take ten: on education reform

Recently, I was having a conversation with somebody about education reform in our state. For whatever reason, it is actually a conversation that I find myself in pretty regularly. In these conversations, I repeatedly reference a talk given by Roland Fryer that I heard several months ago. It was at one of those leadership conference things where you hear something like eight speakers in as many hours, and his was the only presentation that I remember at all.

Fryer is a Harvard economics professor, who has taken a keen interest in education reform. The presentation he gave was fascinating, and I’ve repeatedly tried to track down the talk with no success. However, there is plenty of other stuff out there by him, and it might be worth thirty minutes of your time to figure out what he’s all about.

The thing that I remember most from his presentation was this one thought…

We know what steps to take to reform education in America, but for the most part policy-makers simply aren’t interested in change.

My guess is that this applies to a whole lot more than education.

take ten: castle bluff videos

One of the things that keeps me from blogging is that I feel like every time I put something up, it needs to be great. The sad reality is that whether I spend a couple hours or a couple minutes, greatness is rarely achieved. So here’s a stab at something new… take ten. The goal… take ten minutes to get something on the screen and then I’m done. If I don’t finish in ten, then it waits until the next time. Installment one… sharing the various Castle Bluff videos from our previous two camps.

At camp, we usually show a short video as students are gathering in the meeting space. They are often dumb, sometimes amazing, occasionally humorous. Without futher ado, here they are…

A capella Gangnam style:

Manly men rapping:

It is amazing what human beings can do:

A Star Wars and Motocross mashup:

I like skiing:

A few extras:

Outtakes from the crazy bike video:

Bottles beware:

Can’t get enough Gangnam:

Here’s to sub-par blogging. See you soon.




high adventure

Once we were down from Snowmass, Craig and I had a day to clean up, rest up, and gear up for our next adventure with our college friends from back home. Monday morning, they pulled up in not one but two church vans and start spilling out into the streets of the small town of Dolores in southwestern Colorado.

I’ve shared some before about the significance of a week together in the mountains. And my friend Tyler spent some time describing what impacted him about this specific trip. But there were a couple things about this week that made it unique for me.

First, the group was huge. In fact so large that we had to divide our group in half to fulfill the wilderness area imposed restrictions. Craig took the college students who already had at least a year under their belt, and I had the group who had freshly graduated from high school plus a handful of adults.

Which brings me to the other thing that made this trip so special. It maybe should come as no surprise that I ended up with the class of 2012. These guys belong to me (well, me and Rob). For about three years now, we have had the privilege of being the small group leaders for the male half of this group. We have watched them (and at times helped them) navigate the challenges of adolescence. Week after week, they would show up in our homes and we would break bread together. Laugh together. Get upset with each other. Learn together. Pray together. Year after year, we would take them on various camps, retreats, and trips. We poured into them. And whether they realize it or not, they poured into us as well.

Of course, there is the actual mountain itself. We climbed Wilson Peak, which like Snowmass is another Class 3 mountain. That means it looks sort of scary, but it isn’t super dangerous. These guys and gals climbed like champs and through perseverance, team work, and the grace of God we made it to the top. The last pitch is especially intimidating, so it makes for a rewarding and emotional payoff on the summit. Of course, once you’re standing on top, you are really only half way there. The return trip, while not quite as strenuous, is no piece of cake either. While we got a little wet and were a lot exhausted, we did manage to all make it back to camp safe and sound. That evening we huddled underneath the “magic tarp” and delighted in the gift of being dry and warm. But mostly we enjoyed simply being together.

While our trip to the high-country brought this leg of our journey together to an end, it also marked the beginning of a new chapter in which they would discover just how high they can climb on their own.

summer revisited // D-Camp

A few days ago, I promised a recap of the summer and so we are forging ahead. One week after returning from Honduras, we jumped into a fleet of vans and headed to Castle Bluff for a four day weekend with 80 middle schoolers. D-Camp is something of an annual tradition where we take a “smaller” group of students away for a few days to stretch them spiritually in a way that is different from our more outreach oriented fall weekends.

Sadly, I can’t find any pictures of the weekend. Not one. The options here are A) I didn’t take any pictures all weekend long, or B) I have “misplaced” them. I think I know where they are, but they aren’t handy right this second. So instead, I’ll share a few choice videos from the weekend. They aren’t videos of the weekend. Rather, they are videos we showed during the weekend. They typically aren’t meant to be all that meaningful. Usually these short videos are meant to inject a bit of humor into the weekend. I’ll let you be the judge of that.

I believe most everyone on the planet has seen this one. It has middle school humor written all over it.

Speaking of middle school humor, the laughs just keep coming with this series of talking animals.

This one is fascinating. To see the transformation of a human being from birth to 12 year old in a matter of seconds can provide an opportunity for reflection for fellow tweens. However, middle schoolers aren’t especially known for being reflective.

Spoken word has it’s time and place. I think D-Camp can be one of them.

Next up on Summer Revisted… Family Vacation.

summer revisited // Hondo2012

I know it has been a while, but summer gets crazy and the blog falls to the bottom of the priority list. However I’m back from a summer full of adventures and my hope over the next few weeks is to give you a glimpse into what’s been happening in my life over the last few months. Ready? Go.

The first trip took place before summer break officially began… Hondo2012. Nearly a year prior, Bobby and I sensed that maybe this year’s graduating class was up for an international mission trip. This group of students had a number of young men and women who had done it all. Attended and provided leadership in the youth group. Served in church and in the community. Been on every retreat, trip, camp, mission, activity we had ever thrown at them. It was a group of students who were deeply connected to each other, the church, and God. So a mission trip to Honduras seemed like just the right thing to bring their high school years with us to a close.

Plans were made. Money was raised. Training meetings were held. Airplane tickets were bought. And providentially a group of twenty-one people were assembled for the team. Out of that group nine of them were graduating seniors and the rest were a wonderful assortment of adults who had various reasons for wanting to be on the team.

It is difficult to put into a few words all that we experienced that week, so I’ll share a bit and then maybe the pictures I include will fill in the gaps. Pictures are worth a thousand words, right?

The bare details of the week are that we showed up on Wednesday. Visited their orphanage on a ranch in the mountains on Thursday. Staffed their medical brigade on Friday and Saturday. Went to church and sight-seeing on Sunday. Another medical brigade Monday and Tuesday. Flew home on Wednesday.

What the run down of our itinerary doesn’t convey are any of the things that made the trip what it was. We walked away from the week having had a wonderful opportunity to serve the “least of these” without much concern for what we would get in return.

However, as is always the case, we stood everything to gain from the experience. An appreciation for what is happening in another part of the world. A chance to recognize some new things about ourselves. Some pleasant surprises. Others less so. An opportunity to work along-side Honduran brother and sisters in work that was meaningful.

But perhaps the thing that will be the most lasting is a sense of connectedness to the other people on the team that came about through our shared experiences. Shared joys. Shared struggles. Shared service. Shared stories. Shared meals. Shared worship. Shared lives.

With any luck, there will be a Hondo2013!

The next episode of “Summer Revisited” will feature D-Camp!!!


social media wisdom

I receive a publication called The Regent World aimed at communicating with friends of Regent College, a seminary in Vancouver, British Columbia. Each edition is themed around a particular idea or issue. Various faculty, students, and alumni weigh in on the topic and it is generally good stuff. This latest go around took a look at social media.

One contributor in particular, Conrade Yap, shared some thoughts that seemed soaked with wisdom.

Social media can be a bridge as well as a barrier. While it can bring people from afar closer together, it can also create distance between people in close proximity. For example, we can joyfully interact with a friend on Skype halfway around the world, and alienate the friend sitting just next to us at the same table. The key guideline I have about social media is this: “Manage social media before it manages you.” For me, one way to do that is to practice a technological Sabbath once a week. From 6pm Saturday to 6pm Sunday, I shut my computers down. Strangely, when that happens, I am free to see that life is bigger than an Internet connection. I am free to let technology be technology. I am free to let me be me, and let God be God.

The technology Sabbath he suggests might be too much or not enough for you, but I think there is a question worth asking…

Is there any time in our week when we aren’t “connected?”

Bobby and I were lamenting that during our time with students, they were so preoccupied with their phones (and no they weren’t just looking up Bible passages) that they didn’t seem like they were really able to engage what was happening in room. They were missing out on connecting with the people standing in front of them or sitting around them. They were there, but they weren’t. So on a whim, we just asked them if they wouldn’t mind setting their phone aside (actually, on a table in the back of the room) for the duration of our time together. Not because either of us think phones are bad, but because they can be distracting. We felt like them being willing to do that was as much symbolic as practical. Students can get distracted pretty easily  – phone or no phone. But parting with their phones – even for an hour – is a non-verbal way of saying, “I’m here. Really here.”

I was sort of surprised that there wasn’t more whining and pushback. I thought the students would get all irate and even say, “forget this blankity-blank place, I’m out.” Instead, they seemed to embrace the idea. No “I’m outta here’s.” No whining. Just a willing – maybe even eager – compliance. And what started as just sort of a fleeing idea has grown. The next week, we mentioned it again and they deposited their phones on the table in no time at all. And then last week, before anyone had said anything, there were at least a dozen phones (curiously, most of them iPhones) taking a break from their masters.

Maybe students aren’t as committed to their technology as we are sometimes led to believe. Maybe something in them recognizes that being constantly “connected” isn’t good for them. Maybe they are longing for more than just a webpage that tells them how many “friends” they have. Maybe there is hope for them yet.

And if there is hope for them, then maybe there is hope for us.

More of Conrade Yap HERE.

The Regent World publication on social media HERE.

Some of the truth? Or all of it?

So little time and sooo much that I’d like to talk about. I know that I still owe you, my faithful reader, a post or two on Food and the Bible. I plan to get around to it, because it is pretty much going to be the linchpin post for establishing the spirituality of food. So you have that to look forward to.

Then there is the whole Rob Bell controversy. My plan was to let it pass without comment. But it looks like people on either side are getting all hot and bothered over it/him, and that maybe it isn’t going to pass as quickly as I’d expected hoped. At this point, I’m pretty committed to reading the book. More out of a sense of pastoral responsibility than any real interest in what he has to say. Rob is a great communicator, but he isn’t really a first-rate theologian (p.s. I am neither a great communicator nor a first-rate theologian). Anyway, while I plan to read the book, I’m equally committed to not purchasing it. So as you can see, I have something of a problem.

My commitment to not buying the book doesn’t stem from a belief that it is heresy. I’d have to read the book to even begin to form an opinion. Rather, as I’ve shared in the past, I have an abnormal distaste for all things hyped. And brother Rob’s book certainly falls in that category. Who knows? Maybe I’ll stick with my ignore-it-until-it-goes-away plan.

Instead, I’d like to pursue the question posed in the title. Does one teach truth in small bites? Carefully measured out? Or do you turn on the fire hydrant and flood folks with it?

I was on deck yesterday to teach out of Luke 4:1-13 (The Temptation of Jesus), and I was faced with this very dilemma. Last night wasn’t an isolated event. I regularly wrestle with this question. Do I teach all the truth contained in the passage (or I should say “all the truth that I have access to,” because only a very arrogant person would say that they have a handle on all the truth) or do I just stick to one or two familiar points from which I can get some sturdy “applications” for my listener.

Usually, I err on the side of caution. I work with the “less is more” theory. Namely, that a person is more likely to get something good from what I share if I’ll focus on a main idea or two. That way, they can get get a pretty good handle on a few things rather than the deluge of information that I’d like to rain down on them. Well last night, for better or worse, I went with option B.

Luke 4:1-13 is a fascinating passage that can be read on at least two levels. There is the common reading in which we are to take Jesus’ example of resisting the devil’s schemes and apply that to our lives in like manner. Use God’s word to combat temptation. Don’t compromise your single-hearted worship of God… and so on. I hope I’m not sounding too dismissive. I really do think this is a valid reading. But approaching the passage in this way doesn’t get at all the truth that is there. And more importantly, I don’t think it gets at the main truth that I believe is fairly front and center.

Like a good movie, there is the storyline and there is the underlying message. Focusing on the storyline in this case misses the message. Most of us have repeatedly been taught to engage this passage in the manner I’ve just outlined above. But in doing so we run the risk of missing out on what was most certainly the message Luke/Jesus was trying to get across.

The underlying message surrounds issues of “son-ship.” Both the passage itself and the preceding verses are filled with “son” language. And so there are a series of questions lying just below the surface of the text. Who is Jesus? Who is God’s son? Who is Jesus the son of? What does it mean to be God’s son?

But those aren’t the only questions on the table either. What any Jewish reader would have recognized as blatantly obvious are the connections between Jesus’ story and their nation’s his-story. Obvious to them. Not so much to us. Largely because we are unfamiliar with their story. But a group of high school students were able to see it, so I have faith in you as well.

[Jesus] was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted.
Luke 4:1-3

Do the words “wilderness” and “forty” stand out in any way? Anyone remember a group of people who wandered around a wilderness for a forty length of time?

How about the temptations themselves? The first one was to change a stone to bread. Anyone remember a bread in the wilderness episode. I believe they called it manna back then.

Or temptation number 2… Worshiping someone other than God himself. That’s idolatry. And that’s also what was taking place when Moses came down from Mount Sinai and found Aaron and the lot acting a fool with a golden calf.

Then there is temptation number 3… not quite as clear cut, but as I read it, the devil is casting doubt on God’s goodness. He is tempting Jesus to believe that God wouldn’t come through for him if he were throw himself off the highpoint of the temple. The whole reason the Israelites found themselves wandering the wilderness for forty years was due to failure to believe the same thing about God at a crucial moment. Kadesh Barnea. Look it up.

And if some thick-headed young Jew was still missing the point, the two-by-four to the head would that all of Jesus scriptural responses to the devil were from Deuteronomy. And not just random proof-texts, but verses from a fairly isolated section (Deuteronomy 6-8). All verses that have the wilderness wandering as their backdrop.

“So what?” you ask. All fine and well, but what’s the point?

The point is that Jesus recapitulates the story of Israel. Or maybe more accurately, he is re-framing the story of Israel around himself. By re-enacting key elements of Israel’s history, claims are being made about who he is and what his mission is. Namely, while Israel failed at being “the son of God” (cf. Exodus 4:22 and Hosea 11:1), Jesus breaks onto the scene and he is and will be the faithful son.

Jesus… the faithful son. The faithful one. Sounds like a contemporary Christian song.

Now, if we could just find something that rhymes with “recapitulate” or “Deuteronomy.”

a favor

I have a friend (actually, a relative – who is also a friend – I digress) who asked me for some help today. She works for a publishing company and she asked me to give and get some feedback on the cover of a book they are “repackaging.” She knows that I sometimes masquerade as a youth pastor and so she wanted my opinion, the opinions of students, parents, and other ministry workers. The book is I think primarily geared towards high school and maybe college students, but she knows that it is often parents and pastors who buy books for students.

Anyway, here’s the task. If you saw this book in a bookstore, would it appeal to you in any way. Or not. And I think more importantly, what would draw you to it and what would put you off about it.

Love to be able to give her a wide range of feedback. You may or may not be interested in the book, but if you leave a comment there are some free copies to be given away. I’ll put your names in a hat and draw winners. You know how it works. Have at it…

By the way, there is a certain amount of irony at work here. In the last fifteen years, I don’t remember one time buying a book because I liked or disliked the cover.

Four (not songs) for Friday

Sorry to disappoint, but I won’t be delivering the expected goods today.

And yet, I feel the need to share four of something. So here it is.


1) Crazy Snow.

Arkansas had some snow last week, but nothing like this. Click HERE to see 40 crazy snow storm pics. Some of the better ones are down towards the bottom.


2) The Bible

Regardless of your feelings about the King James Version of the Bible, it has stood as something of a cultural landmark for centuries. Four to be exact. This year marks the 400 year anniversary of its original production and there are some interesting things going on to commemorate it.


3) Senior Backpacking

My beloved put together some thoughts and pics on a trip that our student ministry does with graduating seniors every year. Which was good timing, because it is right about this time of year that I start fantasizing thinking about being in the mountains. Seniors… get pumped. Non-seniors… sorry.

Actually, if you are interested in a trip of this kind, talk to me. I’ve got some ideas about other trips for the strong of heart and limb.


4) The Very Best

I know that this picture probably doesn’t do much for you, but the odds of me sitting in this establishment sometime this weekend is somewhere right around 100 percent. I’ll be in Seattle with a friend for a quick visit, and Zeitgeist Coffee has and always will hold a special place in my heart. Seattleites… HMU.


what she said

Yesterday, I had only thought that I had sunk to a blogging low.  Tonight, I’m setting the bar on the ground.  Alison has written a post on Castle Bluff camps that is so good that I’m counting it for both of us.

I’m even stealing her photos…  which I think is ok, because she stole them from Whitney.

You should head over there right now and read it.