Wednesday, March 31, 2010

RIP, Jaime Escalante

'Stand and Deliver' teacher dies of cancer

Back in high school, my calculus teacher showed that movie repeatedly to get us ready for the AP test.

Update: This Reason article from 2002 is worthwhile reading for background on Escalante's accomplishments in the classroom. That he was a devoted and innovative educator is beyond dispute. However, there are plenty of dedicated teachers who experience a far smaller measure of success. As the article notes,
It is less well-known that Escalante left Garfield [High School] after problems with colleagues and administrators, and that his calculus program withered in his absence. That untold story highlights much that is wrong with public schooling in the United States and offers some valuable insights into the workings -- and failings -- of our education system.

In short, Escalante's success depended in large part on the freedom his administration gave him to craft his program. Once that freedom was restricted, the program suffered.


Monday, March 29, 2010

March Madness I Can Really Appreciate

For all my fellow English majors, teachers, and bibliophiles, this one is for you. If you've ever opined on which Bristish dystopian novel is better, Orwell's or Huxley's, then now's your chance to let your voice be heard.

The Tournament of Novels

I just found it, so it's too bad I missed out on Round 1. I'm pulling for the Brits, Austen, particularly. Though I have a feeling one of the Russians will win.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Funnies

Jacob made this up in the car the other day, completely out of the blue, to the tune of big bad wolf: "Who's afraid of the big bad crows, big bad crows? Who's afraid of the big bad crows? I AM."

I've told you how Jacob likes to hide, right? Last week we were trying to get ready to leave the house, but I couldn't find Jacob. Ethan was playing in their room and so I said "Ethan, do you know where Jacob is?" Ethan said something unintelligible and pointed to the closet. Sure enough, I opened the door and found Jacob hiding inside. Ethan totally gave him up.

Note: Gaines' parents have a dog named Zeke, who we see every few months. He apparently has a strong influence on our son. For example...

1. Jacob has a little plastic puppy pull-toy. As he was dragging it around the house, one day I asked, "What's your dog's name?
Jacob (even though it had been weeks since we'd seen him): "Zeke."

2. When Uncle Mike came to visit last weekend, Jacob pretended his tent was a dog house. Jacob, to his uncle: "I'm Zeke and you're Zoe. Woof. Woof." (Poor Mike. Zoe is a girl doggie.)

3. Jacob loves to play hide and seek, though he's not sure of the name just yet. Lately, whenever his dad gets home he usually yells out: "Let's play 'Hide and Zeke!'"


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Missional-Ecumenism: What Does it Look Like?

In his new book Your Church Is Too Small (read my lengthy review here), John Armstrong suggests that one path to unity among believers is what he calls missional-ecumenism. That is, that God's revealed desire is that we (the church) would be relationally one with Him in the sending out He has called and equipped us to do. Armstrong gives some real-life examples in the book of how he has seen this lived out in communities, which got me thinking about how I have seen efforts toward church unity in my own spiritual journey.
(Mr. Armstrong, if you're reading this, is this what you're talking about?)

Fifth Sundays

The churches in my very small (under 5,000 population) Alabama hometown were an embodiment of the rampant sectarianism described in the book. We attended one of two Methodist congregations, but there was also a Baptist church almost across the street, another Baptist congregation on the highway, a large black AME church, a small Prebyterian church, an even smaller Catholic congregation, and any number of Pentecostal, Holiness-type churches spread throughout the county. However, there was one intra-church event I remember: Fifth Sundays. On those evenings, about 5-6 churches would gather to worship together, rotating through different ministers and locations each time. The service included songs and some elements of worship from different traditions, (I distinctly remember gospel singing with some folks from the AME), though I mostly remember it being scaled-down, casual and Protestant/evangelical. I believe the services were promoted to the community at large, but I wonder if someone ever intentionally invited the Catholic church down the road? Is this a pattern for others to follow? I'm not sure, but I am curious as to how it might work in a larger city setting where communities are more spread out and Christians rarely have the opportunity to interact (much less hold a joint service!) with believers from other streams of Christianity.

Apartment Life

For a number of years we worked with Apartment Life, and one of the stipulations was that the couple be connected to and supported by a local church congregation. However, we also found it beneficial to reach out to other local churches to partner with us in ministry (most often, though, God led them to us!). During our 5+ years in two different apartment communities, we saw volunteers from our own Presbyterian church and a local Methodist church work together to sponsor a Kids' Club, we raised donations for a local Catholic charity during one of our service days, and we were supported by a Baptist congregation and a local "Bible church" for some larger social events. The result, I think, was that God brought together individual believers from various congregations to witness and interact with one another. In addition, during organizational monthly large group meetings, we shared ideas and prayed together with local believers from diverse faith traditions, including some with which we had strong doctinal differences. However, by praying for the Spirit to work in their apartment complex and seeing how God used them to impact His kingdom, I think it helped us become more loving towards fellow Christians.

This ties into one theme I took away from the book: to see true unity among individual believers over just figureheads or groups. Armstrong said something to the effect that it may be easier to join together for a cause or a social justice type movement than to actually do the hard work of sharing together, learning together and praying together for true unity. "The primary progress is to be made in the trenches of shared life -- person to person, school to school, congregation to congregation, movement to movement, and, sometimes, denomination to denomination" (169).

At the end of the book, Armstrong lists seven ways that he sees the church in America converging toward a more Christ-like unity:

1. a restored commitment to the sacraments
2. an increased appetite to know more about the early church
3. an obvious open expression of love for the whole church and a real desire to be the church become one
4. the blending of practices of worship, devotion, and prayer from all three streams [Protestant, Catholic, Eastern]
5. an interest in integrating more liturgical depth and structure with the spontaneity and freedom in the Holy Spirit
6. a greater involvement of sign and symbol in worship through banners, crosses, Christian art, and clerical vestments
7. a continuing commitment to personal salvation, solid Biblical teaching, and the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit

I appreciated what he calls this "informal ecumenism" and wanted to share them here to further the discussion about how this can be done. Upon reading #5, I immediately thought about our friend who was part of a downtown Vineyard church which had regularly been using the Book of Common Prayer, now the church has officially become part of the Anglican Mission in America. I thought of a neighborhood Christian cooperative coming together and treating the local community as their "parish," adopting it and serving the needs of justice and mercy among neighbors. I think of friends we know who are working toward racial reconciliation among Christians and how embracing the ancient-future aspect of our faith might help smooth that path.

Dear readers, if you have made it this far, have you seen anything along these lines in your communities?


Monday, March 22, 2010

Desert Island Supply

File under "individuals making a difference."

Just discovered the Desert Island Supply Co., a volunteer organization in B'ham that assists young writers. I was overjoyed to learn it is based in the Woodlawn community, a place my heart still is drawn to help. Every time I drive by on the interstate, I send up a little prayer.

Has it really been 11 years since that first BSC Woodlawn Service-Learning Interim? That spring I was one of only a handful of students who went to Woodlawn high school to tutor. I was often alone and I admit that I did not continue for very long once others stopped coming. I know our hopes of an ongoing service project from the college fizzled out, at least while I was there. But this organization seems to be well-supported and a needed resource and outlet for those kids.

Maybe one day I can go back and help. At the very least, I love hearing about what is happening there now. If you're in the Birmingham area, consider it something to embrace.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Birthday Boys

We've celebrated two milestones around these parts in the past two months and I have been remiss not to post any pictures.

Our boys-- this was taken on a mild February day not long before the oldest brother decided to push his younger sibling off the wagon. Literally.

Ethan turned one year old on February 11th and we celebrated with a family party in Montgomery a few days later. The requested gift? Favorite childhood books. We received some wonderful titles, both treasured and new, that I know our family will enjoy reading for many years to come.

I took very few pictures, but here are some highlights. Aunt Amy, our official photographer, celebrates her birthday in February, too! Jacob loved helping her blow out candles.

The one-year old birthday boy pondering something tasty.

Did Jacob really turn three years old on March 9th?

We celebrated by having our first (really big) party in our new home the following Saturday. Friends from church and elsewhere collided in our little space. I loved it because everyone seemed to settle in different parts of the house -- the den, the living room, the porch, the kitchen-- and it never felt crowded. Chaos ensued, but it was comfortable. And fun! Many thanks to the parents who, after the cake had been served, had the bright idea to march them all out in the front yard to get the sugar rush out of their system.

My limited, last-minute attempt at themed decorations. Jacob said he wanted a "car party" with a "train cake." I give the people what they want.

With my beginner cake-decorating skills and some patch-up work after the birthday boy took a handful of cake for himself, this is the end result. I like to think of it as a locomotive logo cake. (Yeah, it's not just that I ran out of time to make more than one color of icing...) At least he appreciated it. I love this age!

The quintessential birthday photo -- blowing out candles surrounded by friends (or eager, sugar-hungry kids, whatever you decide.)

A picture of all four of us together at Jacob's party. It's a miracle!

Warning: tricycle is actually larger than it appears. (Thanks, DD and Gaga! We're hoping for some more sunny days soon.)

Jacob's new tent. (Thanks Nana and Papa!) He's sleeping in it tonight to protect him from the "pretend rain" that might fall inside the house.

After the party, Ethan decided he liked the trains so much he wanted to live with them. Or bite them.

I need a break from birthdays for a little while. Thank goodness the next one is mine.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Book Review: Your Church is Too Small

Your Church is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ's Mission is Vital to the Future of the Church by John Armstrong

(Full disclosure: this is a pre-publication copy sent to us by Zondervan. I was grateful to read J.I. Packer's foreword online since its absence is an example of a variation from the final published form.)

Recently, while studying Ephesians chapter 4 in a women's group, the question arose: "How can what Paul says about the church being 'one body' be true when the church appears so fractured and divided, especially among different denominations and faith traditions?"

If you have ever struggled with this issue of unity in the visible church (or perhaps you have tried to avoid it!) then I would suggest Armstrong's book as a good starting place for discussion. The "smallness" to which Armstrong refers in his title is not about the size of the local congregation, but the narrow view of what the word "church" means. Mostly aimed at Protestants but encompassing the two other main streams of Christianity (Catholic and Orthodox), the book acts as a guide for how to think historically and Biblically about church unity.

One of the first things that struck me about this book is the personal investment of the author in this quest for unity in Christ's mission. This is not just a book of abstract theological ideas, but is grounded in Scriptural principles he lives out among Christians from various backgrounds. I found his own story mirrors my own in some ways, and appreciate that he comes from a tradition that has a high view of Scripture. Refreshingly, he seeks to restore balance between truth and unity, not favor one at the expense of the other. This is not some feel-good ecumenism of the last century, but one rooted and grounded in the historical creedal confessions of the early church.

The book is divided into three sections, covering the past (Armstrong's own personal journey and the church's historical unity), the present (where we are now and some of the reasons behind why we are so divided), and the future (some ideas on where the church is headed and a new paradigm of how we might get there). Each chapter ends with helpful questions that expand on and personalize his points rather than just rehashing them.

He begins by reminding the reader of the catholicity of the church --the quality of universality in which the church spans thousands of years and exists in all parts of the world. Sadly, this has been forgotten or ignored in many evangelical circles who believe their local, contemporary expression is the one "true" church.

According to Armstrong, the starting point for unity should be a return to classical definitions of Christianity (what has been called paleo-orthodoxy), especially as defined by the early confessions of the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds. By confessing "one holy and apostolic church," believers align themselves with the historic faith. In addition, reading the early church fathers reminds us that we face many of the same issues today, while their writings continually point us back to Scripture as the basis for unity. Another strength of the book is that it introduces the reader to theologians and thinkers from all three major Christuan traditions.

Armstrong also brings up the important concept that the story of Scripture is not an individualized narrative. He writes: "Jesus' primary purpose for coming into the world was not to save us and then take us to heaven; his central mission was to manifest the reign of God over all creation." Until recently this was a very new concept to me, but the author almost takes it for granted that it will be widely accepted. Though it has been covered by others, I think might need a bit more emphasis here since it undergirds many of his points about the kingdom of God.

This is not a book about creating boundaries or drawing lines in the sand, but it seemed more could be said about dealing with error and false teachers. He does discuss the ancienty heresy of Gnosticism and how the early church responded. But how are we to respond when cults or other groups outside the historic faith seek to join in with missional efforts of local churches? Such situations call for much wisdom and prayer, but even so, some more guidance in this area might have been helpful.

Overall, I think there is much to praise in this book and would recommend it to anyone who seeks to work harmoniously with other Christians. What I appreciate most about Armstrong's book is that it is not intended to be a 5 step "this is how to achieve unity" type of work; instead, this book is a platform on how to begin thinking about ways we can reach out to other Christ-followers in our community. Unity of the body is first and foremost a relational unity among individual believers, not a coming together merely of different organizations or representatives. We must actively learn and grow together, knowing Christ and making him known through an honest, Spirit-led desire to work toward unity among different faith traditions who share the common creedal beliefs.

If you would like more information about the book or would like to order a copy of your own, please visit the book's official website: Your Church is Too Small.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wordsworth Would Be Glad

Our own "host of golden daffodills" is blooming! We took pictures yesterday as they fluttered and danced in the breeze.

Spring is drawing nigh. Thank goodness!


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cheese Toast Boats

Come, sail away, come, sail away...

Inspired by a friend's idea of making tuna melt boats for her children, a lack of sandwich bread and Kraft singles, and the necessity of something toasty and cheesy to complement our tomato soup on a dreary day, I came up with these fun concoctions.

I sliced some Publix soft rolls in half, topped them with shredded cheddar and parmesan, and tossed them in the oven. (Make sure you sprikle the cheese liberally while they are on a non-stick baking sheet, because the extra that falls off will become crunchy, delicious little cheese straw thingys. Yummy!)

I told Jacob, "We're going to have cheese toast boats today!"
He replied, "They need sails!"
Of course! Why didn't I think of that?

So, we got out the craft supplies. Jacob colored the paper and then we cut it into little triangles and taped them to toothpicks. Voila. Instant "sails" for our cheese toast boats.

Bonus: it keeps little hands busy whilst Mommy fixes lunch.

Perfect for a rainy day. Thank you, local NPR station for reminding me of my favorite comfort food -- grilled cheese with tomato soup. Just like mom used to make!


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

There's a three-year-old living in our house now.

His name is Jacob and he likes planes.

Thanks to my friend Jessica's inside scoop, we took him to a very cool playground at Peachtree-Dekalb Airport for a picnic lunch on his birthday. Here he is with a friend from church on one of the ride-ons.

PDK is like the secret mecca for savvy moms. How did I not know about this place before? The park is right next to the tarmac, you can see the planes taking off and landing right in front of you, and there's a great picnic spot under a big tree. Plus, the restrooms are covered by an old hangar and have cool signs on the walls.

By the time we left the airport in the early afternoon, the place was teeming with children and the parking lot was full. On a Tuesday in the middle of a school week.

Though we'd never really hung out with this family outside of church before, I think Jacob had a great time. He and the other little boy are close in age and Jacob would call to him to follow him in and out and up and down and around the playground equipment.

Jacob's become a brave kid. He likes to climb on things that might've given him (and me) pause a year ago. But he's very careful. If he gets stuck, he just climbs ever so slowly back down...and then tries to go up another way. He also has the most vivid imagination.

Here he is smiling proudly atop his newfound castle. Or treehouse.

The boy scouts had it right: always be prepared. You just never know when your little boy might suddenly turn airplane! Vroooooooom!


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Sad News for the Internet Monk

Internet Monk is the website of Michael Spencer, whose writings Team Redd has enjoyed for some time. Sadly, Michael's health has rapidly deteriorated over the last few months, and the latest update is that his cancer is terminal. Please pray for Michael and his family.


Friday, March 05, 2010


Ethan took his first steps today, Friday, March 5, 2010.

I don't have pictures of that. Sorry.

But I did find these adorable photos I took on August 25, 2009, when he was happy as could be in the bargain Exersaucer. He was six months old. Those days are long he just walks around it. I tell you, it really does go by faster with subsequent children. My baby is becoming a toddler!

And yes, he is still this happy most of the time.

And yes, that is Jacob's hand, reaching in to do SOMETHING to his brother, but I don't remember what.

(It's too bad that I never got around to posting all these things AS THEY HAPPENED. Oh, well. Better late than never, right?)


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Jacobean Logic

Things our firstborn has been saying over the past several months...

Overheard while getting ready for bed one evening:
Daddy: "Let's read a Bible story."
Jacob: "How about Go, Dog, Go?!"
Daddy: "That's not a Bible story."
Jacob: "But it's got cars!"

Anything that has happened in the past: "Three months ago..." as in, "Three months ago I ate pancakes." Even if it was this morning.

Anything that is going to happen in the future: "Next week..." or "Tomorrow..." as in, "Put me to bed next week." or "I'm going to sweep those leaves up tomorrow."

Said to our friend Mary who was babysitting him and playing outside:
"I want to play with Daddy. Football is too hard for you."

(These are the ones I remembered to write down. I need to take a cue from the Carsons and post them every Friday!)


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Snowy Day

Technically, we've had three snow days here in Atlanta this year, one each month. In January, the entire family was at home and enjoyed the views.

Jacob's favorite pastime was making footprints in the snow.

In February we were driving to Alabama to celebrate Ethan's birthday so we kind of missed out on playing then. Apparently, it was a good snow. I was a bit bummed that we missed it, so was actually glad to see snow on the ground yesterday. Even though most of the snow was wet and miserable, the snow stuck, so we took full advantage, even attempting to sled down a hill in the recycling container. (I had to push.)

Here are some highlights from our March snow day adventure:

Tentatively exploring the backyard with bucket and shovel in hand. Somehow, Jacob has decided these two tools are necessary to all snow outings, even though they reside in the clearly labeled "summer toys" box.

After this first excursion, during Ethan's morning nap, we made cookies-in-a-jar and drank hot chocolate. "Hot cocoa" is also apparently necessary after coming in from the snow, even though Jacob doesn't really like it. I think he's seen the snow episode of Curious George too many times.

Jacob practiced catching snowflakes on his tongue.

He wanted to stay and play in the snow, but we settled for half an hour of throwing snowballs at trees. Besides, Ethan was stuck in the stroller under the carport and kept dropping his mittens.

Ethan's first experience outside in the falling snow. He seemed to enjoy reaching for the camera more than tasting snowflakes.

Afterwards, we watched the Scholastic version of Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day, since we don't have the book. Jacob painted a picture of his adventures with watercolors. It was a nice way to close out the afternoon.

Will it snow again this year? Let's hope not. Although snow is a good excuse to bundle up and go outside, I'm ready for some warmer temperatures. Springtime, here we come!


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Thoughts on Alice, LOST, and the Book of Job

Last Thursday I finished reading a book. In former days that was not a rare occurence, but this year it seems I can barely find a moment to curl up with anything other than a short magazine article. Though I am keeping up with my Bible study lessons better now...

Anyway, the book that I finished? Alice in Wonderland. Fantastic. I definitely enjoyed it for what it was, a rambling story to entertain some children on a summer's boat ride, but upon this reading I was seeing it more through the eyes of an English teacher. You can tell that Lewis created the plot on the fly, but his inside jokes and literary references are clever and witty. I'd love to get my hands on a copy of The Annotated Alice, for two reasons:

1. Annotations. (Duh.) I'm a literature geek and think that all the puns, allusions, farces and satire in the book are hilarious, and though I am actually familiar with some of the references that Carroll spins in the book, I'd really like to know what all the songs, poems, and rhymes are all about. The real versions, anyway.

2. LOST connections. They blatantly threw the book at us on last week's episode of LOST with Jack's son. And we'd also seen it once before with Jack and Aaron in an earlier season. Plus, there were all those mirrors. Either the writers REALLY want us to get the connection between the show and Through the Looking Glass, or, someone there also worked for the new Alice movie coming out and wants everyone to read the book, too.

(I actually do want to see the film, though with Tim Burton it could go either way. Plus, my cousin Lawson worked with the art department so it'd be kind of cool to watch the credits and go "Hey, I know that guy!" rather than just making fun of the weird names.)

Just so you know, I started this post well before I saw Doc Jensen's column today about this called "Go Ask Alice," and though he's always CRAZY, he makes some points I agree with, especially in light of the aforementioned allusions.

On to a different theory concerning LOST. Two weeks ago we saw some spooky ghost kid come running up to the Smoke Monster/Locke and say, "You know the rules. You can't kill him." Now, I'm still not sure who the "him" is referring to, though my hunch is Sawyer, since he's one of Jacob's candidates. It could also be Richard. But, upon watching it a second time, it struck me that perhaps this is similar to the scene between the Lord and Satan in the Book of Job, where God only allows him to torture Job to a point -- he can't kill him (see verse 12 in this passage).
And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand."

So is Jacob the God-figure in this retelling? I'm still not sure. But it does make me think that perhaps SOMEONE only allows the Smoke Monster so much freedom on the island. We already know he can't go inside the ash. But I wonder if he's only allowed to kill certain people? Like the pilot (AKA that guy from Felicity and Alias), and Mr. Eko. If he wants to kill someone "on the list," he has to get someone else to do his dirty work. Think: Michael killiing Libby and perhaps even Ana Lucia when she killed that love-interest of Juliet. What are those "rules" exactly? And who made them? And when?

This is turning out to be a most intriguing final season. I am not ashamed to proclaim where I like to spend my Tuesday evenings. :) Anyone else care to offer their thoughts and theories in the comments? (No spoilers on tonight's episode until after 10pm EST, please!)


Monday, March 01, 2010

Where is the Outrage?

The 2010 Winter Olympics have now drawn to a close, but questions still linger. Although several media outlets have catalogued the games' various mishaps (ranging from the amusing to the truly tragic), there's one question that I have not seen addressed:

Where was RUSH?

Seriously! The Vancouver Games featured a plethora of Canadian musicians and entertainers at both the opening and closing ceremonies. But no sign of the most awesome rock trio of all time. (Granted, performing at the 2010 Games would have meant sharing the stage with Nickelback and Avril Lavigne. But I digress.)

I mean, Rush even had a headstart on the little totem/logo thing. Compare:

Anyway, Canada missed a prime opportunity to showcase one of its greatest cultural exports, and we are all poorer for it, eh?