few weeks.  A bit after that my second son, Leo, was born, so my focus shifted again (remember, 'I live a cyclical life').

Jump back to the present.  Max is now five and in kindergarten.  We've done educational things with him in the intervening years, but now I have that burning desire to get his schooling started in earnest.  Right now we're doing reading (phonics), math, and writing, but when first grade rolls around this fall we will have to add history, science, art, and of course, goat husbandry.  I'm still trying to convince Mary Ann on that last one.

Goat jokes aside, though, I am dying to get my hands on some curricula.  I WANT BOOKS.  I want to buy every book that TWTM gals recommend for first grade study.  I'm desperately trying not to, but I've already made an wishlist for Max's education.  I don't know how much longer I can hold out.

Not only are my book buying habits hurtling us toward financial ruin, I've also taken to 'hovering' while Mary Ann and Max do school.  This puts my patient wife in a quandary.  I think she likes having me around, and doesn't mind me helping out, but she's got to be wondering if my hovering is a signal of disapproval.  It's like she's a teacher on probation and I'm the superintendent of schools sitting in on her class.  Of course I don't disapprove.  I trust that she is doing a wonderful job with Max's education.  I'm just impatient.  

I know I should relax and wait on the Lord.  I don't need to get bent out of shape.  First grade is going to be OK.  It's just that, you know, I live a cyclical life.  And for better or for worse, I'm in full on, five-alarm, red alert homeschooling mode.

Friday, March 07, 2008

On Being a Pastor

A couple of days ago Tim Challies had a short post about some of Mark Driscoll's comments during a sermon he gave on the regulative principle (yes, you read that correctly).  Unlike other Mark Driscoll posts on, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.  Why?  Because in the post Challies features an audio clip of Driscoll confessing his own failures as a pastor to his church, and he goes on to tell them that the counsel of C.J. Mahaney and John Piper has lead him to do so.  I don't mean to say that Piper and Mahaney said, "Confess your failures to your church, Mark."  Rather, the two older pastors lovingly told him the sorts of changes they'd like to see in his life and in the life of Mars Hill.  Driscoll responded with humility, repenting before the Mars Hill congregation.

I've always liked Mark Driscoll, but I have been put off by his manner on a number of occasions.  This is a refreshing look at a young pastor who is striving for godliness.  Mark Driscoll is a teachable man, which is more than I can say for a lot of younger Christians, myself included (and yes, I realize there are plenty of unteachable older Christians).

This event improved my opinion Driscoll, but more importantly it encouraged me about ministry in general.  I make it no secret that my future career is up in the air.   Will I be a professor?  Author?  Pastor?  All of the above? None of the above?  I am uncertain.  What I am certain of, however, is that in the past 'pastor' was lowest on the list.  I guess it's because my default understanding of ministry is more administrative; getting programs and volunteers in place and other such things.    Since I am B-A-D at administration, I'm not interested in making it my life's work.  The 'Driscoll-Mahaney-Piper' affair has made me remember what ministry is about:  being faithful to Christ.  THAT, my friends, is worth doing. Thanks to Driscoll et al I can approach the ministry I'm doing now with renewed strength and love, for Christ and the people I serve.

Maybe being a pastor ain't such a bad idea after all . . .

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Spring Semester 2008: My Kinda Study

This is a good semester at Covenant Theological Seminary.  I have four classes and three of them I enjoy immensely (I enjoy the fourth class as well, but 'immensely' would be too strong an adverb).  Christianity and Imagination focuses on creative people within the Church like Flannery O'Connor, C.S. Lewis, and Annie Dillard.  The class has also introduced me to Frederick Buechner, which is a nice bonus.

Gospels is another excellent class.  With Dr. Dan Doriani at the helm class lectures are informative, spiritually enriching and a lot of fun.  We are also reading a number of good books, Jesus and the Victory of God being chief among them.  Wright's treatment of the gospels does an excellent job of taking 1st Century Jewish history and showing how the Synoptics fit the context like a glove.  Of  course Wright has his problems, as Dr. Doriani pointed out just last night.  If you're interested read on; if not, skip the next paragraph.  

The problem, Dr. Doriani explained, was that Wright ignored the context in which the parables were written.  As an example he used the parable of the Prodigal Son.  In context Jesus is defending his association with 'tax collectors and sinners' to the Pharisees.  He uses three parables in his defense:  The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (prodigal).  The idea was that it makes sense for Jesus to seek those that are lost.  Jesus adds the portion about the elder son as an offer of himself to the Pharisees.  They were so busy being upset at the 'sinners,' who were represented by the prodigal son, that they refused to celebrate when they entered the kingdom like the elder son.  Wright doesn't really address this, spending more time showing how the parable fits his conception of 1st Century Judaism.  Frankly, it was nice to hear an intelligent critique of Wright because I myself am utterly incapable of providing one at this point in my academic career.

My other favorite class is ethics, with Prof. Anthony Bradley.  Prof. Bradley was my covenant group leader during my first year at seminary, so I was looking forward to taking a class with him after getting to know him last year.  He has not disappointed.  The book list is a little unwieldy, but there is good variety.  We still have the standard text, Biblical Christian Ethics by David C. Jones, who recently retired from the post Bradley now fills.  Then there's The Peaceable Kingdom by Stanley Hauerwas.  This book has been a real mind bender for me.  Hauerwas thinks about ethics in an utterly different than what I'm accustomed to.  I come from the world of evidential apologetics and analytic philosophy, which makes me much more at home thinking abstractly about ethics.  Reading this different perspective has been invigorating for me.  It will take a decent amount of time to decide how much of Hauerwas I can accept.

We're also reading Thomas Sowell, who I think of as coming from a far different perspective than Hauerwas.  Then there's The Elements of Moral Philosophy by James and Stuart Rachels.  This, as I understand it, is a basic college level text in ethics.  It's alternately interesting and maddening.  Rachels has a tendency to briefly critique positions and act as though the matter is settled.  In his chapter on religion and morality he points out the difficulties raised by the Euthyphro Dilemma and acts as though they carry the day.  He does not even offer a disclaimer like, "There have been counter-arguments offered, but I believe the dilemma stands."  We're also reading Elements of Justice by David Schmidtz, but I'm not far enough into it to offer any sort of critique.

I'm enjoying this semester so much I'm even looking forward to writing research papers.  I think I've finally decided on my topic for Ethics:  The theology of aging and dignity.  This will hopefully encompass a number of aspects of aging, including whether dignity is affected by progressive diseases such as Altzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS, etc.  The biggest issue right now is that I need good resources.  I want academic level studies in medical and theological ethics on the topic.  If any of you out there in internet land have any suggestions let me know!