Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Pastor's Getaway

I'm a "Type A" guy, and I don't "throttle down" well. Given that I live in a parsonage that is literally attached to the church I serve, we have found that one of the best ways for me to truly relax is to leave the premises.

Pictured here is sunset on the lake where my in-laws live. Just two-and-a-half hours north of us, Grandma and Grandpa's place has been a place of true rest for me. There is something about the water that settles my nerves, whether it's sunset-calm as pictured here or whether it's covered in ice and snow. Part of the relaxing, strange as it may sound, is that the family is with me. I love to be surrounded by them. I love to hear the children laughing and playing in the snow or in the sandbox or in the water. That is heavenly to me. To sit with my wife and watch the sunset on the lake, with the children tucked in bed, is heavenly.

I know that many churches give very little time off for their pastors, and I think that that is flat-out, certifiably, crazy. Pastors are always on call, and there's a certain stress level with that, even in a smaller parish. If you live in proximity to the parish, as I do, there are always additional things that blur the boundaries between family and working life. There are the knocks on the door from indigents looking for help (I literally had someone looking for food money ignore the "private" sign on the parsonage door and walk right into our living room not too long ago.). There are also the after-hours knocks on the door from parishioners to have someone let them in the church because they forgot their keys. Such things are usually not a bother, not a "big deal," but they do contribute to the overall atmosphere that family time is never fully family time when we are home. And, of course, there is the sense (analogous to any family-owned business) that you could always do more, more, more.

Pastors need rest. I am thankful that my parish knows me well enough not to be bothered when we take off on a Friday afternoon for the lake and come back after dinner on Saturday night, and I am thankful that I have such a restful place to go.

Thank you, Lord, for my congregation's understanding that I rest best with uninterrupted family time, and thank you for providing such a marvelous place for us to gather.
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Friday, May 8, 2009

Great Idea: Tokens for "Screen Time"

Pictured to the left is our "littlest" man holding one of his big brother's new "screen tokens." Here's where all of this comes from...

At the 2009 Midwest Home School Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, lecturer Susan Wise Bauer talked about "screens" and education. Dr. Bauer is clearly an advocate of the discipline of reading and the written word (see www.welltrainedmind.com), but she used two Macintosh laptops during her presentations (looked like one MacBook and one MacBook Air) and spoke with some degree of fluency about the media world. She also manages an eleborate web site or two, with discussion groups, so the woman is not anti-screen.

Among the many things that caught our attention in her presentations was the "token for screen time" policy that the Bauers use in their home school. Each child gets a certain amount of "screen time" per week, and these blocks of time are represented by tokens that are turned-in to the home educator. 

We adopted this policy as soon as we came home from the conference.

The classical curriculum demands that the "reading muscles" are well-toned, but part of the goal of a "neo-classical" education is to help a child learn how to gather information, evaluate it, and competently articulate an opinion. In the modern world, this also means learning the ability to gather and evaluate digital media. Clearly, a good neo-classical education in the modern world demands the teaching and use of computers, etc. Yet, the fact is that absorbing information from a screen (image-based) is much easier than reading (text-based); that is, screan viewing (and screen learning), as Dr. Bauer made clear, does not exercise the brain in the same way that book-learning does.

The Bauer's "token for screen time" idea is a great policy for
any home. It helps children learn to discipline their use of time in front of the computer or television; thus, in conjunction with an education that demands the disciplined exercise of the "reading muscles," it helps to train a mind well for the vagaries of digital life.
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Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Blessings of Morning Prayer with the Family

Christians are not either saint or sinner. They are, in fact, both saint and sinner simultaneously (Luther called this in the Latin, simul justus et peccator). St. Paul, writer of 1/3 of the New Testament, gives voice to this in his Letter to the Romans:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being [Christian nature], but I see in my members [the parts of the body, a.k.a. “the flesh”] another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. –Romans 7.21-25 (ESV)

One of the great things about having morning prayers with small children is the remarkable "innocence" with which the contrary natures display themselves. We had a lovely example of that this morning. After reading a summary of the
First Samuel account of David escaping King Saul through the friendship of Saul's son, Jonathan, we prayed The Lord's Prayer and the gave every one around the table the opportunity to add special things that were on their mind. We had lovely and simple prayers for a good school day, for the unemployed, for the little one to learn new words, and then we came to Mommy at the other end of the table. What happened next is "Exhibit A" of the simul justus et peccator teaching of St. Paul:

Mommy: [Devoutly, with hands folded and head bowed] "Lord, help us to have a good school day. Help us to be obedient..."
Two-year-old: [with smile on face and cream cheese smeared all over the place] "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"

I rest my case.
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Friday, May 1, 2009


I woke up this morning to this beautiful sight, which reminded me again of some very memorable words:

Our Founders saw themselves in the light of posterity. We can do no less. Anyone who has ever watched a child's eyes wander into sleep knows what posterity is. Posterity is the world to come—the world for whom we hold our ideals, from whom we have borrowed our planet, and to whom we bear sacred responsibility.

William Jefferson Clinton

42nd President of The United States

First Inaugural Address

21 January, A.D. 1993

One need not agree with any of the former President's policy initiatives to see the wisdom of these words. I remember listening to that address from a small radio at the desk in my cubicle at Michigan's State Capitol. I was twenty-three, outside the church, newly without a father, and about to enter the most devastating months of my life. At that time I only knew I was without a father. I was only beginning to suffer the consequences of having rejected God the Father . . .

Yet these words have stuck with me all these years. When I woke up and saw my son's beautiful little face I quoted the paragraph from memory, though I remember little else of the President's speech, or of any other inaugural speech for that matter.

Such is the power of words, of language, of truth.

I am a Christian husband and father, and I am a pastor. These words of the former President, in my family and parish context, remind me of the "sacred responsibility" that I have to prepare my children, and the children of my parish, to live faithfully in this world and be watchful for the world to come.

Which brings me to related thoughts on the "Rethinking Confirmation" theme. . .

Dr. Susan Wise Bauer concluded her 2009 Midwest Home School Conference lecture, "The Joy of Classical Education in the Home," with a summary of her goals for a full classical education at home (K-12). We want a twelfth-grader, she said, to:

1. be able to get information and evaluate it;
2. know what he is good at;
3. speak and write with some authority.

What we are attempting to do by means of the classical model is teach our children to think, to be life-long learners. Indeed, Dr. Bauer repeated in many and various ways, that learning is a life-long project.

As I adapt this to the parish education context (In my case that is a context that does NOT include any level of parochial school.), and think of the little boy pictured above, we want to send him off to college with:

1. a comprehensive Biblical literacy. That is, he has gathered the information. He knows his way around the Scriptures. For example, he knows Israel's history and the life of Jesus and the early church (He will know this even better if, under the classical model, he has been taught this with a chronological world history.); and

2. a comprehensive doctrinal literacy. That is, he has evaluated the Biblical "data" and knows how, in Christ, all these events work together. He will, for example, not be bewildered by the near-sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22 because he will understand how this, in a sense, foreshadowed the sacrifice of Christ. For another example, he will see and understand the connection between the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50, the life of Jesus, and the summary of God's teaching on providence in Romans 8.28: "God works all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose." Above all, he will understand the central teaching of the Scripture; namely, that man is accounted "righteous" before God purely and solely because of the work of Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God. Thus, with a comprehensive Biblical and doctrinal literacy, he will live with

3. a functional Christian worldview. That is, he understands that his Baptism united him with the death and resurrection of Jesus, gave him the forgiveness of sin and eternal salvation, and that his life is as one who (though still having a sinful nature) is also a participant in the divine nature (A Christian is, this side of heaven, simultaneously saint and sinner.). He is to live as one liberated from the burden of perfection, freed to pursue the further development of his God-given gifts knowing that these are to be used in service of God and neighbor in a life of daily contrition and repentance. Moreover, one with a functional Christian worldview will articulate these truths in word and deed; that is, he understands the challenges of modern life, speaks (and writes with varying competency) Christian truth in the midst of this life, and acts in God-honoring ways in defense of the faith and in love toward their neighbor.

Notice that number 3 uses functional rather than comprehensive. This is because we are talking about eighteen-year-olds here. The goal of Christian catechesis is, indeed, to instill a comprehensive Christian worldview, but such a worldview is formed only through years of daily prayer, Biblical reflection, and testing of the faith. I am still experimenting with the English words that best correspond to these three ideas (I lean toward foundational, functional, and comprehensive.) and the classical education model for the Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric stages, but I am confident that with the active participation of the family and the parish an eighteen-year-old can have a comprehensive Biblical and doctrinal literacy (#s 1&2); I am confident, therefore, that any family and parish thusly committed to these goals will have prepared their children for adult life with a functional Christian worldview (#3) and the tools to see that worldview mature over time.

This is why I am pondering the possibility of either using The Rite of Confirmation as a culminatory rite for the senior year or commencing a new ritual that would celebrate the maturity of faith that diligent participation in catechetical life all through the schoool years suggests. If Confirmation were moved to the senior year it would mean the necessary separation of Confirmation and First Communion. In that case a Rite for First Communion (Lutheran Service Book has this) would replace Confirmation. I think that I would prefer this nomenclature, but there may be issues wth the broader church that mitigate against it (See the debate over the age for First Communion at Four and Twenty + Blackbirds http://four-and-twenty-something.blogspot.com/ on related issues.). I think that if we are to move to this type of paradigm that the church might want to offer some extra incentive, like a scholarship, for those who dedicate themselves to further catechesis and Christian service throughout high school.

God-willing, I shall reflect more on this in the coming days.