Sermon: Praying Psalm 22 in the season of Lent

A sermon from Lent 2024 on adopting Psalm 22 as a prayer for Lent.

I am taking the next couple of days away from work in order to take a writing retreat to SMU’s Bridwell Library during work hours. Significant progress on day one towards the completion of a long-overdue manuscript.

Overview of word-count progress on the first day of my writing retreat.Outline of a forthcoming book on virtue, habits, and the Christian Calendar.

Beef as a means of grace?

Kicking off the run streak again. Last one was 366 days and ended in March of 2022.

Josef Pieper on Work, Leisure, and Life as Gift

“The inmost significance of the exaggerated value which is set upon hard work appears to be this: man seems to mistrust everything that is effortless; he can only enjoy, with a good conscience, what he has acquired with toil and trouble; he refuses to have anything as a gift.”

Joseph Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture

Transcript

A Poem: Baptized In The Jordan River

You don’t have to travel across the world to be baptized in the Jordan River; only through the space time continuum.

By the power of the Spirit of God The still clear water of the modern font Becomes the flow of that ancient river; Cleansing you as it was itself once cleansed by him who came after and yet before.

“This is my beloved,” the voice beckons, Echoing from those first century shores, And into our very own, and beyond.

Calling out to the called out ones, it rings Truer than our own truths we held so dear Before we, too, were brought through that River.

Transcript

Brad East’s observations ring true in my experience. Those who have moved on from points 1, 4, 5, 6, and 7 may be “loosening” some modern evangelical convictions, but in doing so they are actually realigning with an older and more widespread Christian understanding of these things. Re-connecting?

AI, School, and You

This was a letter sent to our student body in May 2023 about the rise of AI in education. You can read an essay of mine that expands on these things here.

Let them be born in wonder

Let Them Be Born in Wonder is the title of an excellent article that highlights the work of the storied, but relatively short-lived, Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas.

Part of the reason the program no longer exists is that a disproportionate number of students in the program were converting to Christianity as a result of their studies. The program was closed for this reason in 1979, despite the fact that the investigative committee found “no evidence that the professors of the program have engaged in such activities in the classroom.” It was, in many ways, the mere exposure to great minds and works of the past that drew students to God.

But the three founding professors also noticed something about the students entering the program that is worth us considering today: they had lost an interest in real things. These professors were convinced that before their students could encounter great works, they needed to reencounter, and be drawn again, to reality itself.

Aristotle and St. Thomas teach that the human person, as a union of body and soul, lives an integrated life in which the intellect and will rely on the senses, the imagination, and emotions. The professors recognized that the new generation of students was sensibly and emotionally disconnected from reality. Their technology, their whole environment, pre-internet thought it was, cut them off from God’s creation, and inclined them toward fantasy. Their basic correspondence to reality, to the true, good, and beautiful, had been blunted. They were not interested in real things, were restless, and could not focus.

What makes these observations more poignant is that they were made in 1968. Our world has grown to prefer the virtual and the digital even more in the decades that have followed.

I share all of this for three reasons.

First, I hope that you read the article, and grow to appreciate what the IHP sought to be and do.

Second, I hope this gives you some perspective on why any classical Christian school worth its salt will insist on nature studies, physical activity, art and music appreciation, and a direct encounter with great works from the past. We learn to learn from thinkers who we may not entirely agree with, but who nonetheless had a better picture of ultimate reality than most in our own age.

And finally, I hope this encourages us to remedy our own preference for the virtual and the digital; to sharpen our “blunted correspondence to reality” by seeking to “be born in wonder” by the natural order and human community around us.

If we are all determined to begin this work in our own lives, we might just stand a chance at leading our students to do the same.

Christus est stella matutina, Qui nocte saeculi transacta Lucem vitae sanctis promittit Et pandit aeternam, Alleluia

Christ is the morning star, who when the night of this world is past brings to his saints the promise of the light of life and opens everlasting day.

A prayer attributed to St. Bede, which is displayed beautifully at his tomb in Durham.

I am a happier, healthier, and more focused person when:

  • I do not have email on my phone
  • I do not have a web browser on my phone
  • I go for a morning walk before looking at a screen
  • I pray the morning office before looking at a screen

These are undisputedly true. And I still find them hard to maintain.

A Letter to the Class of 2024

On May 18, 2024, the Coram Deo Academy Dallas Campus graduated its first class of Seniors. Below is my message for that class, shared at the Class of 2024 Commencement Ceremony.

There have been many times—perhaps more than I care to admit—that I have stood in the hallway outside the doorway to your classroom thinking to myself “I don’t have time for this. I need this hour for something else.” To reflect on what just happened. To prepare for what is to come. To plan, or to pray, or to respond.

But I stepped inside regardless—mostly because I know you well enough not to trust you in a room alone together.

After spending that hour with you in the classroom, God has not once failed to use each of you as a gift of grace: to refresh, or restore, or challenge, or comfort. I leave time with you thinking, “I needed that hour more than I knew. I don’t have time to not have this time together.”

You—as individuals and as a class—have a gift that our mutual friend C.S. Lewis liked to call “the good infection.” You rub off on people. You are like the house of the patient’s girlfriend that Uncle Screwtape describes in Letter 22:

Could you not see that the very house she lives in is one that he ought never to have entered? The whole place reeks of that deadly odour (of Christian love). The very gardener, though he has only been there five years, is beginning to acquire it. Even guests, after a weekend visit, carry some of the smell away with them. The dog and the cat are tainted with it. It is a house full of the impenetrable mystery.

Whether in the classroom or around campus, at a dinner table or in a living room, in Dallas or Austin or Arkansas—I leave time with you changed for the better.

You have shaped me. You have shaped my family—all of them. You have shaped this community and many others beyond it.

Today is an occasion marked by joy—despite the misty eyes in the room—and here is why: This is a big crowd in a big room full of “the good infection.”

But beyond these walls is a bigger crowd in a bigger room.

Sitting behind you are just some of those who have cared for you in this season of your life at this school. In front of you are even more who have done the same in your homes and in your churches. The older you get the more you will realize the sacrifices they have made for you to be here.

Now it is your turn.

Because beyond those doors, there are people you haven’t even met yet who need you. There are a people yet unborn, who need you.

They need you to witness—in word and deed—to the Good News of God in Christ. To pursue ever more deeply the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of God. Not to shout into the darkness about how dark it is, but to light a candle, no matter how small, wherever God leads you.

It is a joy to send you out with that mission. And we are at peace in doing so, because you are in excellent hands, hands that have been there all along, hands that I pray you will notice more and more as you grow up: you are safe, no matter what you face, in the wounded hands of our Lord.

Amen.

The children “helping” with the leaves in the front yard.

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

T.S. Eliot, Choruses from The Rock

This past weekend served as a personal and professional watermark. Our six year journey of launching a Rhetoric School for the Coram Deo Academy Dallas Campus culminated in a Commencement ceremony during which Malcolm Guite blessed our seniors as our inaugural Honored Speaker.. I will forever cherish all of his words that day, but especially these:

If I come from another world, then I have to say it’s also felt extraordinarily like a homecoming here. Because I have loved and recognized the mutual admiration and respect between student and staff, between teacher and learner.

There is more to say about Malcolm Guite’s visit to Coram Deo Academy and our home this weekend, but these photos capture some of the joy of watching my own children, our graduates, and many friends soak up time with him.

I do not think it will pass, but I am excited to see that Premier League clubs are voting next month to abolish VAR as early as next season. There is not any less controversy now than there was before VAR, and the impact it has had on the flow of the game is hard to overstate.

Today, it was finally announced that the new USL Super League team in Dallas is in fact in Dallas. Excited to see Dallas Trinity FC develop as a team in the months to come, and looking forward to seeing them at the Cotton Bowl this fall.

The new crest for Dallas Trinity FC, our new USL Super League team.

The iPad ad shows the true colors of much of the tech industry. These companies stopped making tools a long time ago. They now make Everything Machines that are designed to free us from the shackles of the analog world. Up next: freedom from the shackles of the physical world. This is Gnosticism revisited, not by ancient religious leaders, but by tech moguls who are driven by far more than profit.

I wonder how much of the push towards thinner and lighter is rooted in a desire to free the user from anything physical? Sure, these devices are (sometimes) easier to transport and (sometimes) easier to hold when they are thinner and lighter. But the ad suggests that thinness is about more than usability. The thinner the device, the less reliant we are on the physical realm.

I am writing this on an iPad. I am well aware of the cognitive dissodance involved here. But my recent flirting with the idea of only purchasing used tech devices did just gain an extra measure of resolve.

This ad reminds us that we have too weak a vision for the value of repair and restoration. As one whose views on automobiles and life have been shaped by decades of listening to Car Talk, and admires the folks behind The Repair Shop, the sharp contrast between this ad and the spirit of shows like these is palpable.

The ad works, in a world where advertising is successful in so much as it is viral.

What a perfect subtitle for this season of life: “unexpected demands on a man already tired.”

Lewis goes on to rightly argue, through Uncle Screwtape, that the root issue lies in us holding the utterly unrealistic expectation that there will be no “unexpected demands” in the first place.