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Archive for April, 2010

With one short question, and one looooong article, Greg Easterbrook has called out the emperor, pointed out the elephant in the room, hit the nail on the head and a whole host of other cliched-but-truisms. “Is the NFL draft science or lottery?

The first third of the article explains the logic behind his question, and slams the door shut on the biggest show with the least substance in sports.

Fascination with the NFL draft is plenty nutty, but the zaniest aspect of this event is the pretense — shared by NFL scouts, draftniks and spectators alike — that drafting is a science. Stare at enough film, click enough stopwatches and you’ll be able to determine who “should” be drafted in what round.

NFL scouts and media draftniks have a self-interest stake in maintaining this illusion, because it makes them seem the possessors of incredible insider information. But in truth, NFL draft choices are like lottery tickets. They may succeed. They may bust. The buyer has no clue what’s going to happen, just like the buyer of a lottery ticket.

He makes his point plenty clear by the time you get to the cheesecake photo of JLo, so you can stop reading at that point.

I have wondered if I could do as well as the NFL GMs by listing all the draft eligible players and throwing darts at the stack of papers. Bet I wouldn’t be far off. Based on the article I might be able to garner another Masters degree out of it. But the bizarre thought occurs to me that I will be following it all again next year.

And maybe, just maybe, the Browns will be scheduled to pick in hour number two rather than the first 30 minutes.

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Over the years, as I have told people of my fascination with classical education, I have invariably heard variations of “What do you mean by classical education?” Frankly, a proper answer would require a fair bit o’ time, and most people aren’t ready to swallow the whole bite. I have found that it is better to give them a bite-sized appetizer. Many people will be intrigued and ask good follow up questions. If you phrase the appetizer well, you can lead them to ask the right questions.

So how do I condense the comprehensive philosophy of the classical model into a sound bite? My script often sounds something like this:

Classical Christian education is a God-centered, liberal arts education for children. Classical education recognizes that people learn in a three-step process. First, we need to learn the basic information about a subject; the who, what, where, when kind of information. Second, the information is explained so that we have a good understanding of why it fits together the way it does. Finally, the student is taught to wisely use this information, to express it well and put it into practice. Proverbs talks about knowledge, understanding, and wisdom; the Greeks called it grammar, logic, and rhetoric.”

I will often use an example, usually from sports, to illustrate the classical process. I coach volleyball, so I might say something like this:

When I coach a young volleyball player, I have to teach her the proper techniques for passing, hitting, etc, as well as the rules of the game. That is grammar level information. Soon we put the players in drills where the basic skills are practiced. That is like the logic stage. And finally a player gets to play and use the skills with her teammates in a game, reacting to new situations. That is the rhetoric stage of volleyball.”

I usually keep things this simple, finding that a thoughtful listener will have several questions which will invite further details. I often take advantage of their questions to introduce something that  they should have asked (if they didn’t). I find that it is best to explain the content of classical education later and focus on the process at first. This may be simply because I find it somewhat easier to explain the process than the content.

So how would you explain classical education in a nutshell?

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Greg Lucas meditates through Psalm 77 in “When God leaves no footprints in the sand” and arrives at three profound and God-centered conclusions, conclusions that are wholly at odds with the health-and-wealth heresy so common today.

1. When I cannot see God’s faithfulness in my immediate circumstances I have an archive of His faithfulness to look back on. His record is spotless, His faithfulness is perfect.

My response: Therefore, I will not be swayed by emotion or fall into despair. Instead, I will run to His word, the Bible, for my source of strength and assurance.

2. God generally prefers to take us through the stormy sea rather than around it or beside it. It reveals more of my helplessness and more of His glory; more of my dependence and more of His strength. It also prepares me with a stronger testimony of His deliverance to share with others.

My response: Therefore, I will tell the stories of His miraculous deliverance to spread the fame of His name to a fallen world.

3. The absence of footprints does not mean God was missing during my trials or that He didn’t carry me. It only means that He is so much greater than all my obstacles, all my problems, all my circumstances that He can carry it all and not leave a single footprint.

My response: Therefore, I will not look for footprints in the sand. Instead I will look back at His perfect and spotless record of faithfulness in my life and the lives of others and realize, that is the biggest “footprint” of all.
I have heard a lot of sermons from ‘trained preachers’ with a whole lot less practical, gritty theology than here. Boy, this is rich.

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We are studying John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life in Sunday School. Today I was also reminded of President Roosevelt (the better Roosevelt)’s famous quote about watching or working:

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

This quote is widely used to motivate people to aim high and work hard to achieve their goals. Reviewing Piper’s book has reminded me that I cannot waste this quote on just the things of this life. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” The God-fearing Christian alone knows the greatest enthusiasms, the highest devotions and the worthiest cause.

And here is what was impressed on me this week: God is sovereign and omniscient, therefore He never risks anything and neither can His children. In other words, for the believer there is no failure, there is no defeat. The Christian need never be, indeed ought never be one of “those cold and timid souls.” His soul should rather be set afire to strive valiantly for God’s kingdom, for he may invest with a guaranteed reward. That is breathtaking. O to spend myself in the “worthy cause” that Christ has laid before me.

Man in the Arena (www.randallmhasson.com/man_in_the_arena.htm)

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So you’re looking in the freezer for inspiration. Cauliflower fills the veggie void in the meal, but never inspires odes of praise. Or does it? Try this simple and really delightful side dish.

A few weeks ago Jill made a great suggestion while we were preparing dinner: “I wonder,” said she, “what it would taste like if we mashed the cauliflower like potatoes.” Saying “I wonder” to a culinary adventurer is a sure-fire way to get things done, so off we went down a new trail. Along the way we learned a few things that may be helpful to you.

First making the smashed cauliflower. I HATE soggy, boiled-to-tasteless-mush veggies. Steaming the veggetables so that they are hot and still crisp is the way to go. So we began by steaming a bag of frozen cauliflower and then added cream cheese (2oz) for body and sour cream (2 good-sized spoonfuls, probably 3 Tblsp), and 2-3 tsp salt.

The immersion blender (aka. hand blender, stick blender, wand blender, Emeril calls it the ‘boat motor’) breaks down the cauliflower okay, but it is not best suited for this heavy duty job. If you are doing a large batch the food pro would be much quicker, even if it would dirty up another bowl. Since our potato masher is packed away somewhere in storage, I haven’t a chance to try pure manual labor. I suppose a food mill would work and will try that sometime, but the blender and food pro allow for more variation in texture.

what we learned.

1. Use a lot of florets. The cauliflower produces a fair bit less mash than you would expect. A 14 oz bag feeds our family (2 adults & 3 youngsters), but in a few years, that won’t do it.

2. The mash needs a good bit of salt to pull out the cauliflower flavor. Add salt to taste.

3. This is a great canvass that welcomes added flavors. We have added shredded cheddar (excellent) and peas (also excellent). I think there are a variety of spices that would work well. Indian-style spices would be a good addition, I think.

4. This is a great way to get your kids to eat cauliflower if they don’t like it. We had friends over whose kids are not fans. We called it “Majik Potatoes” for them and they came back for seconds. Our kids like cauliflower, but devour this.

Give it a try; I think you will like it. I’m interested in your feedback: how did your kids like it? What variations have worked well…or not so much?

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Fear Not! death and the afterlife from a Christian perspective is a helpful little book that tries to “equip people to approach death from a Biblical perspective.” The book is based on a a series that Dr. Ligon Duncan gave to his church, First Pres in Jackson, MS. The first chapter, “What is Death?” is worth the cost of the book by itself. It unpacks the Bible’s balanced teaching about death. It is the Christian’s last enemy, yet Christ has “experienced the second death on behalf of His people” (stop and meditate on that a moment), so that “our whole view of death is [or ought to be] transformed.” Think about this as well:

The Father gave His Son to walk into not only the first death, but the second death, so that we would never feel the full force of what death was intended to be – eternal separation from a good and loving God on account of our rebellion. This truth radically transforms the way a believer looks at death.

The remainder of the book is equally valuable, covering common questions: What Happens After Death?, What Happens When Christ Returns?, The Final Judgment, and What is Heaven? Dr. Duncan scatters thought-gems throughout the book that beg to be picked up and examined. Just one more example. “In hell, you reap what you have sown. It is the fairest doctrine in the world. Heaven, that is unfair. A sinner enjoying Christ for all eternity is unfair. Give me unfair! I will take heaven by grace.”

No doubt this book would be a comfort to those going through the pain of dying or the death of a loved one. But Fear Not! ought to be studied by Christians well before those times come. This book will help build a bulwark in peaceful times that we need not be shaken in those desperate times.

The Unquenchable Flame is a fast-paced retelling of the Reformation. Mark Dever titled the foreword (who thinks to write a title for a foreword?) “What these men lived and died for is what we’re in danger of forgetting.” Many histories, poorly written, plod along until the reader drops away out of sheer boredom or confusion  from the pedantic  list of dates and names. Michael Reeves has written in such a way that no Christian may offer that excuse. Lively and  fast-paced, this book covers the Church in western Europe from the 15th-17th centuries. Reeves focuses on the bright lights of the Reformation, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and others. He masterfully tells their stories while placing each in his historical context so that the reader is better able to understand the struggles of his time. A good example is Reeves’ explanation for Calvin’s role in the Servetus affair.

The final chapter focuses the reader on the question, “Is the Reformation over?” It becomes clear that this is Reeves’ purpose for writing. This is not just a history book; it is, rather, a call to the Church to remember the great cloud of witnesses, to not drop the torch in our generation, but to properly understand the Reformation and in doing so that we properly understand the heart of the Gospel.

The closer one look, the clearer it becomes: the Reformation was not, principally, a negative movement, about moving away from Rome; it was a positive movement, about moving towards the gospel. Pure negative reaction was a hallmark of certain radicals, but not the mainstream Reformation. Unfortunately for us moderns, obsessed with innovation, that means we cannot simply enrol the Reformation into the cause of ‘progress’. For, if anything, the Reformers were not after progress but regress: they were never mesmerized by novelty as we are, nor impatient of what was old, just because it was old; instead, their intent was to unearth original, old Christianity, a Christianity that had been buried under centuries of human tradition.

That, though, is precisely what preserves the validity of the Reformation for today. If the Reformation had been a mere reaction to a historical situation five hundred years ago…one would expect it to be over. But as a programme to move ever closer to the gospel, it cannot be.

An excellent, brief introduction to the Reformation. Easily read in a few days. As a history, this book accomplishes a wonder task: it makes the reader want to read more about these men and women. As a call to the Church, it hits a nail that is standing up.

These were two of the twenty books handed out at the T4G conference. Wheee, 18 more to go.

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So tomorrow begins the 2010 draft. Lately (oh, I don’t know, the past two decades or so), this has been the highlight of a Browns fan’s year. This past season had me seriously contemplating punting the whole thing.

But I can’t. I chose this as my team when I was a junior higher. Brian Sipe, Clay Matthews, Mike Golic, Doug Dieken, and a host of others were making themselves into the Kardiac Kids. That team changed to the Kosar years, and Ernest Byner became my all-time favorite Browns player. Those were good years, good memories. Unfortunately, the boyhood infatuation has devolved into a co-dependent, semi-abusive relationship.

But we finally have a front office that has the potential to avoid comparisons to the Keystone Kops. At least this front office has done the job in the NFL before. Holmgren sounds like he is doing the right thing: hiring the right people, establishing a clear direction, shmoozing the public. Hopefully he will let the people he has hired do their jobs. Heckert has a track record of drafting well. Don’t lay some stinkers now.

After the buffoonery of Policy and Clark, the incompetent arrogance of Butch Davis, to the I’m-a-smarter-drafter-than-anyone-else foolishness of Phil Savage, to the insufferable stone-walling non-communication of Eric Mangini, Browns fans deserve better than what we have been served up. So I am cautiously hopeful, but I’ve been there before. Call me a Missourish Browns fan: quit talking and just show me some competence.

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