Monthly Archives: December 2010

Down with busyness, up with purposeful engagement!

I have been contemplating the difference between the word “busy” and what an appropriate substitute for that word might be. I am getting increasingly annoyed when I hear myself and others complain about how busy we are and wonder if this sentiment isn’t sinful at its core. Busyness is a major modern plague of our time, but I am guessing that it has always been around. The idea of busyness relates to our sense of worth and may be a pride issue for many of us. The busier we are, the more important we must be. Not being busy could cause some of us to lose our job or demonstrate a lack of success. Or if we are not busy as a retiree we think that others may believe that we are irrelevant – we are not contributing anything to life, or that life is passing us by – we have nothing to offer and no one is interested in us.

There are many reasons for busyness and we may well be busier than ever before.

  1. Our consumption has increased and our increased consumption increases our busyness. We have more things we want – which requires purchasing at the best possible price (more research and shopping time), finding a place to store it (no wonder that storage, as an industry, is bigger than Hollywood), managing its maintenance (do you have a monthly schedule of all your items to maintain, oil, clean?), and disposing of it eventually (do you take out an item for every item you take into your house?).
  2. We have more choices, more options for everything, forcing us to take more time with research and decision-making. We don’t just grab a box of laundry detergent – we get the organic, scent-free, 3x concentrated kind that has special cleaning powers through the time-released elements in the cleaning cycle! Every choice we make now contains several mini-choices – so that even a run to the store for a few items can be taxing. We simply have more options in almost every area – health care, finance, education, church, leisure, etc. Additionally when we make choices, we may be concerned that we are missing out what we have not chosen – economists call this opportunity cost.
  3. We have more opportunities to communicate with a wider circle of friends than ever before – we are global now! Yet I notice in the Christmas cards we are getting this year that we are getting more pictures than family letters – are people too busy to write, or have too many cards to send out?
  4. We have more programs, ministries, small groups, mission trips, service opportunities and ways to get involved – a great thing, but one that sets us up for busyness … and guilt if we don’t get involved (maybe because we are trying to be less busy!)
  5. We are more aware of research on good parenting, being a good friend, being a good spouse, etc. and so work harder at these things – a good thing, but one that may also make us busier.
  6. Our personal and professional lives are constantly intermixed – with improved communication we are frequently jumping back and forth between our personal and professional worlds. We are more acutely aware every minute of what is going on in the lives of all those around us, whereas we used to know about things on a monthly or yearly basis. Our expectations for instant knowledge have increased in all spheres.
  7. Our culture winks at workaholism even while the faith formation research states that our children feel ever more abandoned during their growing up years. A deadly cousin I call “sportsaholism” afflicts families who add busyness on their weekends through club sports – in the process not only destroying Sabbath, but impacting family finances and time for worship.

I am not going to suggest that we disengage from life because that is not realistic or helpful. I am going to suggest that we consider the differences between the words busy and engaged. I believe that God has wired us to be creatures who are engaged and that we find satisfaction when we engage with His world and the creatures he has created. We are happiest when we are engaged. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Flow, has suggested that when we balance anxiety and boredom we achieve a state of “flow” – that wonderful feeling when we are so engaged in our work that time ceases to be a factor. We may even ignore emails and phone calls during this time! When we are in “flow” we experience the joy of creativity, discovery, contemplation, and a sense of rightness – I believe this is a foretaste of heaven and a gift in that there is a temporal suspension that lifts us above our busyness. We find joy in being fruitful, not just busy.

Was Jesus busy or engaged? He was always about his Father’s work, but demonstrated the kind of balance we need. When we think we have a hard time with priorities, we need to consider how Jesus, who certainly was aware of the needs of the crowds and the press of the people, was able to engage deeply and be about what was really important. As one anonymous author suggests, perhaps BUSY is really an acronym for Being Under Satan’s Yoke. Jesus continually resisted the urging to do it all – consider the temptation of Satan at the beginning of his ministry, the passages about the multitudes and their needs for healing, the amounts of time he spent in prayer and solitude, his words to Mary and Martha, and then the questions we might raise of “why only three years of ministry?” and “why did he come when he did and not in today’s era of global communications?”

This busyness issue is really a large struggle in many of our lives and one that we must battle. Maybe some of these things will help a bit:

  1. Please for starters make Sunday a day of media rest – turn off your computer and leave it off for the day. Please don’t write me on Sunday re: any work thoughts!
  2. Read this classic poem by Wendell Berry “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” – do things that don’t compute, can’t be measured, and have no immediate value.
  3. Watch this compelling Youtube by Scott Stratton given at the TEDxOakville entitled Keep Going Until We Stop.
  4. Rent the movie “Young at Heart” – the documentary movie of a senior singing group that sings an unusual and unexpected repertoire such as Coldplay and Hendrix, but as bodies fail, demonstrate a focus and joy in using their gifts to uplift others.
  5. Draw distinctions in your life between what is busyness and what is worthy engagement. Use the questions “Will this matter in five years?” and “In a hundred years who will know the difference?” to help you do the sorting.

May the peace of Christ which passes all understanding rule your hearts and minds this wonderful season of celebration – let’s rebel against busyness and embrace being engaged in the right stuff!

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Practicing the craft of the cultural apologist

(As we consider the issue of integrating faith and learning by teachers – so that students may be equipped to be impact culture in transformational ways – I suggest that the following blog post addresses the kind of thinking we need for, as our author suggests,  “the long game of cultural apologetics.” Thanks to Mark Eckel, Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Professor of Old Testament at Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, IN for his permission to share this article from his blog  Warp and Woof .)

Christians are in a house holding off an incursion of gatecrashers: nudity, sex, profanity, and violence.  Shotguns blast away through open windows, a couch is pushed up against the front door, defenders stand in opposition to attackers coming up the drive.  While we are focused intently on the crassness of a vulgar society capturing our attention street-side, the back door screen is flapping in the breeze.  With little attention or ballyhoo, individualism, materialism, pragmatism, and naturalism assault our unprotected flank.  The home invasion metaphor stands as a general portrait of Christian response to culture today.  Obsessed by obvious lasciviousness, any focus on the insidious, clandestine plan of our adversary attracts little notice.  Why?

We like to categorize problems but do not understand what it means to consider categories of thought.  Seeing life as a series of issues is easy.  The fight against gambling is clear, for instance.  We know what gaming is and, if we do our homework, what casinos may do to a population of people.  Fronting a spokesperson, fundraising, formulating an action plan are all employed to defeat any proposition that allows games of chance in our area. We know the effects upon money and morals in our community and we do not want any part of them.  Poker addictions and casino lifestyles are objective: I can point to a deck of cards or the latest gaming show on ESPN.

Categories of thought, on the other hand, are not often found on our radar screens.  The spirits of our age are nothing new.  Since the flashing sword barred the path to Eden, we have encountered all the mindsets present today.  From where and at what time, as a case in point, did our insatiable thirst for individualism arise?  What ideas fostered the “no one tells me what to do” mentality?  How are the schemes of self-centered thinking represented in our culture?  Why should we respond Christianly to the “go-it-alone” philosophy?  Answers to questions such as these, demand more than the work of organizing a boycott.  We must be committed to reading history and philosophy while critiquing the framework of individualism from a biblical worldview perspective.

Addressing cultural concerns as they show themselves through popular culture is also necessary.  “Have it your way” or “no rules, just right” are advertising slogans which feed beliefs embedded in our behavior.  Perhaps most onerous is the realization that our attitudes and actions must change as we face up to individualism within ourselves.  Confronted by the words of prophets and apostles in Holy Writ and the niggling of The Spirit on our conscience, we Christians must first be transformed individuals against individualism before any letters to the editor may be written.

Why is it that we believers are dedicated to closing the local adult bookstore yet ignorant of the debilitating effects of pragmatism as seen through the latest illegal download of our favorite song artist’s CD?  I suggest that we are averse to playing the long game of cultural apologetics.  Thoughtful engagement takes time.  A lawn sign takes one minute to erect.  Digestion of ideas may take months…or years.  Pickets and protests—which take little time or thought—might be set aside in pursuit of practicing Christian persuasion.  In The Church as a whole and Christian schools—kindergarten through graduate—in particular, we must further the hard work of preparation for an enemy which uses more covert than overt tactics.  While battles against what we know to be wrong are important at times, a visionary strategy to engage the battle for the Christian mind must be drawn.

A plan to create discerning Christians is important.  I might suggest a preliminary five-fold outline which could summarize this competency from a Christian worldview perspective: (1) identification of erroneous powers, premises, and practices; (2) interpretation of pagan belief from a Christian perspective; (3) inductive study of Scripture as a basis for assessment; (4) interaction with current issues and icons; (5) investment in necessary tools for students to make cultural apologetics a lifelong practice.

Becoming a cultural apologist is a pursuit which others have developed in detail.  Denis Haack has been critiquing culture with a Christian lens for over two decades.  Ransom Fellowship interacts with books, magazines, and movies from a Christian point of view. Denis has focused a keen eye on popular culture through discussion questions that make people think about their beliefs.  Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio addresses more of what some would call “high culture.”  Interviews with artists, poets, professors, and authors examine how our world has come to think as it does.  Direct questions for each guest interview help the listener to formulate a perspective on how and why our civilization has developed.  Both Denis and Ken set examples for the process of cultural apologetics.

Understanding that visual images are often the first attack on 21st century minds it is fitting to acknowledge a film every Christian must see to appreciate a Christian approach to the new millennium.  From the opening scene, Crash tells the tale of a seeming random intersection of lives.  Relationships are crucial to understanding.  Consequences of our actions do happen.  Rather than a fortuitous accident, life is us.  How we act toward others does matter.  What we think and believe is worn on our shirt sleeve.  Humans bear responsibility for their dealings with others.  We do what is “good” and “bad.”  Most importantly, Crash more than any other recent movie suggests our rapport with each other matters.  Racial profiling is simply a slice of our humanity.  Crash insists we look at ourselves in the mirror of humankind, seeing ourselves in the characters, stepping onto the stage of life.

Herein is cultural apologetics.  We listen to others who speak in our time and place of history.  We hear what they intend for us to hear.  We obey the internal compulsion to honestly interact with their ideas and the precepts of the God who made us both.  May we not be offended before we understand our own offense.  May we not renounce another’s point of view before we announce our own.  May we not walk out on a movie before we walk with another who behaves as those on the screen.  May we not center only on disapproval before we discover where we can approve another’s perspective.  May we not simply assert our position before we assent to what others have said.  May we reject not the person but the roots of their belief, in love.  And may many believers be found who will defend The Faith not just against the obvious front door attacks of Satan, but bolt the back door infiltration of mindsets that corrupt Christian thought.

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What does good articulation of faith integrated learning look like? (Faith and learning in curriculum, part 3)

We can talk about Christian education all day, but unless we teach in distinctively Christian ways, we might as well close our doors!  My work with schools involves helping them bridge the gap from philosophy/mission to classroom teaching practice and it usually is the area of greatest need in all Christian schools. I would like to share with you some very specific examples of teaching that, I believe, make a real difference in shaping the minds, hearts, and hands of students. I have been given permission by two excellent teachers, Mark Kauk and Janie VanDyke, from Unity Christian High School in Orange City, Iowa to share the ways they integrate faith and learning in their classrooms. They exemplify the kind of teachers I described in Part 1 of this series.  I am grateful to both of them for allowing their work to be shared in this post and I am hopeful that these examples may also be an inspiration to you!

Mark uses questions to focus on four key concepts associated with the aspect of Creation in his high school science units. He states that these questions “really force students to think and get at ideas about God’s world that they never have really thought about much.”

Here are his belief statements and questions in a unit on waves/sound/light that link general revelation and a Biblical perspective:

Creation. God created everything through the Word.  That Word is Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who is the perfect image of the Creator.

Summarize the main thought of each passage:

Genesis 1:1-3

Colossians 1:15-17

John 1:1-4

Hebrews 1:2-3a

Hebrews 11:3

Purpose In Creation. God created everything with purpose and meaning, ultimately to bring glory to himself.

List five examples from the study of waves, light, and sound.  Describe their purposeful function.

Class Discussion:  Why are waves, light, and sound important in a world that functions with God created purpose?

Patterns in Creation.  We see evidence of design, order, and patterns in all that God created.

Explain five observable examples of the design, order, and patterns found in the study of waves, light, and sound.

Class Discussion:  How do these examples of waves, light, and sound show  evidence of the wisdom of a grand design?

Providence in Creation.  God sustains and upholds his creation by his Word.

List and explain any natural laws that describe the behavior of waves, light, and sound.  Include any mathematical descriptions.

What are some of the miracles in the OT and NT of the Bible which are reminders of God’s sustaining power in the physical creation?  Must be specific to waves, light, and sound.

Potential in Creation.  God created the universe with the potential for man to investigate and develop through scientific study and technological development.

Research the historical timeline for the discovery of the  parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Include our understanding of at least 7 different categories of waves.

List ten technological developments associated with the electromagnetic spectrum.

Class Discussion:  How have these developments contributed to the benefit or demise of man’s created purpose to glorify God?

Mark mentions that the big picture concepts of Purpose, Pattern, Providence, and Potential work equally well in other units of science that he teaches to assist faith learning integration. In the process I believe he is teaching students a “habit of mind” to consider all four of these aspects as they look at creation. Additionally, and of perhaps even more lasting importance, he has given them a framework for future thinking, so that they can identify Biblical thinking related to conceptual understandings.

Janie VanDyke uses what I would call faith-enhancing practices such as faith stories and reflective writing in her English class to encourage faith development in students.  In an assignment for the online Distinctive class that I teach, Mark listed these ways that Janie integrates faith and learning in her class. (Janie was kind enough to allow sharing of these examples – thank you!)

In Freshman English Janie uses the stories, “Things We Couldn’t Say” by Diet Eman with James Schaap and “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom to teach about faith stories. These people lived out their faith in the context of challenging circumstances. One of the themes she discusses is sacrifice, of how people help others even when they are very different from themselves. She also shares her own faith story. The strategies she uses for this unit are reading the books, discussion in class, writing an assignment of their own story, and also journaling. The journaling is interesting because she will ask them to write about various personal things such as a struggle they may have had or a circumstance where their faith affected their actions.

Another project she does is a genealogy research project where each student researches aspects of their ancestors. The faith of many generations is seen and the faithfulness of God is demonstrated. The strategies include discussion, sharing, and assignments involving writing, composing a poem about themselves, creating a dictionary of terms about common phrases used at home, doing an essay, and conducting an interview of a grandparent.

In Communications class, where students give speeches, they first read a book by Quentin Schultze, a professor at Calvin College, who has written a book on public speaking. In it he emphasizes the idea of being a servant speaker, not an ego speaker. One of his chapters also deals with the fruits of the spirit in public speaking. Her strategy is to have students read this and then discuss it before students even begin composing speeches.

In a senior literature class she has the students read “Night” by Elie Wiesel, about a Holocaust experience. She then assigns a paper on injustice where students must write about some global or national injustice. She also uses information from a former student who is a lawyer and has become involved with International Justice Mission.

Resources: She has collected her ideas and curriculum content over the years from books she reads, people she knows, other teachers, articles she has read, and her own interests. One example is how she read an essay once of Lewis Smedes called “How I Found God at Calvin College” and she took that idea and now has students write an essay on where they have found God.

I think these are some helpful ideas and specific examples of how master teachers who are passionate about their faith are revealing truth, unfolding creation, and integrating faith and learning in their classrooms. Any ideas you would like to share?

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