I can speak at your church, conference, performance venue, or community group.
My presentations combine passion, theological perspective, philosophical precision, cultural analysis, and unconventional humor, and cover quite a range of territory while somehow not losing their way.
I've spoken to various churches and other groups around East Tennessee / North Georgia since the early 1990s. In 1996, I established Foundations Collegium, a challenging educational program in the humanities, critical thinking, worldview studies, and discipleship.
My gift is "seeing the shapes of things." I perceive outlines and patterns, connect the dots, notice implications that may not be evident to everyone.
A few years ago I was honoured to be invited to a discussion group led by Mr. Bird. The topic was something similar to: "A Christian examination of issues raised by The Matrix film". It was quite provocative, interesting and edifying. It was obvious the speaker had done his research in the areas of scripture, popular culture, philosophy and technology.
I highly recommend him.
Price Range: $200: Please contact for details
Gig Length: 30 - 120 minutes
I am a public lecturer, a visionary educator, a stand-up philosopher, an academic storyteller, an armchair theologian, a writer of essays, fiction and poetry, an analyst of ideas and culture, a singer of the blues, a lover of the Most High God, and a 52-year-old child staring about at the world in dumbfounded and wide-eyed wonder.
I figured out, about 25 years ago, that my gift is the ability to see the shapes of things.
Don’t laugh; i realize it may not sound like a very impressive gift. But not everyone can see the shapes of things. Indeed, i’ve discovered that it’s kind of rare. By ‘seeing the shapes of things,’ i mean the ability to notice outlines, to detect patterns, to connect the dots, to perceive design where it may not be evident to others, to see beyond the surface to the underlying architecture, to see how seemingly independent things are actually connected. It’s a skill that can be helpful in putting together jigsaw puzzles. But more importantly, it’s helpful in putting together the Big Picture when confronted with a jumble of information from a thousand different sources.
In the postmodern intellectual and cultural environment, being able to see the shapes of things is no longer held in the high regard that it once was. Nowadays, we are all encouraged to see each individual experience as an end in itself… to see the eency-weency little bits and pieces of reality as independent and disconnected from each other… and to dismiss the idea that there may be a Grand Design into which it all fits.
I was born in December of 1963 in the Gulf coast town of Sarasota, Florida, and spent the balance of my childhood and youth in central and north Florida, then in North Carolina, where i gradually grew into a love for things Southern, began to assemble a spiritual perspective, and developed the beginnings of a fascination with language, a love for ideas and an enchantment with history. I went to Covenant College, located right smack on top of a mountain near the Georgia / Tennessee state line, where i studied Psychology, Philosophy, Biblical Studies, English, and History. I have lived in the Chattanooga area for 30 years now.
During that stint in North Carolina, i entered into the initial phase of a life-changing journey, having discovered the reality of God through entering into a relationship with the divine Son, Jesus Christ. The decades since then have been a turbulent ride, with plenty of that ‘two-steps-forward-one-step-back’ sort of thing that i’m sure we can all relate to. But overall, it’s been a fascinating journey of discovering just how refreshing Forgiveness can be, how infinite Infinity can be, and how much love and patience an Infinite God is capable of.
In 1996, i established St. Thomas Academy (now called Foundations Collegium), a program in the humanities, critical thinking, communication, worldview studies, discipleship and leadership for Christian home-educated junior high and high school students. I have been the Rector and primary instructor in this program for the past nineteen years.
In February of 2016, i began building The 25 Blogs Project, a network of blogs on WordPress covering a wide range of subjects, and all connected through a hub that is called (reasonably enough, i thought) "The 25 Blogs Project." If you want to get a concrete sense of the kinds of things i talk about, The 25 Blogs Project is a good place to wander around in for a while.
My history of addressing audiences has been somewhat rich and varied. I have spoken to various groups and led discussions around the Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Northwest Georgia areas since the early 1990s. I’ve stood before Church youth groups, taught adult Sunday school classes as well as classes for Junior and Senior High students, and preached to the crowd at a rescue mission. I’ve addressed college chapel services with audiences of several hundred, and have given workshops on educational theory and practice at home education conferences and informational coffees. In addition, i established the Foundations Collegium program in 1996 and have been teaching and running the program ever since.
The Body of Work
What’s different about my presentations? For one thing, i draw from an unusually broad spectrum of material and perspective in putting together my talks / routines. I combine passion, candor, philosophical precision, theological perspective, social and cultural analysis, out-of-the-box thinking, and unconventional humor, in a presentation that manages to wander all over the place while somehow not losing its way.
I like to refer to my style of presentation as ‘stand-up philosophy.’
I've been influenced by an impossibly broad array of characters, in both my style of presentation and my leading ideas. These include (on the one hand) Garrison Keillor, Steven Wright, Conan O'Brien and Jerry Seinfeld, and (on the other hand) C.S. Lewis, John Eldredge, Dallas Willard, Francis Schaeffer, Charles Colson, Thomas a Kempis, and Bill Johnson.
One of my favorite presentations—a good entry-level one for an audience unaccustomed to what i do—is called “All Flockbinkers Are Treadknicious…And Other Salient Observations.” It’s a rollicking romp through the fields of logic, truth and communication, with a great many other things tossed in for flavor, including an offbeat survey of human personality types, some wry observations about living badly and living well, a series of strange jokes involving flockbinkers, Scotsmen, and other endangered species, and a five-minute condensed version (!) of the history of philosophy.
Do not be misled, however: Not everything that i talk about is wacky or strange. Some other speech topics that i’ve enjoyed exploring have been “An Introduction to Christian Worldview Studies,” “The Importance of Unity in Education,” “Thinking and Speaking with Greater Clarity: The Seven Critical Focus Questions,” “The Secular Fundamentalist,” “Christianity and Culture: Three Perspectives,” “Reality: The Condensed Version,” “Does Theology Go in the Worldview Pile or the Discipleship Pile?” and “Where’s the Party? (Perhaps the Most Important Philosophical Question Ever Asked).”
Typical Audience / Available for What Kinds of Events
A wide variety of audiences find my presentations appealing, including (but not limited to) college and twenty-something / thirty-something audiences of hip, thinking Christians who desire an experience that is both amusing, outside-of-the-box, and intellectually challenging. Some of my presentations would be of interest to home-schooling parents and/or professional educators. I am available to speak at colleges, churches, education events, home school support groups, conferences, retreats, and performance venues.
Basically, i need a microphone and a simple podium—a music stand will do—with sufficient lighting so that i can see my notes clearly. Some water would be nice. That’s about it.
A typical presentation will last anywhere from 20 to 90 minutes or longer, depending on the nature and demands of the situation. I am available for half-day and full-day seminars on a defined range of topics.
Catalogue of Topics
What follows is the complete listing of talks that i am available to give at churches, public lecture series, colleges, community groups, conferences, etc.
Theology, Discipleship, The Church
Reflections on the Kingdom of Heaven
The central theme in the teaching of Jesus, and of the New Testament generally, seems to be this: that in Christ, God has inaugurated something that the Bible refers to as the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven. Now, when we think of heaven, we tend to think of some sort of eternal condition that those who die in Christ will get to experience… after they die. Yet in his parables of the Kingdom, Jesus was clearly depicting something that He had already begun bringing into play, and in which his followers were already becoming participants. What is this ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ that Jesus seemed to view as the centerpiece of his mission on earth? How can we become more active participants in the Kingdom of Heaven, during this lifetime, here on earth?
The Terribly Unsatisfying Idea of ‘Christian Values’
Especially in an election year, many religious people like to talk about something they call Christian values. Christian ‘values’? Really? What exactly does this expression refer to? Can Christian truth really be reduced to a set of ‘values’? When you read through the Bible, you encounter an infinitely powerful God whose Kingdom cannot be shaken, ruling over a people at war with the corrupt forces of this present darkness. That’s an epic story, and there’s something not merely unsatisfying, but actually insulting about the idea that the Christian message can be translated into a set of ‘values.’ But if thinking in terms of ‘Christian values’ is not the way to go, then… well… what are Christians all about, anyway? What would be a more helpful way to understand and talk about the core message of Christianity?
A Relationship With God
Often, when we speak of having a ‘relationship’ with God, we tend to sort of tacitly redefine the word ‘relationship’ to mean something thin, abstract and philosophical, really more of a legal kind of connection than a personal one. When we think of having a relationship with our families, our friends, our significant others, we have a very concrete sense of what is involved; when we think of relationship with God, we revert to thinking in terms of memorized catechisms and Bible verses. I would submit that this is because we have trouble thinking of God as a real Person… the word ‘person’ meaning, basically, someone you can have a conversation with, make plans with, share in the daily activities of life with, and work toward the future with.
The Place Where God Dwells
The Bible seems to intimate that God’s presence is focused in certain places or situations more than others. We find this throughout both the Old and New Testaments. This presents a kind of metaphysical conundrum to people who are accustomed to thinking of God as a kind of gaseous theological essence permeating the universe. Isn’t He in all places equally at all times? Well, apparently not, and the Bible has some interesting things to say about what marks the difference between the places where we are most likely to find God, versus the places where He is more loath to make an appearance. If God’s people, both as individuals and as a gathered community, wish to become a temple in which the Living God makes His dwelling, there are things we can to make such a scenario more attractive to Him.
Does Theology Go in the ‘Worldview’ Pile or the ‘Discipleship’ Pile?
In which we explore the very interesting possibility that ‘theology’ isn’t really a meaningful category all by itself, but that it needs to be understood as part of something larger. Theology, left on its own as a free-standing area of study, leads to certain problems, including the dualism of the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’ that so often bedevils a Christian view of the world. But if theology does need to be seen as part of something larger, what larger thing it part of? Does our theology go in the category of worldview—the overall way in which we understand reality as a whole—or does it go in the category of discipleship—our relationship with and service to God, and participation in His Kingdom? Is there some way to bring the two together, and understand theology in terms of both worldview and discipleship?
The ‘Spiritual’ vs. the ‘Normal’—A False Way of Setting Up Reality
Many people seem to have the idea that their world divides fairly cleanly into two parts: ‘everyday reality,’ and ‘spiritual things.’ Everyday reality includes the vast majority of what they believe to be real—their job, their house and community, their marriage and family, other relationships, leisure time, material possessions, politics, society. Spiritual things, on the other hand, is a somewhat hazy category featuring items that they’ve heard about in church but perhaps do not fully believe to be real. Such things as ‘heaven,’ ‘prayer,’ ‘spiritual growth,’ and perhaps even God Himself get assigned to this gauzy neighborhood of items that just do not seem as immediate to them as the things in the ‘everyday reality’ category. Is this an accurate way of structuring our experience? And if not, what has gone wrong, and how can we develop a sense of reality that is more in keeping with the Truth?
The Two Pilgrims and the Gatehouse: A Parable
This talk is not just a one-minute parable; it’s a full-on allegory that takes about half an hour to tell and another half hour to unpack and analyze. The basic gist goes something like this: There were two pilgrims. The first one stopped in at the gatehouse to the Kingdom, received new life, a bath, new clothing, equipment, weaponry and armor, and directions to follow once he exits the opposite side of the gatehouse. Which he does, and finds himself swept up in a fascinating adventure, at times dangerous and life-threatening, at other times glorious, and always rife with opportunities for learning, growth, fellowship, service, worship and warfare. He eventually makes his way to the Far Mountains where he ends his journey and fully enters the Presence of the Most High God. But what about the other pilgrim? He arrives at the same gatehouse, gets the same treatment the first pilgrim does, but never quite figures out that he’s supposed to exit the opposite door of the gatehouse and become an active participant in the Kingdom. He just spends the rest of his life hanging out in the gatehouse with a multitude of other clueless pilgrims who also have failed to realize that there’s a Kingdom on the other side of the gatehouse.
Why Christians Don’t (Really) Believe in the Supernatural
It might be argued that Christianity is all about a supernatural God doing supernatural things among the community of people He has supernaturally set apart for Himself. Why, then, do so many Christians seem to have a worldview that is almost entirely devoid of the supernatural, or that relegates the supernatural to (1) the Bible, as if the things we read about in God’s word were hermetically sealed off from the rest of reality, or (2) exotic settings, like the jungles of darkest Africa, that do not seem to connect to the realities that they encounter on an everyday basis? It is distressingly common to find Christianity represented as a system of abstract religious ideas that Christians are expected to master and articulate. My stars! Where did this strange emphasis come from, and what will it take to restore to the church the reality of God as a Consuming Fire?
Come Out from Among Them: A Defense of the Uptight Christians
It’s so very easy, and so very popular, to make fun of religious people who are overly fastidious in their attempts to please the Lord. They refuse to do normal things or dress like normal people. They feel that there is something wrong with the society around them, and do not wish to be any more influenced by it than they have to. We insult them with terms like ‘fundamentalism,’ ‘legalism’ and ‘fanaticism.’ In this lecture, i play the devil’s advocate… or, um, something… at any rate, i adopt a stance that has become increasingly unpopular among many evangelicals in the 21st century, and make a case that these uptight Christians may in fact be on to something, and that we could all learn a great deal from their zeal in serving God and living a pattern of life not influenced by the world.
Christianity and Culture: Three Perspectives
Over the centuries, Christians have chosen to approach the culture in which they find themselves in three different ways. One way of characterizing these three approaches would be as the ‘separatists,’ the ‘identificationalists,’ and the ‘transformationalists.’ The first group seeks to remain independent of and unsullied by the fallenness of human culture; the second group seeks to participate fully in the human experience so as to minister at a genuine level to real people with real needs; and the third group seeks to engage the world actively in order to manifest the victory of Jesus Christ over the kingdom of the Enemy. Each of these three approaches, in fact, captures a key aspect of God’s heart for the unsaved world, and brings stunningly important insights to the table.
What the ‘Harry Potter’ Controversy Reveals
About Our Understanding of Reality, of Art, and of Ourselves
The hullabaloo has quieted down, but at its height the controversy over whether the Harry Potter books and films were healthy literature for Christian young people generated a great deal of… well, one is tempted to fall back on the clich about lots of heat and very little light. I always found there to be something profoundly unsatisfying about the whole discussion, as if both sides were somehow missing the most important dimension of the issue. What is it about the Harry Potter books, the Twilight series, and a tidal wave of other literature aimed at young people and featuring occult and supernatural elements, that makes many Christians uncomfortable? And is there a valid basis for the discomfort? What is the significance of the rapid rise in books about magic and witchcraft in the young readers’ section today?
“I’m Not Religious, I’m Spiritual”…What in the World Do People Mean by This?
It’s become a ubiquitous observation in social networking; the contemporary scene is jammed with grillions of people who have taken to identifying themselves as ‘spiritual’ rather than ‘religious.’ Oh my word… what does this even mean? What would it look like to be religious… what would it look like to be spiritual… and what would it look like to be living in obedience to the Father, walking in fellowship with Jesus, and moving in the power of the Holy Spirit? Could it be that the choice between ‘religious’ and ‘spiritual’ is really a false dilemma featuring two different counterfeit versions of what life with God is really all about? What if we were to challenge ourselves to be neither ‘spiritual’ nor ‘religious,’ but instead, to seek the very Presence of the Living God?
Denominationalism as Both a Curse and a Blessing
Many people seem to make a career of lamenting the existence of Christian denominations. “How nice it would be,” they say, “if all the Christians could get along and break down these artificial divisions in Christ’s body.” But what if the existence of denominations is not a wholly negative thing? What if our respective denominations give us a chance to develop areas of emphasis, specialization, and expertise, similar to what we find among the limbs and organs of the human body? What if the real problem is not denominationalism, but elitism, an unteachable spirit, and the tendency to assume that our denomination has very little to learn from the traditions of other Christians?
Full Gospel, Fractured Minds:
The Spirit and the Academy in Today’s Charismatic Churches
[content tailored more to specifically ‘full gospel’ audiences]
There are lots of ways to take God’s people and divide them into two groups. One of those ways is to divide all Christians into (1) the ones who prize knowledge and scholarship, and (2) those who value personal experience. Now of course, these are simplistic categories and there is a great deal of overlap between them. Nevertheless, the generalization might accurately be made that Christians of the Charismatic / Spirit-filled / full-gospel variety tend not to place a high premium on developing an accurate and academically nuanced view of the world. They tend to place much more emphasis on feelings, subjective experience, lively preaching, and books that seem of immediate personal relevance to them. None of these things are bad in themselves, but the tendency to ignore the value of genuine scholarship has crippled the Pentecostal community in ways that put them at a severe disadvantage in dealing with the unsaved world, or dialoguing with their more erudite brethren in the older, more established streams of Christian tradition.
The Spirit and the Academy:
Why There Are Two Different Communities of Evangelical Christians
[similar to above presentation; this content tailored more to broadly evangelical audiences]
There are lots of ways to take God’s people and divide them into two groups. One of those ways is to divide all Christians into (1) the ones who prize knowledge and scholarship, and (2) those who value personal experience. Now of course, these are simplistic categories and there is a great deal of overlap between them. Nevertheless, the generalization might accurately be made that the Christians who place a lot of emphasis on truth and academia are often not the same people who put a lot of emphasis on walking in holiness and in the power of the Spirit. My question is, why aren’t these two groups of people… the same group of people? Who benefits (other than the Enemy and his kingdom) when the believers who are academically inclined aren’t influencing and being influenced by the Christians who are all about experiencing God?
An Attempt to Bring Some Clarity
To the Church’s Current Struggles over Music in Worship
We are all familiar with the two camps. One group of churches stands staunchly with the great tradition of church hymnody that God has been raising up for nearly five centuries now. The other group of churches is committed to promoting the new wave of worship songs that God has been inspiring through the current generation of musician-worshipers. Which club has the right idea? Perhaps… perhaps they both do? But to explain how i can say this with a straight face, it will first be necessary to go into the history of music in Christian worship, and to talk some about the distinctives of traditional hymn literature and of the modern worship movement, not hesitating to examine the strengths and weaknesses of each tradition.
Of Theology, Preaching, and Baking: Which Shelf Should the Cookies Go On?
It’s a dilemma. Should the preacher aim for the people who have some education and are able to engage subtle ideas, or should he place the cookies on one of the lower shelves so that people who aren’t so acute can follow what he’s saying? I don’t know whether my experience is a true reflection of what’s actually happening in contemporary evangelicalism, but it seems as if the cookies are being placed lower and lower these days. Should the leaders among God’s people set it as their goal to educate the masses, challenging them and perhaps aiming a bit over their heads… or should they frame their teaching such that the simple and poorly-educated (an increasingly dominant demographic in the 21st century) will be able to grasp what they’re saying? Or, to approach the problem from another direction, should preaching be oriented more to unbelievers and those who are new to the faith, or to those who have already gained an understanding of the basics? What is the role of the church in a cultural environment that is becoming increasingly illiterate?
Occupy the Mountains!
An exploration of the model—proposed in recent years both by Christian analysts of culture and by figures in the Christian prophetic movement who feel that they have heard from God—that there are seven ‘mountains’ or ‘spheres of influence’ that form the chief battlefields between the kingdom of this world (and of the Enemy), and the kingdom of God. These seven mountains are government, economy, the media, arts and entertainment, religion, education, and family. How should we, as God’s people, think about these defining areas of culture, and is it really our task to develop strategies for establishing beachheads for the Kingdom of God on these mountains that so often tend to be strongholds of the Enemy?
An Architectonic Perspective on Spiritual Warfare
The discussion of spiritual warfare tends to fare pretty badly among educated Christians. One camp tends to limit its discussion of spiritual warfare to the ministry of deliverance, which, while an important aspect of the church’s mission, is surely only one component of the larger conflict between the kingdoms of God and of the Enemy. Those who do wish to take a broader view sometimes introduce suspicious-sounding principles of ‘strategic-level spiritual warfare,’ which involves giving commands to powerful dark angels that control cities and nations. Is there a perspective on spiritual conflict that engages the study of sociological, political and cultural realities in a way that seems to do justice to both Scriptural teaching and the sociological data?
Theory vs. Experience: The Sticking Point in Contemporary Evangelical Theology
What’s more important… mastering doctrine, or living in relationship with God? Should we memorize Scripture and study our catechisms, or should we invest our energies in trying to discover God in our experience? This false dilemma has created a mess of unnecessary problems in inter-church dialogue, as one side asserts that we must divide the word correctly while the other side argues that we must know and love God. The reality is that both are necessary dimensions of the Christian life, and they need each other desperately.
Imagination, Illusion, Vision and Hope
This talk is an exploration of what i choose (perhaps controversially) to call ‘sorcery’… the webs of synthetic realities that we tend to immerse ourselves in as substitutes for the actual reality that God invented, and in which we are called to live and move. Our entertainment environments, our communications media, the things we read and the music we listen to can contribute to our being caught in a net of unreality that makes us dangerously vulnerable to the influence of the Enemy… even if we have never been involved in “real” sorcery. The antidote? Vision: a clarity of heart, mind and spirit that enables us to see things as they really are, to discern the presence of God in any given situation, and to perceive the route God wishes us to take as we navigate complex cultural environments.
Mainstream Christianity as Functional Deism… And What to Do About It
Many Christians, while giving assent to the basic teachings of the historic Christian faith and claiming to believe all the stuff that God has to say in the Bible, nevertheless inhabit a world where they do not actually expect to observe God at work. They do not believe in miracles, they do not seem to believe in answered prayer, they do not believe in the gifts of the Spirit, they do not (really) believe in angels, demons or the ministry of deliverance… in short, they do not believe in the supernatural. Their Christianity is basically indistinguishable from secular humanism, except that it’s got a thin layer of religious language painted on the outside. This is what i call ‘functional deism’—belief in a God who does not really do anything. Where did they get this astonishing idea? Well, sadly, it’s a way of thinking that has been all too often fostered (unintentionally, of course) by the institutional church.
The God of Space and Time
Our conception of God seems often to be more theological than phenomenological. What i mean by this is that we think of God as being somehow in a different category of reality from the real reality that we encounter on a regular basis. The problem is, this different sort of reality tends to seem somehow less real. We need to challenge ourselves to learn to think of God in the same way that we think of the delicately balanced laws of science, the infinitely nuanced complexities of mathematics, the vastness of outer space with its billions of galaxies each containing billions of stars, and the vast stretches of history within which everything that we are familiar with is embedded. God is not less real than our everyday experience; He is, if anything, more real than the sort of reality that we are accustomed to.
Hosting the Presence and Cleansing the Lepers:
A Supernatural Kingdom Perspective on the Theology of Culture
The point has been made that under the Old Covenant, when you touched a leper you became unclean, whereas under the New Covenant, you touch a leper as a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the leper becomes clean. We who are in Christ are bearers of the very Spirit of God, hosts of the Presence. When we enter a situation, it is as God’s ambassadors, and not only this, but his vessels. What difference does it make in our approach to culture that the very Person of God dwells within us? Should those of us who have adopted such positions as separatism, identificationalism, and transformationalism re-think our stance toward the kingdom of the world, in light of the fact that we have been made citizens of a Kingdom that cannot be shaken, and we are bearers of the power, the holiness, and the love of God?
Worldview, Philosophy, Critical Thinking, Society, Culture
Thinking and Speaking with Greater Clarity:
The Seven Critical Focus Questions
In which i present a set of tools by which the audience may enhance their ability to critically analyze and respond to the things that other people say to them. Often, when we are engaging someone in earnest discussion, we sense that the other person is saying things that are not quite on-target, but either we cannot quite put a finger on what’s wrong, or we cannot figure out how to explain it to the other person in a gracious and convincing manner. In this talk, we go over seven approaches that focus on definition, clarification, implications (on two different levels), epistemology, metaphysics, and application, and we learn to apply these approaches in normal conversational settings.
An Introduction to Philosophy, for Christians and Other People
A fun, fast-paced and user-friendly survey of the study of philosophy for people who have had very little exposure to it. We will start by covering the three major branches of philosophy (the problem of reality, the problem of knowledge, and the problem of values). We’ll then take a whirlwind tour of the history of philosophy from the early Greeks to the present. After that, we’ll examine a few of the odd, fascinating and sometimes important puzzles confronted by philosophers over the past 2600 years; and finally, we’ll look at some applications and implications of philosophy for Christians in the 21st century. The audience will be encouraged to think of philosophy not as an esoteric discipline for people who like to use fancy words while talking about abstruse concepts, but as a living activity available to any curious and earnest person, a process by which we explore and gain clarity about the world and our place in it.
Reality: The Condensed Version
In which i take on the modest challenge of summarizing the entire universe and its history in a single lecture. Yes, i realize this may be setting the bar a bit low, but we’ve all got to set goals for ourselves that are in keeping with our abilities. I’m afraid this may be about the best i can do. At any rate, we will undertake to sprint our way through all of reality (the big parts, anyway) in about 75 minutes. This will include a survey of the major cosmological paradigms (including the naturalist / materialist / evolutionary model, and the biblical creation model, in both its young-earth and old-earth versions). It will also include a survey of world history from the very beginning to the present day, a brief excursus on the relationship between religion and science, and an outline of what God and His people have been up to for the past few thousand years, using the biblical schema of creation, fall, redemption and consummation. You may be thinking this presentation is aimed at academics; it is actually designed for normal people. If i use any fancy terms like ‘cosmological paradigms,’ i am careful to explain what i mean by them.
God and the Gods:
A Survey of the Various Ways of Understanding the Divine
Who is God? Is there only one? If there is more than one god, which polytheistic model should we adopt? If there is just one God, what is he like? And how can we know? Is everything somehow a part of God? In this lecture, we undertake a whirlwind survey of quite a number of different models by which various people, communities and religious traditions have understood God or the gods. We will be looking at a number of polytheistic models, monotheistic models, and pantheistic models. This is not a survey of world religions; it is specifically a survey of the various options available for thinking about Who God Is. This lecture is specifically designed for Christian audiences, but would be of interest to anyone who is curious about differing religious beliefs.
Is Reason a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?
Some people seem to regard ‘reason’ as the answer to the world’s problems, while other people—especially many religious people—seem to think that ‘reason’ is not a good thing at all. Who’s right? What does the word ‘reason’ actually refer to? The fact is, it can mean several different things, and that’s where the misunderstandings come in. It is often used in something like the same sense as ‘secular humanism’ or ‘autonomous human decision-making without reference to God.’ But that’s not really what the term ‘reason’ means. Reason is, in fact, one of the most potent things that connect us to God and His world, and a powerful tool by which we can navigate dark and dangerous territory. How should God’s people make use of reason as we approach the Bible, theology, the sciences, and everyday life?
An Introduction to Christian Worldview Studies
The term ‘worldview’ has become trendy in Christian circles in recent decades. You can’t toss a brick in a Christian bookstore without hitting a book on the subject. (Not that tossing bricks about is a recommended method for ascertaining the contents of a bookstore.) Worldview studies is more than a flavor-of-the-month Christian intellectual trend, however—it’s a vital component in a Christian’s preparation to confront contemporary culture. Indeed, it might be argued that worldview development is the central purpose of an education. What, then, does ‘worldview’ really mean…and how can we assist our children in developing a full-bodied, well-informed worldview with Christ at the center, reason and rightly interpreted experience as anchors, and a Biblical foundation?
Building a Christian Worldview
Developing a Biblically sound worldview should be the central focus in the education of a Christian young person. Could it be, though, that worldview-training involves more than simply teaching the student the right answers to a series of questions in the areas of theology, philosophy, science, society and politics? How deep does a person’s worldview actually go? And what does it take to train a student to see all of reality through the eyes of Christ? In this talk, i discuss the nature and dynamics of worldview, and familiarize my audience with a tool called ‘The 21 Worldview analysis Questions’ which they can use to examine and engage the worldview of any person or group they come in contact with… including themselves.
Teaching Your Children to Do Worldview Analysis
Developing a Biblically sound worldview is of central importance in the education of a Christian young person. But he will, throughout life, be confronted with false worldviews, and will need to be able to confront them in a sharp, gracious and well-informed manner. How do we equip our young people to understand and dialogue with non-Christian points of view? At Foundations Collegium, our tools in worldview analysis differ from what you will typically find in worldview studies programs, in that we train students not to identify a handful of pre-packaged worldview schemes, but to navigate the worldview of any person they come in contact with, whether or not his worldview fits a stereotyped ‘worldview’ template.
All Education Is Worldview Training
The discussion of worldview and education among Christians in recent years has perhaps led to the impression that ‘worldview training’ is a distinct subject, separate from the rest of the curriculum, and should be offered as a separate class. This is a grave error. Worldview is actually the primary—perhaps the only—subject that students are exposed to in school, and a child’s education must be approached with this in mind. All the material that the student will encounter in school is connected to, forms a part of, or will in some way influence his worldview, and Christian educators can never relax, thinking that whatever subject area they happen to specialize in is without worldview-implications.
Worldview and Inertia
The various aspects of our worldview are almost never arrived at through a rational process. They are generally absorbed from the people and the environments around us, and reinforced by years of cognitive habit. In other words, much of what we believe was acquired accidentally, and it may be that we’ve never examined it closely. Furthermore, it’s a lot more difficult to change or undo a part of our worldview than to acquire it in the first place. Once a part of our worldview has been lodged in its place, it acquires the status of the obvious, and becomes an assumption by which other ideas and new data are judged. What to do, what to do?
Revelation, Reason, Intuition, Observation and Tradition:
A Christian Theory of Knowledge
A discussion of the schema used at Foundations Collegium for the discussion of knowledge:
how we acquire it, what kinds of knowledge there are, and how we can tell what’s true and what isn’t. This may sound to you like a somewhat arcane and not very interesting topic. It is, in fact, of compelling importance for any Christian seeking to navigate the complex cultural wilderness of the 21st century. Understanding the sources from which we derive our knowledge, and being able to evaluate how trustworthy they are, is increasingly important as the world goes crazier and crazier, and the paths along which we must travel become more and more labyrinthine.
On the Formulation and Sharing of Opinions
Everybody’s got opinions, and many of us like sharing them, especially when they are not solicited. The internet is clogged with millions of opinions—generally unsupported, often irrational, and sometimes abusive. The ‘comment strings’ on news websites, Facebook, and YouTube are often stuffed with assertions that are all too often without basis and ill-informed. The purpose of this lecture is to help people kick the habit of participating in ‘opinion-sharing frenzies,’ and to adopt, instead, the habit of making assertions that are credible, well-reasoned, and based in demonstrable fact.
Why Christians Should Study Astronomy to Learn More About God
Try this experiment. Ask your Christian friends, “In order to learn about God, you should consult—“ and allow them to fill in the blank. They may mention the Bible or the teachings of their church; however, they probably will not say “the physical sciences,” or even worse, “geometry!” Is it really true that Christians are skeptical about the sciences and other areas of study that do not seem obviously ‘religious’ in nature? Or, to ask the question in a different way, do discussions of theology among Bible-believing Christians typically feature references to the physical sciences, the life sciences, the human sciences, and mathematics? Are you accustomed to hearing scientific data presented in sermons and Bible teachings? If not, why not? In this talk, i present the argument that Christians can, and should, derive a great deal of their understanding and appreciation of God from a study of the things that He went to some trouble to create, and which do, in important ways, reveal aspects of His character.
The Secular Fundamentalist
The idea of ‘fundamentalism’ tends to be exclusively associated with religious communities, and it’s usually not meant as a compliment. But what if we were to make the entirely common-sense move of broadening its meaning to include all communities—religious or secular—that are so committed to a set of basic doctrines, they are unwilling or consider (and perhaps even unable to comprehend, certainly unable to engage) any position contrary to their own? It might be helpful to draw up a profile of the secular fundamentalist, skeptical regarding spiritual things but blindly credulous in other areas, including science, politics and social ethics, with a marked tendency to submit to the pontifications of the modern priestly class: the secular intellectuals.
Contemporary Gnosticism and Virtual Realities
We are increasingly living in a world we have created ourselves. For nearly all of human history, we have lived in and responded to the real world, the world as created by God. For the past few decades, first with the rise of film and television and more recently with the rise of the internet, we have increasingly come to dwell in ‘realities’ that are products of human imagination—and often a perverse imagination—and owe very little to the concrete, physical world. This trend is reflected on many levels: we listen to music in the form of sound files not associated with a physical medium, we read books on Kindle, we experience the outside world through various websites, we experience relationship and community through social networking sites, we communicate with others using wireless technologies. What is this disconnection from the concrete world doing to our patterns of action, thought, perception and passion?
Paradigm Management: Teaching Our Young People to Think Thoroughly
“There are two sides to every issue.” You’ve heard it spoken many times. Actually, there are usually at least two… perhaps five, eight or even twelve distinct stances that might be taken
in a particular area of discourse, whether the issue at hand involves politics, society, ethics, religion, science, history, philosophy or the arts. For instance, the discussion of ‘origins’ (of the universe, of the earth, of living things, and of man himself) involves quite a variety of non-Christian positions, not just one or two… and several different Christian positions, as well! The same is true of discussions involving feminism and gender roles, the plan of salvation, the nature of the Church, the relationship between the state and the economy, and different interpretations of the meaning of morality. We need to outfit our Christian students to think through issues in a full-bodied way. This all-day seminar will give you some tools to begin with in the ‘management’ of ‘paradigms.’
Why Do Good or Bad Things Happen to Anybody?
An Analysis of Causality in Human Life
If you want to write a bestselling book, title it something along the lines of “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” The problem of evil, and the closely related problem of pain and suffering, are issues that plague most of us, and can create barriers to faith in a loving and all-powerful God. In this talk, i take the proverbial bull by its putative horns and lay out a broad groundwork for the discussion of why the things happen to us that do happen, for either good or ill. We will dip into both philosophy and theology, including some traditional theodicies, we will outline the argument presented in C.S. Lewis’s modern classic The Problem of Pain, and we will glance over the controversial work of Gregory Boyd.
The Past Does Not Exist:
Why So Many People Seem to Regard History as Mainly Fictional
The great automobile manufacturer Henry Ford is famously held to have said, “History is bunk.” Most people might not say it that bluntly, but the fact remains that many contemporary people are lacking a real sense of history, and even tend to see the past as somewhat unreal, gauzy, semi-fictional. Many people today seem to have a jumbled, mushed-together sense of the past, in which Winston Churchill, Napoleon, Christopher Columbus, Mohammed, Alexander the Great, and Moses all lived in essentially the same time frame—an era called “way back then.” Indeed, for some, the only parts of reality that seem real to them are those events which have occurred during their own lifetimes. Why is this, and why is it a really, really, really bad thing? Is there anything that can be done about it?
Education: General Topics
The Importance of Unity in Education
The universe is a chaotic mass of disconnected facts and irrelevant information. (Just kidding.) But that’s the impression given by most conventional approaches to the structuring of an education, including the schooling that we all got. The various classes we were exposed to as young people were all disconnected from each other, and there was no overall plan by which this chaotic body of material was assembled into something coherent and comprehensible. Can we provide our children with better than we got? Isn’t there some way to help the child bring it all together into a meaningful picture? If God’s world is a unity, how can we present it in a unified manner to our young people?
Christian Education and Leadership Development
The need for real leadership among God’s people is greater than ever, in the post-Christian world of the 21st century. The complexities of postmodern life and culture, troubling new patterns by which human brokenness has worked itself out on a grand scale, new and unprecedented templates for communication and social interaction, even the way we see ourselves as persons, in isolation or in relationship, necessitate that we address an immense body of material that was not a part of education even as recently as a century ago. Being an ambassador for the Kingdom of God looks very different now from the way it did even as recently as 50 years ago. What kind of training do our young people need, in order that they might step up to the plate in a cultural climate increasingly hostile to the message of Christianity?
What Does a Truly ‘Christian’ Education Involve?
A quick survey of the way in which Christian schools and educational programs operate will reveal that there is no prevailing Christian understanding of what education is all about nor how to approach it. Indeed, in many such programs there is no discernible vision, just a conventional pattern inherited from a tradition or from some secular model, loosely panted over with a Christian veneer. What are the elements of a Christian approach to education? Certainly, we want to make sure that our children learn the Scriptures…that they encounter and digest the elements of a Biblical, Christ-centered view of the world. But really, this is only the beginning of a Christian education. How can they learn to apply these insights to all of life?
A Philosophy of Education
In our time, it is becoming easier and easier to take pot-shots at the public educational institutions that are so obviously failing in their mission, and, in some cases, virtually collapsing. But these critiques often dwell on easy targets and surface issues. In this talk, i start from the basement level and work upward in building a complete philosophy of education, based on fundamental biblical realities, including the essential role of God’s written revelation, the central role of the family, the necessity of discipleship, the unity of all knowledge, the need to train students to engage culture, and the fact that teaching worldview is at the core of any educational curriculum—even when it is not explicitly held as a goal.
The Education of a Wandering Man: Louis L’Amour and the Importance of Reading
Louis L’Amour was the bestselling author of western fiction in the 20th century, writing a total of over 100 books (not just Westerns, but historical fiction, poetry, etc.) before his death in 1988. Thirty of his stories were later turned into films. One of the prevailing themes in his autobio-graphy, Education of a Wandering Man, is the importance of reading. L’Amour dropped out of high school in the 10th grade “because school was interfering with his education” and went on, through independent reading, to acquire a body of knowledge and achievement that eventually made him an easy target for several awards and honorary degrees. How can we, as believers in Jesus Christ, foster an ethic of regular reading so as to equip ourselves to understand and engage the world that God has placed us in?
History and Philosophy: The Twin Foundations Stones of an Education
In the unending quest for sense and coherence in curriculum, it has been my experience that two areas serve beautifully as posts around which to organize the education of a child: philosophy and history. But watch out! What i mean by these two terms may not be quite what you’re thinking. ‘History’ includes the whole narrative of human life from the very beginning up to the consummation of all things, and it incorporates all the smaller narratives and concrete experiences that are embedded in that larger narrative, including all of literature and art. ‘Philosophy’ includes not just academic philosophy proper, but theology, science, mathematics and worldview studies. Between the two of them, they cover just about every conventional subject that you or your children have ever encountered in school.
What Does It Mean for a Child to Be Properly Socialized?
One of the most common objections to home schooling is that the student may miss out on opportunities to become adequately ‘socialized.’ Hmmm. According to God’s word, a properly-developed human person will be one who walks in righteousness and purity, gets his ideas about life not from the culture around him but from divine revelation, and hungers after the Presence of God. Are these the likely outcomes when a child is immersed in an environment where he is surrounded, not by mature, godly adults, but by a sea of 12-year-olds for several hours a day? If not, how can a young person be trained in the ways of God, while also enjoying opportunities for fellowship and ministry among other youngsters?
Education: About Foundations Collegium
A New Kind of Christian Education
‘Foundations Collegium’ is the current name of an outfit (formerly known as St. Thomas Academy) that’s been around since 1996. Is it a college? a high school? a preparatory school? a ‘classical’ education? Are these terms even meaningful? ‘Foundations Collegium’ is a cutting-edge educational program for sharp Christian home-schooled kids, ages 12-18, who want to train for cultural, intellectual and spiritual leadership on an increasingly unstable spiritual battlefield. The program involves a sequence of study in the humanities, Biblical studies and theology, critical thinking, history, rhetoric, worldview studies, and discipleship. In this presentation i introduce the program, the philosophy behind it, and some of the elements that make it such a unique educational experience.
Foundations Collegium: A ‘Classical’ Education (sort of)
When we explain Foundations Collegium’s program to people, they very often say, “Ah, you’re talking about a classical education.” And we’ve given up trying to correct them. In saying this, what they generally seem to mean is that our program places great emphasis on critical thinking skills, communication skills, and a deep-level engagement of history, literature, philosophy and theology. However, although our approach has much in common with the ‘classical’ model of education, it is really a different sort of animal. This talk involves an analysis and critique of the ‘classical’ movement in education that has become so popular among home-schoolers, as well as an appraisal of ways that Foundations Collegium does or does not fit into that camp.
Offbeat, Comical, Whimsical, Unconventional
All Flockbinkers Are Treadknicious… and Other Salient Observations
This is a good entry-level lecture for audiences that haven’t yet experienced what i do, especially audiences that are not specifically religious. We’re talking about stand-up philosophy at its best. It’s an entertaining, offbeat and rollicking exploration of a whole range of things, including nonsense and communication, humor and meaning, language games and logic, laughter, hope and vision, what’s wrong with society, what’s beautiful about people, what the universe is all about, where everything came from, and how they really didn’t teach you everything you need to know in kindergarten. For the connoisseur, we feature several permutations of the classic syllogism about flockbinkers, as well as at least three different versions of the classic joke about three Scotsmen sitting on a fence. Oh yeah. I’m not making this up. It’s all in there.
The Compleat Flockbinker
This presentation is a follow-up to “All Flockbinkers Are Treadknicious…and Other Salient Observations.” It assumes that the audience has heard the first lecture. It’s just as funny, just as strange, and just as likely to spontaneously introduce the audience into a state of enlightenment right there in their seats. Indeed, i have often been greeted with the sound of one hand clapping at the conclusion of this baby. And honestly, it’s difficult to figure how nirvana could be any better. In this erudite… mmm, sort of… lecture, i cover such topics as philosophy, geography, cultural anthropology, quantum physics, puns, knock-knock jokes, amusement park rides, living badly, living well, why Jerry Seinfeld and Woody Allen are among my favorite philosophers, and the fact that so many things tend to get lost in translation...even among those of us who speak the same language.
Calling All Flockbinkers
This presentation is the third in the “Flockbinkers” series. It assumes that the audience has heard the first two lectures. The question might reasonably be asked why they would come back for a third round of punishment after having been twice exposed to this sort of thing, but for the sake of argument, let’s posit a crowd somewhat lacking in either common sense or an instinct for self-preservation. In which case they can look forward to a heaping helping of systematic theology, unsystematic theology, critiques of the very idea of systematic theology, critiques of the very idea that one might want to critique systematic theology, clowns and circuses, intellectuals and universities, marezey doats and dozey doats, and of course, flockbinkers, wamwams, throgs, thargs, and Scotsmen, typically in configurations of three, sitting on a fence. Sweet.
“So There Were These Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence, See…”
There is a joke about three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, that tends to come up from time to time in my teaching. The interesting thing about this joke… one of the many interesting things about this joke… is that it does not continue past the opening line. It is a joke alive with possibility. It can go anywhere; it can take us down any highway we want to travel. It’s a joke that was born to run; it’s a joke that rides through mansions of glory. There are infinite permutations of the joke. You can turn it into an ethnic slur against Scotsmen, a type of humor that doesn’t really fly in Southeast Tennessee but is quite popular, i’m told, among the Irish. Or you can use it as the template for a typical three-part gag, in which the first two parts are parallel and the third packs the punchline. What is it that makes a joke funny? What is humor? Why is it that we take joy in the absurd, the ironic, the unexpected, and sometimes even the disastrous? And why is it that merely saying the words, “So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see…” can elicit laughter from a group of otherwise perfectly intelligent students?
Logic, Whimsy, Truth and Nonsense
Why do some things make sense, and other things don’t? Why is nonsense sometimes funny, sometimes not, and sometimes disturbing? What is it that people like about Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak, and some of the more bizarre films by the Coen brothers, Wes Anderson or Tim Burton? Why do we like word games and logic puzzles? What is it that makes us create, (and even repeat) puns, for crying out loud? What’s the connection between (1) making sense when you’re giving someone directions to the nearest convenience store, (2) making sense when you’re recounting the story of the surprise upset at last Friday’s high school football game, (3) making sense of a difficult relationship, and (4) making sense of your world?
Three Blog Night… or, How Many blogs Does One Guy Really Need?
I have several different blogs. Each one has a different purpose, features a different range of content, and employs a different style. Does anybody actually need to maintain five different blogs? I’ve got an idea for a novel called Three Blog Night, about a guy who lives through the three weblogs that he maintains and pours most of his time into. (Hmmmm.) What is it about us that makes us want to broadcast our thoughts and conclusions to the online world? What is blogging all about? What defines the difference between thoughts that are worth broadcasting, and mere self-indulgence? What does the popularity of blogsites, populated by millions of blogs that hardly anyone ever reads, tell us about ourselves and our society?
Blaise Pascal and Harriet the Spy
In which we explore the joys—and, indeed, the importance—of keeping a notebook. What’s a notebook, you’re wondering? Ah. It can be a journal, a diary, a schedule-planner, a sketchbook, or just a running list of random observations. It can be a record of the day-to-day events of life, or of the thoughts that have entered your noggin, or of the interesting things that you’ve overheard people say. Why should such a notebook be kept, you ask? Well, for starters, you may find that you’ve got the makings of an actual book-book, or at least a record to refer to later in life of where you’ve been and where you’re going. And, if you’re anything like Blaise Pascal, you may find that your friends will get hold of the stuff after you’re dead and turn it into one of the enduring classics of all time.
A Review of The Cambridge Illustrated Guide to All the Information That Has Ever Been Discovered, Ever, in 467 Volumes
I’ll let you in on a secret. There is actually no such thing as The Cambridge Illustrated Guide to All the Information That Has Ever Been Discovered, Ever, in 467 Volumes. But it makes a good working metaphor… and it also makes a good practical joke on some of my students when i include it in textbook lists. There have been many attempts throughout history to assemble all knowledge into one place: From the library at Alexandria, to the work of Isidore of Seville, to the French encyclopaedists, to the Encyclopedia Britannica, to Wikipedia and, for that matter, the internet as a whole. An examination of these various attempts at assembling all human knowledge in one place reveals a great deal about not just our knowledge, and the nature of the world we live in, but our ideas of what constitutes knowledge, and indeed, of what is important.
Meditations on Listening to Boston’s “Don’t Look Back”
So i was driving in my car a few weeks ago, listening to the 1978 album Don’t Look Back, by the classic 70’s-era band Boston, and particularly the title track. What is it about that song that’s so, er… compelling? What is it about so much of the music of the 1970s, from Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road” to Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” and Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street,” from Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” to Blackfoot’s “Highway Song,” from “Carry on, Wayward Son” by Kansas to “Pieces of Eight” by Styx and “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” by Pink Floyd? What is it about so much of the music of the art rock, psychedelic rock and even arena rock scenes that bodies forth such a sense of transcendence… even when the lyrics are kind of embarrassingly stupid? A generation of stoner musicians somehow succeeded in crafting astonishingly evocative music, ambitious in scope, symphonic in conception, passionate, visionary. And lyrics that grasp, if haltingly, at the need for a life change, an open range of possibilities, an exciting future, and the call of the road.
On the Singing of “Happy Birthday” in Public Places
Aside from the mild annoyance, you may never have thought to attribute great significance to those experiences we’ve all had in restaurants, when a covey of table servers converge on the nearby table of a hapless birthday-boy or girl and sing some version of “Happy Birthday,” and often a horrifying version of it known only to the wait-staff at the particular restaurant, so as not to violate the copyright on the real thing. In this talk, i take the audience on a whirlwind tour of both traditional and contemporary Western Culture, including an analysis of music, harmony, coherence, holidays and celebrations, as we uncover layer after layer of meaning embedded in what, to the untrained eye, may seem like merely an innocent way of acknowledging the anniversary of a friend’s birth.
The Purpose of Education Is to Enable the Student to Get More Jokes. Seriously.
A lighthearted examination of the idea of cultural literacy. Certainly we could take several different approaches to explaining what education is supposed to be all about, but one of the more influential approaches in recent years has been to stress the importance of cultural literacy… equipping him with a body of knowledge that will enable him to navigate the culture he finds himself in the midst of, whether he is reading a magazine article, trying to understand an abstract painting, or struggling to comprehend the Vietnam War. And one pleasant by-product of cultural literacy is that a great many things will become funny that the student previously was powerless to understand, much less find humor in.
Where’s the Party?
(Perhaps the Most Important Philosophical Question Ever Asked)
What is a ‘party’? Well, that turns out to be a mighty complicated question. A ‘party,’ for instance, can simply be a group of people, as in, “Williams… Party of Four. Your table is ready.” But usually when we speak of a ‘party,’ we mean a kind of social gathering. A party can be an occasion for frivolity, for drunken shenanigans, or for the development of genuine relationship. Parties are sometimes, though, not always, the celebration of something significant. There are birthday parties, Christmas parties, family reunions, class reunions and 4th of July picnics. There are dinner parties, office parties, cocktail parties, receptions and banquets. There are large-scale parties, like Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, and college housing, where it’s a party zone, all the time. Jay Gatsby threw some hum-dinger parties. And there are micro-parties, like the little one-minute fellowship time that’s embedded in the middle of many church services. Does the concept of partying and celebration have anything to do with the larger questions of life, like the ones found on a foam cupholder that i bought at a truck stop: “The Big Questions: Who Am I? Why Am I Here? What Is My Fate? Where’s the Party?” I’d like to argue that “where’s the party” is perhaps the most important philosophical question anyone has ever thought to ask.
Sitting in a Nondenominational Church on Sunday Morning with My Mind Wandering
I sit in the worship service taking notes, scribbling away as the pastor expounds the word. However, the things i’m jotting down are only tangentially—if at all—related to the points being made in the sermon. For some reason, being in the midst of God’s gathered people tends often to stimulate my flow of thought. It’s the same with my morning devotional time, my ‘secret place’ time. Being in God’s Presence just seems to get the juices flowing. My mind comes alive, more than usual, and i have to grab a notebook and jot down idea after idea. I don’t think God minds… i think, indeed, that He’s responsible for it. On this particular morning, for instance, i’m thinking about the dynamics of denominational and non-denominational Christianity, and why it is that Christians tend to cluster in the sorts of groups that they do. Is it out of a desire to know and share with others a true account of God and the world? Is it to be with others who are like us socially and culturally? Is it to enjoy the experience of a shared tradition? Or is it so that we can identify a ‘sweet spot’ where we are likely to encounter God in a particularly potent and life-giving way?
Coffee and Scones at 9:05 on a Saturday Morning
A stream-of-consciousness series of meditations related to the passage of time, the persistence of memory, and the meaning of life. It will delve into such topics as the paintings of Salvador Dali, the plays of Eugene Ionesco, the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, the music of Frank Zappa, the importance of late-night talk shows, the manifold virtues of The Atlanta Bread Company, an excursus on the history of coffeehouses, a profile of the contemporary coffee snob, the practice of focused solitude, an examination of certain models of Christian devotion, the idea of a ‘quiet time,’ the merits of cinnamon chip scones versus cranberry walnut scones, an excursus on small groups in the history of the Christian church, the rarity of genuine, transparent communication, and the extravagant love of God.
A Walk Through God’s Living Room
A stream-of-consciousness series of meditations prompted by a hike through the woods. Who is God? What sort of a person is He, and why does He express Himself in the ways He does? Why did He create all of this stuff? What are some different ways to divide up the world that God created? Are the taxonomies and analytical schemes developed by scientists of ultimate use in understanding the creation—really understanding it—and understanding the God who is responsible for its design, execution and continuing existence? What can we learn about Him simply be experiencing His creation? Is it wrong to feel that one is able to encounter God through the diversity, complexity, beauty and delicacy of the things and systems that He has devised for His own good pleasure? What can we learn about our own creative impulse by studying God’s… and vice-versa?
The Bible versus the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Some of the most interesting literature is that which enacts its drama on the largest stage. We find ‘epic’ stories to be exhilarating and even, in some sense, life-giving. We love a tale that is sweeping in scope, stretched across years or decades or even centuries, involving more than one continent, and a cast of thousands. The really big stories are the ones that stick to our ribs: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings… The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis… Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy… the Dune series by Frank Herbert… Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle… War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy… Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged… and Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust. Even Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of the most smart-alecky works of fiction ever ironically set to paper, has an enormity about it, a kind of ambition to be transcendent in its oh-so-clever nihilism. Where does this impulse to experience large-scale stories come from? Could it be a thing that God has built into us? And how is it that we fail to recognize that the biggest-scale story of them all is the one that we ourselves are living in?
The Bells of Christmas, the Scandal of the Incarnation, and the Vast Unsatisfied Longing
It would be all too easy to divide people into two categories during the Christmas season: those who believe in and joyously celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God, and those others whose experience of the season is basically an excuse for office parties, decorative greenery, gift exchanges, feasting and seasonal music. But what if there is a third category? (There nearly always is.) What about the people who experience the agony of Christmas? Those who feel, in a potent and immediate way, the tension between the now and the not-yet, the Presence and the Absence of God, the power and the vulnerability of the Child Christ, and the very, very strange ways in which we sometimes experience God’s gift of salvation from sin and everlasting life.
The Face of God
Does it make sense to speak of the ‘face’ of God? Is God the sort of being that even has a face? Many of us tend to think of God as some sort of gaseous presence filling the universe; it’s hard to imagine Him having an actual face. But God certainly seems to talk a lot in the Bible about His ‘face’ (or ‘countenance,’ in some of the older translations). This presentation is inspired by three things that Dallas Willard says about prayer, in the DVD companion series to his book The Divine Conspiracy: (1) When praying, look God in the face; (2) Know that God is looking you in the face, and (3) Know that the expression on His face is a smile. These three simple steps can work wonders in revolutionizing our prayer lives, as well as bring us, during the holiday season, to a whole new level of understanding of Who Jesus is, what the Incarnation is all about, and how we can experience Christmas afresh, in all its power and beauty.
Deus ex Machina
In ancient Greek drama, there was a strange practice whereby the playwright would sometimes rescue his hero from a seemingly impossible situation by introducing a supernatural being to save the day, flying the savior-god in using stage machinery—hence, the Greek deus ex machina, or ‘god from the machine.’ Both ancient and modern literary critics have tended to condemn the practice, seeing it as a cop-out on the part of the writer, who is not willing to work hard enough to develop a more reasonable solution to the hero’s dilemma. But what if there is really something basic and archetypal about the device of the deus ex machina, something drawn from the true character of the One True God, that connects us to the true situation of the human race? What if the incarnation of the Second Person of the Triune God was in fact the most shameless—and glorious—deus ex machina in the whole history of gods and men?
A simple podium (a music stand would do)
A microphone (wireless / lapel mic if possible, but not required)